A few years ago, the fashion was for “mini” consoles, and some companies sometimes also offered computers in the same vein, as for the Commodore 64 or the Amiga. And a hacker, James Lewis, tried to do the same for the Apple IIe using the Mega-II chip, from an Apple IIgs.
A personal project
Let’s be clear: Apple isn’t going to sell a ‘mini’ Apple II, the company isn’t really known for its love of nostalgia, and it’s unlikely to license the Apple II. The project is purely educational, and is part of a kind of received idea: the Mega-II chip would be the equivalent of an Apple IIe ” on a chip “.
Apple IIe and Apple IIgs
The Mega-II chip appeared with the Apple IIgs, an improved model, equipped with a 16-bit processor and a new architecture. To run the programs of older generations (the 8-bit Apple II), Apple has integrated an in-house chip, the Mega-II, onto the motherboard. You’ll often see it’s the equivalent of an Apple IIe on a single chip, but James’ edit shows that’s not the case. In reality, the chip manages frequencies, memory, part of the I/O and contains the equivalent of an “80 column” card, but it still requires several things to replace an Apple IIe, such as a CPU, a ROM and RAM.
And in fact, James’ analyzes have shown that the Apple IIgs actually take care of a lot of the backwards compatibility and leave only a (small) part of the functions to the Mega-II. There is also an improved version of the Mega-II (Gemini) in another Apple product: the Apple IIe compatibility card for the Macintosh LC. It allows you to run Apple II programs on a Mac, without direct emulation: it contains the equivalent of an Apple IIe.
An Apple IIe mini starting up
The idea is therefore to create an Apple IIe using the Mega-II chip as a base. The prototype contains 3 compact cards: one which integrates the Mega-II chip – which must be recovered in an Apple IIgs -, a second with the processor (a 65C02, an evolution of the original 6502) and a ROM (which contains code belonging to Apple) and a last one which manages the video, but being — in the long term — to use an HDMI output.
For now, the set is still quite limited: the Apple IIe starts… and that’s it. The keyboard is indeed a bit complicated to insert and have its own ROM and for the moment, it is emulated with a Raspberry Pi Pico. The next steps will consist of reducing the number of cables and managing the various components of an Apple IIe, such as the necessary for storage.