First look: 1995 Apple Macintosh Performa 6200CD

I finally got a PowerPC Mac. Unfortunately, Low End Mac considers it one of the worst Mac models ever produced.

However, this 1995 Macintosh Performa 6200CD plays a pivotal role in my collection, adding color graphics (the PowerBook 165 can also display color graphics on an external display), multimedia capabilities (it has a CD-ROM drive) and the power of the PowerPC processor. It is the perfect machine for running newer classic Mac OS games and apps, and can serve as a “bridge” between modern Macs (such as my M1 Mac mini) and earlier 68k Macs (such as the SuperSE or Classic).

The 1995 Apple Macintosh Performa 6200CD with the 13-inch Apple High-Resolution RGB CRT monitor sitting on top. The computer came with a later low-end Apple monitor that would have been bundled with the Performa 6200CD. However, it will not stay on unless the power button is manually held in.

I was extremely fortunate to find this machine for sale locally last month. After graduating college and moving back home, I haven’t had as much luck finding vintage computers since there’s not many around here into them. I jumped on it, even with limited space. (The last thing I needed was another computer.)

After getting it home, I pulled the logic board out and immediately disconnected the PRAM battery. This machine was made during Michael Spindler’s tenure as leading Apple Computer, and therefore it is a boring, no-frills desktop computer, aesthetically, with brittle beige plastic that can cause headaches for us collectors. However, I will give Apple props on the design of this machine: While not pretty, it is very serviceable and easy to upgrade.

The logic board is on a tray that slides right out of the machine without fuss. No worries about wiring harnesses to disconnect or anything, as it uses an edge connector to interface with the power, I/O, video and other circuits. While I didn’t do this, the front bezel of the machine comes off to reveal the CD-ROM, floppy and hard drives. There is also volume control buttons, an infrared transceiver and 3.5mm headphone jacket on the front.

On the logic board itself you’ll find the PowerPC/Motorola XPC603 processor clocked at 75 MHz (three times the speed of the 68030 in the SuperSE!) that serves as the brains of the Performa 6200CD. A factory-installed Global Village modem, the base 16 MB RAM SIMMs (x2 8 MB SIMMs) and a ROM card live on the board. There is a processor direct slot for accessories, such as an accelerator card, along with slots for video and TV. YouTuber Action Retro has a video that shows a 6200CD equipped with a TV card, which can also be used to show or capture audio and video from external devices. The PRAM battery — not necessary — is a 4.5-volt “block” battery.

The Macintosh Performa 6200CD logic board, which could use a blast or two of compressed air to remove the dust. It easily slides out of the Performa 6200CD chassis after unfastening two screws. The factory-installed Global Village Communications modem, standard on many Performas, is the daughtercard to the right of the original Rayovac PRAM battery — which has been disconnected and will be removed. The logic board contains two 8 MB RAM SIMMs (center) totaling 16 MB. A Motorola-made PowerPC 603 chip, clocked at 75 MHz, seen below the RAM SIMMs, is the brains of the machine.

I acquired the machine with its entire setup — a later low-end Apple color CRT monitor, and ADB keyboard and mouse. The included monitor supposedly had an issue with not staying on unless the power button was manually held in, so I dug out my older Apple 14″ Hi-Res Color RGB monitor from storage to test the machine.

After connecting everything, I fumbled around for the small power button on the system unit. (More on that later.) Pressing it, I was greeted with an extremely loud chime and it continued to boot into Mac OS like it was 1995 (or 19952012).

Me starting the 1995 Macintosh Performa 6200CD for the first time.

The computer had all of the original owner’s files still on it, just like all my other Macs. (Don’t forget to remove — or at least format — drives before selling/disposing of computers or the drives themselves.) It appeared this computer was used by the Performa’s intended audience — families and children. Apple heavily marketed the Performa to budget-minded families and consumers, such as school districts. Performa computers were essentially rebadged versions of their LC or Power Macintosh cousins, usually bundled with software packages or other accessories.

As you’d find with a family computer, it has a variety of software on it. There is an old copy of Power Pete along with some solitaire games, Mavis Beacon and others. However, there’s also financial planning software, Eudora (an old email client), ClarisWorks and fax software that was bundled with the aforementioned Global Village modem that was standard on these machines. A lot of the software was likely bundled with the machine and installed by the original owner.

A demo for eWorld, Apple’s attempt at an early online service, was found on the Macintosh Performa 6200CD.

However, everything is so randomly scattered on the hard drive. All the main directories are oddly named, almost as if children randomly named them by randomly typed them (“AIK;;;;”, “444¨86959”, “111122120101”, “bbbbb”, etc.).

I plan to purchase another BlueSCSI to replace the original drive in this machine while adding WiFi functionality. I connected my TheOldNet WiFi serial modem to the printer port (unfortunately there is no second serial port, and the Global Village modem is basically worthless anymore without a POTS line) and was finally able to view the Captain’s Quarters BBS in 16-color glory. I would really like to get this thing online, and also establish it as a FTP server for dropping files between my modern Mac, unstuffing and forwarding to my older 68k Macs.

StuffIt Lite and StuffIt Expander seem to both work fine on this machine, although StuffIt Expander (a newer version) gave a warning on installation. So far it has been able to successfully un-stuff any archive I need to work with, which has been great for opening software archives. (However, it is much slower than using BasiliskII or SheepShaver on my M1 Mac mini. But being able to do it with old hardware is also nice. Software downloaded directly from Captain’s Quarters or another BBS can be directly un-stuffed and opened right from the 6200CD — no need for an emulator.)

Unstuffing After Dark screensaver modules on the Performa 6200CD. Although it took a while, it successfully extracted the archive.

I was surprised to discover that this machine also has pretty decent MIDI playback on its own, far better than the MIDI playback found on Basilisk II. (There’s actually more than two or three instruments!) It might not be as good as more modern software synthesizers, nor may it beat a dedicated sound card on a PC, like the ubiquitous AdLib and SoundBlaster cards based on the Yamaha OPL FM operator chips. Unlike PCs, there weren’t many options for adding sound hardware inside Macs. For improved MIDI playback, an external sampler, synthesizer or keyboard would be needed along with appropriate hardware to convert from serial.

The Performa 6200, as with most desktop Macs from the early 1990s onwards, has soft power-on. You can start, or shut down, your Mac using the power key on a keyboard. (Thank goodness, as the power button on the rear of the Performa 6200CD can be finicky.)

“Road Apple”

Unlike some (such as myself), Low End Mac has a more critical approach to the Performa 6200CD and its x200 cousins. The website considers the Performa and Power Macintosh x200 machines to be “Road Apples,” or the worst Macintosh hardware Apple ever made, with “serious hardware flaws.” As Low End Mac points out, these machines were made when Michael Spindler was at Apple’s helm, and he was known for shaving costs in any way possible.

According to Low End Mac, Apple cut costs by sharing a lot of components between the PowerPC-based Performa/Power Mac x200 and 68k-based Quadra 630 logic board. This presents a memory bottleneck that, they claim, slows memory access across multiple clock cycles. Because the Global Village modem I mentioned is standard in these machines, Apple blocked out the modem serial port since it’s normally disabled when the modem is installed. There’s also more advanced issues, which they detail in great length.

However, others argue the x200 Macs weren’t bad. Like the Macintosh Classic series and other instances, they were built for budget-minded consumers that weren’t power users but wanted a no-frills machine. As previously mentioned, the Performa line of computers were targeted toward homes, small businesses and schools.

From a collector’s standpoint, I agree with Sean over at Action Retro about the Performa 6200CD not being a bad machine to have on hand. It’s almost the perfect Mac to bridge from the modern Mx ARM/Intel x86 world and 68k world like my compact Macs. It can be relatively easily upgraded, with memory upgradable to 64 MB. It has a color display, and common StuffIt archives un-stuff flawlessly since newer versions of StuffIt can run on it. Earlier PowerPC software, along with many 68k titles, will work on the machine.

A video about the Performa 6200CD by Action Retro on YouTube.

One thing I’m concerned about is web browsing, something I’d like to try. The Low End Mac article claims using this computer on the internet can be problematic:
“One of the biggest complaints about the x200 series is slow Internet handling. For one thing, looking at the chart above, all data from either the ports or the ethernet controller must pass through the processor to get to memory, then be processed, sent to the IDE controller for cache savings, and then interpreted for graphics display.

“There are symptoms to notice because of this. While a web page is loading, typed characters will be lost. When dealing with high IDE access, the graphics controller will seem to freeze. When copying to a network or downloading a file, the monitor will rarely update and will have redraw problems. Spooled print jobs will take forever if lots of processor resizing is necessary.

“The only thing that this machine really handles well is watching TV. Audio breaks if you type too fast or access the hard drive. And processor speeds, while passing benchmarks well, in real world are absolutely terrible. Neither video RAM nor L2 cache are upgradable, but in the case of this machine they would only serve to further slow it down.

“These machines should have been called the caveat emptor class. Buyer beware!”

-Scott Barber, on Low End Mac, December 1997

We shall see if browsing is an issue with this machine. In the meantime, I’d also like to try to find 32 MB SIMMs to max out the memory at 64 MB. With the BlueSCSI installed I think I might upgrade to System 7.5.3 (it currently runs System 7.5.1). I’m tempted to try Mac OS 8 but I don’t want to bog it down too much.

Even if it cannot browse the web, it’s still a great addition to the collection.

This post written on a Macintosh Performa 6200CD using Microsoft Word 6.