Introducing: the 1989 Apple LaserWriter IISC

I finally got a laser printer!

On April 9, I purchased an Apple LaserWriter IISC, from 1989, to use with my vintage Macs.

Ever since I acquired my 1991 Macintosh Classic – and the subsequent vintage Macs – I have wanted to take a step back in time and experience what it was like doing desktop publishing in its heyday. While I have experimented with Aldus PageMaker 4.0 on my Classic and stock SE (and, lately, PageMaker 3.0 on my SuperSE), I felt the experience was not quite complete without a high-quality printer to use for printing my documents.

The Macintosh – along with the LaserWriter and software such as Aldus PageMaker – revolutionized the desktop publishing industry in the mid-late 1980s. Prior to the desktop publishing revolution, page layout and graphic design used to almost be done entirely by hand. Copy, photos, graphics, and other elements were manually laid out on a pasteboard before being imaged for the printing press. The desktop publishing revolution turned this tedious process into one that could be done using a computer, which allowed for more precise measurements and layout.

The desktop publishing revolution paved the way for modern solutions. Adobe InDesign, the modern de-facto standard for page layout, is a near-direct descendent of Aldus PageMaker. Quark XPress, the alternative to InDesign, dates back to the late 1980s, when it debuted on the Macintosh in 1987. Personally, I’ve used InDesign – along with other Adobe products – to design publications in modern times. Laser printers, joined by inkjet printers, have dominated the printing market in modern times, with laser printers and photocopiers being commonplace in offices and business settings while cheaper inkjet printers dominate the home market.

Going back to the LaserWriter IISC: the LaserWriter IISC was released in January 1988 as the low-end model for the LaserWriter II family. The LaserWriter IISC, compared to the other LaserWriter II models, was an odd duck in the fact that it used SCSI to interface to a compatible Macintosh. It did not utilize AppleTalk, serial, or any of the other interfaces that Apple and other printer manufacturers were using at the time.

The LaserWriter IISC was the low-end version of the LaserWriter II family. Apple made some sacrifices to deliver such a cheap cost, however. (Photo: Low End Mac)

Despite being the low-end model, the LaserWriter IISC was not cheap. I purchased mine from its original owner, who said he purchased it for over $3,000 back in 1989. Apple did not sacrifice build quality (unlike later products) to get the price down, as the IISC is still built like a tank. Instead, limiting the interface options, limiting specs, and removing PostScript-compatibility allowed Apple to get the price down to a more affordable, entry-level number. Because the IISC lacks PostScript capabilities, it works using QuickDraw.

Inside, Apple also cut costs by keeping the Motorola 68000 at a 7.45 MHz clock speed. (The mid-tier LaserWriter IINT was clocked at 11.5 MHz. The high-end LaserWriter IINTX used a Motorola 68020 clocked at 16.67 MHz. By comparison, the original LaserWriter from 1985 featured a 68000 clocked at 12 MHz.) The IISC also had a smaller ROM size and a lower memory ceiling – only allowing 1 MB of memory to be installed. (The IINT allowed up to 2 MB, and the IINTX allowed up to 12 MB of memory to be installed.)

As with the rest of the early LaserWriter models, the IISC is based on a Canon printing engine.

The LaserWriter IISC – along with other laser printers of the era – was huge. It takes up a significant portion of desk space, and weighs approximately 50 pounds. Due to its heavy weight and large physical size, my LaserWriter IISC remained in the trunk of my car for nearly a month before it was moved to its current spot.

My LaserWriter IISC

For years, I have wanted a laser printer because of their high print quality and long-lasting (yet expensive) toner cartridges. This LaserWriter IISC, while not compatible with any of my modern computers, is the first laser printer I’ve owned.

The 1989 Apple LaserWriter IISC inside and setup with the Macintosh Classic. It did not work.

And, of course, it doesn’t work. When I brought it inside, I connected it to my 1991 Macintosh Classic via SCSI and powered both the computer and the LaserWriter IISC on. While the IISC turns on and makes some noise occasionally, it goes to sleep with the two right lights on the front blinking red continuously. I tried using the driver for a Personal LaserWriter SC on the Classic hoping that would work, but nothing changed.

Attempts to print from the LaserWriter IISC using the 1991 Macintosh Classic, System 7.1, and the Personal LaserWriter SC driver failed.
The right two red lights continuously blink while the printer is turned on. It does not attempt to print anything out, including a test page.

I was sent a link to the LaserWriter II series manual from a user on the 68kMLA forums. Removing the computer from the picture, I was able to set the SCSI ID number to “7” to have the printer automatically print a test page. Unfortunately, no change: no test page, no attempt to print anything, nothing except for the same two blinking red lights. So far, I have ruled out the computer or driver issues being the problem.

Unfortunately, all signs point to the printer itself being the problem. Someone suggested that our favorite friend – capacitors – have failed and the printer needs to be recapped. Removing the logic board from the printer (side note: extremely easy to do) revealed that bad caps on the logic board may be the culprit, but it also may not. The logic board itself only has three electrolytic capacitors, and the board appears to be fairly clean. Further disassembly and rework may need to be done.

The logic board pulled out of the LaserWriter IISC. This version lacked PostScript and featured a Motorola 68000 microprocessor – the same in most of the compact Macs – although at a slower clock speed. The Macintosh Classic that was connected to the printer features the same 68000 microprocessor.

The inside of the printer looks to be in immaculate shape, but that doesn’t mean time has caused an issue. Even if I get the printer up and running, it looks like a thorough cleaning and inspection will need to happen to keep it printing reliably.

Inside the LaserWriter IISC.

Will this LaserWriter IISC live to print another page, or is it too far gone? Hopefully I can work on this project in the near future. (I moved back home after graduating from college, which means I have limited space. So this project – along with others – will likely have to take a back seat until I can move to another place.) Stay tuned to find out.

If you have any tips on how to get this printer working again, please let me know via email, Twitter, or the 68kMLA forum thread on this printer.

This post written on a 1988 Macintosh “SuperSE” using Microsoft Word 5.0.