Apple Lisa

Apple Lisa - front

Introduced in January 1983 at a price of $9,995, the Lisa is often overlooked in favor the cheaper, less powerful, later Macintosh, which is a pity, as the Lisa introduced a slew of innovations, many of which still are not implemented in "modern" operating systems. I would go into great detail on the Lisa, but David T. Craig (who also helped with this page) has already done a better job than I possibly could, writing The Legacy of the Apple Lisa Computer, an exceptionally thorough paper on the Lisa, and I whole-heartily recommend that everybody reads it.

Instead, I'm going to focus on some of the details about Lisa that I found most interesting.

The original Lisa had two 5.25" Twiggy drives designed inhouse and 1 MB of RAM. With the introduction of the Lisa 2 the Twiggy drives were replaced with a single Sony 3.5" drive as the Sony was cheaper and Apple wanted to standardize the Mac and Lisa floppy media. The Lisa 2 shipped with only 512 KB RAM and was generally sold in the "2/5" configuration, with an external 5 MB Profile hard drive. The Lisa 2/10 sported a redesigned motherboard and had an internal 10 MB Widget HD. A Macintosh XL is generally the same as a Lisa 2/10 but with MacWorks installed.

The pictures seen on this page are of the Lisa 2/5.

Apple Lisa - front removed

Whereas the Macintosh required a size 15 Torx screwdriver with 12" neck to open, the Lisa simply required two fingers: one for each tab. This provided easy access to the drive cage. The CRT was still reserved for service people.

Apple Lisa - floppy

Release the thumbscrew at the bottom center, pull, and the entire cage comes right out. The board on the left is the disk controller, labeled "Lisa Lite Adapter." In the Lisa 1, the second floppy drive is mounted above the first; in the Lisa 2/10, the hard drive is there.

Apple Lisa - back

From left to right, first is the reset button, then the ports: video out, parallel, mouse, serial 1, and serial 2. The two thumbscrews on the top loosen the back cover, which then can be leaned back and pulled out. The keyboard port is on the front.

Apple Lisa - back open

 There are three expansion slots on the left. The system board seen here is mounted on a cage assembly.

Apple Lisa - back removed

The cage assembly can be removed completely, making for easy upgrades and repairs. Note the connectors on the bottom center.

Apple Lisa - mb front

 In the lower right corner of the board is where the battery should be, missing from this unit. The chip socket in the upper-right of this photo was designed for a math coprocessor, which was uncommonly installed.

Apple Lisa - mb back

The large IC in the upper-right is the Motorola 68000 processor. The two cards with the yellow tabs each contain 512KB of RAM.

Apple Lisa - mb top

I can't imagine there are many people who have upgraded a Lisa without knowing what they were upgrading, but the color-coding is a nice touch.

Apple Lisa - slot closed

These expansion slots were rarely used, perhaps the most frequent application being a parallel card, which interfaced Lisa to either the Apple 5 MB ProFile hard drive or to Lisa's original printer, the Apple Dot-Matrix Printer (DMP)

These slots were also used by a 4 port serial card that Lisa SCO UNIX people used to connect 4 external terminals. There was also a test card that Apple's manufacturing plants used and a very rare network card which was used internally by Apple for development of AppleBus (later AppleTalk) networking.

Apple Lisa - slot open

Pull the lever out, turn it clockwise, and the connectors open up. Place the card in, turn it counter-clockwise, and they close. Apple didn't scrimp on quality.

Apple Lisa - mouse

I was surprised when I first saw the Lisa's mouse connector: squeeze on the plastic sides to connect and disconnect. This variation was used on the Lisa 1 and Lisa 2/5; the 2/10 used a thumbscrew connector much like that on the Mac 128k-Plus.

Apple Lisa - keyboard

The Lisa keyboard was significant in that it featured the APPLE key instead of a CONTROL key. The only previous Apple computer to have an Apple key was the Apple III from 1981.

This keyboard was also significant in terms of not having special function keys like most office-oriented computer keyboards had. For example, the Xerox Star had several special keys as did many of the word-processing systems such as IBM's Display Writer and the Wang WP machines.

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DrBunsen's picture

Can't help thinking, if only those expansion slots had been Apple II card compatible. Course, that probably would have involved having some kind of AII software compatibility onboard as well, not that that in itself would have been a bad thing.

Eudimorphodon's picture

Can't help thinking, if only those expansion slots had been Apple II card compatible. Course, that probably would have involved having some kind of AII software compatibility onboard as well, not that that in itself would have been a bad thing.

The Lisa used its card slots to tie together the CPU and RAM cards so making the slots Apple II compatible in any meaningful way would of seriously gimped the system. (The card slots would have only half the data lines, 2/3rds of the address lines, and run at 1/5th the clock speed required by the main CPU. Heck, even the Apple IIe and IIGS required special slots for RAM cards to sidestep the limitations of the normal 8 bit slots.)

Ironically the Lisa probably could of provided some level of Apple II reverse compatibility if Apple had wanted it to have it since the Lisa incorporated a cut-down 6502 variant on the disk controller board anyway... it wouldn't of been much a stretch to make it a full II-ish machine, although since "single-chip" implementations of the Apple II architecture like the Mega II didn't exist yet it would of come at the cost of another several-dozen square inches of PCB space. But doing so would of been at odds with the entire idea behind the Lisa, which was to be a "revolutionary" machine running a fully-integrated desktop environment. If they'd incorporated the ability to dual-boot into some crippled Apple II mode then people would of had that much more trouble understanding why they should spend $10,000 for it instead of buying six Apple IIs instead. (Since undoubtedly the Lisa would of ended up acting as a very expensive Apple II for much of the time unless they'd gone the fully mile and made the II mode a "virtual machine" that could run simultaneously with native software, which would of been a tough technical challenge in that era.)

The TRS-80 Model 16 is essentially what a Lisa with backwards compatibility would have looked like from a hardware standpoint. (The 16 is a TRS-80 Model II/12 with a CPU board and memory cards stuffed into the 8-bit card cage, with a set of cables is used for the "fast" 68000 bus. When in 68000 mode the machine used the completely separate 64k/Z-80 Model II hardware as an I/O processor to run the disk drives, serial ports, etc.)