Inventing the PC: the MCM Story

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McGill-Queen's University Press.
Jacket designed by David Drummond.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Joseph A. Weisbecker single-handedly moved RCA into the microprocessor era. He began the design of his 8-bit LSI CPU in 1971. He refered to it as a `microprocessor' or `FRED microprocessor' and described its architecture in of the 1971 RCA technical reports. Between 1971 and 1977, and even before the single-chip implementation of his microprocessor was available, he proposed several low cost, FRED microprocessor-based computers and game consoles to the RCA management arguing the benefits of the microprocessor technology to the computer and consumer electronics industries, to education and electronic entertainment. Some of Weisbecker's designs were turned into commercial products and successful hobby computers (see Table 1).
  • The Microprocessor System 00, 1971, not in production
  • TAC-321 (Teaching Aid Computer), 1972, not in production
  • FRED 1.5, 1972, not in production
  • FRED 2, 1973(?), not in production
  • COSMAC 180, 1975(?), lab use only
  • COSMAC 180A, 1975(?), lab use only
  • MicroTutor, 1974, demonstrator/hobby computer
  • Studio II (FRED 3 or Video-Mate) 1976, game console
  • COSMAC ELF, 1976, hobby computer
  • COSMAC VIP, 1977, hobby/home computer
Table 1. Some of the hardware from the Weisbecker's FRED family.

Fig. 1. The cover of the TAC-321 class computer document; courtesy of David Sarnoff Library.

Fig. 2. J. Weisbecker's doughters operating the Fred 2 computer; courtesy of David Sarnoff Library.

Fig. 3. The RCA MicroTutor; courtesy of David Sarnoff Library, photograph by Z. Stachniak.

Fig. 4. Weisbecker's COSMAC ELF hobby computer on the cover of the August 1976 issue of Popular Electronics.

Fig. 5. The RCA COSMAC VIP hobby/home computer on the cover of RCA's 1977 promotional brochure.

Chapter 3

The MCM/70's research and development took place mostly in MCM's manufacturing facility in Kingston. The following three photographs, taken at the Kingston facility, show the MCM plant, a R&D station (with the rack prototype of the MCM/70 and an MCM/700), and a MCM/700 assembly station. Do you recognize any of the individuals on these photographs?

Photograph 1. MCM R&D facility in Kingston. Photograph courtesy
of Jose Laraya.

Photograph 2. R&D station at Kingston facility. The photograph
shows the rack prototype of the MCM/70 (left), floppy drives, and
an MCM/700 operated by Cam Farnell. Photograph courtesy of
Cam Farnell.

Photograph 3. "ROMed" MCM/700s at Kingston facility. Photograph
courtesy of Jose Laraya.

The next photograph shows Jose Laraya in his MCM office (c. 1975?)

Photograph 4. Jose Laraya relaxing in his MCM office.
Photograph courtesy of Jose Laraya.

In May of 2011, after almost 35 years since leaving MCM, Jose Laraya had an opportunity to see an MCM/70 computer again at York University.

Photograph 5. Jose Laraya inspects an MCM/70 computer at York University. The piece of hardware to the right of the MCM/70 was Laraya's first attempt at building an APL microcomputer based on the Intel 8008 microprocessor. This prototype used an Intel SIM8-01 development board. (Photograph by Z. Stachniak, May 30, 2011.)

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

In 1988 Kutt's new company--All Computers Inc.--introduced the ChargeCard, a little circuit board designed to speed up the operations of personal computers. The All ChargeCard was awarded PC Magazine's Annual Award for Technical Excellence in 1988.

Photograph 6. The cover of the All ChargeCard Installation & User's Manual, All Computers, 1987-89.

Chapter 7

After leaving MCM, Laraya designed a number of computers that were manufactured in Ontario. The Persona desktops were manufactured by a Canadian company Nelma Electronics Ltd, and became popular microcomputers in Ontario. Another computer, the Zapstar, was primarily designed for applications in travel industry. The futuristic lookind computer was unveiled during the 1979 Ontario Travel Industry Conference that took place on January 19 at the Harbour Castle hotel. The computer featured a "space-age" color display and could be interfaced with 256 other Zapstars. (Source: F.O. Villasin, What's 'Zapstar'? A Computer designed by Filipino expert, machine performs many feats, Balita, February 1-15, 1979.)

Photograph 7. Jose Laraya with his Zapstar computer in 1979. This photograph appeared in F.O. Villasin, What's 'Zapstar'? A Computer designed by Filipino expert, machine performs many feats, Balita, February 1-15, 1979. By permission from Balita.

Photograph 8. The Zapstar computer in full view. This photograph appeared in F.O. Villasin, What's 'Zapstar'? A Computer designed by Filipino expert, machine performs many feats, Balita, February 1-15, 1979. By permission from Balita.

Chapter 8

Welcome to the computer age!

In the paper A History of APL in the USSR written by Andrei Kondrashev and Oleg Luksha for the ACM APL Quote Quad (vol. 2, nr. 2 (1991), pp. 8--11), the authors state that the interest in APL in USSR was triggered by a visit of Pavel Medov, a professor of the University of Toronto to the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in late 1974. "In the spring of 1975, professor Medov brought an MCM/70 computer with built-in APL system to the Computing Center of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The first Soviet APL program was written by Dr. Victor Sokolov that summer. Later on, another such computer appeared. During the next few years these were the only APL systems available for Soviet users." (Quote from page 8 of the paper.)

Identifying an MCM/70 model
The MCM/70 computers were sold in a range of configuartions identifiable by a machine's model number on the back plate of the unit. The model number consists of three digits followed by two optional letters:
  • the first digit should always by "7";
  • the second digit describes the amount of RAM installed, increments of 2K;
  • the third digit denotes the number of tape drives installed in the computer;
  • the optional string "EF" at the end of the model number indicates that the computer is equipped with the extended I/O features.

Known Installations of MCM computers (the MCM/70, /700, /800, /900).
Because the MCM/70 and /700 computers were sold with similar conigurations (models 720, 721, 741, 742, 781, and 782), the list provides no explicit reference to either MCM/70 or MCM/700 when such an information is missing in source documents.

  • Abbey Life Insurance Co. of Canada
    hardware: the MCM/800 and /900
    applications: research
  • Farion S.R. Systems, Dorval, P.Q.
    hardware: model 782, SCI-1200, MCM 132
    applications: microwave communication, systems engineering, filter design
  • Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON
    hardware: model 782
    applications: biostatistical research and analysis
  • Hutchence, Keith, Regina, Sask
    hardware: MCM/700 model 741
    applications: modeling and simulation, time series trending, statistics
  • H.G. Cousins Assoc., N.S.
    hardware: model 741 applications: ?
  • Frontenac Board of Education, ON
    hardware: model 741 applications: ?
  • J.E. Parrot and Co., Sherbrooke, P.Q.
    hardware: model 781
    applications: land survaying
  • Lanark County Board of Education, Kingston, ON
    hardware: model 781
    applications: student instructions and administration
  • Ministry of the Environment, Ontario Government, Downsview, ON
    hardware: model 782, MCP 132
    applications: pollution Research and modelling
  • March Management Consultants Ltd., Tornto, ON
    hardware: MCM/700
    applications: insurance accounting, administration
  • Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission, Toronto, ON
    hardware: MCM/70 model 782, MCM 132, the computer now resides at the University of Toronto
    applications: pollution research and modelling
  • Paul Phelan Assoc., Toronto, ON
    hardware: two models 782, and two MCP 132s
    applications: financial and investment analysis
  • Quinn & Assoc., Toronto, ON
    hardware: model 782
    applications: municipla govt. modelling
  • Ross-Willcocks Assoc., Halifax, N.S.
    hardware: model 781, MCP 132, DDS 500
    applications: quantity surveying, construction cost estimating
  • St. Lawrence College, Kingston, ON
    hardware: model 782
    applications: mathematics and computer studies
  • Sydenham District Highschool, Sydenham, ON
    hardware: MCM/70 model ?
    applications: student instruction, mathematics and computer studies
  • University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, P.Q.
    hardware: model 782, MCP 132
    applications: student instruction and administration
  • AVM, Jamestown, N.Y.
    hardware: MCM/70
    applications: engineering drawing
  • BK Dynamics, Maryland
    hardware: model 781
    applications: ?
  • Case Western Research University, Clivland, Ohio
    hardware: MCM/70, MCM/700 model 782, MCP 132
    applications: engineering design
  • Chapin, Ned, Ph.D., Menlo Park, CA
    hardware MCM/70 model 782
    applications: ?
  • Chevron Oil Research Co, La Habre, CA
    hardware: MCM/70
    applications: geological research and analysis
  • CIA
    hardware: MCM/?
    applications: ?
  • Courtney, Harley, Professor (emeritus) of Accounting University of Texas at Arlington
    hardware: MCM/70
    applications: education
  • Walter Wysoczansky, phisicist
    hardware: model 721, serial nr. 0650003
    purchased through Electronic Vision Inc., San Diego, CA
    applications: mathematical physics
  • Firestone, Akron, Ohio
    hardware: model 741
    applications: engineering design
  • IBM, Atlanta, Georgia
    hardware: two MCM/70s
    applications: research and analysis
  • Infosci Inc., Menlo Park, CA
    hardware: model 782, MCP 132
    applications: systems consulting support
  • International Exec. Data, CA
    hardware: model 782
    applications: ?
  • Karber, David, J., CA
    hardware: model 782
    applications: ?
  • L.A. Community College, L.A., CA
    hardware: MCM/70
    applications: mathematics and Computre Science Dept. teaching APL
  • Michigan State University, Michigan
    hardware: model 782, SCI-1200
    applications: general-purpose problem solving in Education Department
  • Mutual Benefit Life, ?
    hardwareL MCM/70
    applications: actuarial
  • Mutual Life Ins. of N.Y., New York, N.Y.
    hardware: MCM/70 model 782, SCI-1200 applications: actuarial analysis, replaced time sharing terminal
  • NASA Goddard Space Center, Maryland
    hardware: model 742, SCI-1200
    applications: atmospheric research
  • Nassau Business Machines, New York
    hardware: model 721
    applications: ?
  • Norwalk Community College, Norwalk, Conne.
    hardware: model 721
    applications: instruction, C.A.I., computer programming
  • Sandia Labs, Albuqurque, New Mexico
    hardware: model 742, MCP/132
    applications: engineering problem solving
  • Stauffer Chemical Co., Eastern Research Centre, Dobbs Ferry, N. Y.
    hardware: model 782, MCP 132
    applications: chemical analysis and research, replaced time-sharing terminal
  • Thomas & Betts, Elizabeth, N. J.
    hardware: model 782, MCP 132
    applications: engineering design and analysis reports
  • U.S. Army, Adelphi, Md
    hardware: MCM/70
    applications: classified
  • U.S. Army, Washington D.C.
    hardware: MCM?
    applications: ?
  • Vassar Collage, Poughkeepsie, N. Y.
    hardware: model 782 and MCM 132
    applications: computer center general student use
  • Villanova University, Villanova, Penn.
    hardware: model 741
    applications: electrical enginering
  • Werner, Bernard, Penn.
    hardware: model 742
    applications: ?
  • Several MCM/70s were acquired by the Computer Center of the Academy of Science of the USSR
    hardware: ?
    applications: ?
  • Several MCM/70s and /700s distributed in France by SYSMO S.A.; one of these computers is located in the Association pour un conservatoire de l'informatique et de la telematique (ACONIT) museum in Grenoble, France
    hardware: ?
    applications: ?