What makes a Mac a Mac?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by my buddy Thomas Brand.

What makes a Mac a Mac?
Is it a computer made by Apple?
Does it need to run the Mac OS?
For a Mac to be a Mac does its hardware,
does its design sit heads above the rest?

iPad, iPhone, and even the Newton are all computers made by Apple.
But none of them are Macs.

The Macintosh clones from PowerComputing, Motorola, Umax, and every closet Hackintosh all run Mac OS.
But none of them are Macs.

Back in November 1996, when Apple was doomed, and its hardware wasn’t much better than the average PC. Apple introduced a different kind of computer, the Power Macintosh 4400. It wasn’t a Mac, it was a Macintosh clone made by Apple.
And it was a piece of junk.

The Power Macintosh 4400 was easily identifiable, as its floppy disk drive was located on the left side of the case.
It is the only southpaw Power Macintosh in existence.

Power Macintosh 4400

The second of only two early Apple computers to ship in a metal case; everything about the Power Macintosh 4400 felt cheap.
Everything was sharp around the edges.

Stamped out of pressed steel to save money, its case was secured with screws instead of using clever little latches like its peers. The Power Macintosh 4400 looked so much like a PC it is hard to believe it was Designed by Apple in California.

Power Macintosh 4400

Built from inexpensive PC parts, the Power Macintosh 4400 didn’t look much better on the inside. It used a slow IDE hard drive when most of Apple’s computers were using SCSI. It shipped with a cheap PC compatible ATX power supply. Its modified Tanzania motherboard was the reference design used on popular Macintosh clones.
And yes — by way of an optional 166 MHz Cyrix CPU — it could even run Windows.

Not meant to be upgraded, the Power Macintosh 4400’s 160/200 MHz CPU was soldered to the motherboard. Its expandability was limited to three PCI slots, with one taken up by the Ethernet card. RAM maxed out at 160 MBs, and there was only room for a single 2 GB hard drive. In a word it was “slow,” barely matching the performance of Macs half its clock speed.

The Power Macintosh 4400 ran System Software 7.5.3 through Mac OS 9.1. Just don’t install System Software 7.5.5.
It won’t boot.

Power Macintosh 4400

MacWeek called it “a strange bird,” probably because the Power Macintosh 4400 was full of quirks all its own. Like the fact it won’t turn on without a charge from its 4.5 V PRAM battery. Or that RAM slot #1 only supports 32 MBs of single-bank memory, while RAM slot #2 and #3 support up to 64 MBs each. The Power Macintosh 4400 required expensive 3.3 V EDO memory, back when every other Apple computer worked with cheaper 5 V DIMMs.

Here’s Eric Schwarz on the machine’s place in the line up:

The 4400 was Apple’s attempt at making a cheap Mac. With a price tag around $1700, it certainly wasn’t cheap by today’s standards (a fascinating sidenote: for $150 more, you could have gotten a vastly superior Power Macintosh 6400.).

I think that sums it up nicely.

Photo credit: Stephen Edmonds.