[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Performa: The Depressing Macintosh

June 2nd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Apple Macintosh Performa The Family Macintosh Advertisement - 1993Ugh. The Performa Era.

The Performa line originated as a way for Apple to expand retail availability of its then-waning Mac platform. They did so by re-branding a number of existing Mac models with the Performa name (plus some numbers that didn’t make much sense).

The Performa line’s commercial availability coincided almost exactly with Apple’s darkest era, 1992-1997, when sales dramatically declined, market share dropped, the company was generally mismanaged and unfocused, Macs had 10 different names for the same model, and Classic OS was getting long in the tooth.

I remember seeing a few Performa models for sale at Sears as a teenager and thinking, “Wow, they still make Macs?” Then I tried one out, and the OS was barely different from the Mac SE I’d last used in 1987 — some 6 years earlier — and it liked to crash a lot. It was a depressing time to be Apple. Whatever happened to that company, anyway?

[ From Discover – July 1993, p.5]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first model of Macintosh you ever owned?

9 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Performa: The Depressing Macintosh”

  1. Alexander Says:

    The only Mac I’ve ever owned was a bricked Classic II for awhile, before giving it away.

    As for the Performa series, I used them quite frequently starting in the mid 90s all the way till about 2000, because that’s what my elementary school’s used. I remember single-case versions for the most part, as well as a few pizza box versions. They were finally starting to be phased out with the brightly colored iMac’s in my last years there.

  2. Daniel Says:

    The very first Mac I ever owned was a 512Ke. I had that for a while, then sold it to buy a NeXT Computer. I still have the NeXT (and two other NeXTs now), and I now have a collection of many old Compact Macs; the earliest now is a Plus.

  3. Stan Says:

    First Mac was a thrift store Mac Plus around 1995, complete with external 40 MB SCSI drive.

    The Mac Plus was an antique in 1995 and I only bought it out of curiosity, but it had an old version of Microsoft Word installed and it ended up being used for real work by my college roommates. They’d haul the little Mac into the kitchen or living room, do some writing, then take their disk to school for printing.

    First Mac I bought to be used as an actual computer was an iBook G4 in 2004. I was pleased that, through the Classic environment, it could still run (some) old Mac apps and games from the late 80s. I was also pleased that it could maintian X11 and ssh connections to a remote Unix server over wifi while the lid was closed and the laptop slept. Best of both worlds.

  4. Jim T Says:

    My very first computer was a Performa 636 that I got in August 1994 when I started college. I couldn’t afford one of those new fangled PowerMacintoshes, but realistically that was okay since the first generation weren’t that amazing and frequently ran more slowly than the ‘040 macs.

    It was a fine computer. I used it for 2 years before I upgraded to a powermac 7600, which was a great machine that lasted me another 5 years. I still have that one. I got rid of the performa a while back, though.

    It was a great first machine. I sprang for the slightly higher end model with a CD-ROM (2x!) and 8 megs of ram. That was a wise choice. At the time, I though the CD would be most useful, but it was actually the extra ram that helped the most.

    The biggest nuisance was that the hard drive failed after a year. AND those blasted Performas were the first Macintoshes to use IDE drives instead of SCSI. So, surprise! All the Macintosh mail-order infrastructure didn’t work or support it. I ended up shelling out a fortune for an IDE drive from some local PC resale shop. $2-$300 for a 1 gig drive, IIRC, replacing my original 250meg. I mistakenly purchased and returned two different SCSI drives before I got it properly sorted out. The phone reps all insisted that all macs used SCSI drives.

    Years later, I maxed out the ram to 36 megabytes and did a logic board swap to a Quadra 630 board, which gave it a 33MHz 68040 instead of the original 33MHz 68LC040 (no FPU), but that was really just for fun. By that point, I didn’t have a need for the machine any more and it just sat until I recycled it.

    I occasionally wistfully regret the decision and wished I’d kept it, but realistically it’d just be collecting dust like my old 7600 is.

    Added crazy was that it ran a specially patched version of the OS – 7.1.2P (for Performa!) modded up to work on the custom baloney hardware. I qualified for a free upgrade to System 7.5 when it came out, but all accounts said it was a hog and slowed down machines badly, so I never installed it. They shipped it to me on floppy disk, despite my specifically requesting CDs. When System 7.6 came out several years later, it was much better, and happily ran on my 7600 with minimal complaint.

    The hardware numbering was less crazy than the custom OSes. 0x0 based machines used 3 digits, and powerpc based machines used 4 digits. The first two digits dealt with case style and model.

    If a model started with a 6, it was a slim profile case. The next digit was the type of that case model (I had a 636, so it was the 3 model of the slim case; the link from the original article was a 6100, so a slim style, model 1).

    If it started with a 7 it was a regular desktop case, an 8 was a mini tower, and a 9 was a full tower. The secondary model numbers were reasonably consistent as well, with some of the goofy sub-brands not including numbers at all. The 8600 and 9600 PowerMac cases were gorgeous – easy to work on, easy to open, good amount of space. Nice chassis.

    At some point, though, Apple said screw it, and we ended up with the Performa 6400, which was a mini tower case as well. I guess since it was slightly smaller than the 8600 case they considered it a mini-mini and felt they were still consistent.

    There were other hardware quirks in the numbering. For example, the Performa 640 was a LC040 based mac with a built in Pentium processor. Basically two separate computers, and you’d toggle between a windows machine and the MacOS. I guess the internal guts were different enough from the 630 to give it a different number, but externally it was the same case.

    The last 2 digits of the model were whatever specific software revision it had. I remember there being at least a performa 636, 637, and 638. The various performa 61xx models listed in the original link were all the exact same hardware (one of ’em might have kicked the clock speed from 60->66MHz, but I’m not positive), just with different software bundles on them. You could safely ignore the last digit of a powerpc number or last two digits of an 0x0 based one.

    And the product lines! Before the Powermacs launched, you could get a machine branded as an LC, Performa, Centris, or Quadra; ranked from worst -> best. But all the machines had different oddball features or gimmicky benefits.

    After the powermacs, apple settled into a much more reasonable scheme – it was just the powermac + the model number, and they kept the performa badge around for a few years as their low cost thing. They stopped using model numbers when the first G3s came out (in repurposed 7/8/9600 cases). Shortly thereafter, they dropped the numbers from the powerbooks, and released the first iMac.

    The pro towers still had ranks for a few years (Powermac G3, G4, G5), but are now just the Mac Pro.

    Clearly, I remember fall too much about Apple history from that era. It was not a fun time to be a Mac guy, though.

  5. Daniel Says:

    First Mac I owned was a Macintosh LC (low-cost). It was great for Word Processing and drawing pictures with Claris Works. Disk access was very slow and System 7’s co-operative multitasking was truly horrible.

  6. Ariella Says:

    My first Mac experience on a computer I owned was emulating System 7 on a 68030 accelerated Amiga 1200 through an app called Fusion in 1998. 🙂

    But my first full Mac was an iMac DV SE 400mhz in 2000. It led to many more Macs, including collecting some fun models like a Mac SE and tangerine iBook.

  7. Carlos Says:

    I remember someone making fun that “Performa” was Stallone saying “Performer”. BWHAHAUHAUAHUAHUAHAUHAUHAU

    By the way, my first Mac was a Performa 6360, followed by an all-in-one 5500/250 overclocked to 300mhz. I loved that beast.

  8. Ant Says:

    I remember these in college. Lots of problems with them. Thanks goodness Steve Jobs fixed Apple up after he returned. Now, he’s dead and Apple might be in trouble (not impressed with the latest stuff).

  9. narvo Says:

    The first Apple I ever used (high school, circa 1986-’87) was the Macintosh 512K which they had in my Graphic Arts class and Journalism. I actually have a picture of myself using it in the Journalism class at 17 yrs. old.

    This kind of coincided with an Apple IIC I had at home which my mom was using for word processing. I dug into it one day and found out it had a game—Lemonade Stand—which I got totally hooked on and would play every chance I got whenever she wasn’t using the computer for work.

    The first Mac I owned myself was the PowerPC 7600 sometime in the late ’90s which I needed for my Graphic Design major. It was ridiculous that they totally discontinued it like a week after I bought it. I still have it actually, and it works. I just don’t know what to use it for now. Any ideas?

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