The Adam Computer

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Everyone has at least half an idea of how I feel about Coleco (That is, if you already read about Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600). Well, of course, Coleco made the Colecovision, which was a pretty good video game system, I must admit. At the time, it blew everything away. It had the better graphics, sound, and gameplay than the Atari 2600 (DUH!), the Intellivision, and the Atari 5200. Coleco also brought a new idea to the table: the Colecovision Expansion Module.

Now, this was pretty cool. The first expansion module was the Atari 2600 converter. This allowed you to play Atari 2600 cartridges on your Colecovision. Of course, that led to a lawsuit. Does anyone remember the case of Incompetent vs. Braindead? Anyway, Coleco decided that they wanted to enter the computer market. What better way to do this than introduce a computer expansion module? Not even Coleco could screw this up. Wait, did I say Coleco couldn’t screw something up?

Coleco offered two types of systems. The add-on-to-Colecovision-system, and then a stand-alone model. Here is a picture of the stand-alone model:

Pretty spiffy, eh? The system did have some nice features. And I must admit that this was my first computer system. I am to this day still partial to it because it is the system on which I first learned to program (I am a computer programmer by trade). But that doesn’t mean that the system is perfect. Far from it. Actually it was really crappy.

First of all, it wasn’t even sold with a disk drive, like most other popular computers at the time. It was sold with “High Speed Data Cassettes”. According to their documentation, these data cassettes performed at speeds rivaling those of a disk drive. BULLCRAP!! Well, at least they used ordinary cassettes, and I don’t have to buy anything expensive..right? WRONG! You had to use Coleco’s specially preformatted cassettes that cost about $10 a piece. You know what they were? Regular tapes with two holes drilled in the back so that they would fit into the tape drive. That’s right – Coleco put to pegs in the tape drive that stick out far enough so that a normal tape wouldn’t fit there.

However, data storage is the least of your concerns. The Adam’s lack of pride and joy lied in its wonderful printer. It was extremely revolutionary. It was a 24-pin, dot matrix, color option….wait a second…I’m sorry…it was a FREAKIN’ DAISY WHEEL PRINTER!!! This stupid thing was so loud that it makes Roseanne Barr’s Nation Anthem rendition sound pleasing to the ear. And worse than that, the paper was single sheet feed…with no automatic page feeder. That means that you can print one page at a time, and that was it. The Adam printer was also the source for the power supply. Who has ever heard of something so retarded? The printer is the source of the computer’s power?!?!?! My parents would always know when I was getting on the computer (especially when I wasn’t supposed to be) because I turned in on and WHEEEEERRRRRRRRKKKK-ZOOOOM-ZOOOOOM-SPLEEEEEEEK!!!!!! It was loud and obnoxious just trying to warm up. And there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it.

All of these factors combined would be enough to induct the Adam into the Hall of Shame. But the best is still to come. Adam wanted an advanced word processor to go with their new computer. They decided that it would be best to embed the program into the ROM BIOS, meaning that the computer would automatically boot up into the word processor (instead of an operating system, BASIC, or anything in which a normal computer would start). Unfortunately, as word processors go, they are riddled with bugs, especially the first few versions of the program. This is due to the complexity of these type programs. This is not something you normally want fixed into a computers firmware.

Guess what? The Adam’s word processor had bugs. And plenty of them. Once the bugs were found, the value of the Adam dropped tremendously due to the lack of consumer interest in a buggy computer. That’s exactly why my dad decided to buy one – They were practically giving them away. So, the Adam definitely introduced me to the computer world – Which is enough induct anyone into the Hall of Shame. But the Adam deserves to be in the Hall of Shame because of all the crap that I just listed.

Don’t Worry…I’m sure this isn’t the last time we see Coleco in the Hall of Shame.  Stay Tuned.

Coleco Colecovision Adam Computer/Game System with Accessories
First Book of Adam: An Introduction to Using and Programming the Coleco Adam
VINTAGE Retro Coleco ADAM Family Computer System Module – Made in 1983 – Untested – Coleco Vision Gaming System (NOT INCLUDED) – NOT RETURNABLE
Home applications and games for the Coleco ADAM

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6 comments on “The Adam Computer

  1. Coleco ADAM says:

    “.. it wasn’t even sold with a disk drive, like most other popular computers at the time.”

    Please tell me what OTHER popular computers of the time came with disk drives? The Commodore 64? Nope. Any Atari computer? Nope. Even the Apple II didn’t come with a disk drive. They were all sold separately.

    • Grantster says:

      I’m sorry, poor wording on my part. What would’ve been more accurate for me to say would be that it “wasn’t even sold with the option to get a disk drive.” Coleco realized their error later on and sold a disk drive for it, but it was too little, too late by that point. It really did make sense that they would use the high-speed digital data packs to keep the cost down. It’s just that the proprietary format made them unattractive. However, they did hold more data than a standard single-sided floppy (256k DDP vs. 160k disk). And, it was kind of cool to have a tape drive that could store data like a floppy without having to do all the fast forwarding and such.

  2. Coleco ADAM says:

    You wrote “You had to use Coleco’s specially preformatted cassettes that cost about $10 a piece. You know what they were? Regular tapes with two holes drilled in the back so that they would fit into the tape drive. That’s right – Coleco put to pegs in the tape drive that stick out far enough so that a normal tape wouldn’t fit there.”

    WRONG!

    “They were not regular tape. They were standard cassettes with alignment holes in them but the tape was thicker and stiffer than standard so that it wouldn’t stretch, and the magnetic formulation was digital, in that it aligned to extremes and wasn’t really capable of the fine resolution you’d want from an audio tape. It was much closer to a reel computer tape than it was to a good quality audio cassette. People who tried drilling holes in regular cassettes found out the hard way that the tape was different., After a few passes, the tape would stretch and the drive could no longer read it. Several people who did that and stored ‘critical’ data on a pack that was hacked like that sent them into the lab and I recovered the data for them by tweaking the firmware. They learned not to drill holes in a regular cassette and *never* put critical data in only one place with no backups.” — former Coleco employee, software division

    • Grantster says:

      Actually, I’m sorry to say, it is not wrong. I was able to use regular tapes, and the tapes that I used actually lasted longer than some of my official Coleco branded tapes (actually, they never broke, and they were given away when it was sold). I didn’t figure out the technique myself, the credit would go to my Dad’s friend who actually convinced my Dad to buy an Adam in the first place. The secret was that you couldn’t use the cheap Certron tapes. You had to buy the top-of-the line tapes like Maxell, which were still far cheaper than the Coleco tapes. They were of the 60 minute variety. You would need to put it in a tape deck and dub both sides (if you listened to it, you would hear all of the modem-like sounds).

      Just in case the idea sounds far-fetched, I’ve found someone else who described a pretty similar method.

      http://theadamresource.com/manuals/Modifications/Audio%20Cassette%20Tape%20to%20a%20DDP%20Pack.htm

  3. Coleco ADAM says:

    LoL disregard my last comment; didn’t realize my previous comments were awaiting moderation. My apologies.

    • Grantster says:

      Ha! No problem. I didn’t realize everything was setup for moderation either. As you see, it only took me about 9 months to see that someone added a comment. I really haven’t taken the time to figure out how all of this stuff really works.

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