Article: The 4400

by on June 21, 2005

Most people are familiar with sticking essentially a PC inside a Mac’s case. What about the other way around, especially if done by Apple?

Power Mac 4400

Power Mac 4400 Inside

Power Mac 4400 Back
┬╗More pictures

Although we’ll probably never see the likes of this again, Apple did such a thing in 1996 – 10 years before the switch over to Intel is set to happen. In order to keep costs down and compete with clone makers, Apple decided to forgo the clever designing and aesthetics found in its other Macs and stick a Mac motherboard in a PC case. While this isn’t so bad, the motherboard was worse.

The motherboard of the Power Mac 4400 (7220 in some locales) only had one EIDE bus, so you could only have the CD-ROM drive and the hard drive internally, despite the power supply’s extra strength. Other clones, such as the Motorola StarMax, also used a similar motherboard (the Tanzania architecture), but added things such as PS/2 ports or VGA.

The 4400 was Apple’s attempt at making a cheap Mac. With a price tag around $1700, it certainly wasn’t cheap by today’s standards (a fascinating sidenote: for $150 more, you could have gotten a vastly superior Performa/Power Mac 6400). Two models were made – a 160MHz model and a 200MHz model, both based on a PowerPC 603e processor. They had a 40MHz system bus, and could be upgraded to 96MB or 160MB of RAM, respectively. The specs, however, aren’t really important. By today’s standards, this machine is a dinosaur. What is important was what made this machine different.

When it was released in 1996, this Power Mac did not get bad reviews, as it was a new product and showed a lot of potential for the cheap market. MacUser UK explained some of the corners cut in design:

The casing is built for functionality, performance and price, but little else. Its low-profile desktop design makes it look more at home alongside a PC than a Mac, and this is highlighted by a full, front-mounted, LED-lit on/off button. However, considering the market it is intended for, this is not too alarming, although you may wonder if Apple actually manufactured the casing or whether a third party was used.

The second noticeable difference from the 7200 is that the pop-off lid design has been replaced by a Philips screw. Undoing this and removing the lid reveals the Mac’s guts, which does nothing to dismiss the PC look and feel. There are no lift-up wings (so prominent in the wonderfully designed 7200 shape) for ease of upgradeability, probably due to Apple’s cost-conscious strategy with this new machine.

What is interesting is that the 4400/160 MacUser UK tested “almost matched tests performed on a 7200/90.” Although they say the 603e is to blame, there are other factors that many currently blame, such as the low cache, small amounts of VRAM at the time, and use of System 7.5.3.

Upgradability was also a hassle. You could not replace the CPU, as you could in other Macs, and it used expensive RAM. The case’s sharp edges and jumble of screws and cables didn’t help, either. A few things in its favor are the inclusion of PCI slots and a Comm Slot II & built-in ethernet on the 200MHz model.

Fortunately, this machine that was more of an experiment into the business market didn’t last long enough for many to remember. Apple pulled the plug less than a year later on this strange model that featured the floppy drive on the wrong side. Not many have made an effort to keep the 4400 up-to-date, as they have with many vintage Power Macs, but a G3 upgrade was possible through the cache slot.

What is interesting is that many of the things pioneered with the 4400, such as IDE drives (they had been in “consumer” models and PowerBooks for awhile before the 4400), PC parts, and a plainer design found their way into many modern Macs, just without the limitations. Fortunately, the “budget Mac” these days has decent performance and a more appealing design.

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