A landmark piece of computing history popped up in an online auction earlier this week. For sale as Lot #5006 (opens in new tab) on RR Auctions is a prototype Apple Computer A, claimed to have been assembled by nonother than Steve Wozniak and owned by Steve Jobs. If that isn’t a fine enough pedigree to excite bidders, there is photographic evidence that this is the production prototype for the Apple 1 and was instrumental in securing Apple’s first ‘big’ order; selling 50 pre-assembled Apple 1s to The Byte Shop in Mountain View, California. Bidding for the PCB pictured above and below is at $278,005 at the time of writing and is expected to exceed $500,000 by the auction’s end (August 19).
The PCB wasn’t looked after carefully by owner Steve Jobs. After securing the landmark order, it is thought to have been cast aside at the Apple Garage for several years before Jobs gifted it to the current owner approximately 30 years ago.
Evidence of its mistreatment are the breaks and cracks in the PCB and that several chips and capacitors are no longer in place, presumably donated to production computers or subsequent projects in the garage. In addition, photos of the working example show that several large orange Sprague Atom capacitors are missing from the top right of the layout. The CPU is missing too.
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As this is the prototype of the Apple 1, we know it should have featured an MOS 6502 CPU @ 1 MHz, 40 x 24 character display output, 4 KB of RAM, expandable to 8 KB or 48 KB using expansion cards, and 456 KB of storage (tape). However, as a prototype, this Apple Computer A was a bit more flexible, as the auction info says it could have run using a socketed Motorola 6800 processor instead of the MOS 6502.
Several other differences exist between this prototype and the first 50 shipped Apple 1 computers. RR Auctions says that this model is the only one soldered by Woz using his characteristic ‘three-handed’ technique. The auction listing implies that the first batch of Apple 1 machines was a product of $40 or fewer components, but with the value added by the assembly, software, and so on, plus profit, The Byte Shop sold them for $666.66 a machine.
Would it be wrong to repair it and get it back into working order? Its condition is woeful, and it isn’t a very handsome PCB. Nevertheless, we think the machine’s destiny is behind glass and kept in its current state of disrepair by a collector or corporation.