On the 20th Anniversary Mac

At Macworld San Francisco in January of 1997, Apple announced the 20th Anniversary Macintosh. Built to celebrate the company’s birthday which had occurred the previous year, the machine was constructed with gold-colored plastics, fabric and leather. It shipped on March 20, 1997 and a retail price of US$7,499.

(Don’t miss the company’s product video for the machine.)

Apple manufactured only 12,000 TAMs, with a release run of 11,601. The remaining 399 were kept by Apple for use as spare parts. The machine was only for sale in the US and UK, as well as Japan, France, Germany.

Ten TAMs were sent to Apple in Australia. At least two of these were given away as prizes to the public and one went on display in Apple’s Sydney HQ. Woz got one as a gift, and one was seen in Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld for several seasons.

The machine came with a leather CD case and a leather holster for a matching pen and pencil set, and also included the unheard of luxury of a man in a tuxedo coming to your house to deliver, set up, and help you learn how to use your new computer.

While it might not look like it by today’s standard, when released, the TAM was shockingly thin. At 14.9 lbs and just 10" deep, it seemed impossibly thin. It’s obvious that the TAM was Apple’s most forward-thinking machine of the late 1990s.

The arrangement of the LCD, vertical optical drive and overall orientation was re-used when Apple introduced the first iMac G5 in August 2004. The use of a trackpad with a desktop system has also come back, in the form of the Magic Trackpad.

The TAM was more than just forward-thinking though — it was nice. The keyboard and trackpad were flanked in leather, and the pad itself could be popped out and used to either side. (A small leather insert found underneath the keyboard to fill the gap.) The sound system was far better than anything Apple had shipped up to that point, and with the TV tuner card, the system could be used as a media center, not just a computer.

In fact, the TAM shipped with a large, external, Bose-designed subwoofer that doubled as the machine’s power supply. This component connected to the main machine with a custom-built connector. This connector doesn’t age well, and on many remaining TAMs may suffer from broken pins or even rust.

Inside, the TAM was basically a Power Macintosh 6500 with a built-in TV/FM card. The machine ran Mac OS 7.6.1 through 9.1, and required a special version of Mac OS 8. Here are some specs:

  • CPU: 250 MHz PPC 603e
  • RAM: 32 MB (expandable to 128 MB)
  • Level 2 cache: 256 KB, expandable to 1 MB
  • GPU: ATI 3D Rage II
  • 2 MB VRAM with a 12.1" LCD display 800 x 600 at 8- or 16-bit.
  • 2 GB 2.5" ATA/EIDE hard drive, 128 GB maximum
  • 4x CD-ROM and 1.4M floppy drive
  • 1 ADB port, DB–25 SCSI connector, 2 DIN–8 GeoPorts serial ports and 1 PCI 6.88" slot

Because of its PowerPC 603e processor, the TAM cannot run OS X without the addition of a third-party G3 processor upgrade and the use of the once-popular XPostFacto software. Even then, the TAM is best served by some variant of the classic Mac OS.

Its price was cut to $1,999 after Jobs returned to Apple, and the TAM quietly went away.

While Apple didn’t make many of the machines, and it didn’t sell well, the TAM has become a rare collectable, and marks everything that was right — and wrong — about Apple in the late 1990s.