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The Power Macintosh 7300 proves good design is about function as much as form

Christopher Phin | May 26, 2015
These days, Apple's computers--whether they're designed to sit on a desk, rest on your lap, slip into your pocket or be strapped to your wrist--are for the most part sealed boxes. Even if you can crack the cases to get to the chips and circuit boards inside, increasingly you can't then do anything (except perhaps regret whatever course of action led you to tear apart some hitherto functioning hardware), since Apple has started soldering components to the motherboard.

These days, Apple's computers — whether they're designed to sit on a desk, rest on your lap, slip into your pocket or be strapped to your wrist — are for the most part sealed boxes. Even if you can crack the cases to get to the chips and circuit boards inside, increasingly you can't then do anything (except perhaps regret whatever course of action led you to tear apart some hitherto functioning hardware), since Apple has started soldering components to the motherboard.

This is in stark contrast to earlier incarnations of the company. Apple, after all, was born out of the culture of the Homebrew Computer Club, where tinkering wasn't so much encouraged as necessary, and for a long time that culture fundamentally underpinned and informed even the supposedly "home" computer market of non-geeks.

Apple's computers are often praised for their design, but often all people are talking about when they do is their external appearance; far less frequently do people think to look for beauty and engineering chutzpah beneath the surface, yet that's actually where Apple's real genius lies. That is to say, anyone can make a box look pretty (contrary evidence from PC makers notwithstanding), but that's the easy bit.

A case in point

Look, for example, at the gloriously tidy and easy-to-get-at interior of the Power Mac G5 tower design, later borrowed for the Mac Pro. Or even at the original MacBooks, which made it easy to upgrade the hard disk (even swapping it for an SSD, say) and the RAM. Or indeed, at the Mac featured in the video above.

This case design was called "Outrigger", and it's an under-appreciated design classic. It was used for the Power Macintosh 7200, 7300, 7500, 7600 and Power Macintosh G3 (Desktop) computers from August 1995 to December 1998, and as you can see in the video, it makes it a cinch to get into the computer's guts to add more RAM, slot in a PCI card, or upgrade your storage options. In fact in most cases you don't even need a screwdriver, and the glory of the design is that while the case is compact (for the time) with little wasted space inside, you get clear access to all the internal components. In other words, unlike with less sophisticated, customer-centric computer designs from the time — or even today! — you're not having to fiddle around in dark, awkward, delicate recesses; everything's right there for you to work on.

The post-upgrade era

Let's not get too sentimental, though. I know that for some people this will be a reminder of a happier time when Apple was much more open and encouraging about hardware modifications and upgrades, and that they'll want to slam today's Apple for its unrepairable, non-upgradeable Macs and other devices. And I get that. I do.

 

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