This little-known graphics workstation is an intriguing example of the many, varied machines introduced in the mid 1980's.
The Mindset microcomputer, designed by two ex-Atari engineers, offered graphics performance far beyond that of other personal computers on the market at the time of its introduction in early 1984.
Based on the rarely seen, 16-bit Intel 80186 (also used in the Tandy Model 2000), the Mindset was a powerful graphics workstation built on a (mostly) MS-DOS compatible core. Two custom VLSI chips shouldered the burden of graphics heavy lifting; offering graphics performance 50 times that of the IBM PC, leaving the CPU free to handle other chores.
The system unit was striking to behold. Crafted by industrial design group, GVO, of Menlo Park, CA, the Mindset was chosen for a place in the Museum of Modern Art.
The main system unit lacked floppy disk storage but instead sported two, front-mounted ROM/NVRAM module ports. The system's serial and parallel interface, as well as system memory expansion, were also modular. A dual floppy drive expansion module attached to the top of the unit, giving it a futuristic, double-decker look (most units were sold with the floppy drive module bundled in).
The Mindset was one of the very first computers to come standard with a mouse; in this case, a two-button unit with a somewhat unwieldy, heavy cord and a metal mouse ball.
11 advanced graphics modes which could be seen on any of the system's three graphics outputs; impressive flexibility for its day. A very powerful paint program, Lumena from Time Arts, Inc., was available for the Mindset, allowing the creation of stunning, static images from its palette of 512 colors. Beyond the static, however, the machine's custom graphics hardware was capable of performing frame buffer animation at a speed 50 times greater than that of the IBM PC.
There were rumors that Atari CEO, Jack Tramiel, was considering purchasing the Mindset to bring it under the Atari flag. This did not happen, but it is interesting to note that the original Atari ST series computers, released a year later, featured almost exactly the same graphics modes and palette depth as the Mindset micro.
More information about this notable entry in computing history can be
found at this on-line version of a Feb. '85 Creative Computing review.
Thanks to Blake Patterson for information.
Special thanks to Mel and MaryJane Portnoy who donated us this computer !
I worked for Microsoft starting in the early '80s (I started in March '83) and initially worked in the Basic language group. I implemented the Mindset extensions to the GW-Basic language. I think it was probably late '83 or early '84 when I did this.
A sprite data type was added to the language. A sprite was made up of multiple bit maps. A sprite could be animated by giving it a line to follow, a velocity, and a rate at which to cycle through the bit maps.
There was syntax added to the ON 'event' GOTO and ON 'event" GOSUB statements to add collision and arrival events so that the program would be notified when two sprites collided or when a sprite arrived at its destination.
I did this work a long time ago, so I don't remember many of the details, (it was all written in 8086 assembler), but it wasn't very hard to do. There were a couple tricky memory mangement issues to solve, but it was pretty straight forward stuff. I never interracted directly with the animation hardware as there was a machine BIOS with functions to handle all of the hardware animation features.
I never actually saw a production Mindset machine. We have a development machine, which was just a motherboard and power supply that wasn't even in a case. This was kept in a locked room and there were only about three people allowed in there. The only time I met Paul Allen was in there when he was being given a demo of the machine (at this time he was recovering from Hodgkins disease and wasn't actively involved in Microsoft any more).
A friend of mine brought this computer over to my house. It came in it''s own nylon carrying case - very impressive looking. I think they took some design cues from Apple - everything was packaged on a whole other level from anything else I remember back then.
It did indeed have hardware-based sprites and the extensions in GW-BASIC were amazing to behold. You could simply define a bitmap, tell it what direction to go, and it would simply travel there. All while you typed on the command line. I was awed by that!
My friend had purchased a game that was written by Synapse Software, and it was the single most impressive game I had ever seen.
It was called ''Viper'' and it was a 3D shoot ''em up, with incredible real-time 3D color animation - something I''d never seen before in a game. It was played with an analog joystick (also from Mindset).
So what happened to this terrific computer?
Like the Amiga, I think this machine was more than the general public thought they wanted. Back then, PC''s were for business - everything else was considered a ''game machine''. The word, ''multimedia'' had not yet been invented, and so there was no business case yet for having excellent graphics and sound.
What also didn''t help is the fact that due to it''s use of the 80186 AND a slightly incompatible BIOS, true compatibility with DOS was not possible. Word got around that the Mindset had some difficulty with mainstream software and that pretty much sealed it''s fate.
The 80186 went on to be featured in the Tandy 2000 and in RAID controllers. It was sold for many years after the Mindset, however, not as a primary microprocessor for a personal computer.
Tuesday 5th July 2011
Chuck Hunnefield (Lancaster, PA)
The "Visual Communications: Art $ Graphic Design" department at Farmingdale State College (SUNY) established a computer graphics lab with 12 Mindset computers during the mid 1980''s. The facilities included a video capture unit for input, and both a film recorder and a color ink-jet printer for output. They were amazing machines - nothing else quite like them at the time. We added an Artronics graphics system, and then Apple Macintosh systems. We currently have nearly 100 Macs in our department.
Tuesday 25th August 2015
Bill Steedle (Farmingdale, Long Island, NY)
END OF PRODUCTION
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Full-stroke 84-key keyboard with separate numeric keypad
16-bit Intel 80186
Two custom VLSI chips that handle graphics load
128 KB expandable to 384 KB
40 or 80 columns x 25 lines
320x200, 640x400 (interlaced)
16 (for 320 mode), 2 (for 640 mode) all from 512 color palette