monetary worth

Apple IIGS

The Apple , the fifth model inception of the Apple II, was the most powerful member of the Apple II series of personal computers made by Apple Computer. At the time of its release, it was capable of advanced color graphics and then-state-of-the-art sound synthesis that surpassed those of most other computers, including the black and white Macintosh (apart from a lower vertical resolution). "GS" referred to its enhanced graphics and sound capabilities, which greatly surpassed previous models of the line.

The machine was a radical departure from any previous Apple II, with its true 16-bit architecture, increased processing speed, direct access to megabytes of RAM, wavetable music synthesizer, graphical user interface, and mouse. While still maintaining full backwards compatibility with earlier Apple II models, it blended the Apple II and aspects of Macintosh technology into one. The Apple set forth a promising future and evolutionary advancement of the Apple II line, but Apple paid it relatively little attention as the company increasingly focused on the Macintosh platform.

The Apple was the first computer produced by Apple to use a color graphical user interface, as well as the "Platinum" (light grey) color scheme and the Apple Desktop Bus interface for keyboards, mice, and other input devices. It was also the first personal computer to come with a built-in "wavetable" sample-based synthesizer chip, utilizing technology from Ensoniq. The machine outsold all other Apple products, including the Macintosh, during its first year in production.


The was released September 15, 1986. It was intended to compete with personal computers such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST at the time of its release and was somewhat popular with schools, but Apple failed to promote and update the , preferring to focus on the Macintosh instead. The lacked compelling features over its competitors and increasingly fell behind other personal computers over its lifetime, and Apple ceased production of it in December 1992.

Hardware features

The Apple was an innovative computer with many improvements over the older Apple IIe and Apple IIc. It emulated its predecessors by utilising a custom chip called the Mega II and used the new Western Design Center 65816 16-bit microprocessor running at 2.8 MHz, which was faster than the 8-bit 6502 and 65C02 processors used in earlier Apple IIs and also allowed the to use more RAM.

The also included enhanced graphics and sound, which led to its GS name. Its graphics were the best of the Apple II series, with new Super High Resolution video modes. These included a 640×200-pixel mode with 2-bit palletized color and a 320×200-pixel mode with 4-bit palletized color, both of which could dip in to a 4,096 color palette. By changing the palette on each scanline, it was possible to display up to 256 colors or more per screen, which was quite commonly seen within game and graphic design software. Through some clever programming, it was possible to display as many as 3,200 colors at once. When first introduced, Apple's user interface known as MouseDesk and the system Demo were both in black and white only. Users did not see color until an application which took advantage of the new features was launched. Audio was generated by a built-in sound and music synthesizer in the form of the Ensoniq Digital Oscillator Chip (DOC), which had its own dedicated RAM and 32 separate channels of sound, which were paired to produce 15 voices, in stereo audio.

The could support both 5¼-inch and 3½-inch floppy disks and, like the IIe before it, had several expansion slots. These included seven general-purpose expansion slots compatible with those on the Apple II, II+, and IIe, plus a memory expansion slot that could be used to add up to 8 MB of RAM. The , like the IIc, also had dedicated ports for external devices. These included a port to attach floppy disk drives, two serial ports for devices such as printers and modems (which could also be used to connect to a LocalTalk network), an Apple Desktop Bus port to connect the keyboard and mouse, and composite and RGB video ports. These ports were associated with the slots, so for example using a card in slot 1 would mean the printer port was disabled.

The also supported booting from an AppleShare server, via the AppleTalk protocol, over LocalTalk cabling. Shortly afterward, so could the IIe, via the "Apple IIe Workstation Card". This was over a decade before NetBoot offered the same capability to computers from Mac OS 8 and beyond.

Graphics modes

In addition to supporting all graphics modes of previous Apple II models, the Apple introduced several new ones through a custom Video Graphics Chip (VGC), all of which used a 12-bit palette for a total of 4096 possible colors, though not all 4096 colors could appear onscreen at the same time.

  • 320×200 pixels with a single palette of 16 colors.
  • 320×200 pixels with up to 16 palettes of 16 colors. In this mode, the VGC holds 16 separate palettes of 16 colors in its own memory. Each of the 200 scan lines can be assigned any one of these palettes allowing for up to 256 colors on the screen at once. This mode is handled entirely by the VGC with no CPU assistance, making it perfect for games and high-speed animation.
  • 320×200 pixels with up to 200 palettes of 16 colors. In this mode, the CPU assists the VGC in swapping palettes in and out of the video memory so that each scan line can have its own palette of 16 colors allowing for up to 3200 colors on the screen at once. This mode is computationally-intensive however, and is only suitable for viewing graphics or in paint programs.
  • 320×200 pixels with 15 colors per palette, plus a "fill mode" color. In this mode, color 0 in the palette is replaced by the last non-zero color pixel displayed on the scan line (to the left), allowing fast solid-fill graphics (drawn with only the outlines).
  • 640×200 pixels with four pure colors. This mode is generally only used for ensuring that the Apple logo and menu bar retain their colors in Desktop applications.
  • 640×200 pixels with 16 dithered colors. In this mode, two palettes of four pure colors each are used in alternating columns. The hardware then dithers the colors of adjacent pixels to create 16 total colors on the screen. This mode is generally used for programs requiring finer detail such as word processors and the Finder.

Each scan line on the screen could independently select either 320- or 640-mode, fill mode (320-mode only), and any of the 16 palettes, allowing graphics modes to be mixed on the screen. This is most often seen in graphics programs where the menu bar is constantly in 640-pixel resolution and the working area's mode can be changed depending on the user's needs.

Like other Apple computers, the lacked hardware sprites.

Later on, video cards such as Sequential Systems' Second Sight added SVGA modes allowing 24-bit color to the Apple .

Audio features

The Apple ' sound was provided by an included Ensoniq ES5503 DOC wavetable sound chip, the same chip used in Ensoniq Mirage and Ensoniq ESQ-1 professional-grade synthesizers. The chip allowed for 32 separate channels of sound, though most software paired them into 16 stereo voices, as did most of the standard tools of the operating system (the MIDISynth Tool Set grouped 4 channels per voice, for a limit of 7-voice audio). The is often referred to as a "fifteen-voice system", though, one stereo voice is reserved by the OS at all times for timing and system sounds. Software that doesn't use the OS, or uses custom-programmed tools (most games and demos do this), can access the chip directly and take advantage of all 32 voices.

A standard 1/8" headphone jack was provided on the back of the case, and standard stereo computer speakers could be attached there. However, it provided only mono sound through this jack, and a third party adapter card was required to produce true two-channel stereo, despite the fact the Ensoniq and virtually all native software produced stereo audio (stereo audio was essentially built-in to the machine, but had to be demultiplexed by third party cards). Applied Engineering's SonicBlaster was one of a few developed cards for this purpose.

Expansion capabilities

The was highly expandable. The expansion slots could be used for a variety of purposes, greatly increasing the computer's capabilities. SCSI host adaptors could be used to connect external SCSI devices such as hard drives and CD-ROM drives. Other mass storage devices such as adaptors supporting more recent internal 2.5-inch IDE hard drives could also be used. Another common class of Apple IIGS expansion cards was accelerator cards, such as Applied Engineering's TransWarp GS, replacing the computer's original processor with a faster one. Applied Engineering developed the PC Transporter that was essentially an IBM-XT PC on a card. A variety of other cards were also produced, including ones allowing new technologies such as 10BASE-T Ethernet and CompactFlash cards to be used on the .

Development and codenames

Apple's first internal project to develop a next-generation Apple II based on the 65816 was known as the "IIx". The IIx project, though, became bogged down when it attempted to include various coprocessors allowing it to emulate other computer systems. Early samples of the 65816 were also problematic. These problems led to the cancellation of the IIx project, but somewhat later a new project was formed to produce an updated Apple II. This project, which led to the released , was known by various codenames while the new system was being developed, including "Phoenix", "Rambo", "Gumby", and "Cortland". There were rumors of several vastly enhanced prototypes built over the years at Apple but none were ever released. Only one, "The Mark Twain", has been revealed so far.


During its introduction, Apple sold a specialized set of Bose Roommate speakers that were platinum colored with the Apple logo next to the Bose on each front speaker grille.

Some design features from the ill-fated Apple III lived on in the Apple , such as GS/OS borrowing elements from SOS (including, by way of ProDOS, the SOS filesystem), a unique keyboard feature for dual-speed arrow keys, and colorized ASCII text.

An easter egg (activated by Command-Option-Control-N) in ROM 3 lists the members of development team, and plays an audio clip of them shouting "Apple II!".

Limited Edition ("Woz" signed case)

As part of a commemorative celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the Apple II series' development, as well Apple Computer itself celebrating the same age anniversary, a special limited edition was introduced at product launch. Specifically the first 50,000 Apple IIGS's manufactured had a reproduced copy of Steve Wozniak's signature ("Woz") at the front right corner of the case, with a dotted line and the phrase "Limited Edition" printed just below it. Owners of the Limited Edition, after mailing in their Apple registration card, were mailed back a Certificate of Authenticity signed by Wozniak and 12 key Apple engineers, as well as a personal letter from Steve Wozniak himself (both machine reproduced). Seeing as the difference between standard and Limited Edition machines were purely cosmetic, many users were able to "convert" to the Limited Edition by merely swapping the case lid from an older, existing machine. While of nostalgic value to Apple II users and collectors, presently these stamped lid cases are not considered rare nor do they have any particular monetary worth.

Influence on later computers

The Apple Desktop Bus, which for a long time was the standard for most input peripherals for the Macintosh, first appeared on the Apple . In addition, the other standardized ports and addition of SCSI set a hallmark which allowed Apple for the first time to consolidate their peripheral offerings across both the Apple II and Macintosh product lines, permitting one device to be compatible with multiple disparate computers.

The was also the first Apple product to bear the new brand-unifying color scheme, a warm gray color Apple dubbed "Platinum". This color would remain the Apple standard used on the vast majority of all products for the next decade. The was also the second major computer design after the Apple IIc by Apple's outsourced industrial designer Frogdesign and together with its new corporate color and matching peripherals, officially ushered in the Snow White design language which was used exclusively for the next 5 years and made the Apple product line instantly recognizable around the world.

The inclusion of a professional-grade sound chip in the Apple was hailed by developers and users both, and hopes were high that it would be added to the Macintosh. However, it drew a lawsuit from Apple Records. As part of an earlier trademark dispute with the record company, Apple Computer had agreed not to release music-related products. Apple Records considered the inclusion of the Ensoniq chip in the as a violation of that agreement. Though the was allowed to keep the Ensoniq, Apple has not included dedicated hardware sound synthesizers in any of its Macintosh models since (though of course, third-party products exist).

Software features

Broadly speaking, software that runs on the Apple can be divided into two major categories: 8-bit software compatible with earlier Apple II systems such as the IIe and IIc, and 16-bit -specific software, most of which runs under the Apple System Software and takes advantage of its advanced features, including a near clone of the Macintosh graphical user interface.

8-bit Apple II compatibility

The Apple was almost completely backward compatible with older Apple II computers, so users wouldn't be left with large libraries of useless software. The could run all of Apple's earlier Apple II operating systems: Apple DOS, ProDOS 8, and Apple Pascal. It was also compatible with nearly all 8-bit software running under those systems. Like the Apple II+, IIe, and IIc, the also included Applesoft BASIC and a monitor (which could be used for very simple assembly language programming) in ROM, so they could be used even with no operating system loaded from disk. The 8-bit software ran twice as fast unless the user turned down the processor speed in the control panel.

Apple System Software

The Apple System Software utilized a graphical user interface (GUI) very similar to that of the Macintosh and somewhat like GEM for PCs and the operating systems of contemporary Atari and Amiga computers. Initial versions of the System Software were based on the ProDOS 16 operating system, which was based on the original ProDOS operating system for 8-bit Apple II computers. Although it was modified so that 16-bit Apple software could run on it, ProDOS 16 was written largely in 8-bit code and did not take full advantage of the 's capabilities. Later System Software versions (starting with version 4.0) replaced ProDOS 16 with a new 16-bit operating system known as GS/OS. It better utilized the unique capabilities of the and included many valuable new features. The Apple System Software was substantially enhanced and expanded over the years during which it was developed, culminating in its final version, System 6.0.1, which was released in 1993.

Graphical user interface

The system software provided a mouse-driven graphical user interface using concepts such as windows, menus, and icons. This was implemented by a '"toolbox" of code, some of which resided in the computer's ROM and some of which was loaded from disk. The GUI was very similar to that of early Macintoshes. One major application could run at a time, although other smaller programs known as Desk Accessories could be used simultaneously. The had a Finder application very similar to the Macintosh's, which allowed the user to manipulate files and launch applications. By default, the Finder was displayed when the computer started up and whenever the user quit an application that had been started from it, although the startup application could be changed by the user.


The System Software could be extended through various mechanisms. New Desk Accessories were small programs ranging from a calculator to simple word processors that could be used while running any standard desktop application. Classic Desk Accessories also served as small programs available while running other applications, but they used the text screen and could be accessed even from non-desktop applications. Control Panels and initialization files were other mechanisms that allowed various functions to be added to the system. Finder Extras permitted new capabilities to be added to the Finder, drivers could be used to support new hardware devices, and users could also add "tools" that provided various functions that other programs could utilize easily. These features could be used to provide features never planned for by the system's designers, such as a TCP/IP stack known as "Marinetti."

Multitasking capability

An interesting feature of the was that multitasking was possible. A UNIX-like multitasking kernel was produced, called GNO/ME, which ran under the GUI and provided preemptive multitasking. In addition, a system called The Manager could be used to make the Finder more like the one on the Macintosh, allowing major software (other than just the "accessory" programs) to run simultaneously through cooperative multitasking.

Upgrading from an Apple IIe

Upon its release in September 1986, Apple announced it would be making an upgrade kit to upgrade an Apple IIe to a available for purchase. The upgrade replaced the Apple IIe motherboard for a 16-bit Apple motherboard. Users would bring their Apple IIe machines into an authorized Apple dealership, where the IIe motherboard and lower baseboard of the case were swapped for an Apple motherboard with a new baseboard (with matching cut-outs for the new built-in ports). New metal sticker ID badges replaced those on the front of the Apple IIe, rebranding the machine. Retained were the upper half of the IIe case, the keyboard, speaker and power supply. Original motherboards (those produced between 1986 to mid 1989) had electrical connections for the IIe power supply and keyboard present, although only about half produced had the physical plug connectors factory pre-soldered in, which were mostly reserved for the upgrade kits.

The upgrade cost US$500, plus the trade-in of the user's existing Apple IIe motherboard. It proved unpopular as it did not include a mouse (which was an essential part of the new machine, much like the Macintosh); the keyboard, although functional, did not mimic all the features and functions of the Apple Desktop Bus keyboard, as well as lacking a numeric keypad; and some cards designed for the new 16-bit machine did not fit in the Apple IIe's slanted case either. In the end most users found they were not saving much, once they had to purchase a 3.5 floppy drive, analog RGB monitor and mouse. Although it could use some IIe peripherals, most of them became obsolete in the upgrade due to their function being already built-in. It did however make an attractive upgrade for Apple IIe users wanting to use the machine strictly in IIe-emulation mode (ignoring the native part of the machine), which provided faster CPU operation, 256 KB RAM, a clock and many built-in peripherals via the back ports.

Technical specifications


  • 65C816 running at 2.8 MHz
  • 16-bit internal data bus, 8-bit externalMemory
  • 1.125 MB RAM built-in (256 KB in original)
  • 256 KB ROM built-in (128 KB in original)
  • Expandable to 8.125 MBVideo modes

Emulation video:

  • 40 and 80 columns text, with 24 lines (16 selectable foreground, background, border colors)
  • Low-Resolution: 40×48 (16 colors)
  • High-Resolution: 280×192 (6 colors)
  • Double-Low-Resolution: 80×48 (16 colors)
  • Double-High-Resolution: 560×192 (16 colors)

Native video:

Super-High-Resolution (320 mode)

  • 320x200 (16 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)
  • 320x200 (256 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)
  • 320x200 (3200 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)

Super-High-Resolution (640 mode)

  • 640x200 (4 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)
  • 640x200 (16 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)
  • 640x200 (64 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)
  • 640x200 (800 colors, selectable from 4,096 color palette)


  • 320x200, sections of screens filled in on-the-fly for up to 60 FPS full-screen animation


  • 320/640x200, horizontal resolution selectable on a line by line basisAudio
  • Ensoniq 5503 Digital Oscillator Chip
  • 8-bit audio resolution
  • 64 KB dedicated sound RAM
  • 32 oscillator channels (15 voices when paired)
  • Support for 8 independent stereo speaker channelsExpansion
  • Seven Apple II Bus slots (50-pin card-edge)
  • Memory Expansion slot (44-pin card-edge)Internal connectors
  • Game I/O socket (16-pin DIP)
  • Ensoniq I/O expansion connector (7-pin molex)Specialized chip controllers
  • IWM (Integrated Wozniak Machine) for floppy drives
  • VGC (Video Graphics Controller) for video
  • MEGA II (Apple IIe computer on chip)
  • Ensoniq DOC (wavetable synthesizer)
  • Zilog Z8530 SCC (serial port controller)
  • Apple Desktop Bus microcontroller
  • FPI/CYAExternal connectors
  • NTSC composite video output (RCA connector); PAL composite video was not supported.
  • Joystick (DE-9)
  • Audio-out (1/8" mono phono jack)
  • Printer-serial 1 (mini-DIN8)
  • Modem-serial 2 (mini-DIN8)
  • Floppy drive (D-19)
  • Analog RGB video (D-15)
  • Apple Desktop Bus (s-video/4-pin)

Revision history

While in production between September 1986 and December 1992, the Apple remained relatively unchanged from its original inception. However, during those years, Apple did produce some maintenance updates to the system which mainly compromised of two new ROM-based updates and a revamped motherboard. It is rumored several prototypes that greatly enhanced the machines features and capabilities were designed and even built, though only one has ever been publicly exposed (i.e. the "Mark Twain"). Outlined below are only those revisions and updates officially released by Apple.

Original ROM 1 ("ROM version 00")

During the entire first year of the machine's production an early, almost beta-like, firmware revision shipped with the machine and was notably bug ridden. Some limitations were: the built-in RAM Disk couldn't be set larger than 4096 KB (even if more RAM was present), and the firmware contained the very early System 1.x toolsets. It became incompatible with most native Apple software written from late-1987 onwards, and OS support only lasted up to System 3. The startup splash screen of the original ROM only displayed the words "Apple IIgs" at the top center of the screen, in the same fashion previous Apple II models identified themselves.

Video Graphics Controller (VGC) replacement

Very early production runs of the machine had a faulty Video Graphics Controller (VGC) chip that produced strange cosmetic glitches in emulated (IIe/IIc) video modes. Specifically, the 80 columns text display and monochrome Double-High-Resolution graphics had a symptom where small flickering or static pink bits would appear between the gaps of characters and pixels. Most users noticed this when using AppleWorks classic or the Mousedesk application that was a part of System 1 and 2. Apple resolved the issue by offering a free chip swap upgrade to affected owners.

Updated ROM 2 ("ROM version 01")

In August 1987, Apple released an updated ROM that was included in all new machines and was made available as a free upgrade to all existing owners. The main feature of the new ROM was the presence of the System 2.x toolsets and several bug fixes. The upgrade was vital as software developers, including Apple, ceased support of the original ROM upon its release (most native Apple software written from late-1987 onwards would not run unless a ROM 01 or higher was present. This included the GS/OS operating system). This update also allowed up to 8128 KB for the RAM Disk, added some new features for programmers, and reported the ROM version and copyright information on the startup splash screen.

Increase standard RAM to 512 KB

In March 1988, Apple began shipping Apple units with 512 KB of RAM as standard. This was done by pre-installing the Apple Memory Expansion Card (that was once sold separately) in the memory expansion slot--the card had 256 KB of RAM on board with empty sockets for further expansion. The built-in memory on the motherboard remained at 256 KB and existing users were not offered this upgrade.

Updated ROM 3, The Apple IIgs with 1 MB of RAM

In August 1989, Apple increased the standard amount of RAM shipped in the Apple to 1.125 MB (1152 KB). This time the additional memory was built-in on the motherboard, which required layout change and allowed for other minor improvements as well. This update introduced both a new motherboard and a new ROM firmware update, however neither were offered to existing owners – even as an upgrade option (the new ROM, being larger, was incompatible with the original motherboard). Apple had cited the reason an upgrade was not being offered was on the basis that most of the features of the new machine could be obtained in existing machines by installing System 5 and a fully populated Apple Memory Expansion Card.

The new ROM firmware was now 256 KB in size and contained the System 5.x toolsets. The newer toolsets increased the performance of the machine by up to 10 percent, due to the fact less had to be loaded from disk and their highly optimized routines compared to the older toolsets (pre-GS/OS based). In addition to several bug fixes, more programmer assistance commands/features, a cleaned up Control Panel with improved mouse control, RAM Disk functionality, more flexible Appletalk support and slot mapping were added.

In terms of hardware the new motherboard was a cleaner design that drew less power and resolved audio noise issues that interfered with the Ensoniq synthesizer in the original motherboard. Over four times more RAM was built-in, with double the ROM size, and an enhanced ADB microcontroller added hardware supported sticky keys, emulated keyboard mouse and LED updating on Extended keyboards. The clock battery was now user serviceable being placed in a removable socket, and a jumper location was added to lock out the text-based Control Panel (mainly useful in school environments). Support for the Apple IIe to Apple upgrade was removed, and some cost cutting measures had some chips soldered in place rather than socketed. As the firmware only worked in this motherboard and no new firmware updates were ever issued, users commonly referred to this version of the Apple as the "ROM 3".

International versions

Like the Apple IIe and Apple IIc built-in keyboards before it, the detached Apple IIgs keyboard differed depending on what region of the world it was sold in, with extra local language characters and symbols printed on certain keycaps (e.g. French accented characters on Canadian keyboard such as "á", "é", "ç", etc, or the British Pound "£" symbol on the UK keyboard). However, unlike previous Apple II models, the layout and shape of keys were the same standard for all countries. In order to access the local character set layout and display, users would change settings in the built-in software based Control Panel, which also provides a method of toggling between 50/60 Hz video screen refresh. The composite video output was NTSC only on all ; users in PAL countries were expected to use an RGB monitor. This selectable internationalization made it quick and simple to "localize" any given machine. Also present in the settings was a QWERTY/DVORAK keyboard toggle for all countries, much like that of the Apple IIc. Outside North America the Apple shipped with a different 220v clip-in powersupply, making this and the plastic keycaps the only physical difference (and also very modular, in the sense of converting a non-localized machine to a local one).

Notable Apple II developers

John Carmack, founder of id Software, started his career by writing commercial software for the Apple . The same is true of John Romero and Tom Hall. Wolfenstein 3D, based on the Apple II originated game Castle Wolfenstein, came full circle back to the Apple II series when it was released for the Apple in 1994.

Bob Yannes, creator of the SID synthesizer chip used in the Commodore 64, went on to design the Ensoniq 5503 DOC synthesizer used in the Apple .

Two mainstream video games, Zany Golf and The Immortal, originated as Apple -specific games that were later ported to several platforms due to their immense popularity.

Naughty Dog, the well known PlayStation game developer, started as an Apple game software company. Pangea Software, one of the best-known and popular Macintosh game developers, also started as an Apple game software company.

Between the late 1980s to early 1990s, the Apple developed its own demoscene very similar in vein to that of the Amiga and Atari ST, albeit much smaller and lesser known. The most popular demo group was called FTA (Free Tools Association) and was from France. Two of their demos (Nucleus and Modulae) were very popular and were used by Apple itself and by retailers to show off the computer.

Nintendo adopted the 65C816 as the basis for the custom CPU in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Many early SNES programmers used the Apple as a SNES game development platform to write code on.

Prototype of the MEGA II chip was a large board containing mostly discrete logic parts called "El Grande".

Failed developments

VTech, makers of the Laser series, demonstrated a prototype of a more powerful Apple compatible in 1989. It was never released due to licensing issues with Apple.

A project called "Avatar" in the early 90s promised a 32-bit state of the art machine that was backwards compatible with the Apple . It was never finished or released. Some doubt that the project even got out of the conceptualization stage.

Cirtech started work on, but never completed, a black and white Macintosh hardware emulation plug-in card for the Apple dubbed "Duet".

See also

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