Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1983 / PAGE 204

And Coleco created Adam. (evaluation) John Anderson.

I wished I could have parted the crowd as Moses parted the Red Sea.

They were jammed into the 1000 square feet or so of the Coleco booth at McCormick West to get a look at the new creation. And they saw that it was good.

Ever since Coleco entered the video game race with its Colecovision gaming system, speculation has run high as to just how they would enter the highly volatile consumer computer market. They presented their answer, Adam, at the summer CES.

And it is a strong contender. Based on the same Z80 system that anchors the game system, the Adam comes with more standard features than any other computer in its class, and in many cases even out of its class. I fought my way through the crowd to get look at the thing--then blinked hard. There before me, rotating slowly in a tinted glass case, was what looked like a baby IBM PC, with a daisy wheel printer. This was Adam.

A word I heard a lot of that afternoon was "integration." Adam is an integrated system. There are two CPUs in the console, one in the keyboard, and one in the printer. All these components together constitute the Adam (see photo). Each can function independently or in communication with another processing unit or units. The result of this networking capability is the ability to do more than one job at a time, which in compuspeak is called "multitasking."

The Adam unit is shipped with 80K of RAM, expandable to 144K using an expansion module. A word processing program is resident in ROM, and works directly with the Smartwriter daisywheel printer. Of course Adam has a cartridge slot, and plays all Colecovision games. The entire system, with joysticks and a game cartridge, will be available for under $600.

No computer system is complete without some sort of mass storage device, and Adam has one. They call it the "digital data pack," and though it looks like a conventional audio cassette, it is not the same as cassette storage on an Apple, Atari, or TRS-80. Each specially engineered cassette is capable of storing 500K and works between 8 and 16 times faster than conventional cassette storage on other systems.

Each Adam comes with one built-in data pack drive, with room for inboard installation of another.

The 75-key keyboard is perhaps the most impressive component of the Adam computer. It looks very much like the detached keyboard of the IBM PC, right down to the coiled wire coming out the back. In some ways, it is even nicer than the PC keyboard. It is a Selectric-style keyboard, and includes special word processing command keys, along with directional cursor control keys. It also features six programmable "smart keys," which perform flexible functions within specific programs.

The Basic computer language is also provided with the Adam package{

It is not ROM-resident, but loads from a digital data pack. Adam's version of Basic is compatible with Applesoft Basic: that means that Applesoft tutorials, books, and programs will work with the Adam. (It does not mean that Apple-specific Basic programs, using specific addresses, or any Apple machine language programs, can run on the Adam--they can't.)

Adam includes four expansion slots and an 80-column expansion option, as well as a CP/M option. Using the same expansion box as its dedicated gamester cousin, the Adam can play all Atari VCS games.

Adam's graphics capabilities match the specifications of the Colecovision as well. This means 256 x 192 pixel resolution, the ability to generate 32 simultaneous sprites, and 16K RAM dedicated to screen display.

Current owners of Colecovision units can upgrade them with a special memory module. The total cost for the upgrade into a full-fledged Adam system will be under $450.

First impressions? Well, it's hard to say very much about the Adam before one arrives at the lab for testing and vivisection. It is not yet known, for example, whether the machine offers monitor as well as RF output. But it does look to be a strong contender in the low-end market.

Coleco may discover that its "intergrated" marketing approach needs an overhaul. Some people will not want a printer right away, or will wonder about the possibility of connecting a different printer to the Adam. If we subtract the probable cost of the daisywheel printer from the total package, we are left with an extremely inexpensive computer, which is a good thing. It should probably be available for a la carte purchase. We are also left with an extremely inexpensive daisywheel printer, which from my experience may not be such a good thing.

This raises the question of whether other printers can be connected directly to the Adam computer. Probably an interface device will be necessary; it could appear as a Coleco or third-party product. The appearance of such a product might make the a la carte Adam a perfect choice for the consumer shopping for a second computer. This is a growing category of buyer.

By far the biggest gamble the Adam represents is the commitment to the "digital data pack." Somewhere along the line Coleco decided that the home computer does not require a disk drive, and set out to find a mass storage device superior to conventional cassette storage, but less expensive than disks. They began with the continuous loop stringy floppy, then wisely abandoned it for the "data pack" drive. This is not a true random access device, as is a disk drive, and works more slowly. And as the special cassets come from a single source, they will be harder to find and more costly than disks.

It is conceivable that an outboard disk drive for the Adam will at some time be introduced, but Coleco obviously feels that the mainstream consumer will be adequately served by "data pack" technology. This remains to be seen.

Products: Coleco Adam (computer)