Tagged: technology

Quadboard by Quadram

QB_Whole_Board_Front

I found this Quadboard at the Abbey Ann’s off the Circle in Tallmadge sometime last year.  It was sitting on their counter in a pile of items that had just came in.

When I saw it I immediately recognized that it was some sort of old RAM upgrade (from the ordered banks of DRAM chips on the left side of the board) but when I looked closer I impressed with how just how old it was.  As third party add-ons for IBM PC hardware goes, this is almost as early as it gets.

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I suspect this is one of those instances where the original owner replaced the older Quadboard with the newer model and the old one ended up in the newer one’s box with the newer one’s documentation.

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The box and the documentation is for a 384K Quadboard from 1984 (with six banks of nine 64 kilobit DRAM chips) but the card inside is labeled 1982 and only had four banks of nine chips.  Also notice how the picture on the box has two connectors for ribbons but the card I have only has one.

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QB_Manuals

In doing some research about the Quadboard it looks like in 1982 Quadram sold several models all with the same number of DRAM chip sockets but with different number of chips installed.   The one I have seems to be the high end of the original Quadboard line which means it’s fully populated with 256K RAM.  If you had one of the cheaper models you could install more chips yourself as long as you added a whole bank at a time.

I believe the leftmost of the two sets of DIP switches on the top of the board are how you tell it how much RAM the PC has on the motherboard (so it knows what address to start with) and how much RAM is installed on the Quadboard.

Incidentally the reason that four banks of nine 64 kilobit memory chips equals 256K is that the 9th chip in each bank is used for parity checking, like on the IBM PC’s motherboard.

QB_DRAM_Close_Angle

The Quadboard is interesting because from it you can learn a lot about the state of hardware in the early days of the PC.

The original IBM PC was well known to be an open architecture and expandable because of its five expansion slots. What is less well known is that you basically needed to use at least two or three slots in order to use the machine.

Other than a keyboard connector (and a rarely used and later removed cassette recorder port) the PC had almost no peripherals on the motherboard.  In order to use a monitor or a disk drive or a printer, or a connect to an external modem you needed cards that supported these things.

In the simplest configuration using IBM’s hardware you could use a disk controller card and a monochrome display adapter (that came with a printer port) and the machine would be usable with only two cards.  But, you didn’t have a serial port.  Because the display adapter for a color monitor didn’t have a printer port you were looking at using three of the precious expansion slots just to be able to use the machine with a color monitor.

If you wanted to add something simple, like a clock that remembered the time when the PC was off, you we’re going to need to burn one of the few remaining slots.  You could easily run out of slots and your expandable IBM PC would be a lot less expandable.  As a result, expansion board manufacturers like Quadram started selling boards with multiple functions crammed on one board.

QB_Box_Rear

This Quadboard gives your PC a battery-backed real time clock, a serial port, a parallel port, and a RAM upgrade on a single board.  I would imagine that because of the expense of the RAM, the reason you bought the Quadboard was for the memory upgrade aspect of the board.

The IBM PC models being sold in 1982 only came with up to 64K of RAM.  In 1983 a later PC model came with a whopping 256K RAM and the XT started with 256K.  If you want more RAM then upgrades consisted of an 8-bit ISA board like the Quadboard.

In the early 1980s RAM was expensive.  According to this ad in Infoworld a fully populated 256K Quadboard like this one cost $995 in 1982.

QB_DRAM_Close

An often overlooked aspect of the early history of personal computers is how important the cost of RAM was.  In 1977 when Atari introduced the Atari 2600, they could only afford to put 128 bytes of memory in it.

The reason why the Macintosh in last week’s entry was released in January 1984 with only 128KB of memory was that Apple had a limited amount of space on the board for RAM.  They either had to wait for the next generation of higher capacity RAM chips to fit more RAM in the same space (and add $1000 more to the cost of a machine that was already $2495) or send it out the door with only 128K memory, knowing that would limit the machine’s potential.  But hey, real artists ship.

So, it must have been a huge deal for whoever bought this Quadboard in 1982 to be adding 256KB into their PC.

What would someone have gained at the time by adding 256K to their PC?  You have to remember that unlike the period from about 1990 to 2005 or so when it seemed that your PC was obsolete after 2-3 years the period from 1981 from 1990 was very different.

Once the basic platform had been established of a PC with an 8088 processor and MS-DOS it sort of stuck that way for almost 10 years.  When subsequent processors like the 286 and 386 came out most popular software largely used them as fast 8088s and didn’t take that much advantage of their new capabilities.  It wasn’t really until 1990 and Windows 3.0 that the needs of graphics and multitasking finally forced the platform to move forward, which obsoleted the 8088 and 8086.

From 1981 to 1990 you probably wanted a full 640KB memory in your PC but if you didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world.

For example, in 1987 the popular dBase III Plus only required a PC with 256KB RAM, though it recommended 384KB.

Lotus 1-2-3 Release 2.2 from 1989, which was considered a pretty heavy application at the time, wanted at least 320KB memory, though they recommended 512KB.

Even a pretty serious game like 1986’s Starflight from Electronic Arts just asked for 256KB.

So, someone dropping a grand on 256KB memory in 1982 was keeping their PC from the scrap heap through about 1989.  That’s pretty good value for their money.

On the other hand, the owner probably wanted more and that’s why this 256KB Quadboard ended up in the box of the 1984 model that accommodated even more memory.

QB_Quality_Logo

References:

If you, like me have a bizarre fascination with the early days of PC hardware, these old books can be very informative.

PC’s From Scratch
by Corey Sandler, Tom Badgett, and Wade Stallings
Published by Bantam Computer Books 1990

The PC Upgrader’s Manual
by Gilbert Held
Published by John Wiley & Sons 1988

Apple Macintosh

This is my original Apple Macintosh (aka the Macintosh 128K) from 1984.  I believe I bought it somewhere around 1998-2000 at the old State Road Shopping Center Goodwill in Cuyahoga Falls.  Unfortunately it only worked for a short time after I found it but in that time I had a lot of fun with it.  I keep it around today as a piece of history.

Mac128_Full

This is it.  Model M0001.  The original Macintosh.  The machine with the Ridley Scott 1984 commercial.  More has probably been written, said, and filmed about this computer than any other in history.

You can identify an original 1984 Macintosh among other classic Macs by the way that the rear name badge just says “Macintosh” and the way that the front of the computer just has an Apple logo and no model name.

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The original Macintosh did not have a hard drive.  It ran from 400K 3.5in floppy disks.  I found this Macintosh with the mouse and keyboard (minus the letter Z) but with no disks, which created a problem.  I made some posts on the old RoadRunner newsgroups and found some local Mac nerds to help me out.  One of them a disk that had been formatted 400K with an significantly old System and copies of MacWrite and MacPaint, which is basically what you would have received in the box in 1984.  To my amazement, we found that the old Macintosh worked.  Compared to the Apple II, the crisp black and white image was a revelation.

Through some research I found sites like mac512.com that (at that time) had a lot of old software available to download, assuming you had a Mac that could write the 400K floppy format.  My mother and I made a trip to a local Kinkos that had late model Power Macinitosh towers (probably Power Macintosh 9500 or 9600s) that still had floppy drives.  We spent about an hour or so filling up a few floppies with old games like Shufflepuck, Kung Fu and Stunt Copter.

Later I came to realize that this Macintosh had been upgraded to about the specs of a Macintosh 512K with 0.5MB RAM, an option which Wikipedia says cost $995 back in the day.

This Macintosh was the first Macintosh of any type I owned and the first Apple product I had owned since my grandfather gave us his Apple IIe.  Oddly enough, the later Macs I found at thrift stores or acquired used I found in roughly the order they came out: a Macintosh Plus, a Macintosh SE, a Macintosh Classic II, a Macintosh LC III, a Quadra 700, a Quadra 605, a Performa 630CD, a PowerBook 190cs, the PowerBook G3, and most recently an eMac and a 2010 Mac Mini.

The Macintosh Plus (which in many ways was the machine the Macintosh 128K should have been) gave me a good education into what the Macintosh experience would have been in the mid-to-late 80s.

While I am fascinated in these machines as old computers I’m still a PC guy at heart.  It’s just that these are the opportunities that have presented themselves.  If the thrift stores had been full of Deskpros or PS/2s I would be writing about them here too.

Since this old Macintosh no longer works, it gives me a good opportunity to talk about the way it looks.

Mac128_IIe_Comp

You can see the visual similarity between the Apple IIe (introduced in 1983) and the Macintosh with the beige plastic and the beveled edges.  Growing up with an Apple IIe, I have a fondness for the beige style that Apple did so well in the mid 1980s.  I have said before that I like my 80s stereo equipment to have the angular silver appearance of a DeLorean.  Well, I want my 80s computer equipment to have the beige plastic look of the Apple Macintosh and the Apple IIe.

Mac128_Front_Detail

I adore the beveling around the floppy disk drive especially.  That’s the way a floppy drive should look.  It just looks important.

The way the mouse looks roughly like the Macintosh, with the mouse button mirroring the monitor and the Apple logo in roughly the same place is stunningly cute.

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I really dig the color Apple logos on the front and back of the Macintosh.  Bring back the color Apple!

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One of the things that puzzles me about this machine is: If you had paid $2495 for one of these things in 1984 would you have been happy with it?

We’ve all been told that this is the machine that like Prometheus bringing fire to man, brought the Graphical User Interface to the common person.

The reality is that this was a seriously compromised computer when it was launched.  The 400K floppies were too small.  The 128K RAM was way, way too small for the kind of graphical programs that were expected to be built for it.  The single built-in floppy drive and the limited amount of RAM led to horror stories where the simple action of copying a disk took multiple disk swaps.  It also lacked a dedicated port to add an external hard drive.

Mac128_Rear_Conn

The Macintosh Plus, introduced in 1986, corrected these flaws by coming with at least 1MB RAM, an 800K floppy drive, and a SCSI port for adding an external hard disk.  The Macintosh SE in 1987 added an option of an internal hard disk or a second floppy drive.  So, if you had bought this machine in 1984 you were probably looking longingly at the Plus and SE which had the same screen and same CPU, but corrected the glaring flaws in the original design.

Additionally, would you have been happy with the software selection?  The Mac would have come with the brilliant MacWrite and MacPaint, but after that was there other quality software to buy?  It seems like the first few years of Macintosh software were a bit tortured.  Meanwhile Apple II and IBM PC owners were cheerfully drowning in great software.

I’m sure the first two things people thought of when they saw a Macintosh back then was: This is amazing but 1) Can I have it with color? 2) Can I have a bigger screen.

Maybe this is just my “future” bias talking here but anytime I’ve tried to write anything on the 9in screen classic Macintoshes have I’ve felt visually cramped.

If you were the kind of computing enthusiast with a quick trigger finger for novel technology that was probably the kind of person who bought a Mac in 1984, what did you think of the Amiga in 1985?  Granted the Amiga had a less elegant GUI than the Macintosh but it came with an emphasis on color and multimedia while your Mac was staring back at you in crisp but dull black and white.  Apple would not add a Macintosh with color capability to the lineup until the stratospherically expensive (but eminently open) Macintosh II in 1987.

I think you have to keep in mind what the ownership experience was really like when you appreciate the historical importance of this machine.

The original Macintosh is a terrific monument to one of the best technological moments of the 1980s.  Seeing one with it’s crisp and cheery screen must have stunned people who were knew computers as boxes that spit out glowing green text in a black void.  This was the 1980s vision of the future.

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