The many faces of the Macintosh: Which is your favorite?

The many faces of the Macintosh: Which is your favorite?

The Mac has worn many faces over the years, from an all-in-in-one beige box to a massive tower, from a nondescript desktop workstation to an elegant laptop. What of the Mac's many iterations do you like most?

In its 30 years of life, the Macintosh has gone through many iterations, from the original beige box with integrated black and white screen to massive tower systems, the colorful and friendly iMac and the mysterious black-clad new Mac Pro.

I've culled through 30 years of Mac designs to come up with a list of some of my favorite machines - Macs that I think were or are particularly influential and worthy of note. You're bound to disagree with me or have some favorites of your own, so I encourage you to add your comments below!

The original Mac

An all-in-one beige case containing a nine-inch black and white monitor, the Macintosh was quite unlike anything we'd seen before, driven by a graphical operating system that used a novel input device called a mouse. It was designed to be friendly and accessible in a way computers weren't before - more like a kitchen appliance than a computer.

Expensive and hampered by a relatively limited software selection, the Mac was little more than a curiosity at first. Apple was better known for its Apple II, a personal computer that was popular in the home, school and office. But over time more and more people would be attracted to this new way of using a computer. And the rest is history.

Macintosh II

Apple had already produced several Mac models by the time it introduced the Macintosh II in 1987. This system was squarely designed for the needs of businesses, eschewing the compact all-in-one footprint for a more modular design that could be opened easily. The Mac II and the compact Mac SE both shared a similar design motif - a platinum color, instead of the beige of earlier models.

The Mac II had accessible RAM sockets and six expansion ports using an interface called Nubus. While Apple included a wide array of expansion ports to connect peripheral devices like hard drives, keyboards, mice and monitors, Mac II owners would find all sorts of way to expand their systems with additional capabilities like Ethernet networking and expanded display support.

Macintosh SE/30

Introduced in 1989, the SE/30 combined the compact all-in-one design of the original Mac with the advances in processor performance and expandability of the Mac II. While it looked the same as a regular Macintosh SE (except for the badge), the SE/30 was quite different under the hood, powered by the same Motorola 68030 processor found in the Mac IIx.

The result was a very fast, compact Mac that could keep pace with even the most demanding apps, and one that could even be expanded with an external color display using third-party graphics cards and other capabilities using its PDS expansion slot.

Macintosh IIci

The Macintosh II's expansion suited the needs of some users, but its massive size was overkill for many businesses who couldn't or didn't want to give up so much space for the computer. Apple responded with a more compact expandable Mac - the IIcx, which debuted in March of 1989, shortly after the SE/30 came on the scene. Later that year they'd revise the IIcx with a faster processor - a 25 MHz 68030 - and rebadge it as the IIci, spawning one of the most popular and beloved Macintosh models of that era.

The Mac IIci became a workhorse of countless businesses that relied on the Macs, and would become one of Apple's longest-lived models, seeing continuous production until early 1993 and constant use until "classic" era Macs were finally put to rest.

Macintosh LC

Macs had grown in features and complexity over the years and had also risen in price. There was a tremendous demand for a lower cost Mac, and the aptly named Mac LC was the result. It was enclosed in a flat, wide chassis nicknamed the "pizza box."

The LC had a single expansion slot that could accommodate an Apple IIe emulation card, to provide schools that had long relied on Apple II computers with a way to transition to the Mac without sacrificing backwards compatibility. Other companies would find uses for the slot including CPU accelerators, Ethernet and video upgrades.

PowerBook

The PowerBook wasn't Apple's first portable Macintosh - that dubious distinction went to the Macintosh Portable, which weighed a staggering 16 pounds when it first launched in 1989. Collaborating with Sony, Apple went back to the drawing board and came back several years later with the PowerBook. Initially Apple offered the PowerBook in three flavors: the 100, 140 and 170.

The PowerBook was only about a third the weight of its predecessor, and sported innovations like a backset keyboard that provided a comfortable palm rest area and a comfortable integrated trackball to control the mouse. The high-end 170 had an active matrix color display and performance comparable to the beloved IIci, making it a popular choice for on-the-go execs who could justify the $4,600 price tag.

The PowerBook changed everything. It was a big seller for Apple, but it also heavily influenced what the rest of the computer industry was doing. Within a couple of years, almost everyone's laptop looked like a PowerBook - the beginning of a long history of other companies parroting Apple's industrial designs once the company had done the hard work for them.

Power Macintosh

The Mac line had been built around Motorola's 68000 microprocessor line from the beginning and had grown up around it: Successive models used the 68020, 68030 and 68040 processors in various speeds as they became available. But ten years after the introduction of the Mac the 68K chip was showing its age, and Apple needed to replace it. A collaboration between Apple, IBM and Motorola yielded a new kind of microprocessor called the PowerPC, and that served as the foundation for Apple's Power Macintosh line.

Apple launched three separate and distinct Power Macintosh models in March of 1994: the 6100 - a flat pizza box shape; the 7100, an updated PowerPC variant on the familiar IIcx/IIci form; and the 8100, a mini-tower design aimed at power users. The Power Mac would go through many variations over the next decade, culminating in the Power Mac G5, a gigantic aluminum-clad tower whose design directly informed the shape of the Mac Pro in the decade that followed.

iMac

Years of incompetent management and flat sales led to Apple's time in the desert - a bleak period through the mid-90s when it seemed for sure that the company was doomed. Eventually things turned around - Apple acquired NeXT and Steve Jobs returned to the company's helm. Apple needed desperately to excite customers once again, and the iMac was the machine to do it.

The iMac was a reinvention of the original Macintosh - an all-in-one design, updated for the modern era. A bigger screen with color graphics, and no more legacy floppy drive - let's go with a CD instead. Not only was networking included but so was a modem, so you could easily connect to online services if you wanted to. And the case was colorful and translucent, so you could see a bit inside - the mystery of what was inside the computer was suddenly gone.

The iMac has undergone a massive evolution since it first burst on the scene in 1998 - from colorful plastic to minimalist glass and aluminum, from cathode ray tube to flat panel LED backlit display, the iMac has grown up to be an incredibly elegant and sophisticated desktop computer that's capable of some of the best overall performance in Apple's product line.

iBook

Capitalizing on the burgeoning success of the colorful iMac, Apple reinvented its laptop line in 1999 with the iBook. Initially dismissed as a "Barbie computer," the iBook's clamshell case design and integrated handle made it a popular choice with schools seeking to increase computer literacy in the classroom. It was also hugely anticipated by Mac customers looking for a lower-cost laptop than Apple's PowerBook line (the iBook was $900 less than the PowerBook).

But the real revolution of the iBook came in the form of something Apple called "AirPort," a then-nascent wireless networking technology called Wi-Fi. AirPort made it possible for you to connect to other computers, printers or even get online without having to plug a cable into your Mac. Amazing.

Mac mini

How do you get a PC user to switch to the Mac? Make it as inexpensive as possible for them to do so. Enter the Mac mini - a barebones Mac that lets you reuse the monitor, keyboard and mouse from your old PC, and a price tag hundreds of dollars lower than anything else in the Mac line.

The Mac mini's gone from being a budget Mac to a pretty powerful little desktop system, equally suitable for general desktop use, as a media server, or even as a small business or workgroup server running OS X Server. Despite the small size and small price tag, the Mac mini is one of the most versatile Macs in Apple's lineup.

MacBook Air

The transition to Intel microprocessors notwithstanding, Apple's next great innovation came in 2008 with the introduction of the MacBook Air. Seeking to make laptops even more lightweight and portable, Apple engineered the MacBook Air to be the thinnest ever at the time of its release, sporting the familiar wedge shape that we know today. Originally the MacBook Air came with a hard drive standard, because flash storage on computers was still pretty unusual and very expensive

Over time the MacBook Air's role has changed, from a speciality laptop to Apple's least-expensive model. Along the way it's grown in capabilities, with improved processors, graphics and ever-expanding flash storage capabilities. And unlike many "subnotebooks," "netbooks" and "ultrabooks," it's a no-compromises machine that runs the same software as any other Mac, with a full-sized keyboard and a Thunderbolt port capable of driving a huge 27-inch monitor.

Mac Pro (2013)

The Mac Pro seemed like a vestige of another era, when "big iron" ruled the desktop and the server room. Things changed, but the Mac Pro stayed the same. Maybe too similar. While Apple updated the Mac Pro with faster processors and more cores now and again, making other refinements, the box itself looked the same as it always did - in fact, it looked the same as the Power Mac G5 that it replaced, one that first came on the scene in 2003.

But Apple wasn't done with the Mac Pro. They went back to the drawing board and took a completely fresh look at what it meant to have a Mac "Pro." The answer was astonishing: a machine one-eighth the volume of its predecessor but much faster, designed from the circuit level up to be as fast as possible for the type of operations that Mac Pro users look for - parallel processing, big number computation, 3D graphics rendering, video rendering, audio digital signal processing and digital image transformation.

The Mac Pro only began shipping late last month so it's hard to gauge its long-term impact or influence on the Mac product line. With backorders for the new machine still going a month or more, demand for the new machine is strong, so that's a good sign. But I still think it's worthy for inclusion on this list because it's such a radical break from what came before it, it's hard not to believe the Mac Pro will have a strong impact on what Apple will do in the future.

What do you think are the most noteworthy Macs?

OK, I've had my say - now I want to hear from you. What have I left off the list that deserves to be here? What are the most noteworthy Macs you've come across in your day, or which ones do you wish you had that you never had the chance to own? Post in the comments below and let me know.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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The many faces of the Macintosh: Which is your favorite?

67 Comments

No retina MacBook Pro? I would say the MAC mini, I think its cool have they were able to make a MAC in such a tiny form factor.

Quite surprised not to see the Power Mac G3/G4 in here. They had one of the most elegant and convenient desktop case designs in the history of modern computing, and they were among the most upgradeable Macs ever made. I had a Sawtooth G4 that started life as a G4 400 MHz w/ 64 MB of RAM and a 10 GB hard drive in 2000, and by the time it left my hands in early 2006, it had been upgraded with a 1.25 GHz processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, and 40 GB + 100 GB hard drives, and it was still keeping current with the machines of the time. Excellent machine, but I fear it was its upgradeability that ultimately led to its discontinuation (after all, why buy new when you can upgrade? Not good for Apple's bottom line).

I don't know what year they came out, but today's all-in-one iMac design is pretty cool and, of course, they recently got even thinner.

I think the iMac was a game changer. I remember when we got them in school! It felt like we had jumped ahead into the future. The form factor was so different and cool from the traditonal ugly compters that came before it.

I love all the photos. They really take me back to when i was in grade school. I was brought up on nothing but macs and I'll never forget those days. Hard to say which one is my favorite though, I've used almost all of them. Good times...

I was the same way -- my dad has never been a fan of PCs and Windows, so I grew up using Macs. This, of course, when Apple was a cult company and you were considered a weirdo if you used a Mac, and most people didn't want one. I remember, in middle school, when my school adopted the iMacs (the colorful, translucent ones), and all the other students had no clue how to use them -- but I felt right at home with the new machines. Now look at the world -- Macs are on the rise, and now everyone is wishing they could have one!

I felt like I was the only one who grew up using Macs (and Apple products in general). Apple and their products play such a big role in my childhood memories, that I don't think I could ever use any other computer -- I have no intention to ever leave the Apple ecosystem. Their products always have that magic about them, because they find that fine line between strong functionality and sheer simplicity, while also maintaining a beautifully polished design. One of the most exciting moments for me is seeing what new innovations -- big or small -- that they come up with each year.

I want to thank Apple for creating such fine memories and such fantastic products.

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I also felt like I was the only with a mac. I remember all my friends using MS-DOS on their PC's and I was like what the hell is this confusing mess? I just used to hate the macs sometimes because I could never get any good games for it like you could with PC's. Same thing happened to me in middle school, they upgraded all the old macs to the iMac G3's (the strawberry one's for some odd reason). Great memories of apple computers. Now macs do things just as good if not better than PC's.

You left out the best one, the G4 iMac that looks like the Luxo lamp. I never owned one but it is my favorite design apple has ever come out with.

The original Mac is such a classic. It's burned into the memory of our culture. I remember it, perhaps most fondly, as the Banana Jr. in Bloom County.

The original iMac, likewise. Bright, translucent, aspiring to the internet age.

Then the MacBooks, from Titanium to Unibody, all aluminium gorgeous.

And the Mac Pro, from the iconic cheese-grator to the brand new cylinder.

Apple, especially under Jony Ive has managed to make power look powerful but also beautiful, and make computers not just tools but objects that demand attention for what they do and how they do it.

Can't wait to see what's next!

Ahh, the fond [Apple] memories...
I think for me one of the most notable Macs was the introduction of the iMac because it ushered in the era of Apple moving it's computers towards a more online hunter and gatherer type of machine.

I have used all of these except the new Mac Pro, and I have to say the original iMac (in Blueberry) was the most fun to use. Mac OS was always very slow and difficult to use though, so I'm going to say original iMac, second generation, running OS X Tiger as a replacement for System 9.2. Now *that* was a sweet-spot in the history of computing.

iMac G4. Never really panned out due to a confluence of complexity and PPC processors, but it's industrial design was all kinds of awesome.

The 2013 Mac Pro deserves mention for its innovative thermal core design.

The iMac is certainly a hammer to anvil kind of moment, but I have a soft spot for the PowerMac G4 Cube with it’s companion Cinema display. The Mac mini and the new Mac Pro feels like iterations of the Cube’s concept to me, so it makes it an important moment in Mac history (even though it’s sales numbers don’t really make it a resounding success).

What is the difference between a Macintosh and an Apple computer? Don't they both mean the same thing now?

Apple used to have other lines of computers, notably the Apple I, II, III and Lisa. Of course, you also have the iPhone, iPod and iPad lines now, so Apple is the company and Macintosh is one of the product lines. Also, Apple's full name was Apple Computer, Inc. until 2007. Now, it's just Apple, Inc.

Surprised to not see the PowerBook Duo (with Duo Dock) mentioned. One of my friends had one and I thought it was a very innovative design. To this day, I still prefer having "docks" for my laptops to provide desktop-like functionality when I'm not mobile.

I know you have to include the original Mac, but it was really the Mac Plus that made it usable for a variety of tasks. I had one for years and wish now that I had kept it.

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I have loved so many iterations, but my most favorite was the lampshade or pixar imac. The design was amazing.....to be able to position the screen anywhere and to be able to use the neck as a handle......awesome.

I've always been fond of the colorful iMac G3 design. It was just plain cool looking. The first Mac I ever used was an eMac back in middle school, so maybe that's why I'm fairly fond of the design.

I think the current iMac looks stunning. Very slick and elegant looking. It's something that you would really want to display in your house for everyone to see. It just oozes with style!

I fondly remember walking into my 7th grade class room and sitting down to an Apple IIe, all those lines of code to get the simplest things to work on the screen, it was great!

My favorite was the svelte, curvy PowerBooks starting with the Wallstreet and extending to the even-thinner and yet curvy Pismos.

Still one of the sexiest, most beautiful designs to come out of Apple.

The 20th anniversary Mac!
It was my first Apple product and the only computer I ever sold for the same price I paid for it, after using for 4 years ;-)

Most noteworthy? 128K Mac: the original. Mac Plus: kind of a true 1.0 release of the Mac. Mac IIcx: about a zillion of these were sold. Mac Classic: the first true "volume" Mac. iMac: let's face it, this hardware made Apple relevant again. PowerBook 180: the first really desirable Mac portable. Macbook Air: high desirability, high volume and high performance...the real trifecta from Apple.

Remember this isn't my favorites list......although it'd be pretty similar :-)

I have owned many Macs over the years since becoming a Mac convert. My favorite will always be the G4 Mac. In fact I just bought one in December finally able to own my most coveted Mac. Before I started using Macs I was a strictly Windows user. I was used to the beige desktop computer case that was used by all manufacturers. When I started working there was a G4 Mac in the marketing department. I laid eyes on it and I was in love. I still had no intention of using Mac at the time I just loved the lines, the acrylic case and just everything about it. It did everything all the other boxes did but with so much more style. Till this day that is my favorite design. Even when I walk in to my basement now I look at it and it makes me smile and that is the joy it brings me.

The original Mac for me. It was so far ahead of its time in terms of design, rather like the ZX Spectrum was here in the UK. Even today it's still beautiful, and tiny.

I love those original iMac's... The colors obv. attracted me in my young school days. Back in 2006 I would use the few iMacs they had in the campus computer lab while everyone else was waiting to use a windows computer. I worked for my colleges networking department and NEVER once worked on a Mac in 2 years. I basically went to peoples dorm rooms and tried to decipher what the PC didn't have that was required to access the Campus network.

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh certainly deserves some love among notable Macs in history. Unlike the Lisa, this very expensive Mac was a limited edition collector's item and beautiful, and is iconic for these reasons.

As for a Mac I wished I had purchased, I think it would be a Cube, the precursor to the Mac mini (even though it was not targeted to the same people). The contradiction between its simplicity on the outside and major engineering feat on the inside while seemingly floating on air makes it something crave worthy (reported issues of cracked plastic aside).

My favorite Mac has to be my old PowerMac (don't remember the model number). It was the first time I did anything "useful" as a programmer. I remember studying the old multi-volume Macintosh Programmers bookshelf and Metrowerks CodeWarrior. (This was during middle and high school...feel free to queue jokes about my non-existent gradeschool dating life. An encyclopedia of programming books doesn't help much with the social life.)

It makes me wonder if I'd ever have gotten into programming as a profession if I hadn't started off on a great trail with that old computer.

I've had at least one of each iteration. I've always strived to have the latest Mac. In the past that meant a Pro. I had to give that up at the jump to Intel and at that point I found the Pro cheese-grater to be overkill even though I use CAD software and drive a big second screen. I wanted an iPad too and the Air came along and for me it gave me the portability and full computing in one. At first I was a bit limited, but now I have the truly latest again... a new Air. Now I feel I truly have the best of both worlds. Ultimate portability and high computation power with an i7 and all the RAM and SSD for the future.

The modern Mac Mini is the perfect combination of price, features, and performance. Yeah, I'm a fanboy but it is the computer I wanted and needed. The iMac is all well and good but I'd prefer not to have my system integrated with my display.

For me the Mac Classic (not shown but same form factor as the original Mac) and the Macintosh LC both bring back fond memories. I used them heavily in school. I run Basilisk II with a System 7 setup on my Mini today so I can still use some of that software I grew up with.

The original iMac. I remember when I first saw one I was like wow!! Translucent color options and that design. I started paying more attention to Apple then. Also fondly remember the iBook. Never owned one though. Great memories.

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My favorite is probably the Macintosh LC. I can remember using them in elementary school and playing games on them in the computer lab all the time. It was the first computer I ever saw opened up, when my teacher took it apart so he could install an expansion card.

Although it was a commercial flop as any other model in that line, I fondly remember my Performa 630, the first Mac I could afford to buy and one of the last Macs with a 68040 processor. The year was 1996 and I spent the equivalent of US$980 (including the monitor and a printer). I was familiar with previous Macs though: I started at the office with a IIci. I remember the pleasure of writing Word documents on my Performa, and the frustration of unexpected crashes as I was browsing the web (something the Performa was evidently not very capable of, at least with System 7.5).

Mac TV. It was a dog (because it was a Performa) and revolutionary at the same time. I always envisioned having one in my room, but could never afford one until they were obsolete.

The SE/30 is my second favorite as that was a beast for it's time and it could be expanded like nothing else (I think people still run web servers on it!).

I often dream about Apple making something like an SE/30 but with modern components. I bet they would sell every one they made.

My favorite is the unibody Macbook Pro. It totally revolutionized the way every other manufacturer constructed high-end laptops. The iMac did that too, only with desktops. Made all-in-one a real thing.

The iMac G4 had me at hello lol. Its radical design is still desirable to me. One of the best Apple designs IMO

My quicksilver tower was wonderful. Kind of a poor mans MacPro. Upgradeable all over the place. After many years, it finally needed a new Logic board. Bought a 27 inch iMac. I'm not so sold on the new Mac Pros. For some reason, they remind me of the G4 Cube I had at one time. Pretty, quick, but not expandable. Of course, the new Pro is infinitely expandable externally, and is wicked fast, but frankly, I wish they had used the old case.

My all time favorite was the original beige box that I bought having 128K that I had upgraded to 512K before taking it home. There was enough software out to keep me amused but you had to search for it.

Others that I will never forget are the original Mini, which won me back after a few years on the dark side when Apple quality went to hell, and my dual quadcore 2009 cheese grater.

I'll probably add my 2013 fully tricked out iMac to the list but it is too soon to be nostalgically fond of it.

Hey Peter, thanks for verifying the new iMac with 780M graphics can run a 2560x1600 external monitor. I also have a 1080p monitor making that 3 screens total. So totally awesome!

Fell in love with the see thru Imac and the simplicity of it and the way it worked. Got me into the whole apple culture then I saw the 2009 Macbook pro with the aluminum design bought it and its the best notebook I have ever owned.

For me it's the PowerBook G4 Ti. But when I finally was able to afford an Apple laptop, it's the 2007 MacBook Pro that I acquired. And 6 years later, I got the 15" rMBP. So my taste has been pretty consistent but mostly because Apple has managed to deliver with each iterations of the PowerBook/MBP.

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I've got to go with the SE/30. It ran so reliably and stayed in use as a server for many years.

Kudos to the Powerbook 500 series. It gave us the trackpad plus those wonderful expansion bays, which I still miss. I would swap the bays between having two batteries (four hours of battery life!) and an extra hard drive.

Then there is the iMac, which saved the company. And the Macbook Air which made laptops so much more portable.

You forgot the Centris or Quadra series. Among the many, we had a Centris 660AV. That just opened up the door for us when it came to video editing at home.

I've owned many Macs, but the one I remember having the most fun with was my IIsi. It was the first to feature sound input (hence the 'si') and I spent way too many late nights recording stuff with the included microphone to edit in Kaboom Studio and SoundEdit. It was even more fun when it was no longer my current Mac and I cracked it open and marveled at the internal design. I took it in to show off to a Mac user group I belonged to and everyone was suitably impressed when I was able to completely disassemble the entire unit down to its component parts in about two minutes with no tools. The whole thing just snapped together! And it was still solid enough to hold a monitor on top. Still one of my favorites.

Ditto on the IIsi... that machine was a champ! My first exposure to Photoshop, my first tinkering with sound recording... and playing super-Tetris over the "LAN" with my roommate. I wish I still had that machine.

Those of us who've been around a while know that different macs we owned seemed to have different personalities. I find now that every mac I own is pretty much fine, but before? My mac plus had a good disposition, my IIsi, was sort of crabby.

The best of the old days, for me, was my G3AIO (the grey all-in-one that was from about the time of the original imac). That machine had a good disposition. Even though it crashed at least twice a day.

My first portable was the PowerBook 1400, which got me through college but IMO was crippled from the factory in order to make the 3400 shine.

My second portable was the iBook SE in Key Lime. That bright green color turned heads and it was a beast. Firewire and OS X made it a screamer and I loved standing out on the train with a laptop that didnt look like the usual commuter's Toshiba Satellite. I just wish it had a CD-ROM burner option. Oh well.

The Power Mac G4 Cube is the obvious choice for me. It's such an amazing combination of engineering and esthetics.
After upgrading it with an SSD mine runs Leopard pretty well, as long as I avoid flash based websites. And of course it's now eerily quiet.

It's so surprising to see a 25 mhz processor being impressive for its time. Now, the snapdragon 800 has 2.2 GHZ! And in a tenth of the size.

Sent from a Starbucks in the middle of the Sahara desert.

My all time favourite was and is the PowerBook Duo 280c. I bought it after saving everything I could from my first paying job and I loved it to bits. It had, at the time, a wonderful colour screen for a small laptop. I first encountered the "internet" thing with it. The 280c stayed with me for almost six years until I replaced it with a Pismo.
My father had bought an SE/30 in 1989. It was an awesome machine for its day. I abused it for my university thesis by running mathematical models built in C before uploading to the university mainframe for large scale runs. The math capability of the SE/30 were invaluable.