Compucolor II
Announced:late 1977
Available:approx. May 1978
How many:approximately 2,000 sold
CPU:Intel / AMD 8080 @ 2.0MHz
Memory:8K - 32K RAM
Display:13-inch CRT, 40x24, 64x32 text
128x128 pixels, 8 colors
Storage:53K internal floppy drive
OS:FCS / Compucolor BASIC

In late 1977, an all-in-one computer system, the Compucolor II, was announced, featuring built-in BASIC programming language, built-in floppy disk storage, and color graphics capabilities. It was not available for purchase until mid-1978, however - the Compucolor model 3 was exhibited to adoring crowds at the June 1978 National Computer Conference (NCC'78) in Anaheim, CA.

The Compucolor II was developed by Intecolor and sold by Compucolor - both divisions of ISC - Intelligent Systems Corporation, who also made professional CRT-based color terminals for computer data display and communications. Their first product was the Intecolor 8001 intelligent terminal, which in late 1976 morphed into the Compucolor 8001 - possibly the first-ever stand-alone color computer. The Compucolor 8001 was mostly an early, industrial product, while the Compucolor II was the consumer version which came later.

The Compucolor II may have been the first computer system with color text, color graphics, AND a built-in floppy drive for programs and data storage and retrieval.

At the time, the Apple II was probably the only other computer system available with built-in color graphics, but it did not have color text, only graphics - dots and lines.

In order to save time and money, the Compucolor utilizes a standard color TV for the computer case and display! The TV tuner and analog circuitry was removed and replaced with the floppy drive and computer motherboard. I'm not exactly sure what brand of TV was used, but my system has a G.E. (General Electric) CRT picture tube installed.

Three different Compucolor II models were available:
  • Model 3 cost $1,495, with 8K of RAM
  • Model 4 cost $1,795, with 16K or RAM
  • Model 5 cost $2,395, with 32K or RAM.

  • The prices were eventually reduced some, according to Infoworld, Feb 14, 1979:
    Model 4 - reduced from $1795 to $1,695
    Model 5 - reduced from $2395 to $1,995
    "Compucolor Corporation has been able to lower prices after only six months of production due to the success of the product and the result of higher manufacturing volume, according to the company."

    Three keyboards were available - standard, extended, and deluxe, all with color-coded keys. The difference between them being the inclusion of a numeric keypad and special function keys which make programming and use faster and easier.

    All of the keyboards have these special keys:
  • <AUTO> - loads "MENU" from the inserted floppy disk, which lists available porgrams to run.
  • <CPU RESET> - restarts system in CRT mode
  • <ATTN / BREAK> - suspends currently running BASIC program, if any.

  • The Compucolor II can operate in three different modes:
  • CRT or Terminal mode - to communicate with another computer system using the RS232 serial port.
  • BASIC - a simple, single user, conversational computer programming language.
  • FCS - File Control System - disk operating system to manage floppy disks and files.

  • When initially powered on, the Compucolor II defaults to DISK BASIC 8001.
    Pressing <SHIFT><CONTROL><CPU RESET> will reboot the system into DISK BASIC 8001 in case the system crashes or locks-up.

    Compucolor DISK BASIC is very powerful, with random file operations, vector graphics, floating-point math, boolean algebra, trigonometric functions, string functions, and access to the hardware real time clock. It is also rumored to be an unauthorized, modified and improved copy of Microsoft BASIC, which had been available for other computer system for a number of years.

    The disk operating system is called FCS - "File Control System" - which is used to manage the diskettes, enabling the user to store and save programs, screen displays, and arrays.

    You can enter FCS by pressing <ESC><D>. To return to BASIC, press <ESC><E>.

    FCS commands are: COPY, DELETE, DEVICE, DIRECTORY, DUPLICATE, INITIALIZE, LOAD, READ, RENAME, RUN, SAVE, WRITE. There is no FORMAT command - at first you had to buy pre-formatted floppy disks from the dealer - two disks for $20. Eventually a "Formatter" floppy disk was officially released for the system.

    The Compucolor II will not automatically boot from a floppy disk when powered-on. Actually, the manual advises: "Do not leave a diskette in the disk drive while turning your Compucolor II on or off."
    The magnetic field generated by the CRT display, just three inches from the floppy drive, can destructively alter the data on the floppy disk when the system is turned on or off.

    There are just three ports on the back of the Compucolor II:
  • keyboard connection
  • RS232C serial port
  • 50-pin system bus

  • It is estimated that around 2,000 Compucolor II systems were sold.

    Compucolor II documents available (right-click to download):
  • Instruction Manual (5MB PDF document)
  • Maintenance Manual (57MB PDF document)
  • Programming and Reference Manual revision 1 (12MB PDF document)
  • Programming and Reference Manual revision 2 (7MB PDF document)
  • Software Library and Newsletters (6MB PDF document)

  • I have two Compucolor II systems - exactly 1 serial number apart - what are the odds.

    Related Links

  • Detailed History Of ISC/Intecolor from Peripheral Exchange
  • Wikipedia
  • The Computer Closet
  • Starring the Computer
  • Compucolor II from John Pospisil
  • Computerworld May 15, 1978
  • ISC company profile from Classic Tech
  • ISC 8001 from Carl Richard Friend

  • Return to the Obsolete Technology Homepage