Technical Design Labs (TDL) (Princeton, N.J.)

The Xitan came in two configurations: the base Alpha 1 model and the Alpha 2, which added a 16K RAM board and a software package including the Zapple Text Editor and the Relocating Macro-Assembler.

TDL quickly ran into financial difficulties. It reorganized and renamed itself Xitan. It’s first (and only) system under the new name was the General, which was aimed at the business market and featured a more user-friendly design than the Xitan. It also abandoned the S-100 bus architecture.

The company’s troubles continued, however, and retailers’ orders were going unfilled. In October 1977, Management moved the company to Massachusetts in the dead of the night and without informing employees. One of those employees, Joe Abelson, sent me this photo showing the empty office and bewildered employees the morning after the move. Thanks, Joe.

TDL employees after the company moved without notice

If you want to know more about the TDL story, pick up a copy of Stan Veit’s History of the Personal Computer. It’s a great read.

Reader dixon 1e adds:

“April 27, 2010 at 11:35 am: I remember programming one of these things in the summer of 1979. We tried to goose it up to 64K(!) but had problems with the Static RAM we bought from a third party (Cromemco?). In the end, after getting most of the inventory programming done, the disk lost the program and I had to re-do most of it because I only had an old backup. But hey, even then at least I did one. It seems all unreal now.”

Reader Hozay adds:

“April 29, 2010 at 3:12 am: Fresh out of college, I worked at TDL (aka Xitan) for about a year and a half. It was a pretty small startup, so I did a lot of different jobs: shipping/receiving, inventory control, printing and assembling manuals, and driving to the stores to drop off systems and collect money, which we so desperately needed. I even redesigned the company’s logo.

After the owners had stiffed just about everybody, from the landlord to our SRAM supplier, they arranged a stealthy escape on a dark Saturday night, packing the company’s equipment and files into a couple of U-Hauls and driving north to an old Ocean Spray cranberry factory in Massachusetts, outside of Brockton, where they set up shop again.

I was one of a few employees deemed essential enough to relocate to Mass. They rented cots for us and set up a little dorm in the old Ocean Spray accounting department. We’d be showering in the morning while the local employees arrived for work. Crazy scene.

I didn’t stay much longer after that and I heard that the Feds or the Mass labor police or somebody else eventually shuttered the place and hauled the execs off in handcuffs. Not sure about that, but my experience there was the beginning of a 30+ year career in the tech industry. Nutty as that joint was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

 

Technical Design Labs Xitan (1977, early micro)
Original Retail Price: $769 to $1,369 kit, $1,039 to $1,749 assembled
Base Configuration: 2K RAM, 2K ROM, S-100 bus, cassette interface, two serial and one parallel port, BASIC

Technical Design Laboratories The General (1978, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $3,500
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, 32K RAM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, integral 12-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, serial and two parallel ports, BASIC, word processor
Video: 25-line x 80-column text
Important Options: printer, plotter

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