[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Eye of the Beholder

May 5th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Eye of the Beholder magazine advertisement 1991How does he see… WITHOUT EYES. More like eye of the not-beholder, am I right?

Eye of the Beholder (1991) took the formula of Dungeon Master formula and ran with it, resulting in one of the best the first-person real-time RPGs of the pre-3D era. It's definitely one of the best early VGA games for the IBM PC as well.

As far as games of this category go, I'm quite partial to Lands of Lore myself.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment - January 1991, p.175]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite first-person RPG game of the 1990s?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM Smart Desk

April 28th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

IBM 3270 PC Smart Desk 1985Multitasking in the early days.

Ah, the IBM 3270 PC. What a strange beast. It was essentially an IBM PC that could also emulate an IBM 3270 terminal, which allowed it to link up to IBM mainframes. In a sense, this was IBM's version of the AppleLine protocol adapter (featured in a Retro Scan a few weeks ago), albeit one built into an IBM PC.

By the way, look at the keyboard on this machine. Function keys galore. I've always wanted one of those.

[ From TIME, May 6 1985, p.B14-B15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Early Computer Art

March 31st, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Early Computer Art Kindergarten Art Print Printout 1986Watch out, Mr. Rabbit!

As I've previously mentioned, I've found a wealth of Retro Scan material while looking through old family papers in the attic at my mom's house.

This time, I was sorting through a giant box of my ancient artwork from school, and I came upon this fascinating computer printout from my kindergarten era (1985-86).

I vaguely remember making it (although, strangely, I mostly remember coloring in those little boxes and being proud of it), but I have no idea what software I used to do it. I know that my school stocked itself with IBM PCs, but the font and the overall feel of the image remind me of an Apple II MECC educational game.

Whatever the platform, this looks like the output from a stamp/clip-art program for kids. Does anybody know what it is?

[ From 8.5 x 11-inch tractor feed printout, circa 1985-86]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first computer paint program you ever used?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Canon Personal Computer

March 24th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Canon Personal Computer IBM PC compatible clone Advertisement 1985May the Clone Wars begin.

Here's another obscure IBM PC clone from the depths of time, the Canon Personal Computer.

As I mentioned in a recent RSOTW, it was pretty easy — even within a few years of the IBM PC's release — to undercut IBM price-wise by integrating ports and peripherals directly into the motherboard of a competing computer.

Note that the Canon PC used an Intel 8086 CPU, which packed the full 16-bit data bus (verses the 8-bit bus on the IBM PC's 8088).

[ From TIME (Small Business USA Insert), May 6 1985, p.2]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Canon is best known for its imaging products, but it made computers too. Can you think of any other companies best known for something else that made a PC?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Visual 1050 PC

March 3rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Visual 1050 Personal Computer System Advertisement 1983"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."

I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.

The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)

In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] MacCharlie's FrankenMac

January 14th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Dayna Communications MacCharlie IBM PC accessory for Macintosh ad - 1985I'd like to have heard Steve Jobs' reaction when he first saw this.

Long before Boot Camp and Parallels, if you wanted to run IBM PC compatible software on your Mac, you had to strap on this unholy contraption — the Dayna Communications MacCharlie.

If I recall correctly, the MacCharlie was essentially an IBM PC clone in a beige box that hooked to the Mac's serial port. As a result, the Mac merely served as a serial terminal for the MacCharlie via custom terminal software running on the Mac. That's not a particularly efficient setup, but the lack of expansion ports on the original Macintosh meant that there was no other reasonable point of entry.

Since it worked through the serial port, the MacCharlie could only run text-based MS-DOS applications. Conveniently, the MacCharlie shipped with a keyboard extender that added the IBM PC's special function keys and a numeric keypad to the Macintosh keyboard.

[ From Byte Magazine, April 1985, p.71-73 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a hardware system adapter (something that lets you use software from one platform on another through hardware, not software emulation) for any computer system?

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] Digitized Autumn Leaves

January 11th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Autumn Leaves MaxiPic Jim Maxey Retro GIF - circa 1988Click to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

From 1983 to 1996, James "Jim" Maxey operated a very successful Oregon-based BBS called Event Horizons. Through that board's file section, Maxey made available thousands of GIF images in many categories, from landscapes to pornography, that he had created using a video digitizer board and conversion software called T-EGA.

Bob Talmadge wrote an excellent profile of Jim Maxey's BBS years for his site BBSDays.com. I recommend reading it if you're interested in learning more about Maxey's BBS. Also, Jack Rickard of BoardWatch magazine mentioned Maxey's early 1990s image-related BBS activities in an article he wrote for Wired issue 1.04 in 1993.

The early and pioneering nature of Maxey's color graphics files for IBM PC computers ensured that his digital pictures, which he called "MaxiPics," spread far and wide to other BBSes at the time. This is one such picture, and it depicts a house and yard in autumn. The 640 x 350 EGA format file dates from 1987 and was likely captured from a video source — more on that in a moment.

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Digitized Autumn Leaves » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A 1985 Solid State Drive

November 5th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

SemiDisk Solid State Disk SSD Disk Drive Emulator Ad - 1985This IS your daddy's SSD.

Back in January, I traced the evolution of the Solid State Drive from its 1978 origins to the present in a PC World slideshow. From that experience, I learned that SSDs, as a product class, were far older than most people realize.

Case in point: Seen here is an advertisement for a 1985-era SSD called the SemiDisk. The company behind this early SSD, SemiDisk Systems, sold a wide range of "disk emulators" (as they were called back then) for platforms like S-100 bus systems, the TRS-80 Model 2, and the IBM PC. All of them used solid-state RAM chips to achieve read and write speeds far beyond those of rotating platter drives at the time.

The 2 megabyte SemiDisk for the IBM PC retailed for $1,795 in 1985. That's about $3,860 today when adjusted for inflation. Amusingly, at that vintage price rate — about $1,930 per megabyte — a 256 GB SemiDisk SSD would cost over $494 million today. Yep, that's a 494 followed by six zeroes.

Of course, you can buy a 256GB flash-based SSD right now for under $180. Not bad.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, p.329 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid state PC drive? How big was it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Canon AS-100

July 23rd, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Canon AS-100 Microcomputer Ad - 1983The good, the bad, and the obscure.

There's a vast wilderness of little-known business micros that have long been overshadowed by the IBM PC and its brethren in the history books. Seen here is one such machine, the Canon AS-100, which sported an Intel 8088 CPU but was not an IBM PC clone (in other words, it could run MS-DOS, but was not hardware compatible with the PC).

Machines like this one tend to get overlooked historically because they were very expensive (this machine retailed for $3495 in 1983, or about $8,052 today) and they deviated from the emerging business standard of the IBM PC compatible. With those two elements combined, they sold relatively poorly — and, being business-oriented, they also never became notable gaming platforms (enthusiasm for retrogaming brings a lot of attention to certain classic PCs that otherwise might have been forgotten).

Speaking of gaming platforms, the color capabilities of this machine look amazing for 1983. I wonder if anyone ever did write a game for it that took advantage of those high-end graphical specs.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.36 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the most obscure computer model you've ever used? Something that you think no one has ever heard of.

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The Secret History of Microsoft Hardware

July 16th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Secret History of Microsoft Hardware on PCMag.com

Microsoft's recent announcement of its Surface tablet line has brought a lot of attention to the history of Microsoft's hardware products. Unfortunately, most accounts of that history are sorely lacking, rarely going beyond Microsoft's involvement in PC peripherals like mice.

I thought I'd remedy that gap in history by digging back into the past and bringing to light a forgotten era of Microsoft hardware — all of which, it just so happens, launched in the 1980s.

The result, "The Secret History of Microsoft Hardware," is now live over at PCMag.com. I hope you enjoy it.

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