Saturday 18 August 2018

ABC 80 (1978)

Released August 1978

1978 was still very early on in the microcomputer revolution which was arguably only a year into its stride. The year saw the launch of some less-well-known but interesting machines, including the Swedish ABC 80.

The ABC 80 was designed by Dataindustrier AB in partnership with Luxor, and it was sold throughout Scandinavia and other parts of Europe under the Luxor or Metric brands. The ABC 80 would come as a complete system including a modified TV for output and a cassette recorder for storing data, and along with comprehensive documentation the ABC 80 really did come with everything you needed to get started.

Dataindustrier were also involved in industrial control systems, and their expertise in this meant that the ABC 80 was fast, reliable and flexible system with an expansion bus that could be used for all sorts of peripherals. Inside was a 3MHz Zilog Z80 CPU, monochrome graphics (including a Teletext mode), 16 to 32Kb of RAM and a Texas Instruments SN76477 sound chip which was the same one found in Space Invaders machines.

The ABC 80 was quite a success in its home markets, in part because of the availability of programs in local languages, and it gave rise to the ABC 800 business computer in 1981 which met with limited success against the IBM PC.  In 1985 the ABC 1600 was launched, running a Unix-like operating system on a Motorola 68008 processor, but while this was technically interesting it wasn’t really a success either.

In the end, the influence of the ABC 80 was fairly indirect – giving Scandinavian youngsters their first taste of computing on something locally produced no doubt inspired a generation to take up technology careers later on. Finding one for sale in fully working condition is tricky, but prices in the range of 1500 to 2000 Swedish Krona seem typical, but there are many emulators also available for a variety of platforms if you don’t fancy sourcing the real thing.

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