15 July 2009

Serious computing

In an earlier posting I discussed the state of the art in the consumer electronics field in 1984.  Having explored the archives a little further in recent weeks, I’ve dug up a few more relics from the 1980s to remind us what we had to get by with a quarter of a century ago.

Computer Input Magazine (1984) The August 1984 edition of Computer Input magazine (‘New Zealand’s No.1 Home Computer Magazine’) included several pages of the mainstay of such publications at the time: full printouts of game programs for readers to type into their home computers and play at home – assuming they typed it all in correctly, that is. 

These programs, and other advertisements in the magazine, remind us that at the time there were a broad variety of computers vying for market share.  One game, ‘Subhunt’ by Deane Whitmore, offered two and a half pages of ASCII text - ‘a great game for the Spectrovideo 318 or 328’, while a tuition page offered continuing lessons in machine code for the Sinclair Z80.  A full-page advert for Sinclair computers reminds readers of the political upheavals going on in New Zealand in 1984, drawing attention to the fact that its offers are ‘still at pre-devaluation prices!’  On the magazine’s back cover, a full-page advert promotes the long-dead Sega SC3000 home computer (retailing for only $399) with the tagline ‘What good is the latest technology if you can’t afford it?’

The magazine’s lead story is Martin and Faye Hall’s mostly favourable review of the new Apple II-emulating CAT computer offered by Dick Smith.  (Dick Smith was a major advertiser with Computer Input; the CAT also featured in my earlier post).  Here’s an excerpt to remind you what computer users were being offered in 1984:

The CAT is one of the latest and more impressive computers to join the Dick Smith personal computer range.  It offers to the potential buyer many enhanced facilities and features, a wide range of software, along with a capability for system expansion.  Many of the features offered are not found to the same degree in other similarly priced computer systems.

The CAT uses a 6502A microprocessor with an operating clock speed of 2MHz.  The basic computing unit comes complete with a 64K byte on-board RAM and a 32K byte ROM.  Of this ROM, 24K bytes are used to provide the user with Enhanced Microsoft BASIC language.  The CAT can be expanded up to a total of 192K bytes of RAM […]

The CAT is being marketed with its primary competitor as the Apple IIe and from our study of the CAT we found it a worthy competitor.  It should be acknowledged though, that the CAT is very much a newcomer in the computer market and still has to stand the test of time and many users.

As a computer system in its own right the CAT offers many advanced features not seen in other similarly priced computer systems.  The CAT, priced at $1295 for the basic unit, has bridged the cost gap between serious computing and pure entertainment.  It offers an impressive alternative for potential computer users who have a limited price budget, but want a serious computer not just a toy.

The specifications listings go on to recount the CAT’s ‘80 or 40 character display’ and ‘560 x 192 HI RES colour graphics with a choice of 8 colours’.  That sound?  It’s the future knocking at the door.

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