The Micral-N, introduced in 1973 and powered by Intel's 8008 chip, was the first commercial non-kit computer based on a microprocessor. It was conceived in France by François Gernelle and commercialised by a company called R2E in 1973. The term "microcomputer" first appeared in print in reference to the Micral-N.
The Micral-N was initially developed for the I.N.R.A. (French National Institute for Agronomic Research) which didn't had sufficient budget to buy the lowest "mini" at the time (Digital Equipment PDP-8).
The development began in July 1972, in a hut in Chatenay-Malabry (Paris suburbs), with F. Gernelle and 3 of his collaborators: Mr. Benchetrit (soft ingineer), Alain Lacombe (electrical technician) and Jean-Claude Beckmann (in charge of the mechanical). The first prototype was delivered January, 15th 1973!
Mr. Tuong-Tong-Ti arrived later to manage the company, but never influenced anything in the design (not enough knowledge).
The 8008 that powered the Micral was essentially an 8-bit 4004. It was originally intended to be a custom chip for Computer Terminals Corp. of Texas (later known as Datapoint). CTC rejected the 8008 because it was too slow and required too many supporting chips, but when Intel offered it to the open market, it was quite successful.
The Micral-N was working at 500 KHz, running approximately 50,000 instructions per second. It was set on a bus, did have a MOS memory, parallel and serial I/O cards, a real-time system. In one word, it had all the characteristics of nowadays computers. First systems were manufactured and sold at the amazing price (at the time) of 8,500 French Francs (about $1300)
Supposedly it was the first personal computer programmed by Philippe Kahn, founder of Borland.
R2E, which got under way the Micral-N, developed a whole series of computers based on the most powerful processors of the time: 8080, Z80, 8088, constantly adding improvements like monitor-keyboard in 1974, hard disk in 1975, etc. Every machine was managed by the SYSMIC monitor, which became PROLOGUE in 1978, a multitask system created in France too.
The last of this system was the Micral 20. After that, Bull, who had became the owner of R2E, joined MSDOS standard...
I am writing a book about the 1970''s computer era, and find Mr. Beckmann''s information quite helpful. I have some questions about the company finally went out of business - could he describe what happened to things like support of the system, how it was programmed, and how Bull got in the picture?
Tuesday 20th January 2015
Dr. Darrel VanDyke (U.S.A.)
35 years later am happy to read this page of history on Micral, an important event in my life which I'll never forget. Thanks to François Gernelle, an ignored genius. To precise things, Truong Trong Ti already was the R2E's president when story began in 72's but, as stated, never brought anything to the Micral. Only François and his team did it. I was'nt in charge of mechanical as written but developed all I/O boards and magnetic storage peripherals controllers. Lacombe designed memories, I/O high speed channel, power supply and the key front panel. Other technicians then participated to other Micral versions, like the S, G and M (multi-processor). Unfortunately, when Bull acquired the company under Truong's benediction, better than developing it and make Micral THE microcomputer of the world, prefering to abdicate to Microsoft, they killed R2E and the golden eggs chicken. That's the french way to develop computer technology... All Bull's acquisitions died years after. In France, there's no longer companies involved into computer technology, thanks to Bull. Jean-Claude Beckmann