1984 Apple Macintosh vs today’s Apple iMac: Spec comparison

In many ways, the Apple Macintosh, which turned 30 years old at the end of last week, brought us into the modern PC era.

That first model, simply called Macintosh (later rebadged the Macintosh 128K) brought users a relatively refined GUI, and the Mac OS that continues now as Mac OS X. The Mac even ushered in Steve Jobs' first keynote, with the unveiling of the iconic "1984" ad during the 1984 Super Bowl. But it's hard to appreciate technology at a distance, because even the best computer from 1984 looks like a solar-powered calculator in 2014.

At any rate, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare the original and newest Apple all-in-ones, looking first at the Macintosh, and then comparing it to the current Apple iMac 27in. The newest iMac might look a little more impressive on paper, with new-fangled technologies like Thunderbolt and Fusion Drive and an IPS display, but the original Mac was pretty awesome for its time – as you’ll see (ahem).

Apple Macintosh

Before we even talk about the impressive hardware inside the original Macintosh, I'd like to point out the all-in-one design. The computing hardware is actually built into the same chassis as the 9in CRT display, which offers a high resolution (512 x 342-pixel) black-and-white display, with an impressive 80 pixels per inch. There's even a manual brightness control knob. The beige plastic is rugged and stylish, and the design features an integrated handle, so business users can more easily take it on the go. Measuring just 245 x 275 x 340mm (WxDxH), and weighing 7.5kg, the Macintosh is made for easy portability. There's even a special chip inside for the clock and calendar with its own battery, so that unplugging the Mac doesn't reset the date and time.

On the front of the Mac is a 3.5in floppy disk drive. With each disk boasting 400k of available memory, it's a pretty big deal. You can not only boot up the system and load an application, there's even room for storing data right on the same disk. An external secondary disk drive – an extra $495 (£300) – adds the ability to use multiple disks for storing documents and programs. Plus, the second drive can connect directly through an integrated 19-pin connector, so there's no need to purchase an extra connector card just to hook up your disk drive.

Also on the front of the Mac is a jack for connecting the Macintosh Keyboard. The keyboard attaches with a telephone-type connector, so there's no hassling with a connector you don't know how to use. And with the same coiled style of cable used on a telephone handset, you actually have the freedom to move the keyboard to a more comfortable position anywhere within the three foot range that the cord will stretch. The Mac Keyboard itself isn't quite like other keyboards. The beige and grey colour scheme is nice, but the layout is unique, with the addition of the Option and Command keys, and no numeric pad or arrow keys – Apple wants you using the Mac Mouse.

Though not the first such device out there, the Mac Mouse is integral to Apple's new graphical interface, which lets you do things like point and click icons on the screen instead of entering text-based commands, and select text with a moving cursor. The Mac Mouse isn't the first of its kind on the market, but it's a little simpler than others. Apple has designed the mouse with only one button, instead of the usual two, because too many buttons just gets confusing.

There's also some software bundled with the Macintosh that lets you use the mouse right away – an impressive graphics painting program called MacPaint. Using the cursor and a palette of tools and patterns, you can use the mouse to draw, paint, erase, and more. There's even an undo command that lets you remove mistakes.

The second application bundled with the Mac is called MacWrite, a word processor that lets you type, and see on screen just how the text will look, with formatting and font selection showing up right on the screen. Selecting text is quick and intuitive using the mouse instead of the keyboard to navigate, and commands like copy, paste, and undo make word processing faster and easier.

On the back of the Macintosh you'll find a few more ports, like two specialised serial ports for connecting a printer and modem. The fact that the Mac can connect to peripherals without adding a $150 (£90) card is a big enough deal that Apple trumpets the fact in its print ads. You can also connect to a local network of "up to 16 different Apple computers and peripherals" using AppleTalk. There is even a sound port, taking advantage of the Mac's "Polyphonic Sound Generator" to connect to headphones or a speaker.

The real magic is inside, however. The Apple Macintosh boasts the latest in microprocessor technology, with a Motorola 68000 microprocessor that offers the blistering speed of 8MHz. And this isn't some piddly 16-bit chip, it's a 32-bit powerhouse of a microprocessor, paired with 64 kilobytes of ROM and 128 kilobytes of RAM.

At only $2,495 ($5,590 in 2014 money, or £3,380) through authorised Apple dealers, the Apple Macintosh comes with the Macintosh Keyboard and Mouse.

Apple iMac 27in (Intel Core i5-4670)

The most recent Apple iMac is also an all-in-one, with a 27in display. The IPS panel may boast millions of colours and great viewing angles, but I think it's safe to say that not everyone is impressed with its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. And there's no brightness control knob. Regardless of what you think about the display quality, the new iMac is far from portable. That 27in display is tough to carry around, and even though it's the thinnest all-in-one desktop Apple has ever made, it weighs in at 9.5kg, which is 2kg more than the original Mac. There's also no handle, so carrying the iMac through an airport or hotel lobby will be a little awkward. Score another point for the Macintosh.

Although a few people may have balked at the Mac's single disk drive, the 27in iMac doesn't even have that. There’s no floppy drive, no optical drive, nothing. Apple is hoping that the 1TB Fusion Drive will somehow make up for this with oodles of storage capacity and some fancy optimisation that shifts data back and forth from the hard drive to some flash memory automatically. There's one problem they forgot to anticipate – how is anyone supposed to start up the iMac without a start-up disk?

Like the original Macintosh, Apple has equipped the iMac with its own unique keyboard and mouse. Apparently, the unique keyboard layout – with Option and Command keys and no numeric pad – is still working out, though the new iMac does include arrow keys. The mouse is nowhere near as blocky as the original, but what happened to the single big button? It seems it's been replaced with some sort of touch interface on the surface of the mouse. Yeah, good luck Apple. Oh, and what happened to the telephone cord? I can't even see the connector cables for the current keyboard and mouse.

The software selection that comes with the 27in iMac does have more titles included for free, with the iLife Suite (including iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand), Safari, and other apps like iBooks and Maps. Okay, so it's good to see that Mac OS is still alive and well with OS X Mavericks, and the software selection is pretty good. Maybe this is one area where the new iMacs do better.

On the back of the system, you'll find the ports and connectors – a stereo minijack, an SDXC card reader, four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. And yes, you read that right; there's not a single serial port to be found.

Finally, let's look at the hardware. The most recently reviewed version of the iMac comes with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor. Okay, so there's almost no comparing it to the Motorola 68000 found in the Macintosh. The 1984 Mac had a single 32-bit processor, with no multicore design, no multithread capability, and I didn't even mention the Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX graphics processor that's also in the iMac. And the difference in RAM – well, comparing the 8GB (that's gigabytes, or roughly 1,000,000 kilobytes) of the current iMac to the 128 kilobytes of the original Macintosh is sort of like comparing the Titanic to a dinghy. I'll admit it, the hardware might be a little better on the newer iMac.

The Apple iMac 27in starts at £1,599, with the configuration seen in our review selling for £1,909 direct. That's a lot cheaper when you adjust for 30 years of inflation (which, as we previously mentioned, puts the old Mac at around the three grand mark).

Here's a spec summary table for you to peruse:

Apple Macintosh (128K)

Apple iMac 27in

Processor

Motorola 68000 (8MHz)

Intel Core i5-4670 (3.4GHz)

RAM

0.13MB

8GB

Size and Weight

245 x 275 x 340mm (WxDxH); 7.5kg

650 x 5 x 516mm (WxDxH); 9.5kg

Storage

400K Floppy Disk

1TB Fusion Drive

Ports

2 x RS-422 DE9 serial (non-standard); 9-pin D-sub connector; Audio jack

4 x USB 3.0; 2 x Thunderbolt; Mini DisplayPort; Gigabit Ethernet; Headphone jack

Display

9in, 512 x 342 pixels

27in, 2,560 x 1,440 pixels

Screen Type

Black & White CRT

Colour IPS LED

Operating System

Macintosh System

OS X Mavericks

Wireless

Uh, no

802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Extras

It has a handle!

FaceTime HD camera; Stereo speakers; Dual microphones; SDXC card slot

Price

£3,380 (inflation adjusted for 2014)

£1,599

Old Mac vs iMac

All joking aside, there's no doubt that Apple's latest iMac is miles ahead of the original Macintosh in terms of display quality, processing capability, and storage space. And 30 years has allowed for immensely more sophisticated software and an astonishingly broad selection of apps, programs, and uses for the personal computer that original Mac users could only dream of. Technology is funny that way; even the most advanced tech looks old and decrepit after a few years as new hardware and software grows beyond the old in leaps and bounds.

The most stunning thing about the original Macintosh, however, isn't how the hardware has aged, or how much more can be done now. Rather, it’s in realising how deeply influential the Mac really was. I joke about the Macintosh being an all-in-one PC, but for a long time, that's exactly what a PC was; we've only recently swung back to it after years dominated by towers and boxes. The portability of the original Macintosh was also a pretty big deal, letting you lug it across the country for a meeting, or relocate an office with slightly more ease. It brought the window-based GUI to the masses, and made personal computing accessible to regular users with an interface and a design language that stripped away the opacity and abstraction of text-based systems. It helped the average user to grasp the capabilities for computers as tools for more than just number crunching, but for publishing and art.

I'm actually too young to remember the Macintosh when it was new – I was about a year old at the time – but it's not hard to see the lasting effects it had on the personal computing industry, and technology in general. This was a computer that you could use without having to sit through training courses. This was a computer that said Hello when starting up. The Macintosh was the computer that made computing personal, and it has influenced technology for a generation after. Who knows what further impact we'll see in another 30 years.

For more Macintosh nostalgia, see our closer look at the teardown of the original Apple Mac, and if that’s still not enough retro goodness for you, you might also want to look at our 14 fascinating pieces of Apple Macintosh trivia.