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Apple IIGS CD-ROM vs. Earlier Apple II | A Comparison


Apple IIGS CD-ROM vs. Earlier Apple II | A Comparison

The world of personal computing has witnessed remarkable evolution over the years, with Apple Inc. consistently pushing the boundaries of technology. Among its many contributions, the Apple II series holds a special place in computer history. In this comparison article, we will explore the Apple IIGS CD-ROM and its predecessor, the earlier Apple II models, to understand how these two iconic systems differ and the impact they had on personal computing.

The Apple II Legacy

Before diving into the comparison, it’s essential to appreciate the significance of the Apple II series. Launched in 1977 by Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the Apple II was one of the earliest mass-produced microcomputers. Its arrival marked a pivotal moment in the history of personal computing, as it was one of the first computers designed for ordinary consumers rather than just hobbyists and engineers.

Earlier Apple II Models

The earlier Apple II models, such as the Apple II and Apple II Plus, were groundbreaking. They featured a microprocessor, a keyboard, and a built-in BASIC programming language, which made them accessible and versatile. Users could expand their capabilities through a range of peripherals and expansion cards.

The hallmark of these early models was their use of a television set as a display, which was revolutionary at the time. However, they relied primarily on floppy disks for data storage and lacked many features we take for granted today, such as colour graphics and sound capabilities.

The Apple IIGS CD-ROM: A New Era

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and Apple was ready to take the Apple II series to the next level. In 1986, the Apple IIGS was introduced. The “GS” in its name stood for “Graphics and Sound,” highlighting the significant advancements in these areas.

Graphics and Sound

One of the most notable improvements in the Apple IIGS was its graphical capabilities. It supported a colour palette of 4,096 colours, a significant upgrade from the earlier models that were limited to monochrome or a limited range of colours. This made the IIGS attractive to gamers, graphic designers, and anyone interested in multimedia applications.

Sound was another area where the IIGS excelled. It featured an Ensoniq sound chip that provided high-quality stereo sound, starkly contrasting the beeps and boops of the earlier Apple II models. This sound capability was a game-changer for music enthusiasts and game developers.

CD-ROM Drive

The most significant innovation with the Apple IIGS was the inclusion of a CD-ROM drive. In 1989, Apple introduced the AppleCD 600i, an external CD-ROM drive explicitly designed for the IIGS. This marked a significant departure from the earlier Apple II models, which relied solely on floppy disks and cassette tapes for data storage and software distribution.

The CD-ROM drive opened up new possibilities for the IIGS. It allowed users to access a vast library of multimedia content, educational software, and games on compact discs. This was a significant advancement, as floppy disks had limited storage capacity and were becoming increasingly inadequate for the growing demands of software developers.

Enhanced Processing Power

The Apple IIGS featured a 16-bit 65C816 microprocessor, a considerable upgrade from the 8-bit processors in earlier Apple II models. This enhanced processing power made the IIGS more capable of handling complex applications and graphics-intensive tasks.

The increased processing power and the graphical and sound enhancements made the IIGS a versatile machine suitable for both productivity and entertainment. It could run productivity software, educational programs, and games with ease.


Apple was mindful of its existing user base when designing the IIGS. It included backward compatibility with earlier Apple II software, allowing users to run their favourite programs from previous generations. This eased the transition for Apple II enthusiasts and ensured their existing software investments were still relevant.

A Comparison: Apple IIGS CD-ROM vs. Earlier Apple II

Now that we have explored the key features of the Apple IIGS CD-ROM and the earlier Apple II models let’s compare these two iconic systems across various aspects:

1. Graphics and Sound

Apple IIGS CD-ROM: The IIGS excelled in graphics and sound, offering a wide range of colours and high-quality stereo sound, making it a superior choice for multimedia applications and gaming.

Earlier Apple II Models: The earlier models had limited graphical capabilities and produced simple beeps and tones for sound, which restricted their multimedia potential.

2. Storage and Data Access

Apple IIGS CD-ROM: Including a CD-ROM drive significantly expanded storage capacity and enabled access to a vast library of software and multimedia content.

Earlier Apple II Models: The earlier models relied on floppy disks and cassette tapes for data storage and software distribution, which had limited capacity and convenience.

3. Processing Power

Apple IIGS CD-ROM: The IIGS featured a 16-bit microprocessor, offering enhanced processing power for more complex tasks and applications.

Earlier Apple II Models: The earlier models used 8-bit processors, which limited their capabilities for handling advanced software and graphics.

4. Backward Compatibility

Apple IIGS CD-ROM: The IIGS retained backward compatibility with earlier Apple II software, ensuring users could run their existing programs.

Earlier Apple II Models: These models did not offer backward compatibility with the IIGS or later models, potentially requiring users to repurchase software.

5. Multimedia and Entertainment

Apple IIGS CD-ROM: The IIGS was well-suited for multimedia and entertainment, with its CD-ROM drive, advanced graphics, and high-quality sound.

Earlier Apple II Models: The earlier models were limited in multimedia capabilities, primarily used for productivity and educational purposes.

Impact on Computing and Legacy

The introduction of the Apple IIGS CD-ROM represented a significant leap forward in personal computing. It bridged the gap between the earlier Apple II models and modern multimedia computers. Its graphical and sound capabilities and the CD-ROM drive opened new doors for creativity, entertainment, and education.

The Apple IIGS CD-ROM’s legacy can be seen in its influence on subsequent generations of personal computers. It paved the way for multimedia PCs and Macintosh computers that would dominate the market in the 1990s and beyond. Its backward compatibility also ensured a smooth transition for Apple II enthusiasts who wanted to explore the future of computing.

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