RAIR Business Computer

In the early 1980s, many established businesses wanted to get into the business computer market. The fastest way to do that was to contract with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to brand its designs as their own.

RAIR Business Computer
Source: RAIR Computer, 1983

RAIR Computer was one of the lesser known OEMs. Its Business Computer was typical of the multi-user, multi-processor designs of the day. The processors were an 8-bit 8085 and a 16-bit 8088.

RAIR Business Computer
Source: RAIR Computer, 1983

A selection of operating systems (MP/M, CP/M, or PC-DOS) gave its OEM customers flexibility, as the Business Computer could be sold in single- or multi-user configurations. A high-resolution color display and the ability to daisy-chain up to four additional Winchester drives were also big selling factors.

Introduced: October 1983
Original OEM price: $9,750
Base Configuration: 8085 and 8088 CPUs, 256K RAM (1MB max), 19MB hard drive, 1MB floppy drive, 4 RS-422 and 2 RS-232 ports, color monitor, 83-key keyboard, printer, CP/M-80/86 and MP/M-80/86, BASIC, COBOL, Pascal, business software suite
Video: 80 characters x 25 lines, 8 colors
Important options: up to 4 additional 19MB hard drives, tape backup, PC-DOS

Micro Source/MicroStandard Technologies M6000P Portable Microcomputer

Some early microcomputer manufacturers saw a better chance for success by targeting the industrial and government markets. By designing systems to be more durable and better equipped at certain tasks, they avoided competing in the cut-throat business market. It didn’t hurt that industrial and government customers were willing to pay a premium.

Micro Source M600P
Source: Micro Source, 1982
MicroStandard M6000 with color CRT and hard drive
Source: MicroStandard Technologies, 1983

The M6000P was one example. It was originally sold under the Micro Source brand, but the company changed its name to MicroStandard Technologies sometime in 1983 and changed the basic configuration of the M6000P at the same time, dropping the “P” designation. A 10-slot card cage became standard, and an Intel 8088 CPU became optional. A color CRT option was also made available in place of the standard monochrome display. The M6000 was sold for industrial, scientific, and military applications. The company later sold a model aimed at the general business market, the M3000

Introduced: 1982
Original Retail Price: $3,900 to $5,100
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80 CPU, CP/M 2.2, eight STD slots (four open), 64K RAM (512K max), 8K ROM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, integral 9-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, C-BASIC, application suite, carrying case
Video: 25-line x 80-column text
Size/Weight: 17 x 20 x 7 inches, 33.75 lbs.
Important Options: 4MHz 68000 coprocessor, Unix, 10- or 12-slot card cage, external 8-inch floppy disk drive, 10- to 40MB hard disk drive, color graphics card, color monitor, serial and parallel interfaces, modem, acoustic coupler, integral printer.

Spectravideo SV-328 Microcomputer

Spectravideo was launched in 1981 as SpectraVision and originally produced games for the VIC-20 and Atari 2600. A couple of years later, it entered the microcomputer market under the Spectravideo brand and produced several lines of well-regarded home computers in the early 1980s including the SV-328.

Spectravideo SV-328
Source: Spectravideo, 1983

The SV-328 was a more robust version of the SV-318, which was introduced at about the same time. It had a real keyboard rather than the SV-318’s chiclet style one. It was a Z80-CP/M system with a typical configuration. The SV-328 was one of the more affordable CP/M systems with a base price of just under $600

The company ran into financial difficulty in 1984, a year after the SV-328 was launched, and was forced to sell a controlling interest to Bondwell Holding Ltd. of Hong Kong. The Spectravideo brand and products were discontinued, and a restructured company began selling Bondwell-branded PC-compatible laptop and desktop computers.

Introduced: 1983
Original Retail Price: $595
Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, ROM cartridge port, 64K RAM (256K max), 48K ROM (96K max), TV video interface, integral keyboard/keypad, Super Extended Microsoft BASIC, word processing and terminal software, three-voice sound
Video: 24-line x 80-column text, 256 x 192 graphics
Important Options: SV-601 Super Expander, SV-902 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, SV-903 cassette recorder, mouse, SV-901 printer, SV-700 modem

Victor Technologies Victor 9000 Desktop Computer

The Victor 9000 was an early competitor to the IBM PC, introduced about five months later. It wasn’t a true PC compatible, but it did have an 8088 CPU and came standard with MS-DOS (as well as CP/M).

Victor 9000
Source: Victor Technologies, 1982

The Victor 9000 was developed by Sirius Systems Technology and sold in the U.S. by Victor Business Systems, a company known for its calculators and cash register systems. Sirius sold the computer as the S1 in France and as the Sirius 1 elsewhere. Sirius bought Victor Business Systems in 1982 and changed its name to Victor Technologies.

Victor 9000
Source: Victor Technologies, 1982

Chuck Peddle, who created the MOS Technologies 6502 and designed the Commodore PET series, became Victor’s president. Sirius produced 1,150 Victor 9000/Sirius 1 systems in March 1982, and 3,000 the following month.

Introduced: January 1982
Original Retail Price: $5,000
Base Configuration: 5MHz 8088 CPU, MS-DOS and CP/M-86, four expansion slots, 128K RAM (896K max), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232C and one parallel port, voice synthesizer
Video: 40-line x 132-column text, 800 x 400 graphics
Size/Weight: 7 x 15 x 13 inches, 28 lbs.
Important Options: Z80 coprocessor, CP/M-80, 10MB hard disk drive

Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer

The TRS-80 Color Computer, or CoCo, is sometimes left out of the discussion of great 8-bit home computers despite its popularity. Tandy sold millions of them through its network of Radio Shack stores, but a strong retail channel was not the only reason for its success.

TRS-80 Color Computer
Source: Tandy Corp., 1980

The CoCo was a strong performing, inexpensive computer with a solid base of software. Its powerful 6809 processor and support chips enabled color video before many competitors. With the later option of the OS-9 operating system and expanded memory, the CoCo was also a viable development or business system.

The photo here shows a first-generation CoCo, apparently in a law office. Though most CoCos were sold as family computers or to hobbyists, some small businesses did use them and there was enough of a software base to support business use.

Introduced: July 1980
Original Retail Price: $399
Base Configuration: 0.894MHz 6809E CPU; ROM cartridge slot; 4K RAM (16K max); 8K ROM; TV switch box, integral Chiclet-style keyboard; RS-232C, cassette, and two game ports; TRS-80 Color BASIC; operation and Color BASIC manuals; reference card
Video: 16-line x 32-column text, 64 x 32 graphics
Important Options: Multi-Pak Interface, external floppy disk drive, CTR-80A cassette recorder, enhanced graphics, joysticks, Quick Printer II, modem, Extended Color BASIC ROM

Apple Lisa

The Lisa was not Apple’s first attempt at a business computer; that was the Apple III. Apple had started development of the Lisa at the same time as the Apple III, but it did not reach the market until 1983. The Lisa was a radically different (and more expensive) computer.

Apple Lisa
Source: Apple, 1983

Officially, Apple claimed that “Lisa” is an acronym that stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture. Legend has it, though, that the computer was named after either Steve Jobs’s daughter or the daughter of one of the engineers, but the true inspiration for the name has never been confirmed. Andy Hertzfeld, one of the creators of the Macintosh, says in his book, “Revolution in the Valley,” that the acronym explanation may have been invented after the fact in response to press queries about the name’s origin.

The original Lisa, referred to as the Lisa 1 by collectors, was technologically innovative, but a commercial failure for Apple. It popularized the concept of the GUI (graphical user interface) and could perform pre-emptive multitasking, meaning it could run multiple programs at once. However, it was overpriced and lacked adequate software and hardware support. Apple was able to make lemonade out of lemons by using lessons learned from the Lisa development on the Macintosh, one of the most successful microcomputers ever made.

Introduced: January 1983
Original Retail Price: 
$9,995
Base Configuration: 68000 CPU, three slots, 1MB RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives (“Twiggy” drives), integral 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, mouse, two serial and one parallel port, application suite
Video: 40-line x 132-column text, 720 x 364 graphics
Important Options: CP/M or Xenix, external 5MB ProFile hard disk drive, dot-matrix or daisy-wheel printer

Kaypro Robie CP/M Desktop

The IBM PC and compatibles had eaten up much of what had been the market for CP/M systems by 1983. The PC offered the same level of hardware and software support, and it also had the strength of the IBM brand.

Robie prototype
Source: Kaypro, 1983

Kaypro, a leader among the CP/M system manufacturers, tried to stem the tide with a new design. Called the Robie, it was a departure from Kaypro’s portable-only line-up, though the desktop system did have some resemblance to the boxy portable Kaypros. It was unusual in that the system hardware and storage were in a unit that sat on top of the monitor. Kaypro claimed this design made more efficient use of desk space.

Robie production model
Source: Kaypro, 1985

The Robie was announced at the end of 1983, started selling in early 1984, and lasted into 1985. It didn’t really offer more functionality than other CP/M systems. The design might have worked against it, too. Kaypro touted the “large” 9-inch monitor. It was large compared to what Kaypro’s portable models offered, but by the mid 1980s PC users had a range of monitor sizes much bigger than the Robie’s.

Introduced: February 1984
Original Retail Price: $2,295
Base Configuration: Z80 CPU, CP/M 2.2, 64K RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, integral 9-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, application suite, internal modem
Video: 24-line x 80-column text

Electronic Tool Co. ETC-1000

Source: Electronic Tool Co., 1976

The ETC-1000 was used a design typical of early 1970s microcomputers. The main components were housed in a large rectangular box, in which you could add functionality by plugging boards into a backplane. At its most basic configuration, the ETC-1000’s input was through a front panel keyboard and hex display.

The system came in four configurations. The first three–labeled A, B, and C–were targeted to hobbyists or people looking to build a control system. They offered incrementally greater memory and features such as additional ports and connectors, cassette drives, and a full keyboard. The D configuration was aimed at the business market. It came with floppy disk drives, Electronic Tool’s FDOS operating system, and 32K of RAM.

The ETC-1000 was derived from an earlier Electronic Tools computer, the multiprocessor Etcetera System. The ETC-1000 is the central control unit of the Etcetera system configured as a standalone computer. Although the ETC-1000 came standard with a single 6502 processor, it could be run as a multiprocessor system, too, with optional 8080A, 6800, or F8 coprocessors.

Compaq Deskpro

The Compaq Portable in 1982 marked the company’s entry into the PC market. The system targeted a niche ignored by IBM: portable PCs. Compaq quickly established itself the leader in that category.

With the Deskpro desktop PC a little less than two years later, Compaq took on IBM right in its own wheelhouse. The Deskpro line was an immediate success and became a top alternative to PC in the business market. Compaq sold the Deskpro line until 2001, making it one of the longest-running computer models ever.

Source: Compaq, 1984

While some manufacturers of PC compatibles competed with IBM mainly on price, Compaq positioned the Deskpro as a premium brand and sold it on its reliability and range of options. The Deskpro initially was available in four models (Model 1 through Model 4, as shown in the photo above) with variations on monitor size, storage capacity, and memory.

Introduced: June 1984
Original Retail Price: $2,495 to $7,195
Base Configuration: 7.14MHz 8086 CPU, MS-DOS 2.11, six ISA slots, 128K RAM (640K max), 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 12-inch monochrome Dual Mode Monitor, RF modulator, composite and RGB video ports, keyboard/keypad, parallel and serial ports
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, 720 x 350 graphics
Size/Weight: 5 x 19 x 16 inches, 40 lbs.
Important Options: Unix, 10- or 30MB hard disk drive, tape backup drive

Vector Graphic Vector 4 Dual-Processor System

Within a year or two of the IBM PC’s introduction, the handwriting was on the wall for the once-dominant manufacturers of S-100 bus, CP/M microcomputers. The PC was becoming the new small-system standard. Some vendors hedged their bets by introducing new dual-processor models that could run both CP/M and MS-DOS software, but not offer hardware compatibility with the PC.

Source: Vector Graphic, 1982

Vector Graphic’s Vector 4 was one of the first such dual-processor systems, introduced in 1982. It kept the S-100 bus but added an 8088 CPU. CP/M was still the standard operating system with MS-DOS available as an option. In 1984, the Vector 4-S appeared, which could read PC-format floppy disks.

Introduced: 1982 (Vector 4), 1984 (Vector 4-S)
Original Retail Price: $3,295 to $9,995 (4-S)
Base Configuration: Z-80 and 8088 CPUs, CP/M (4)/CP/M-86 with GSX-86 (4-S); two S-100 slots (4-S); 128K RAM (256K max); floppy disk drive, integral monochrome CRT; keyboard; RS-232C, serial, and two parallel ports
Important Options: MS-DOS or Oasis, second floppy disk drive, 5MB to 36MB hard disk drive, color monitor, communications card