Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) (Maynard, Mass.)

In the 1970s, it looked as if DEC might supplant IBM as the world’s leading computer company. Its PDP and VAX minicomputers were selling well all over the world, and the mainframe’s status as the primary business computing platform appeared threatened. It’s a great irony, then, that DEC would eventually succumb in part because it failed to appreciate how important microcomputers would become to business.

The company’s first microcomputer, in fact, was really a small minicomputer. The low-cost 16-bit PDP-11/03 used DEC’s four-chip LSI-11 microprocessor to emulate the PDP-11 instruction set. It can run the full line of PDP-11 software. The LSI-11 was also available as a standalone CPU board, some of which were sold to hobbyists. These systems were also used as front-end processors for the DEC VAX 11-780. They are reasonably easy to find for systems of this era.

The Rainbow series was DEC’s first serious attempt to enter the microcomputer market. Although the Rainbow runs both MS-DOS and CP/M, it recognizes only software recorded in its own disk format. The Rainbow 100+ model, introduced in September 1983, will read IBM PC-format disks, but cannot write to that format. The Rainbow 100+ had a 10MB hard disk drive, two floppy drives, and 128K RAM standard. A Rainbow 100B followed with a configuration similar to the 100+, but with a lower base price.

DEC’s other micro-class systems were compatible with its minicomputer lines and were designed to work within a network of DEC systems. The DECmate series was sold primarily for word processing applications, although is was a capable general-purpose personal computer. All, including the more limited DECmate I, were compatible with DEC’s PDP-8 minicomputers. The DECmate III (also known as the PC23X) was introduced in 1984. It was an enhanced version of the DECmate II in a smaller enclosure.

DEC referred to the Professional series as the Personal PDP-11, as it could run software for the PDP-11 minicomputer line. In fact, most were sold as workstations to run on PDP-11- and VAX-based networks. The 350 and 380 ran a wide range of operating systems, including RT-11, CTS-300, MS-DOS, CP/M-80, IDRIS, and Xenix.

DEC claimed that the VAXmate was the first networked personal computer, meaning that it was designed from the ground up to work as part of a network. That network could include all DEC systems or any PC-compatible computer.

DEC PDP-11/03 (June 1975, early micro)
Original Retail Price: $1,000
Base Configuration: LSI-11 chipset; Unix; LSI bus (Qbus); 4K RAM (32K max); serial, parallel, and cassette ports; power supply; mounting box
Size/Weight: 3.5 x 19 x 13.5 inches

DEC Rainbow (1983, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $3,495 to $6,295
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A and 4.8MHz 8088 CPUs, CP/M-86/80, three slots, 64K RAM (896K max), 24K ROM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232/423 ports, tutorial software, user manuals
Video: 24-line x 132-column text, 800 x 240 graphics, 16 colors
Size/Weight: 6.5 x 22 x 14.3 inches, 35 lbs.
Important Options: MS-DOS, Concurrent CP/M, or UCSD p-System; 5- or 10MB hard disk drive; 13-inch color monitor; graphics card; LA50, LA100, or LQP02 printer; technical reference

DEC DECmate II (May 1982, desktop)
Base Configuration: 8MHz 6120 CPU, COS 310, three expansion slots, 96K RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, RS-232 and RS-232C/423-A ports, WPS word processor, tutorial software
Video: 24-line x 132-column text
Size/Weight: 6.5 x 19 x 14.3 inches, 30 lbs.
Important Options: CP/M-80; 8-inch floppy disk drive; 10MB hard disk drive; LA50, LA100, or LQP02 printer

DEC DECmate Office Workstation (Oct. 1983, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $4,735
Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, CP/M 2.2, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, WPS word processor, EasyCom
Important Options: 10MB hard disk drive

DEC Professional 325 (desktop)
Base Configuration: J-11 chipset, P/OS, expansion slot, 512K RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232/423 ports, PROSE editor, tutorial software
Video: 24-line x 132-column text
Important Options: 13-inch color monitor; LA50, LA100, or LQP02 printer

DEC Professional 350 (desktop)
Base Configuration: J-11 chipset, P/OS, three expansion slots, 512K RAM (1MB max), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, 5MB hard disk drive, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232/423 ports, PROSE editor, tutorial software
Video: 24-line x 132-column text
Important Options: CP/M-80; 10MB hard disk drive; 13-inch color monitor; LA50, LA100, or LQP02 printer

DEC Professional 380 (desktop)
Original Retail Price: $8,995
Base Configuration: J-11 chipset, 512K RAM (1MB max), 10MB hard disk drive, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad
Video: 960 x 480 graphics, eight colors
Important Options: 33MB hard disk drive, color monitor

DEC VAXmate (Sept. 1986, desktop PC)
Original Retail Price: $4,045
Base Configuration: 8MHz 80286 CPU, MS-DOS 3.1 and Windows, 1MB RAM (3MB max), 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, integral monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, mouse, VT220 and VT240 terminal emulators, DECnet/Thinwire Ethernet
Important Options: 20MB hard disk drive, modem, LN03 or LA75 printer

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