The SORD M5 had no really great success outside Japan (and later Czechoslovakia) but had lot of interesting characteristics, very close to MSX computers released soon after.
Its design was quite original. The machine xas quite small. The two-tone grey plastic casing opened to reveal a bright yellow back, which housed the ROM cartridge slot. The keyboard was similar to the rubber matting of the Spectrum, but felt markedly better. Most keys had a Basic keyword on them in small light-grey letters (available by holding down the function key as an other key is pressed). There was no full-size space-bar.
There was only 4K of internal RAM, but memory expansions were available. The joysticks simply plugged into tiny DIN sockets, and there was a port for a Centronics printer. The power supply was external and rather cumbersome.
It used a dedicated video chip (Texas Instrument 9918, 9928 or 9929, depending on the model) and had the same video characteristics as the MSX computers (same graphic resolution, same number of colors, same number of sprites, etc.) but didn't belong to this family. The M-5 had 32 graphics symbols in ROM and could handle up to 32 sprites. Its sound chip was the Texas Instruments TI 76489, which wasn't MSX compliant. It had three independent sound channels which could produce a variety of music and synthesised sounds. The sound was sent through the TV speaker.
Several cartidge based languages were available: the Basic-I (very simple version for beginners, delivered with the system), the Basic-G (with lot of graphic commands) and the Basic-F (for mathematic and scientific applications). The M-5 supported Inp and Out in Basic to control Z-80A ports, but had no obvious connector to the external world other than the ROM cartridge slot into which the Basic cartridge had to be be inserted.
One year later the M5 Pro and M5 Jr were released with a built-in power supply unit (and more RAM?).
Jan P. Naidr reports:
The Sord M5 was popular in Czechoslovakia because it was the first home computer on the common market. The other computers like Sinclair Spectrum have been imported individually from abroad. But you must understand the statement "common market". That was not common for everybody in the communist period. The name of the shop selling Sord was TUZEX. There was possible to pay only by dollars or any other hard currency or buy Tuzex Crowns (special voucher), which you could receive changing dollars in the bank. The solution for common people was to by Tuzex Crowns on the black market. 1 Tuzex Crown for 5 Czech Crowns. We are so happy the old times have gone.
Jules Allen (UK) adds:
These machines were also available in the UK as Sord had a fairly decent presence in the business market. Sord's 'killer app' was PIPS III, essentially a programmable spreadsheet, and with a nod to this the M5 had a cartridge for a low end version called FALC. It didn't run PIPS formulas exactly so it wasn't a great deal of use.
The versions of BASIC were partially incompatible with each other which of course makes technical sense. But it didn't really help the cause and diluted the machine's appeal to hobbyists.
There were several game cartridges available as well. I can't remember if it came with the game controller or if they were an option. But they were pretty basic: They looked like an original iPod at first blush. There was a large, round 4-way pad in the center of the thing and a bright yellow button towards the top left. They sort of sucked to be honest!
Sord M5 was released from Gold Star Electronics (now LG) early 1980. Model number is FC-150. (FC means Family Computer)
I still have one in my home. Some of rubber keyboard is broken now but when I booted last time (10 years ago?) it works basically. I played a lot with this machine and later I know this was same model of M5. I bought BASIC-G and F. Interesting thing is there was BASIC-H (Korea only - can input/output Korean characters) and a series of English education software released as tape running on Basic-H.
Gold Star released a couple of game cartridges from Konami and Namco and even there is a game ported from MSX1!
It was my first PC and had a good time with it.
Wednesday 30th March 2011
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Basic-G, Basic-I and Basic-F delivered on cartridges