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The ideal Apple II beginner's setup. What is it?


Keatah
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I get asked more and more frequently, on-line and in person, what is the most ideal + cost effective setup for enjoying the essence of the Apple II. To this I tend to respond with something like the following:

 

REQUIRED:

1- Enhanced Apple //e or Platinum
2- 2 Disk II drives and a controller
3- Color composite monitor
4- 80column/64k card
5- Super Serial Card
6- Paddles and Joystick
..and optionally
7- A modern flash-based storage solution
8- Original period correct manuals and books
9- Some form of clock/calendar card
10- An internal or external modem
11- Grappler + printer interface
12- Dot-Matrix printer
13- Wood bureau/desk with other various 70's and 80's accouterments like notebook, paper, pencil LED calculator, some "Solar System" posters and Voyager 2 photos, digital clock radio, old-school phone.. that sort of thing.

 

You should be able to get the required stuff for about $500 and all the optional stuff for another $500. Perhaps cheaper if you get lucky.

 

---

 

I picked the Enhanced //e or Platinum //e because of the strong expansion capabilities in the form of slots and most recent firmware. I also picked real disk drives simply because they were so much a part of early computing. And the Apple II was very flexible and versatile with 2 of them. Disk drives were the ultimate storage at the time.

 

A color monitor is a requirement because of the thousands of games. There are still many to pick from. 1084S Commodore monitors are excellent and have a color comb switch to get razor sharp 80-solumn text, or color. Get this if you can't afford the now $600 Apple color monitors. Eventually a VGA adapter and LCD will be the only choices. Or a cheap LCD a/v monitor may work nicely.

 

80c/64k card, so damned cheap and gives you 64k extra for more advanced text and graphics. Don't pay more than $10 for the Apple branded 2" model used in the Platinum //e.

 

SuperSerialCard, you're going to need it to transfer software to and from PC.

 

Paddles and Joystick, the answer is clear and obvious. I like TG products' stuff. They're built from standard materials and parts, including the "project box" housings.

 

I mention printer and Grappler interface because PrintShop was a killer app back in the day. Making banners and cards was fun even if you didn't use them for their intended purpose. Printing at home was a big thing back in the day. And a near novelty too!

 

I like the Grappler+ interface from Orange Micro because it is easy to use, has some useful functionality built into firmware, and is widely supported. And it can "emulate" or be compatible with lesser-featured, earlier interfaces. Can't go wrong.

 

I mention a clock card because ProDOS uses it, and it was just fun to play with one when I first got it. I wrote this simple BASIC program that'd read the clock A.E. TimeMaster II H.O. A popular card that did it all. And it even had the H.O. (high-output) moniker that was popular in the day. Like the hi-output 160hp Camaro engines. Much like the over-used VR and HDR labels of today.

 

Modem is important. Apple-Cat II or Hayes MicroModem II, or external USR. So much of the BBS era (especially pirate stuff) happened with Apple II & modems. You may never use one, but they're just fun and that's why it's optional. YMMV. For me it's fun setting up an AE Line or my old BBS and calling in. Or getting my old buddies to call in.

 

Modern Flash-based storage solution. I almost put this in the required category, but considering the expense and difficulty finding them, I made it optional. Most people will eventually get this add-on once they are tired of messing with floppies. It is first on the optional list however. If so much of the Apple II's greatness wasn't rooted in disk-based software I might have put in the required list.

 

Period correct original manuals. These are still pretty cheap and are sleeper items. Not boring to read, but, instead, they are surprisingly well written tutorials. Especially TRS-80 and Apple II manuals. The beautiful mix of technospeak and layperson terms is something of a lost art today. Not only that, they have interesting insight to what was popular at the time (in the world of computing). Some were even really creative with their suggestions for example programs and for showing what the industry wanted you to be doing at the time. Recipies, Budgeting, Checkbook, Dieting were all popular things. These days we just ask the internet and not worry about combining that stuff with a computer.

 

Stuff listed under #13, this is just for making your area look 70's and 80's. You can do anything here, really.

 

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an apple IIc

 

 

Yeah. For a beginner, the Apple //c is the way to go. I feel like the setup in the OP is more for someone who bought a //c to dip their toes into the Apple II pool, liked it, and wants to go to the next level with a beefier, more customizable setup. Although I would personally probably recommend a IIgs.

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//e, Disk II or other compatible 5.25" floppy drive, and a joystick. Chances are a //e will include an 80-column card (not really required for games anyway, IMO) and a Super Serial card. And of course disks, unless you just want to go the serial route.

Or a //c. If you need more than what a //c can do, you're not a beginner.

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I may be biased since I started out with a II with slots when I was a kid. The learning curve was steep and I even screwed up the first day by not buying an RF modulator. Didn't even know I needed one till the guy at the TV repair shop schooled me up.

 

It was rewarding though. And I popped the top on my II daily or weekly. Being able to get inside, sometimes just to see, really added an intangible and intuitive something to the learning experience. Fun to imagine accessing a peripheral card, like a 300-baud modem, and imagining the bits being converted to analog, flowing through buffers, watching the firmware do some "magic stuff". Always dreaming about new powerful expansion cards or other enhancements. The II allowed a level of hands-on experience that a //c won't provide.

 

The nearly 1000 pages of documentation provided with the II+ and disk drive, and memory expansion card was overwhelming I assure you. Over the course of a year or so I worked through it. And if the "village idiot" of atariage can do it, so can anyone else - especially today - with google coddling you and holding your hand while plugging in an AC power cord.

 

Back then we learned how things worked, not how to work them. And we had to learn how to find information.

Edited by Keatah
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I pick the //c myself. While it wasn't my first dip into the Apple II line, it definitely got me started again. The //c is basically a fully expanded //e with the disk drive already built in. The downside is most I see are found with the little green monochrome screen, but they usually seem to work. The compact form factor is nice and if you have an older TV with the AV connectors, you can plug into that for video to get started.

Now, years back I would have said just to pick up a cheap pile of //e's at your local school or rummage sale. Sadly, those days are gone and too many people automatically haul any remaining batches off to the recycling places without a second thought until it's too late.

Edited by simbalion
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I must be a masochist, making everybody go through the process of working with parts and cards INSIDE of the computer.

 

Speaking of "inside". It'd be nice to see a mod or product that gives you an SD slot on the //c. Surely this could be done in a non-intrusive manner while keeping all the ports in the back operational. One more thing "built in". Maybe even as a disk drive replacement - the drive takes up a stupid amount of space in there.

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I've got no issues working with things inside the computer. I'm just thinking of the average person on the street who might be curious about the Apple II line. With the //c, you basically get a 'plug and play' system right out of the box to experiment with. Then those people might start visiting forums, getting the fever, then upgrading to a //e or //e Platinum. Or, maybe even a IIgs.

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For a beginner's setup, I'd pick the //c also over a //e. It has all the most common expansions items a //e has already built in, in the "slots" that things expect them to be in. If a person just wants to dabble with "what was it like to use an Apple II?" - a //c is hard to beat. Definitely a more advanced user or someone who wants to get into the guts would want a //e, but just for nostalgia for running old Apple software, I'd pick a //c.

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I think we're confusing "Wants to mess around with an Apple II" and "Wants to learn about computers from square one."

 

 

Maybe. BITD there was no "messing around". Not everything was canned. Everything was a raw learning experience, and despite all the marketing and packaging, there were flavors and overtones of the single-board computers like KIM-1 and COSMAC VIP.

 

Through the ages and google and ebay. The canned experience is more prevalent than ever.

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I think people getting into any sort of classic computer are by nature more curious about how things work than most average people. And it's not like the non-IIc II's are all that much more complicated to use out of the box; you still need to learn your PR#6's and your CATALOGs and whatever else to get anything done. I mean, provided you get one that has stuff like a disk controller card already, but almost any II on the market today would already be set up for use. Presumably, somebody was using it at some point.

 

I usually recommend a IIGS, though, just because it's the most advanced II and it plays the most software. And it supports cards like the IIe does, if you do want to get into that. But like the IIc, it has all the stuff you'd really need to get started built in.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, my opinion is this:

 

1. Apple IIc if you are just coming in fresh with nothing and just want to play games and try different software on floppy disk. Its an excellent little compact system that connects to standard composite displays and already has all you need integrated into it. But, you have to make sure it all works and you have to make sure you can obtain floppy disks. If you are looking to use something modern like the FloppyEMU forget it...as the internal floppy drive on this boots first and you are not going to be able to mount floppy images and boot them using the EMU. Unless someone has any ideas how that can be done.

 

2. Apple IIe Platinum if you can get one with some of the cards that you will need as well as a drive or two. This model has a joystick port, composite out (like they all do) but will need a floppy controller card and floppy drive(s). The benefit with this model is the expand-ability. Lots of great stuff can be installed into this. You are looking at more work than the IIc in order to get everything all together, but in the end you have a much more customized machine.

 

3. The IIGS, which I would have labeled #1 if not for the major fact that the PRICE of everything will probably sway newcomers entirely. The computer is not expensive, but the peripherals are in most cases. This machine has all of the expand-ability of the IIe with the added bonus of being an entirely new 16-Bit computer. It has its own set of excellent software with updated 16-Bit graphics and sound ("GS") but also has an Apple II on a chip to allow legacy Apple II software to run on it just like it was an Apple II. It is the ultimate Apple II to own in my opinion, but again, expensive. On the 16-Bit side things are slow without an accelerator of some type and just that card alone can run you $600-$700 or more. On the legacy Apple II side it is all good....but if you are buying a IIGS I think you would want to experience the IIGS software and not just use it as an Apple II :) You will still need to buy floppy drive(s) as it does not have one integrated.

 

 

IIGS is my own personal favorite, with the IIe Platinum right next to it as the best 8-Bit only model. But the IIc is the best out of the box experience for a new user as you really don't need anything but a working system (fully working), a TV with composite, a joystick and some floppy disks. The only deal breaker (for me) with the IIc is the fact that the FloppyEMU will not work as the first boot device due to the integrated floppy drive taking precedence. But that's just me because I can no longer put my faith in floppy disks over 30 years old ;)

Edited by eightbit
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Well, my opinion is this:

 

1. Apple IIc if you are just coming in fresh with nothing and just want to play games and try different software on floppy disk. Its an excellent little compact system that connects to standard composite displays and already has all you need integrated into it. But, you have to make sure it all works and you have to make sure you can obtain floppy disks. If you are looking to use something modern like the FloppyEMU forget it...as the internal floppy drive on this boots first and you are not going to be able to mount floppy images and boot them using the EMU. Unless someone has any ideas how that can be done.

 

you can jumper a couple places to swap d1 and d2, I dont remember off hand cause its been several years but it was fairly trivial to make the external port d1

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This might be blasphemy, but me personaly, I am partial to the Laser 128EX clone. It was quite a bit cheaper than a IIc at the time it came out and still might be today on ebay, and had so much more than a IIc. An extra slot for CFFA card or SD card expansion. Double and triple speed processor. Nicer feel to the keyboard. And the Laser is definitely cheaper than a IIc+ today on ebay.

 

Since the Laser series was more popular and sold more units than the IIc series, I am only mildly surprised there are so few Lasers that come up for sale on ebay. That means they are either worth holding on to, or they have lesser value and are more likely to be thrown out.

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I started out with an Apple IIc. It was my first... computer... ever. And what a computer! It came with all the hardware I needed to enjoy the full range of 8-bit software, from the humble beginnings all the way thru to double hi-res graphics. The IIc is the machine I'd recommend to anyone wanting to have their first go at the line.

 

That said: years later when I was all growns up, I wanted more. And that's when it became interesting and exciting to start farting about with the Apple IIe and Apple IIgs: adding a Mockingboard sound card, a PC Transporter, hell even the ability to use CP/M for no reason. Why not?

 

And as for the comment above mine: no blasphemy. Although I always prefer the real McCoy over a clone, the Laser 128 does have expansion port capabilities. So anyone wishing to have an "all-in-one" like the IIc but with some option to do even more, the Laser is a good option.

 

Ah, the Apple II. What a great thing to be discussing on Christmas Day.

 

Merry Christmas!

Edited by Clean Larry
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