The AppleCD Line

I recently finished Harry McCracken’s excellent article about the CD-ROM’s rise in the mid-1990s, and it made me realize that I had never really explored Apple’s early CD hardware.

Depending on how you count things, Apple sold six SCSI CD-ROM drives, from the “AppleCD SC” in March 1988 to the 600e, which was on sale from 1995 to sometime in 1997. Ahem.

The AppleCD SC utilized a CD caddy and could read CD-ROMs at 1x speed. It could handle discs up to 650 MB in size across five formats:

  • CD-Audio
  • CD-ROM
  • HFS
  • ProDos
  • High Sierra

(We don’t have time to dig into CD formats today, but things were a mess there for a while.)

This drive could be used with a Macintosh with a DB-25 connector or an Apple IIe or IIGS with a SCSI card installed. It came equipped with RCA jacks, a headphone jack, and a volume knob for those who wanted to use it for music playback. It sold for $1,199, or almost $3,200 in today’s money.

A common complaint about the AppleCD SC was the fan, which could ingest dust and interfere with CD playback. Apple removed the fan in later models, per this ancient support document:

Question: The outside of the box of my new AppleCD SC says: APPLE CD ROM/NO FAN. When did Apple stop including the fan? Why?

Answer: Apple stopped including the fan in the AppleCD SC in early 1990. We had found that the fan was drawing an excess amount of dust and other airborne particles into the CD mechanism and depositing them on the optical read head. The fan turned out to be unnecessary, so it was removed completely.

In 1991, Apple released the SC Plus, which was a minor revision to the product. It cost $400 less and supported discs up to 750 MB in size.

I adore how this thing looks:

AppleCD SC Plus

image via Apple Rescue of Denver

Starting in March 1992, Apple released at least four more models, though I’ve seen other model numbers referenced online:

  • AppleCD 150
  • AppleCD 300
  • AppleCD 300e Plus
  • AppleCD 600e

The 300 was covered by Adam Engst at TidBITS in October 1992. The headline feature was the drive’s new speed of 300 Kbps:

The new CD player from Apple sets the standard for others to aim at with its double-speed technology, a speed select switch, a reasonable list price of $599, and support for multi-session PhotoCDs along with three other formats I’m unfamiliar with, CD-ROM XA (which apparently requires some extra hardware to play compressed audio), CD+G, and CD+MIDI. It of course reads all the ISO 9660/High Sierra and Macintosh HFS discs that the old (and still available) AppleCD 150 can read. The drive has an average access time of 295 milliseconds in double-speed mode, in which it can also transfer 300 KB of data per second.

Double-speed technology isn’t new, since NEC has had the CDR-73M out for a while now, but it was plagued with some early problems that NEC only recently fixed. The AppleCD 300 hopes to avoid any such problems with its front-mounted speed select switch, and frankly, I suspect that Apple tested more carefully than NEC anyway, to judge from some of the less than favorable comments I’ve received about NEC.

As you may have expected, the later 600e ran was a “quad-speed” drive, running at 684.4 Kbps, according to this 1995 Apple press release:

In support of its commitment to offer customers cutting-edge multimedia hardware at reasonable prices, Apple Computer, Inc. today unveiled the AppleCD 600e Quad-Speed CD-ROM player. The AppleCD 600e is twice as fast as previous CD- ROM players from Apple, allowing users access to the latest multimedia applications including those with full-screen, full-motion video.

“This is yet another example of Apple’s continued commitment to enriching the user experience, while setting the standard for ease of use and providing a significant price/performance advantage,” said Satjiv S. Chahil, vice president and general manager of Apple’s New Media Group. “The affordable AppleCD 600e, at just US$349 ApplePrice, provides a far richer experience for multimedia consumers for the same price as Apple’s previous double-speed CD- ROM players.”

The AppleCD 600e Quad-Speed external CD-ROM player combines the efficient industrial design, quality and reliability of its award- winning predecessor with twice the performance. At 684.4 Kbps streaming data transfer rate, it is faster than most other quad- speed players currently on the market.

As a nice bonus, the 600e didn’t require a caddy for discs. It had lost all of its Snow White goodness, though:

AppleCD 600e

image via Wikipedia

The service manuals for these models are still kicking around online if you’re looking for more details on this small chapter in Apple hardware history:

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