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I > INTERTEC  > SUPERBRAIN


Intertec
SUPERBRAIN

Roger Linhart remembers:

I got hired as a software engineer in 1980. I was writing Z80 Assembly Language for embedded industrial control systems. When I started they had a Cromemco system with internal 10MB hard disk drive and a nifty Cromemco terminal.
I think it was in '81 or '82 we upgraded to a three terminal Intertec system with the external hard drive. As I recall the floppies showed up as drive A: & B:, then there was a shared partition on drive C: that all three terminals could use, then each terminal had its own private partition on drive D:.
Both systems ran CP/M (I don't think the Intertec's were MP/M but they might have been). Most of what I did was running a text editor and the macro assembler. The terminal serial port was connected to an EPROM burner. I probably dinked around with the Basic too.
The one thing I remember most about this system is the chirp sound it made each time you struck a key on the keyboard, especially when you were typing quickly.


A word of warning from Gilles Tschopp:

"the SuperBrain has an "interesting" characteristic: when you hit the table on which the computer is sitting, it destroys the floppy disk in the drive" :-(


Jan Olderdissen reports :

The Superbrain was the second computer I got to lay my hands on. It shipped with 16kB of RAM, but could be upgraded to 64kB with a soldering iron (which we did). In time we slapped on a couple 800kB diskette drives and a custom I/O board to attach joysticks. By reprogramming the EEPROM that contained the text character set we were able to simulate graphics (6 blocks per character decoded in the mostly unused upper range 128-255). We were very happy with it until the IBM PC got too reasonable in price to refuse.


John Parker reports:

My abiding memory of the Superbrain was the sensitivity of the disk drive to humidity. I was giving a sales demonstration in Philadelphia of some application software. I ran through the demonstration in the conference on my own and it worked fine. My boss brought 30 people in to see the demo and the machine wouldn't work. He took the people out for coffee. I tried again, on my own. It worked pefectly. They came back. It failed again. Eventually I understood. The personal warmth and humidity of 30 people was more than the poor disk drive could take... I/O errors. Cool the room by exiting the people..voila...perfect read, perfect demo.

 


Michael TOLCHER opinion:

I first encountered the Superbrain at college where it was used to teach COBOL programming (using the MS-COBOL compiler). 
I eventually recovered from the experience and a couple of years later was able to buy one of these machines for my own use.  I upgarded the firmware to allow me to use DSQD disks and installed a couple of Tandon 96tpi drives.  
It was a good solid beast of a machine, capable of booting CPM and loading Wordstar faster (from floppy) than an IBM PC could from it's 10 Mb winchester! 
Unfortunatly while trying to an an S100 expansion interface I misconnected the interface cable and killed the video output...
The two 'red' reset buttons either side of the keyboard were great - particularly when debugging assembler, so long as you managed to get to them before you errant code caused the BIOS to wipe some essential bits from the disks!


Very interesting testimony by Steve Oberlin:

I still have 7 Superbrains (one I, and the rest are IIs and CompuStars). I recently plugged some in and at least one is still functional. Provenance: I acquired these as Cray Research surplus. These were used by Seymour Cray and his designers (including me) to create the boolean and supporting documents for the Cray-2. Seymour was particulary fond of the all-in-one package because he could transport them easily between his home and Crays Hallie Lab (where the Cray-1, Cray-2, and Cray 3 projects spent their formative phases) for repair in the back of his Dodge Colt hatchback (the same rationale made him an early adopter of the Macintosh). Their power supplies weren't the most robust. All the engineers had at least one at home, Seymour probably had a half dozen.

I've also got a few hard disks, in separate enclosures, that Targa offered for the Superbrain a few years later (~1983?). They're a mix of single and dual drive versions, I believe 5 MB each drive. When these became available, we were able to write a logic simulator that, clock by clock, stored all state on the hard disk. Previous to this, all design verification was done by hand using quadrille pads to draw logic signals. The X-MP guys had written a simulator that ran on the
Cray-1, but their design methodology was incompatible with ours and Seymour was often slow to adopt tools like that, anyway.

The Superbrain was ubiquitous in the Cray-2 project and was used in every phase of design as well as to drive the custom module and chip testers and was used as the console for the early Cray-2 supercomputer test beds and prototypes. I've still got a bunch of floppys, some which may contain some of the programs we
used on the Cray-2, maybe some boolean, too, and also a copy of Superbrain schematics.

I designed the Cray-2 module tester -- the first at-speed module tester at Cray -- driven by a Superbrain, and the local memory ram chip tester, also driven by a Superbrain, so became somewhat adept at extending them. One of these even has a floating point coprocessor I added to speed up a ray tracer I wrote at home (I was a computer graphics hobbyist, at the time): The worlds fastest Superbrain! (maybe 100 KFLOPS...)





 
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