[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple’s Two Rarest Products

April 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I’d love to hear from you. They are so rare I’m not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s the rarest Apple product you own?

13 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple’s Two Rarest Products”

  1. Eagles409 Says:

    I don’t know how rare it is, but I have a mockingboard in my 2e and I have an Apple brand 1200 baud modem for the 2e as well.

  2. John Says:

    I also don’t know how rare it is, but I have a SCSI to Ethernet controller for the Apple. Kinda cool.


  3. John Says:

    The adapter is an external one. Designed to plug into the external SCSI port of an Apple and provide an Ethernet out-port.

  4. Rj Siegel Says:

    I have two Applelines
    I wonder what they are worth

  5. Bryan Says:

    In 1986 I was an IBM mainframe systems programmer.
    I purchased an AppleLine 3270 which allowed me to connect a Mac512K to the mainframe. (it was $2000 in 1986 dollars. It cost almost as much as the Mac128K that had been upgraded to 512k). 

    Using MacTerminal, I could use the Mac as a mainframe terminal and (later) download data into spreadsheets (Microsoft Multiplan). 
    I could also (with a pair of $400 9600 baud modems) work from home.
    The IBM customer engineers were fascinated by the Mac. “Yeah, I think I saw something similar in our labs up in Armonk” commented one. They thought it was really cool.
    My boss later warned me that the IBM sales engineer for our account (county government) had been to see the director of the IT department. He told the director “Are you sure this guy is a team player? We can’t be responsible if his Apple system damages the mainframe.”
    They made me disconnect it.
    Yes, times have changed. Apple makes more selling phones than IBM makes selling mainframes.
    (Note, the AppleLine 3270 was bigger than a phone book, if anyone remembers those, and 3x as heavy)

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    Great story, Bryan!

    You don’t happen to still have your AppleLine, do you?

  7. compu85 Says:

    Wow I didn’t know these were so uncommon. When I bought my Lisa 2/10 on ebay in 2004 the seller included one of these. I recall he didn’t really know what it was; I didn’t either but it was free! I don’t know how he got it, but he did have a fairly large collection of apple stuff.

    I still have it. I’ll have to crack it open and dump the ROMs, as well as take some pictures.

  8. compu85 Says:

    So I tried out my AppleLine for the first time tonight… I wonder how long its been since it was powered on last?

    It seems to work without issue! I don’t have anything to hook up to the coax port at this point, but I hope to eventually.

    I’ll also dump the ROMs.


    The default Supervisor password is: APPLES
    The User passwords are APPLE1, APPLE2, APPLE3, and APPLE4

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    Very cool, compu85. Thanks for the info. I’m very glad you’re dumping the ROMs. I’ve never taken my AppleLine apart. If you do that, can you take some photos of the PC board and perhaps identify the chips on there (the best you can)?

    Then again, I might just take mine apart later today if I get a chance.


  10. Richard Agerbeek Says:

    I found a Apple Cluster Controller.
    Does anyone know how rare it is and what kind of value it might have?


  11. Bill Landolina Says:

    I developed the AppleLine – it was a DCA IRMALine with a different paint job. We didn’t sell a whole lot of either of those. Plenty, but it was very expensive for the time.

    IRMALine was a derivative of the IRMA PC 3270 adapter with an 8085 glued on the side to do the “PC” part – there’s nothing interesting to be had in the firmware dump that you can’t get from an IRMA manual 😉

    Now if you dump the 8×300 PROMs and can make anything of it I’ll be impressed. There’s more bits in the PROMs than the 8×300 uses – the extras are magic.

  12. Bill Landolina Says:

    National Semi 8340 series 3270 chipset, Signetics 8×300 RISC CPU with funky microcode doing the 3270 protocol, 74LS670 dual port memory, Intel 8085 doing the conversion to ASCII terminal protocol, probably a Signetics 2650 UART. It’s been a long time.

    I can’t imagine there’s anything useful to do with it today, but if there are questions about IRMA anything I’ll be glad to answer.

  13. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks for chiming in, Bill. Great to hear from you. I ended up owning an AppleLine for maybe 5-6 years after posting this scan, but I sold it a couple years ago. Interesting that it had its own console-style interface, if I recall, accessible over the serial connection. So as you’re describing, it was a specialized microcomputer in a small box.

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