The Apple IIGS or "It's the Cute Little Flaws that Keep a Guy Interested"

Posted by Alex Lee on 1 February 2001 | 8 Comments

I don't know what it is about me, but I've always backed the underdog. It could be said that the Apple IIGS was such a beast; industry pundits noting only its weak points, meeting with limited success and the machine itself being abandoned by the very company that had produced it.

Click to Enlarge

But the Apple IIGS should have been, but was for too few Apple II users at the time of its release in 1986, the pinnacle of personal computing. It was the latest Apple II, a series of computer that spawned the POPULAR personal computing revolution. Such an accolade should not be taken lightly, especially as we enter the second coming of the PC revolution with consumers clamouring to buy a computer to access the Internet, the result of which is that the computing industry is now undeniably one of the biggest in the world.

Click to Enlarge

The IIGS, as an Apple II, was durably built, expandable and entirely open to software and hardware developers to create a wonderful computing platform. The IIgs could run the thousands of tried and tested Apple II programs that had been written over the past nine years since the Apple II's inception. On top of that, the newer, faster 16-bit processor of the IIGS allowed for more complicated programs to be written. The graphics capability which features included a 320x200 resolution with 16 colours from a palette of 4096 colours (later to be 256 and 3200 colours on screen via software tricks) and a 640x200 resolution with 16 dithered colours allowed for colourful, eye opening graphics, 8-bit programs' graphics paling in comparison. Also new in the IIGS was its potential to create amazing music and sound - fitted with the ensoniq chip, found in synthesisers to generate sound, allowed the GS to be heard in style. So with the strength of the past, the innovation of the (then) present and the potential to realise ideas of the future, what went wrong?

Price? The IIGS cost a bundle. After buying a IIGS with 512k RAM, Apple RGB monitor, 3.5 inch drive, 5.25 inch drive and an ImageWriter II printer, your pockets would be so empty you could fit the whole kit and kaboodle to replace the empty space once filled with your cash. When compared to other similar 16-bit systems of the time, Amiga and Atari ST, it was indeed pricey.

Speed? Not to mention that Amiga and Atari ST computers ran at 7Mhz+ stock speed. A IIGS out of the box only runs at 2.8Mhz. Fine for running 8-bit Apple II software, but for native Apple IIGS software it proved not to be so ideal.

Click on each seperate thumbnail to enlarge each image.

At the very least, even if the IIGS wasn't to capture a newer audience with its release, surely veteran Apple II owners, in their tens of thousands, would upgrade to the latest model? Apparently not. Even by February 1990, Incider/A+ Magazine stated in that months editorial that only 38% of its readership owned a IIGS. 50% of readers owned a IIe, 35% owned a IIc/IIc+ and the remaining 9% owned an Apple II+. (I assume those values added together surpassing the 100% is due to the fact that some readers owned more than one type of Apple II.) So why didn't more users upgrade to the IIGS? Who knows. It wasn't all just hype, bells and whistles, the IIGS DID have some substance to it.

What I do know for sure was that the IIGS was the underdog. Is that such a bad thing? It may be said that something good always comes out of something bad. To turn to the more relevant issue of IIGS gaming, I'll begin on that point. Many, many IIGS games found their way onto the market. And many of those games were programmed so well, IIGS users soon became amazed at what COULD be done, despite the technical limitations of the machine (in terms of gaming, 2.8Mhz was seen to define what could or could not be accomplished). For example, how could some IIGS versions of games be better than the Amiga counterparts, when the Amiga ran over twice as fast and had a chipset handling fast,animated graphics found in games? Or being able to use 3200 colours on screen when Apple Computer themselves said the machine could only display 16 colours? So surely using a computer, where the "impossible" IS accomplished, against all odds, against what everybody else tells you, attains some sort of magic about it. A magic that simply can't be found on a computer running at whatever speed it runs at to accomplish anything. How boring that would be. But that's not to say that others don't feel the same magic for the computers they may have used for the past 20 years, but it's how I feel about the IIGS. That is why I have devoted this page to emulating the Apple IIGS. Emulation is the best way that we can guarantee to store and relive old memories, put the platform wars of last decade aside, and enjoy each older computer platforms for what they were. With that said, enjoy the page...