pre-1980s computers and gaming

2017-04-04 (updated 2018-03-10)

IBM basically made all other computers obscure (there were hundreds!). Despite the IBM-PC (the successful one) being released in 1981, this obscuration process began in 1980 when the industry knew something was coming soon from IBM. This is list of early (pre-1980s) home computers or electronics gaming that may not fit UVL but can still be listed in this thread. This does not include many obscure computers from the early 1980s even if they are similar to the pre-80s computers. It does not include platforms proper or tagged that are already at UVL (I hope, I might have mistakenly listed clones). I have also included development kits that are capable of input and output that can be gamed (after all, this is basically what systems like the Altair shipped as, kits to develop for CPUs. Peripherals were all after-market accessories). Editors please edit this post and discuss. Also, editors should say if the believe any of these should be moved to the list of platforms to consider adding

These are all intended for the home user. The largest ones listed here is the size of a mini-fridge and all the rest will sit on a desk (without breaking it)

Altair 680
Like the better known Altai 8800, but this one is based on 6800 CPUs instead of 8080/8086/z80.

Altos ACS-8000

printing computer, partially compatible with the KIM-1
MOS 6502, 1K RAM, Keyboard
uses 8 LEDs and/or small rolls of paper tape instead of a monitor or TV screen.

Acorn Microcomputer(Acorn Micro-computer, Acorn System 1)
MOS [email protected] 4K RAM, 2K PROM, 4 TTL logic chips

ADDS Mentor 2000 (M2000)
[email protected]
5,000 Units

Altos ACS-8000

American Basic Science Club Analog Computer
Selling for $2 ($20.22 in 2017 dollars) in magazine adds, this analog could do what scientific calculators do today but could do it as a program. So it would fit somewhere between a scientific calculator and a programmable graphing calculator. Sold in Popular Science and Boy's Life magazines. Had a cardboard case. Many engineers, scientists, professors credit their ABSC as inspiration.

AMF Educational Computer
analog based

Automatic Teaching Computer Kit
analog based. Punch tape.

Beckman Electrocomp Electric Heating Computer
OK, this unit specifically doesn't belong here. It is all pre-wired to calculate heat loss of a structure in KW and some other information that would be useful to a heater salesperson, their customer, or an engineer worried about heat loss in a particular building. No way to game on it. but, it seems to be based on a more general computer design so this is a placeholder until someone can track down the full computer it is based on.

Colossus/Colossus Mark 2
Digital, programmable, electronic. Paper tape input. 2400 Vacuum tubes (Mark 1 used 1600), switches, and plugs were physically configured for boolean logic and counting operations into a program. An electric typewriter was also integrated into each unit as both a functional part and a typewriter. Technically it had no memory and there was no such thing as a CPU. But it did use the innovation of an electric clock signal to synchronize all operations. Previous computers used mechanical means for each component to time operations and thus were extremely prone to errors (imagine trying to keep 1600 clocks all running at the same speed when each is physically geared to it's own set of external components each with a unique set of mechanical biases).
Speed: 2000 operations per second?
The design was inspired by the "Heath Robinson codebreaking machine" which had solved synchronizing except when simultaneously reading two separate paper tapes (the tapes would tension and slack based on the data holes. an since each had different data... The machine would actually produce smoke). The original Colossus was a prototype to prove the Mark 2 could work. Of particular issue was the real-world experience that vacuum tubes (called "valves" in the UK) in radios and radars were notoriously unreliable and tended to fail and even shatter with use. Radios and radar were tolerant of worn out tubes projecting less than a 100% full and stable beam. Good enough, in fact, the best option available. Replacing tubes as needed and was not any more detrimental than say replacing parts of an automobile as needed. But for critical operations tubes required 15 minutes to warmup, 30 minutes with no RF interference, another 30 minutes bombarded with RF interference, a cooling system for each tube to maintain constant temperature, frequent testing to verify 100% full and stable beams. Maintaining a radar system that had 20 tubes requiring critical specs was about the limit of practicality. The idea of maintaining hundreds of tubes was daunting. Colossus would require thousands. But Tommy Flowers (originator of the Colossus) knew that the problems with tubes are aggravated by switching them off and on (fully cutting power). Most tube issues were solved by simply leaving them constantly powered. The original Colossus was built to prove this and did. It could perform 100% accurate calculations using 1600 tubes without wearing them out or shattering them so long as the machine was not switched off.
The Colossus Mark 2 added five 6-bit FIFO shift registers so it could calculate 4 times faster than the original. It was built to aid cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Specifically and plainly stated, it processed an encrypted message to determine the cipher text required to decrypt it. It did not actually decrypt the message. The cipher text was fed into an entirely different machine that decrypted the message. I implicitly state this to emphasize that Colossus Mark 2 was not a code breaking machine, it was a programmable calculating machine (a computer) that was only ever programmed to aid in decryption (that we know of). Twelve units were planned, ten made, and an 11th was being produced. But, since their intended purpose ceased to exist after WWII, and their existence was top secret, all units, plans and even peripheral information about them were destroyed in the 1960s. It was truly a multipurpose computer, but no one put it to any other purpose. Its top secret status certainly pigeonholed it, as using it for another purpose risked exposing it. The existence of Colossus was officially declassified in 1975 but there were still some aspects kept secret. In 1977, the people who worked on the machine were still prevented from fully disclosing their accomplishments. It is interesting that in 1970, a response to a request to declassify the UK's code breaking computer from the prime minister of the UK confirmed the existence of such a computer but stated the information was still in use and needed to remain secret (was there a Colossus Mark 3 or some derivative in operation during the cold war?). Yet there were crude remnants of the design in the form of handdrawn sketches predating the secret program and a photograph of a Colossus Mark 2 was was found. This allowed a functioning Colossus Mark 2 to be built. It took 15 years to reconstruct as Colossus Mark 2 using the sparse information; it was finished in 2007. No known games (and extremely unlikely) but, someone can make a game now.

Flexible Recreational and Educational Device was a design worked on by Joseph Weisbecker at RCA. The goal was to create an cheap accessible educational entertainment computer for the general public. Weisbecker designed what would become the 1802, but RCA was unable to manufacture such a chip. Also, RCA was disinterested in FRED, only the microprocessor design held their interest.

RCA System 00 1971 was Weisbecker's first prototype apparently made using only circutry. RCA named the architecture COSMAC.

COSMAC Elf 1976 (RCA Microkit, RCA Microtutor I, RCA Microtutor II, COSMAC VIP)
RCA [email protected](variable) OR RCA [email protected](variable)
256 bytes RAM (64K maximum)
Speaker, 1-bit sound
Optional light-pen
The 1-bit sound could be used to save and load to cassette or for serial I/O
The COSMAC Elf and Studio II were RCA's corporately backed products created by Weisbecker. The Studio II was a toy, the Elf was business. Neither fit Weisbecker's concept of FRED.
Space Invaders 1980 Charlie Brint

The COSMAC VIP was a game specialized version of the Elf. Weisbecker's FRED was finally real. 20 games, that also run on an upgraded Elf. Instructions for each were provided as a type-in machine code programs. BASIC came with a hardware expansion kit (required to run BASIC).

Tic Tac Toe RCA 1974 2 players Keyboard
Swords (Sword Fighter) RCA 1978 1-2 player Keyboard
Sub Chase ARESCO/Carmelo Cortez 1979-01 Type-in Keyboard
Twenty One RCA 1974 1-2 player Keyboard

There are CHIP-8 interpreters for the Elf and VIP. The VIP included the CHIP-8 interpreter as a machine code type-in.

(The 1802 would shortly later be used in the RCA Studio II.)
Initially, two CDP1801 chip varients were combined to create a virtual CDP1802 CPU (a CDP1801 alone was not a microprocessor). Later units used a single-chip 1802, the worlds first single-chip microprocessor. Different hardware on the board required different clock speeds so users had to select or adjust clock speed depending on which operation the program was running at any given moment. Using 1.7897725MHz was 'close enough' for most operations provided the program could adjust for the occasional error. Outputting to a TV required maintaining 1.7897725MHz which doesn't match NTSC, but was close enough and matching NTSC would mean no hardware in the computer would run correctly (TV signal or computer signal, never simultaneously unless 1.7897725MHz was used). There was no signal in the hardware for 1.7897725MHz so a 3.579545 MHz signal was divided by 2 by a oscillator circuit add-on. Machine code to maintain the display had to be interleaved with machine code running programs. This resulted in a maximum 64x128 resolution. But wait! The systems was only 256 bytes, half the video memory necessary to display that screen. Well, a lot of memory shifting and clock switching was required, but programmers managed to have a 1024 byte TV signal *and* 256 byte programs running at the same time. Racing the beam on an Atari VCS sounds so much simpler now. The 64×32 mode was still complicated (256 bytes needed for video) but simpler to deal with.

The CDP1802 has no minimum clock frequency. It can in fact be set to zero (using zero power) and developers can step through a program at a clock-cycle level rather than the more familiar machine code op level. It can use the 8-bit bus as a 16-bit bus by alternating the bus as bits 9-16 every other clock cycle. It had sixteen 16-bit registers, one of which acts as the program counter (software decides). One of the registers is also the index register. Registers 0 and 1 are required for accessing additional memory and additional hardware, but if a system has neither of those or a program needs neither, then their available. It can also use multiple program counters, though not simultaneously. This feature can be used for subroutines while the main program counter is suspended. The 1802 is available as a 'hardened' version designed to resist radiation, electrostatic discharge, and electromagnetic pulses. Many earth orbiting satellites used 1802s. The Galileo, Ulysses, Vega 1, Vega 2, Hubble Space Telescope, and Magellan Venus probe use hardened 1802s. 57 shuttle missions used 1802s. Indian Space Research Organization uses 1802s. Radiation powered pacemakers uses 1802s.

Cromemco Z-1 (Cromemco Z-2, System One, System Two)
Cromemco had been making gaming products for the very popular S-100 bus (Ohio Scientific, Altair, IMASI). video card, joysticks, camera, ROM card (boot-loading and other common applications built-in), external bankswitching DMA access card, floppy disk interfaces, serial/parallel interfaces, bus adaptors (use hardware not intended for the s-100 bus), etc... The Z series was much like the Altair or IMSAI but with a z80 CPU standard. It interfaced with all of Cromemco's peripherals and cards. Includes an operating system built-in, parallel and serial interfaces built-in, hard disk, and printer. Later versions were the System One, System Two, and System Three (but with a 68000, 68010, or 68020 CPU and UNIX built-in). 10000 Cromemco systems were sold in China. A Cromemco System One is used by Egon in the 1st Ghostbusters movie.

Dataindustrier 7S
(Dataindustrier would later design the ABC 80 and successors)

Dataindustrie Data Board 4680

Datapoint 2200
Did BASIC, and did games.
Used 100 TTL chips to create a CPU. Intel and Texas Instruments had been hired to make a single chip CPU (microprocessor). Texas Instruments gave up on the concept and repaid their part of the contract. Intel did not meet the initial deadline but gave Datapoint their designs free. Datapoint finished the 100 chip CPU themselves. But Intel still owned the design, and did not abandon the single chip idea. The eventually made the Intel 8008 which was compatible with the 100 chip CPU. The 100 chip was not 16-bit, not 8-bit, not 4-bit, not 2-bit. It was in fact a true 1-bit CPU. Intel's 8008 was 8-bit, yet, slower than the 100 chip CPU. The 8008 design eventually became the x86 architecture. The 4004 microprocessor came before the 8008 but, it required 4001, 4002, 4003 chips (The 4004 is only about 99% microprocessor, but the 4 chips together were far better than anything else other companies were making in 4 or less chips).

Electronic Associates TR-10/TR-10 Model II/TR-20/TR-48

Electronic Associates PACE 100
analog/digital hybrid

Electronic Associates Model 380
analog/digital hybrid

Electronics Australia EDUC-8

Elektor Junior Computer
A not fully compatible Kim-1 clone

Fairchild F8 microcomputer
Like the Altair, this was basically an F8 CPU development board.

Ferguson Big Board (and Ferguson Big Board II)

The Geniac (Brainiac)
125 circuits to arrange on a breadboard to play puzzle games, tic-tac-toe-, and mathematical based (edutainment) games. Two different legal disputes and a lawsuit resulted in two names.

Heathkit EC-1

Heathkit H8

Heathkit H9

Heathkit H11
This is a PDP-11 for the home.

Kitchen Computer
16-bit [email protected]/5MHz depending on which component.
32K semiconductor RAM
15 lights, 26 toggle switches and a 3 way rock switch on the main unit.
Papertape storage. hard drive.
Sold by Neiman-Marcus 1969 for $10,000 (Equivalent to $66,376.84 in 2017 dollars). A Honeywell 316 was fitted inside a terminal made to resemble a stylish kitchen cabinet, complete with cutting board. The main selling point was for housewives to store recipes with it, calculate measurements, plan meals, and balance checkbooks. It cam preloaded with software and some recipes. Secondary uses were also advertised. Husbands could track their investment portfolio. Kids could use it for school work. Another use was just about to become public as well. Earlier that year, a Honeywell 316 had been the first computer to connect to the Internet (though this was top-secret information when the KCPC was offered for sale). Neiman-Marcus owned several 316 units they used to help run their business and had employees who could provide support for their KCPC customers. Important since a two week training course for the family came with the purchase. At least one family member would need to learn how to toggle in information using binary switches and lights (the rest of the operating was actually not that hard to comprehend). I find it interesting that historians provide commentary on Neiman-Marcus' advertising being very condescending toward housewives (said in 1969) but in the same breath same it was to much to expect housewives to understand how to toggle binary information into the system (said in 2016). I think they'd do a greater service to say it was too much to expect anyone to want to learn to toggle binary programs to aid everyday home tasks. It also seems to slip their minds that there were numerous options, such as papertape printers and teletype terminals, small enough for kitchen use, to converse with the machine in ordinary English and numbers as far as end user information was concerned (entering recipes, food quantities, and prices via keypad/keyboard into software loaded via punchtape and reading printouts of the info, leave programming to the support team). Careful study of the ad indicates this level of use was presumed though not specifically spelled out (Neiman-Marcus marketing probably thought mentioning all these details would be too much information for a housewife). Also, any rich enough to buy this toy could pay someone else to operate it, like many did with their high maintenance cars.
It has been suggest that a Honewell employee, or even a Neiman-Marcus employee, had seen enough of what would become the Internet (Neiman-Marcus's units were ARPANET connected, discovering and mapping the otherwise top-secret Internet was easy to do then, if one had access to a compatible computer) to realize computers could be a desired household product for the entire family. The KCPC was certainly a cooperative project between Honewell and Neiman-Marcus. Documentation and information direct from Honewell employees indicate they saw an opportunity to show consumers that computers did have a place in the home. Long term marketing strategy. And they were certainly prepared to backup their KCPC product if anybody had purchased it even if this particular product was not the point. It is likely none were actually sold, but an unsold one is sitting in a museum now.

This is the first computer marketed as a product to non-geek consumers through traditional outlets. The Programma 101 was technically offered to the general public at the 1964 worlds fair along with many mini computers and mainframes but after this event, those were only marketed to businesses.

IASIS ia-7301 "Computer in a Book"
Packaged inside a thee ring binder wih its own manual
24 key kepad, 7 character 7 segment led display

Intellec 4
Intel 4004 computer pre-dating the Altair

Intellec 4/40
Intel 4040 computer pre-dating the Altair

Intellec 8
Intel 8008 computer pre-dating the Altair

Intellec 8/80
Intel 8080 computer pre-dating the Altair

Intel ECK-88

Intel HSE-49

Intel SDK-80

Intel SDK-85

Intel SDK-86

Intertec Superbrain
[email protected] (second z80 ran a disk controller)

Jolt Microcomputer

K-202(Mera 400)
TTL based CPUs (this was a multiprocessor machine!)
Runs on the CROOK operating system (true!)
30 K-202 units sold, hundreds of Mera 400 incarnations were sold.

Kenbak-1 (H5050)
TTL based [email protected] (but bottlenecks in the hardware slowed things to 1kHz equivalence). 132 chips made the CPU. It used serial based memory (bottleneck); it was actually MOS shift registers (the cheapest 'memory' the designer could find). Programmable only in machine code. No interface for a terminal. 12 Lamps for output. The creator considered many types of contemporary outputs, CRT, paper, etc, but decided lights were the best way to reduce cost.

LAN-Electronics Analogue Computer

National Seminconductor SC/MP II CPU

Limrose Electronics Compukit 1 / Compukit 1 Deluxe / Compukit 2
Uses patchwires (like an analog computer) but it is fully digital TTL. Also has 7 toggle switches. Alternating .5Hz and 10kHz clock speed. 10 Compukit 1 computers programmed and connected together (without additional components) can play Noughts & Crosses. Requires a 4.5 volt battery. Users can add chips and components to expand the system to their own ends (CPUs, Memory. I/O). One might be concerned about frying something by wiring it wrong but Limrose guaranteed it was "student proof" and no user could cause damaged unless a different voltage battery was used.

Lysator LYS-16 (ATEW LYS-16)
Multichip 16-bit CPU. Out to a normal TV

MCM/70 (MCM/700, MCM/800, MCM/900, MCM/1000, MCM Power, MCM MicroPower, MCM A*2, Ampex. Sysmo)
8008 [email protected]
13 and 15 segmented LEDs were used to display a single line of text on the unit. Save and load to cassette. This computer dwarfed RAM capacity for any computer for years to come by using a virtual memory cache (on cassette!).



Mycron MYCRO-1

National Semiconductor IMP-16
Multichip 16-bit CPU.


Netronics ELF II

Netronics Explorer 85

Newbear 77-68
6800 CPU

North Star Horizon

[email protected]

Pastoriza Personal Analog Computer
Silicon Zeros simulates this type of computer (if not the very same one).
Yup they called this a "Personal" computer. 200 units were issued to students at Case Institute of Technology in 1962-1963 to see how they faired along side students using slide rules. Units were modular and could be plugged together like lego bricks or patch cabled (kinda like a goto statement) however students wanted to (kinda like the Compukit 1). An original set was a controller module, adder module, two multipliers modules, and two integrator modules. But at least one set included two additional adder modules, 1 additional integrator module and a frequency counter with matching serial numbers (perhaps an upgrade option?). The controller and 5 modules came in a large case for surprising portability. Matching serial numbers meant that students could combine sets to create advanced programs and return original sets after.

Percom Data

Radio-Electronics Mark-8

Regency Systems R2C

Research Machines 380Z (RML 380Z, RM 380Z)

Signetics 2650

Signetics 8X300

1950 (Not the Electronic memory game of 1978)
possessed the two unique properties that define any true mechanical brain: it can transfer information automatically from any one of its "registers" to any other, and it can perform reasoning operations of indefinite length.

Just barely a computer. More of a CPU, or a subset of a CPU. Simon was a relay-based computer with 2-bits of memory. Yes, bits. Yes, Two of them. It could calculate with the numbers 0, 1, 2, or 3. No negative numbers. No decimals. No more than 1 digit. It was far less capable than Babbage's original difference engine. It read 5-bit punch tape (input had to be 3 or less, so bits apparently represented a combination of operand and up to two numbers). It had four opcodes; addition, subtraction, greater than, and selection. Simon It was an educational tool that demonstrated certain aspects of thinking machines. Maybe if you strung 100,000 together you'd have a computer. However, Simon is perfectly capable of games. A small virtual machine that addressed every other line of input as an alternate set of op codes means Simon could run brainfsck games, so that means, Towers of Hanoi, Conway’s Game of Life, Nim, Rogue, and probably the most practical, interactive fiction. Note this computer. Granted, Nibbler can read 12-bits, has 4K of memory, and a 2.46 MHz clock; but that only means it can do everything Simon can in a much, much, much, much, shorter time frame. And I suppose an LCD readout is more user friendly than punch tape.

Sphere Computer Sphere 1 / Sphere 2 / Sphere 3 / Sphere 4
keyboard with a numeric pad, built-in monitor
1,300 units sold

SWTPC 6800

Synertek SYM-1


Telmac 1800
Very simular to the COSMAC VIP. Has a CHIP-8 interpreter

TV Typewriter
The Legendary TV Typewriter. Someone actually made a real one in 1973. Eventually models were released that were actually useful computers.

Viatron System 21 2140 (and 2150)
TTL based CPUs. 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, or 48-bit modes. "microprocessor" was a word invented to refer to the CPU circuitry of these machines. Later, however, the word would be defined as a description of a single-chip CPU.

More to come