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The original school computer.

Introduced in 1977, the Apple II (officially formatted "Apple ][") was, to many kids in America in the 1980s and 1990s, their first introduction to a computer that could also play some decent games. It was an improved version of Apple's very first computer, the Apple I, which had only been produced as a model kit in limited quantities. At its premiere, the Apple II was a total shock to the industry. When most manufacturers were still selling single-board computers for developers, or big metal boxes that looked more appropriate in a server room than a family room, the II's stylish plastic case and integrated keyboard proved to be far more accessible to the home user. Its clever integrated-motherboard design by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made it easy to connect to a common NTSC TV (important given that color monitors cost well over $500 in the mid-1970s — owning a color monitor in 1975 was equivalent to owning a 4K 144Hz refresh rate HDR OLED G-Sync ultra-wide monitor in 2020), as well as providing two color graphics modes when most computers could barely display monochrome text. It shipped with a simple BASIC interpreter called "Integer BASIC", also written by Wozniak, as well as a few simple games on cassette tape.

Upgrades to the system added more memory, 80-column graphics, and an expanded BASIC interpreter (written by Microsoft, of all companies) called "Applesoft BASIC". The biggest upgrade, however, came in 1978 with the introduction of the "Disk II" floppy drive system. Not only was it faster than most other floppy systems of the time, but yet another clever design made its controller more affordable by putting some of the more difficult functions in software, which also made it one of the biggest targets for Copy Protection. Around this time, business users were starting to take notice, and the first Killer App for a personal computer, the VisiCalc spreadsheet package, debuted in 1979.

The Apple II was so influential that when IBM decided to build its own PC in 1980, it borrowed many of the Apple II's design cues, including a built-in BASIC interpreter (a trait also borrowed by the TRS-80) and many expansion slots. Apple's own attempt at building a "serious" computer, the Apple III (also spelled "Apple ///"), didn't fare so well; a rushed design and Steve Jobs' insistence that the machine not have a fan made it highly unreliable; it was also deliberately incompatible with a lot of Apple II software, especially games. Apple, surprised that the II series was still selling, responded in 1983 by introducing a new version, the IIe, which simplified the motherboard design and added "double high res" text and graphics modes to help compete with the brand-new (and much cheaper) Commodore 64. This was followed up by the compact IIc, a "portable"note  model with the IIe's features and a built-in disk drive, released in 1984.

The most advanced member of the II family was the 16-bit Apple IIGS, introduced in 1986 to much fanfare. It used the brand-new GTE 65C816 processor (the same one used in the SNES. Word of God has it that IIGS machines were used for software development at Nintendo and several other houses developing for the SNES, although this was eventually debunked by former Rare employees), and upgraded the line's graphics and sound substantially. While it wasn't as well accepted as the 8-bit models were among game developers, the IIGS was a fixture in many schools, and in many ways outstripped the Macintosh of its day.

The Apple II finally succumbed to old age in 1993 — a run of 16 years, with the decade-old IIe outliving all of its more advanced siblings (the IIe did receive an update in 1987, which partially moved it to the IIGS's "Snow White" design language, and added a numeric keypad). A large enthusiast community still exists, and real diehards are still creating hardware and software.

It should be noted that the Apple II outside of the GS has no sound capability outside of a basic beeper just like the IBM PC. To fix this problem, sound cards were made for the platform, many of them using General Instrument's AY-series Programmable Sound Generator. Needless to say these cards are incompatible with the IIc machines (although there was a special external version of the Mockingboard for the IIc). The most popular and defacto sound card for the platform is the Mockingboard, although there exist several competitors (i.e. ALF Music Card and Applied Engineering's Phasor). The Mountain Computer Music System was the closest thing the Apple II outside of the IIGS has to digital audio, being capable of two channels of 8-bit PCM audio. Some sites even claim that the Mountain Computer Music System was a wavetable card capable of 8 simultaneous sampled voices. If true, this wavetable card predates what is widely claimed as the first wavetable card for western computers in the market, the Gravis Ultrasound for the PC, by almost a decade; and Konami's SCC+ wavetable card for MSX computers by several years.

It's also notable that the Apple II received several unauthorized clones, most notably from electronics manufacturer Franklin and toy manufacturer VTech. They continued to be sold during and after several lawsuits from Apple, with Franklin paying a US$2.5 million settlement to Apple, and eventually agreeing to leave the computer market in 1988. It is thought that VTech also eventually paid settlement to Apple and eventually suffered the same fate (nowadays, VTech is mostly known as a maker of educational toysnote , and to a lesser extent, cordless phones and baby monitors). However, this lawsuit evidently shows the importance of clean-room reverse engineering and is still used as an example in courts even today.


Apple II

  • Introduced 1977.
  • MOS 6502 CPU running at 1 MHz.
  • Up to 48k RAM.
  • On-board video adapter with shared video memory provided 40-column text, 40x48 (lo-res) graphics in 16 colors, or 256x192 (hi-res) graphics in 6 colors.
  • On-board cassette adapter.

Apple II+

  • Introduced 1979.
  • MOS 6502 CPU running at 1 MHz.
  • 48k RAM, expandable to 64kb.
  • Introduced Applesoft BASIC into ROM.
  • Versions were created for the European and Japanese markets, called the Europlus and J-Plus respectively, with the latter receiving katakana support on its keyboard.
  • Film equipment company Bell & Howell produced a special black version of the II+ under license from Apple themselves in which the top could be locked, thus allowing UL Certification, especially for use in schools.

Apple IIe

  • Introduced 1983.
  • GTE 65C02 CPU running at 1 MHz.
  • 64k or 128k RAM.
  • Same graphics modes as the original; with the 80-column card, the hi-res mode could do 16 colors (double hi-res).
  • MouseText characters in ROM for text-based graphical user interfaces.

Apple IIc

  • Introduced 1984.
  • Miniaturized version of the IIe, with integrated peripherals (including a disk drive) and mouse support.

Apple IIgs

  • Introduced 1986.
  • GTE 65C816 CPU at 1 or 2.8 MHz (software switchable).
  • 256k RAM on the motherboard; could address up to 8 MB. The rare "ROM 3" version had a full megabyte on-board.
  • Added two new "super hi-res" modes: 320x200 in 256 colors, and 640x200 in 16 colors (all from a 4096-color palette).
    • There was also a hack that allowed the "320 mode" to display 3200 colors at once, though it flickered badly and was mainly used for photo viewers.
  • Built-in Ensoniq DOC PCM sound system (32 voices, 64k sample RAM).
  • Built-in ADB mouse/keyboard controller, dual serial ports with AppleTalk support, and "SmartPort" floppy drive controller (which supported both 5.25- and 3.5-inch floppies).
  • GS/OS provided a Mac-like desktop and apps, though it wasn't widely used since it really needed a hard drive to shine.

Apple IIc Plus

  • Introduced 1988.
  • VLSI/Apple semi-custom 65C02 at 1 or 4 MHz (selectable at boot), with 8 KB level-1 cache.
    • The fastest stock Apple II ever, clock-speed wise. Also the first and only Apple II to have cache memory; the technology was licensed from the makers of the ZipChip accelerator and used the same configuration utilities.
  • Built-in 3.5" floppy drive with 2 KB buffer; the buffer was added so that the CPU could keep up with the faster bit rate of the 3.5" drive at 1 MHz.

Notable games and series:

Games requiring a IIGS are marked with an asterisk.

Original Titles

Ported or Concurrently Developed