Five Best Macs, Five Worst Macs…So Far

by Chris Seibold May 11, 2006

The rumor sites are perpetually stalking the next iteration of iBooks. Rumored since January, the MacBook (as most people expect the laptop to be named) has been said to sport Core Duo processors or a Celeron, lack FireWire or have both 400 and 800 ports, be a radical redesign or stay largely unchanged, come in colors or remain all white, feature a widescreen,…the list is just too long to continue. At this point, the MacBook can be anything you want it to be.

So, with such a wide range of options for the long rumored MacBook it could be Apple’s best computer or worst computer. Likely, it will be somewhere in the middle but, the questions arises: What kind of competition will the still fictional computer have for the hall of fame and hall of shame? Time for a look!

Five Best:

5) G4 PowerBook

The Dope:
400 or 500 MHz G4 processor, 10 GB Hard Drive, Wide aspect 15.2” screen (1152x768), $2,599, Debuted January, 2001.

You should still love it because:

Clad in titanium (a material engineers some thought too expensive for a notebook) the original G4 PowerBook oozed coolness. If you’re wondering why it was so great, you can equally wonder why it is so great. The stunningly good-looking machine hasn’t changed much over the years. Different ports, faster processors and switch from titanium to aluminum but the style remained the same and the PowerBook er, MacBook Pro still looks great 5 years later.

4) Apple LaserWriter

The Dope:
Motorola 68000, 8 pages per minute, 300 dots per inch, introduced in 1985 for $6,995

Kids don’t smell the mimeograph anymore:

At this point you’re saying that the LaserWriter wasn’t even a computer, it was a friggin’ printer. You’re right that the machine was sold as a printer but inside the printer was a computer. It used the same chip that powered the Mac and the circuit board was designed by Burrell Smith, the electronics whiz that designed the original Mac. More importantly, the LaserWriter was the machine that introduced the desktop to publishing. Before the LaserWriter “what you saw” was decidedly not “what you got” when you printed a document. After the LaserWriter WYSIWYG became an acronym most people understood.

3) Mac II

The Dope:
68020 Processor, 1 MB RAM, dual floppies, optional hard drive, massive expansion via 6 NuBus slots, first modular Mac, introduced March 1987 for $3,898

It deserves a bronze bust because:

Before the Mac II came along every Mac was all in one and expandability was limited. That changed when the Mac II rolled out. Made from the scraps of the failed Macintosh Office project the Mac II was code named “Little Big Mac,” featured the first color support in the Mac line and was a computer that pros, geeks and businesses could love.

2) Original iMac

The Dope:
4 GB Hard Drive, 32 MB of RAM, 233 MHz G3 processor, on sale August 1998 for $1,299.

A computer that deserves a spot on the walk of fame:

The original iMac was more about glomming on to the rise of the internet than completely new functionality, USB excepted. Even though the computer didn’t do anything original it did help Apple reclaim some lost market and influenced designers the world over. Years after the iMac was first revealed you could walk into Home Depot and find a colored translucent stud finder. That’s one far reaching computer case design.

1) Original Mac

The Dope:
128K RAM, 9 inch integrated monitor, single floppy, introduced (famously) in January 1984 for $2,499.

You’re using one right now:

The GUI had been conceived by Vannevar Bush and implemented at Xerox PARC. When Steve Jobs saw the GUI in action he was moved to forcefully ask:

“Why aren’t you doing anything with this?”

Thus, the seeds for the Lisa were sown. The designers of the original looked at the Lisa and culled all the things they didn’t like (say goodbye to the triple click) and improved the things they found useful. What was left was the original Mac. The first consumer oriented computer with a GUI interface is the computer most responsible for the look of the computer interface everyone uses today.

The Five Worst Macs:

5) Original Mac

The Dope:
128K RAM, 9 inch integrated monitor, single floppy, introduced (famously) in January 1984 for $2,499.

Reason to dynamite the machine:

While it was shipped as a final product, the original Mac couldn’t do much. If you were writing a letter it had better not be any longer than eight pages, the single floppy drive made copying disks unnecessarily hard, there were no expandability options and it lacked (purposely) cursor keys. All in all, it was a very compromised machine and, at $2495, a stone cold rip off.

4) Mac Portable:

The Dope:
68HC00, 9.8” screen, 1 MB RAM, 40 MB hard drive (optional), introduced September 1989 for $6,500.

Should be exposed to a flamethrower because:

While Jean-Louis Gasse oversaw the successful development of the Mac II he also oversaw the Mac Portable. The portable used lead acid batteries and, at over 16 pounds, it was portable only in the sense that it could be carried with great effort. While the screen was said to be crisp it also lacked backlighting making it completely useless. except as a unwieldy weapon, in a darkened room. Before he left Apple Steve Jobs hadsaid “Amac in a book in five years” this wasn’t what he had in mind.

3) PowerBook 5300

The Dope:
PowerPC 603e, 8 MB RAM, 640x480 screen, 6 pounds, 500 MB hard drive introduced August 1995 for $2,300.

Why you’d throw it into the caldera of Mount Doom:

The PowerBook 5300 was the first PowerPC based PowerBook so a cursory glance might lead one to think the machine was a must have. Unfortunately, the PowerBook 5300 was riddled with quality problems. The lithium polymer batteries were prone to over heating and, occasionally, bursting into flames. If the batteries weren’t bad enough the case was overly fragile and recalled by Apple. The PowerBook 5300 has one more claim to shame: It was featured (for a hefty fee) in Mission Impossible as a command line based machine.

2) Mac Classic

The Dope:
Motorola 68000, 8 MHz, 2 MB RAM, 40 MB hard drive, single floppy, introduced October 1990 for $1499.

If you want one, check the dumpster because:

If you bought a Mac Classic what you purchased was basically 4 year old technology in a subtlety redesigned case. The Mac Classic could easily be compared to the Mac Plus spec wise and would have been a nifty computer in 1986. In 1992 it was dog slow. The machine was one of Apple’s first low cost Macs and proved popular among gullible first time Mac buyers (the author included).

1) Any Mac with “Performa” in the name

The Dope
The specs for the Performa line varied widely

Why the computers should have been flushable:

The Performa line had a million permutations, an examination of the myriad of names and specs would have left Einstein a befuddled sobbing mess. While the models were confusing, they were also tainted by quality problems. Upon taking the helm of Apple Gil Amelio looked at what had become of the Performa name and decided to kill the line. The only upside was that the Performa name was so horrible that it spurred development of the iMac.


  • Boo!

    The original iMac was crippled! As was the original Mac. And putting the G4 PB on the list as the only portable is a sin, I say!

    No SE/30? No Pismo? No PB540 or Color Classic II (what may have been the first drool-worthy machine)?

    And I object to all Performas being tarred with the worst tag. You can object to the naming scheme, and individual machines, but some of the Performas were perfectly decent Macs.

    And the TAM was probably the single worst, really.

    Check out this list, if you’re intrigued by the worst Macs, and why. At least some of them, at any rate.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • Honestly, my Performa 6220CD was a really good machine.  Back then, it played all the Mac games (since GPU cards weren’t what they are now), performed fine on Photoshop (at least LE), ran desktop publishing software fine, came with plenty of software for the family, got me on the Internet for the first time ever, and even allowed me to hook up my cable line to it and watch TV/record screen shots.  Maybe not “drool-worthy,” but it really did do a lot for me and I managed to get by with it for years.

    krex725 had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I’ve heart complaints about the first portable Mac before. Judging it from todays standards, it would not be a good design. However, I used one during a time when the alternative was bringing a PC with me consisting of a seperate box, a screen, a keyboard and several wires. And that box ran DOS or some early form of Windows.
    This portable Mac was complete, could work standalone and had the same GUI as other Macs. And apps like HyperCard and Word ran well enough to be productive (I also used 4D on it for simple database tasks for a while, but don’t remember version or year). I can’t remember having anything to complain about no backlight or other drawbacks. It had adb, so a mouse could be used instead of the trackball and this machine had the same plug&play; connections to printers and network as other Macs.
    Off course, I had a desktop for when I was at the office, but exchanging documents and applications between Macs has always been very simple. This means that I only used the Mac portable when I needed to work at a clients’ location.
    I have enjoyed the time I spent with that machine and I kind-of feel bad that I don’t know where it went after I got something else to use.
    Funny thing is, after this machine, all I carried with me for a while was an external 500MB scsi harddisk. You could boot any Mac from that disk and still use the apps on the Macs’ internal disk and use all connected devices and network options while having my own apps and documents at hand. You could not (and as I believe still can’t) do that with PC’s.

    Eddy had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 11
  • I’d put the PowerBook Titaniums on the Worst list because of the failure of the hinges. This was a fairly common problem. So much for titanium being one of the strongest metals on earth. It also seems searching the net, that another common complaint is Apple blame the users. On the plus side, it almost certainly led to the development of the MagSafe connector.

    The PB Ti has turned me off buying any Powerbook (MacBook Pro) in the future. (Not saying I won’t, but I will be very reluctant)

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • You mean to say that a laptop _with_ hinge problems has put you off buying a laptop _without_ hinge problems.

    Benji had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 927
  • The laptop with a hinge problem has put me off buying laptops that are not robust. And the prob is, it’s not til the unit is 2 or 3 years old that the failure happens, by which time it’s too late.

    A laptop is a laptop, It is intended to be opened repeatedly, lugged around, used in awkward situations (i.e. the lap) and so forth.

    Apple’s seemed to have sacrificed durablity for thinness and looks with the Ti. They’re gunna have to have more than a few years of a clean slate on the durabilty front before I’ll trust PB/MBs again.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • When krex725 declares his love for his Performa 6220, you have to understand one important thing (assuming you’re unfamiliar with the model).

    Low End Mac has declared, and not without reason, the *2** series to be the worst of all the Macs. And still, you had users who loved them.

    I found my own 5200/75 LC (as the official name was at the time) perfectly serviceable, until it was stolen along with a frozen T-bone steak.

    The point is, as you may have heard about something else, Macs are kind of like pizza. When they’re good, they’re great. And even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty damn good.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • You’re right Capvvan, my first computer ever was a Mac classic and I loved that machine, used it for4 years.

    BTW, the point I was getting at wasn’t that every performa was horrible, they weren’t. Rather that the ones that were horrible so tainted the rest of the line as to doom it into oblivion.

    Personal fave all time Mac? Tie: Quadra 660AV and PowerMac G5 1.8 GHz

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 354
  • It looks like you only want to put one Mac in the best list due to its design, but I (and I’m not the only one: think this should be the iMac G4. Chris Howard is right, the iMac G4 is THE design icon. Nothing before or after ever managed to be that stylish and useful at the same time. I heard of restaurant chains (in Germany, the Mac-diaspora of all times) that changed to an all-Mac infrastructure because the iMac G4 looked so good on the counter.

    hessi had this to say on May 12, 2006 Posts: 8
  • I’ve always had a soft spot myself for the IIci. It was my first color Mac, and I loved everything about that machine. Those machines were workhorses. For a time we ran pretty much my entire department at work on a number of IIci’s running (of all things) Frontier. Scary.

    John Mignault had this to say on May 12, 2006 Posts: 1
  • What?

    The TAM (Twentieth Anniversary Mac) was the coolest piece of Apple Hardware (and therefore also the coolest computer ever).

    Before anyone flames me ‘cause it was so expensive,  remember they ended up selling for only $1800 near the end (down from $7500).

    Built in Bose sound system, LCD, TV Tuner….


    Yukon Mac Guy had this to say on May 12, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I still have a great running Peforma 638/CDV 12 years after I purchased it.  However now days I generally only use it for the built in TV tuner.  Honestly I don’t think there could ever be such a thing as a bad Mac, some just need more care than others.

    Christopher Nice had this to say on May 13, 2006 Posts: 3
  • Honestly I don’t think there could ever be such a thing as a bad Mac, some just need more care than others.

    The beige G3 with OS9 was a horrible, disgusting, putrid pile of crap.

    On the other hand, the iMac Core Duo I just bought (finally!) is probaby my favorite Mac ever.  Including my brother’s dual-G5, we’re now a three (3) Mac household.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 13, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Come on Beeb, make us green, tell us the specs. smile 2GB RAM? 250GB HDD? 20inch?

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • As opposed to a three (4) mac household I take it…

    Arguably there can all the more easily be a “bad mac” since expectations are higher… see how Monsignor Howard has actually been put off later generations of hardware by bad design of early powerbook hinges. Design-bad-enough-to-serve-as-this-kind of-warning is a pretty good definition of bad.

    Benji had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 927
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