Wednesday 11 December 2019

Tangerine Microtan 65 (1979)

Tangerine Microtan 65
Introduced December 1979

As the 1970s drew to a close US computer manufacturers were dominating the market with fully-featured but expensive systems such as the Apple II and Atari 800. Where these systems were popular in the US market, British consumers had rather less to spend on these new-fangled machines and many hobbyists were tinkering with simple board computers such as the Acorn System 1 instead.

Although board computers were inexpensive, they were also very limited. Although it was usually possible to add a few peripherals, they still couldn’t do the sorts of things that the new American microcomputers could.

Into this market stepped the British-based Tangerine Computer Systems with the Microtan 65. This was a 6502-based single board computer with just 1Kb of RAM, 1Kb of ROM with a simple OS called the monitor, a video output and a hexadecimal keypad. But the system itself was highly expandable, with the first step being the TANEX expansion board that added a cassette and serial interface, plus the option of more RAM and up to five EPROMs.

However, expansion could go on and on with more boards for more memory, disk controllers, printers, better graphics and more. All of these could be slotted into a 19” rack-mountable case to make a microcomputer that could be used for business, home or scientific or engineering purposes. And although the price of all these components added up, you only needed to buy what you were going to use.

The result was a technically capable and scalable system that was successful enough for Tangerine to look at creating a follow-on model. Initially they looked at creating a CP/M compatible Z80-based machine that was developed for HH Electronics, named the HH Tiger. Despite an elegant design, the Tiger was not a success and is largely forgotten if it was even noticed at all.

Tangerine’s next hit was the Oric-1, another 6502 machine made very much in the mould of the very popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This machine and its successor – the Oric Atmos – proved very popular in the UK and some other European markets. But that is a story for another time.

Ultimately the Microtan 65 could have been the start of a huge revolution in personal computing, but it didn’t quite make it. Forty years later the Microtan 65 is a hard thing to find for collectors, but our research indicates that a well-specified system might cost you something in the region of £1500.

Image credit: Ian Dunster via Wikimedia Commons

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