Compucolor 8001 (1976)

Compucolor 8001

Announced: December 1976

Price: US$2,690

CPU: Intel 8080 @ 2MHz

Memory: 4K – 32K RAM

Display: built-in 19-inch color CRT

80 x 48 text, 8 colors

192 x 160 graphics, 8 colors

Ports: one (or two) RS-232 ports

Storage: external floppy tape

OS: Compucolor BASIC

Intelligent Systems Corporation (ISC) was started in 1973 by Charles A. Muench, to develop a color computer graphics terminal to compete with the mechanical Teletype and monochrome “glass TTY” terminals commonly in use at this time.

Their first product, advertised in February of 1976, if not earlier, was the Intecolor 8001 professional intelligent CRT terminal – a $1,395 kit to be assembled by the purchaser, featuring a huge 19-inch RCA delta-gun CRT. The system came with 4K of RAM memory as standard.

It wasn’t until December of 1976 when the Intecolor 8001 color terminal could be expanded from a computer interface device into a complete stand-alone computer: For an additional $1,295 ($2,690 total), the Intecolor 8001 could be converted into the Compucolor 8001 – an expanded, stand-alone micro-computer with built-in BASIC programming language.

The Compucolor 8001, which was referred to as the Compucolor I during development  is often considered “the first desktop color graphic computer”.

This webpage is more oriented towards the stand-alone computer aspect of the ISC 8001 system, not the earlier intelligent terminal history, so many of the prices and dates are relative to this fact.

The Compucolor 8001 has up to three modes of operation:

  • CRT Mode
  • Compucolor BASIC
  • CPU Operating System (optional)

When first turned-on or RESET, The 8001 comes up in CRT Mode, for two-way communication with another computer system via the RS-232 serial port. This is how most standard computer terminals of the day operated.


Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot Compucolor 8001 screenshot

Pressing <ESC><W> on the keyboard switches the system into Compucolor BASIC, which allows the user to write and run programs in the Compucolor BASIC programming language.

If “option 34” has been installed, pressing <ESC><P> on the keyboard switches the system into CPU Operating System, which is similar to “Monitor” on other computer system. It enables the operator to manipulate the contents of the system memory, read and produce magnetic tapes, and execute programs.

ISC president Charles Muench stated that he himself analyzed the Microsoft BASIC programming language developed for the MITS Altair 8800 computer, and “reversed engineered it” for use in his Compucolor 8001, but eventually “purchased the BASIC source code from Microsoft so that we would be legal”.

The BASIC 8001 programming guide is included in the Compucolor 8001 User Manual (10MB PDF document), as is other systems information and CRT alignment procedures.

The floppy-tape storage device is comprised of one or two external 8-track, continuous-loop tape drives, running at 4800 Baud rate (about 600 characters per second), storing up to 1024 KB of data per tape. One program is stored per track, or up to eight programs total per cartridge.

These 8-track tape cartridges are identical, although with much less tape inside, to the consumer audiophile version commonly used to record and play music and other audio material in the 1970’s.

Although novel, the external floppy-tape drive was short lived due to poor performance, with maybe 25 units sold, according to “Gene” from Intecolor.

In late 1977, ISC designed a floppy-disk controller utilizing the Western Digital FD1771 floppy-disk controller chip, which would support MD0:/MD1: (single-sided/single-density – SSSD) and DM0:/DM1: (double-sided/single-density – DSSD).

By 1978, 8-inch floppy-drives from Shugart and Seimens were supported as FD0:/FD1: (single-sided/single-density – SSSD) and DF0:/DF1: (double-sided/single-density – DSSD).

Even a little later a double-density floppy-disk controller was released to support XM0:/XM1: (5-1/4 inch) and XF0:/XF1: (8-inch).

A fourth mode of operational was added to the system to take advantage of the new floppy-drive capabilities.

Pressing <ESC><D> on the keyboard switches the system into FCS – File Control System – which is similar to DOS, to allow the user to access and manipulate the external data storage devices, like the mini-disk drives, to load and save data and programs.

CPU Card

CPU Card

4K/8K RAM memory card

4k/8k RAM

24K ROM/PROM memory card

24K ROM/PROM Memory Card

Display controller card

Display Controller Card

Mini-floppy Disk Controller Card

Mini-floppy Disk Controller Card

via Compucolor 8001 computer.

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