Vintage Computers and Hardware

Vintage Computers 1970 – 2000


Commodore 64 (1982) – Commodore International

Commodore 64 Computer (1982) - Commodore International

Commodore 64 Computer

The Commodore 64, commonly called C64, C=64 (after the graphic logo on the case), occasionally CBM 64 (for Commodore Business Machines), or VIC-64, is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International.

Volume production started in early 1982, with machines being released on to the market in August at a price of US$ 595. Preceded by the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore PET, the C64 took its name from its 64 kilobytes (65,536 bytes) of RAM, and had favorable sound and graphical specifications when compared to contemporary systems such as the Apple II, at a price that was well below the circa US$ 1200 demanded by Apple.

For a substantial period (1983–1986), the C64 dominated the market with between 30% and 40% share and 2 million units sold per year, outselling the IBM PC compatibles, Apple Inc. computers, and Atari 8-bit family computers. Sam Tramiel, a later Atari president and the son of Commodore’s founder, said in a 1989 interview “When I was at Commodore we were building 400,000 C64s a month for a couple of years.”

Part of its success was because it was sold in retail stores instead of electronics stores. Commodore produced many of its parts in-house to control supplies and cost. It is sometimes compared to the Ford Model T automobile for its role in bringing a new technology to middle-class households via creative mass-production.

Approximately 10,000 commercial software titles were made for the Commodore 64 including development tools, office productivity applications, and games. C64 emulators allow anyone with a modern computer, or a compatible video game console, to run these programs today. The C64 is also credited with popularizing the computer demoscene and is still used today by some computer hobbyists.


Commodore CBM-II 710 (1982) – Commodore Business Machines (CBM)

Commodore CBM-II 710 (1982) - Commodore Business Machines

Commodore CBM-II Computer

The Commodore CBM-II series was a short-lived range of 8-bit personal computers from Commodore Business Machines (CBM), released in 1982 and intended as a follow-on to the Commodore PET series.

The CBM-II had two incarnations, the P series (P = personal, or, home use) and the B series (B = business use). The B series was available with a built-in monochrome monitor (hi-profile) with detached keyboard, and also as a single unit with built-in keyboard but no monitor (lo-profile). These machines were known as the “Porsche PETs” for their unique styling.

The P series used the VIC-II 40-column color video chip like the C64. It also included two standard Atari-style joystick ports. The 6509 CPU ran at 1 MHz in the P series due to the use of the VIC-II chip.

The B series used a 6545 CRTC video chip to give an 80-column “green screen” monochrome output more suitable for word processing and other business use than the VIC-II’s 40-column display. Most models have the Motorola 68B45 installed which is a pin compatible variant rather than the MOS 6545A1 2 MHz part. On the B series the 6509 CPU ran at 2 MHz.

Features common to both the P and B series included an MOS Technology 6509 CPU, an enhanced version of the venerable 6502, that was capable of addressing up to 1 megabyte of RAM via bank switching (however, no CBM-II model came with more than 256 kilobytes of RAM, 1/4 megabyte). The sound chip was the 6581 SID, the same one that was used in the popular Commodore 64 (C64) but with some limitations as it was over-clocked to 2 MHz. Additionally, the CBM-II had an industry-standard RS-232 serial interface and an IEEE-488 parallel bus (for use by disk drives and printers) just like the PET/CBM series.


Jupiter Ace (1982) – Jupiter Cantab

Jupiter ACE (1982) - Jupiter Cantab

Jupiter ACE Computer

The Jupiter Ace was a British home computer of the early 1980s, produced by a company, set up for the purpose, named Jupiter Cantab. The Ace differed from other microcomputers of the time in that it used FORTH instead of the more common BASIC.

Jupiter Cantab was formed by Richard Altwasser and Steven Vickers. Both had been on the design team for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Altwasser did some work on the development of the ZX-81 and in the design of the hardware of the Spectrum. Vickers adapted and expanded the 4K ZX-80 ROM to the 8K ZX-81 ROM and wrote most of the ROM for the Spectrum.

The Jupiter Ace was named after the early British computer, the ACE. The name was chosen to emphasize the “firsts” of using FORTH environment as more efficient for personal computers.FORTH is a threaded code programming language that also acted as operating system.

Differently from previous introductory computers and being its major characteristic, its default programming language was Forth. Forth was considered well adapted to microcomputers (with small memory and relatively low-performance processors) for being fast. About 10 times faster than BASIC, added to allow implementation of machine code routines, if needed for a particular task. And for embodying structural programming concepts found in Pascal Language.

For such reasons it was designed with FORTH, chosen to deliver better performance and Structured Programming flexibility.


Hyperion (1983) – Dynalogic

Hyperion Computer (1983) - Dynalogic

Hyperion Computer

The Hyperion vied with the Compaq Portable to be the first portable IBM PC compatible computer. It was marketed by Infotech Cie of Ottawa, a subsidiary of Bytec Management Corp., who acquired the designer and manufacturer Dynalogic in January 1983. Once reported to be marketed by Commodore International as their first portable computer, the Hyperion was shipped in January 1983 at C$4995, two months ahead of the Compaq Portable.

The machine was advanced for 1982, featuring 256 kB RAM, dual 360 kB 5.25″ floppy disk drives, a graphics card compatible with both CGA and HGC, a video-out jack, a built-in 7-inch amber CRT, 300 bit/s modem, and even an acoustic coupler. It included a version of MS-DOS called H-DOS and bundled word processor, database, and modem software. While the Hyperion weighed just eighteen pounds (8.2 kg), or about 2/3 the weight of the Compaq, it was not as reliable or as IBM compatible and was discontinued within two years.

H-DOS was remarkable and is of historical significance because it featured a simple menu system. The F1 through F5 keys beneath the 7″ screen corresponded to five menu items displayed at the bottom of the screen. This menu was context sensitive and greatly facilitated entering DOS commands. All but the least frequently used commands were available as F-key menu selections, and this greatly reduced the amount of typing required.

This user interface was comparable to the many DOS shell programs available at the time, but functioned much more smoothly because of the soft key concept.

The soft keys were also a feature of the word processor, database, and modem software that came bundled with the Hyperion, where they were used to select application commands from context sensitive menus.


Compaq Portable (1983) – Compaq Computer Corporation

Compaq Portable (1983) - Compaq Computer Corporation

Compaq Portable Computer

The Compaq Portable was the first product in the Compaq portable series to be commercially available under the Compaq Computer Corporation brand . It was the first IBM PC compatible portable computer. Compaq derived their company name from the phrase “Compatibility and Quality”. Announced in November 1982 and first shipped in January 1983 at a price of US$3,590, this “luggable” suitcase-sized computer was an early all-in-one computer, becoming available two years after the CP/M-based Osborne 1 and Kaypro II, in the same year as the MS-DOS-based (but not entirely IBM PC compatible) Dynalogic Hyperion and a year before the Commodore SX-64.

Its design was influenced by that of the Xerox NoteTaker, a prototype computer developed at Xerox PARC in 1976.

The 28 lb (12.5 kg) of computer that made up the Compaq Portable folded up into a luggable case the size of a portable sewing machine. Compaq sold 53,000 units in the first year and set revenue records for American businesses in its first three years of operation.

The Compaq Portable had basically the same hardware as an IBM PC, transplanted into a luggable case, with Compaq’s custom BIOS instead of IBM’s. Compaq did not offer cassette-only models, 64k or less of memory, or single-sided floppy drives as IBM did on the PC. All Portables had 128k and one or two double-sided floppies.

The machine used a unique hybrid of the IBM MDA and CGA which supported the latter’s graphics modes, but contained both cards’ text fonts in ROM. When using the internal monochrome monitor, the 9×14 font was used and the 8×8 one when an external monitor was used (the user switched between internal and external monitors by pressing Ctrl+Alt->). With a larger external monitor, this graphics hardware was also used in the original Compaq Deskpro desktop computer. Thus the user got the advantages of both IBM video standards (graphics capabilities plus high-resolution text).


Texas Instruments CC-40 (1983) – Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments CC-40 (1983) - Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments CC-40 Computer

The Texas Instruments Compact Computer 40 or CC-40 is a battery-operated portable computer that was manufactured and released by Texas Instruments in March 1983. Priced at US$249, it weighs 600 grams (22 ounces) and can be powered by four AA batteries or an AC adapter. It was intended as a portable business computer, and uses TI’s TMS70C20 CPU, an 8-bit microprocessor that ran at 2.5 MHz.

The CC-40 has 6 kilobytes of on board Random Access Memory (expandable to 18 KB), 34 KB of Read Only Memory, and a 31-character LCD display. It is capable of operating for 200 hours off one set of batteries, and memory is not erased by powering the unit off, so an unpowered unit can retain data for several months.

However, no disk or tape drive was released with the unit, and a digital “wafertape” unit depicted on the computer’s box was only released as a prototype, reportedly because it proved too unreliable.

The inability to store data permanently hurt the CC-40’s sales. The CC-40 does have ports for connecting a printer and a modem. Expansion was to be through a Hexbus interface, arguably prototypical to USB, providing Hot swapping plug-and-play functionality. The HexBus interface was also available for the TI-99/4A and was built into the prototype-only TI-99/8.

An improved model was in development which provided a cassette port but the project was canceled when Texas Instruments canceled the 99/4A and left the home computer field. However, this was later revived as the TI-74 BASICALC.

Software was only available on cartridge, or by typing simple programs into its built-in BASIC interpreter. The BASIC interpreter is similar but not identical to the TI-99/4A.


Lisa (1983) – Apple Computer, Inc.

Apple Lisa (1983) - Apple Computer, Inc.

Apple Lisa Computer

The Lisa is a personal computer designed by Apple Computer, Inc. during the early 1980s. It was the first commercial personal computer to offer a graphical user interface in an inexpensive machine aimed at individual business users. Development of the Lisa began in 1978.

In 1982, after Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project, he joined the Macintosh project. The Macintosh is not a direct descendant of Lisa, although there are obvious similarities between the systems and the final revision, the Lisa 2/10, was modified and sold as the Macintosh XL.

The Lisa was a more advanced system than the Macintosh of that time in many respects, such as its inclusion of protected memory, cooperative multitasking, a generally more sophisticated hard disk based operating system, a built-in screensaver, an advanced calculator with a paper tape and RPN, support for up to 2 megabytes (MB) of RAM, expansion slots, a numeric keypad, data corruption protection schemes such as block sparing, non-physical file names (with the ability to have multiple documents with the same name), and a larger higher-resolution display.

It would be many years before many of those features were implemented on the Macintosh platform. Protected memory, for instance, didn’t reappear until the Mac OS X operating system was released in 2001. The Macintosh featured a faster 68000 processor (7.89 MHz) and sound. The complexity of the Lisa operating system and its programs taxed the 5 MHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor so that consumers said it felt sluggish, particularly when scrolling in documents.


Kyotronic 85 / TRS-80 Model 100 (1983) – Kyocera / Tandy Corporation / Microsoft

TRS-80 Model 100 (1983) Radio Shack

TRS-80 Model 100 Computer

The TRS-80 Model 100 was an early portable computer introduced in 1983. It was one of the first notebook-style computers, featuring a keyboard and liquid crystal display, battery-powered, in a package roughly the size and shape of notepad or large book.

It was made by Kyocera, and originally sold in Japan as the Kyotronic 85. Although a slow seller for Kyocera, the rights to the machine were purchased by Tandy Corporation, and the computer was sold through Radio Shack stores in the United States and Canada as well as affiliated dealers in other countries, becoming one of the company’s most popular models, with over 6,000,000 units sold worldwide.

The Olivetti M-10 and the NEC PC-8201 and PC-8300 were also built on the same Kyocera platform, with some design and hardware differences. It was originally marketed as a Micro Executive Work Station (MEWS), although the term did not catch on and was eventually dropped.

When first switched on, the Model 100 displays a menu of applications and files and the date and time. The ROM firmware based system boots instantly, which compares very favourably to disk-based computers. Not only is the machine ready to use immediately on power-up, but it will also continue running, from the same point, the program that was running when the unit was powered off. Cursor keys are used to navigate the menu and select one of the internal or added application programs, or any data file to be worked upon.


Tomy Tutor (1983) – Tomy

Tomy Tutor (1983) Tomy Pyuuta

Tomy Tutor Computer – The Japanese version

The Tomy Tutor (originally known as the Tomy Pyuuta), and in the UK as the Grandstand Tutor) was a home computer produced by the Japanese toy maker Tomy. It was architecturally similar, but not identical, to the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and used a similar 16-bit CPU. The computer was launched on the UK and European markets in late 1983. Outside Japan, however, sales were not significant.

Produced by Matsushita, the machine was released in Japan in 1982 under the name of Tomy Pyuuta.

One of the major flaws pointed out with the Tutor was not its hardware, but its marketing: the Tutor was announced as a children’s computer when in fact it was practically a cheap, evolved version of the TI-99/4A, even having a similar 16-bit CPU (the TMS 9995, closely related to the TI-99/4’s TMS 9990); other competitors in its price range still used 8-bit microprocessors.

The Tutor did not sell well against the ZX Spectrum in the UK and the Commodore 64 in other countries. It ended up being removed quickly from the market and replaced the following year by the Tomy Tutor MK II with a standard mechanical keyboard instead of the original “Chiclet”-style keyboard. However, the new model seems to have been sold only in Japan, and even then only for a short period of time.

The Pyuuta Jr. was a console version of the Pyuuta, and similarly only existed in Japan.


Gavilan SC (1983) – Gavilan Computer Corp.

Gavilan SC (1983) - Gavilan Computer Corp.

Gavilan SC Computer

The Gavilan SC was an early laptop computer, and was the first ever to be marketed as a “laptop”. The brainchild of Gavilan Computer Corp. founder Manuel (Manny) Fernandez, the Gavilan was introduced in May, 1983, at approximately the same time as the similar Sharp PC-5000. It came to market a year after the GRiD Compass, with which it shared several pioneering details, notably a clamshell design, in which the screen folds shut over the keyboard.

The Gavilan, however, was more affordable than the GRiD, at a list price of around US$ 4000. Unlike the GRiD, it was equipped with a floppy disk drive and used the MS-DOS operating system, although it was only partially IBM PC-compatible. Powered by a 5-MHz Intel 8088 processor, it was equipped with a basic graphical user interface, stored in its 48 kb of ROM. An internal 300-baud modem was standard. A compact printer that attached to the rear of the machine was an option.

The machine’s included software was a terminal program, MS-DOS, and MBasic (a version of the BASIC programming language). An Office Pack of four applications — Sorcim SuperCalc and SuperWriter, and PFS File and Report — was optional.

It was far smaller than competing IBM compatible portables, such as the Compaq Portable, which were the size of a portable sewing machine and weighed more than twice the Gavilan’s 4 kg (9 lb), and unlike the Gavilan they could not run off batteries. Gavilan claimed the SC could run up to nine hours on its built-in nickel-cadmium batteries.

Jack Hall, an award-winning industrial designer, was tapped to work out the ergonomics, mechanics and overall appearance of the Gavilan. An extremely compact printer module was the result of a collaboration between Hall Design and C. Itoh of Japan. Additionally, several patentable features such as the unique display hinge and printer attachment mechanism were embodied in the design.

The Gavilan sported an LCD display with an unusual resolution of 400×64 pixels. It included a pioneering touchpad-like pointing device, installed on a panel above the keyboard. It used static CMOS memory, and came with 64 kilobytes standard. Memory was expandable through plug-in modules, for which there were four slots available (each 32 kb module cost $350 and included a backup battery); these could also be used for software ROM cartridges.

With standards for microfloppy drives still emerging, Gavilan was designed to accommodate both a 3.0-inch 320K microfloppy drive as well as a 3.5-inch floppy drive. Slow sales due to the as yet undeveloped market for laptops, caused Gavilan Computer Corp. to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing to cash flow problems. The company ceased operations in 1985.


Aquarius (1983) – Mattel

Aquarius Computer (1983) - Attribution Cbmeeks

Aquarius Computer – Attribution: Cbmeeks

Aquarius is a home computer designed by Radofin and released by Mattel in 1983. It features a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, a rubber chiclet keyboard, 4K of RAM, and a subset of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. It connects to a television set and uses a cassette tape recorder for secondary data storage. A limited number of peripherals, such as a 40-column thermal printer, a 4-color printer/plotter, and a 300 baud modem, were released for the unit.

Looking to compete in the standalone computer market, Mattel Electronics turned to Radofin, the Hong Kong based manufacturer of their Intellivision consoles. Radofin had designed two computer systems. Internally they were known as “Checkers”, and the more sophisticated “Chess”. Mattel contracted for these to become the Aquarius and Aquarius II, respectively. Aquarius was announced in 1982 and finally released in June 1983, at a price of $160.

Production ceased four months later because of poor sales. Mattel paid Radofin to take back the marketing rights, and four other companies—CEZAR Industries, CRIMAC Inc., New Era Incentives, Inc., and Bentley Industries—also marketed the unit and accessories for it. Bentley Industries (of Los Angeles) and New Era Incentives, Inc. (of St. Paul) are still in business, though they no longer have any affiliation with the Aquarius product line.

The Aquarius often came bundled with the Mini-Expander peripheral, which added game pads, an additional cartridge port for memory expansion, and the GI AY-3-8914 sound chip, which was the same one used on the Intellivision console. Other common peripherals were the Data recorder, 40 column thermal printer, 4K and 16K ram carts. Less common first party peripherals include a 300 baud cartridge modem, 32k RAM cart, 4 color plotter, and Quick Disk drive.


Coleco Adam (1983) – Coleco

Adam (1983) - Coleco

Coleco Adam Computer

The Coleco Adam is a home computer released in 1983 by American toy manufacturer Coleco. It was an attempt to follow on the success of the company’s ColecoVision video game console. The Adam was not very successful, partly because of early production problems.

Coleco announced the Adam in June 1983 at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and executives predicted sales of 500,000 by Christmas 1983. From the time of the computer’s introduction to the time of its shipment, the price increased, from USD $525 to $725.

The Adam is famous for an incident connected with its showing at the June, 1983 CES. To showcase the machine, Coleco decided to demonstrate a port of its ColecoVision conversion of Donkey Kong on the system. Nintendo was in the midst of negotiating a deal with Atari to license its Famicom for distribution outside of Japan, and the final signing would have been done at CES.

Atari had exclusive rights to Donkey Kong for home computers (as Coleco had for game consoles), and when Atari saw that Coleco was showing Donkey Kong on a computer, its proposed deal with Nintendo was delayed. Coleco had to agree not to sell the Adam version of Donkey Kong. Ultimately, it had no bearing on the Atari/Nintendo deal, as Atari’s CEO Ray Kassar was fired the next month and the proposal went nowhere, with Nintendo deciding to market its system on its own.


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