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Coleco Adam

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Coleco Adam
Release dateOctober 1983; 40 years ago (1983-10)
Introductory priceUS$725 (today $2220)
CAD$999 (today $2590)
GBP£700 (today £2840)
DiscontinuedJanuary 1985 (1985-01)
Operating systemEOS, OS-7 (ColecoVision), CP/M, TDOS
CPUZilog Z80A @ 3.58 MHz
Memory64 KB RAM
Display256 × 192 resolution
GraphicsTexas Instruments TMS9928A
SoundTexas Instruments SN76489AN

The Coleco Adam is a home computer and expansion device for the ColecoVision by American toy and video game manufacturer Coleco. The Adam was an attempt to follow on the success of the company's ColecoVision video game console. It was available as Expansion Module #3 for the ColecoVision, converting it into a home computer, and as a standalone unit. As such, it had the benefit of being entirely compatible with all ColecoVision games and peripherals. The computer came with 64 KB of memory, a tape drive for a proprietary medium called Digital Data Packs, a daisy wheel printer, and productivity applications, along with two DDPs for SmartBASIC and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom Super Game. It was released in October 1983 with the initial price of $700.

Although its presentation and concept were positively received, the Adam was heavily criticized upon launch for numerous defects in early units. Users lodged complaints about the reliability of the disk and tape drives. In particular, when the computer starts up, the power supply emits an electromagnetic pulse so strong that it can scramble or destroy data on storage media left inside the drives or near the computer. Other design flaws were noted, such as the Digital Data Pack tapes being corrupted by the drives they are stored in and the peculiar decision to require users to plug the machine into a printer for power. About 60 percent of Adam owners returned their units because of the defects. Besides the defects, the Adam also suffered from store availability issues, with Coleco having shipped only 95,000 units rather than the goal of 500,000 by the end of 1983. Many of the quality issues were resolved, but the Adam's reputation was permanently damaged and, in spite of price reductions, its sales negatively impacted, with Coleco reporting a loss of over $258 million. The Adam was discontinued in January 1985, and Coleco never recovered from the losses incurred, discontinuing its ColecoVision shortly afterward and finally declared itself bankrupt in 1988. Several computer journalists consider the Coleco Adam computer to be one of the worst ever. Despite its failures, it has gained a following among enthusiasts, who continue to develop hardware and software for it.


Coleco announced the Adam at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES)[1] in June 1983, and executives predicted sales of 500,000 by Christmas 1983. From the time of the computer's introduction to the time of its shipment, the price increased, from US$525 to $725.

The Adam announcement received favorable press coverage.[1] Competitors such as Commodore and Atari almost immediately announced similar computer/printer bundles.[2] The company engaged in an extensive marketing campaign, with television commercials for "boys age 8 to 16 and their fathers ... the two groups that really fuel computer purchases", and print advertisements in nontechnical publications like Time and People.[3]

The Boston Phoenix, observing that Adam's $600 price was comparable to the lowest price for a letter-quality printer alone, stated "a nice trick if they can do it!"[4] It was a trick; the computers were shown behind tinted glass that hid the fact that they were hand-made and had non-working tape drives.[5] In June, Coleco promised to ship the computer by August. In August it promised to ship a half million Adams by Christmas, but missed shipping dates of 1 September, 15 September, 1 October, and 15 October. Ahoy! reported that Coleco had not shipped by early October because of various problems. Each month of delay could mean losing the opportunity to sell 100,000 units, the magazine reported, adding that missing the Christmas season would result in "inestimable losses".[6][5] CEO Arnold Greenberg promised in late September to ship by "mid-October", but claimed that Adam was "not, primarily, a Christmas item".[7] The printer was the main cause of the delays; after it failed to function properly at demonstrations, by November InfoWorld reported on "growing skepticism" about its reliability, speed, and noise.[8]

Greenberg refused to say how many units he expected Coleco to ship by the end of the year.[9] The company did not ship review units to magazines planning to publish reviews before Christmas, stating that all were going to dealers,[10] but admitted that it would not meet the company's goal of shipping 400,000 computers by the end of the year; Kmart and JCPenney announced in November that it would not sell the Adam during the Christmas season because of lack of availability.[11] Despite much consumer interest for Adam and a shortage of competing home computers,[12] Coleco shipped only 95,000 units by December, many of which were defective; Creative Computing later reported that "the rumored return rate was absolutely alarming". One store manager stated that five of six sold Adams had been returned, and expected that the sixth would likely be returned after being opened on Christmas. Coleco partnered with Honeywell Information Systems to open up repair chain stores around the nation.[5][13] By December 1983, the press reported that company executives at a news conference "fielded questions about Coleco's problems with its highly publicized new Adam home computer, which has been plagued by production delays and complaints of defects", with the company able to fulfill only one third of its Canadian orders for Christmas. Less than 10% of Adam units had defects, the company claimed, "well below industry standards".[14]

An analyst stated in early 1984 that the company had[15]

targeted a very special area: primarily home users who have students or teenage children who are writing term papers and who tend to be naive computer users. Coleco has tried to make the Adam easy to use and attractive to that group, consciously excluding other groups by the way that [they] configured the machine.

By March 1984, John J. Anderson declared Adam as having caused for Coleco "a trail of broken promises, unfulfilled expectations, and extremely skittish stockholders".[5] On January 2, 1985, after continuing complaints about Adam failures and low sales, Coleco announced that it was discontinuing the Adam and would be selling off its inventory.[13] Coleco revealed that it lost $35 million in late 1983 (the time of the Adam's launch), along with a loss of $13.4 million in the first 9 months of 1984. Coleco did not reveal which company they were selling the inventory to, but stated that they had worked with this partner before. No final sales numbers were revealed of the Adam computer and expansion,[13] but one analyst estimated that Coleco had sold 350,000 Adams in 1983 and 1984.[16]

Technical details[edit]

Coleco Adam with its peripherals and software

In its favor, the Adam had a large software library from the start. It was derived from and is compatible with the ColecoVision's software and accessories, and, in addition, the popular CP/M operating system was available as an option. Its price gave a complete system: a computer with 64 KB of RAM, a tape drive for a proprietary medium called Digital Data Packs, a letter-quality daisy wheel printer, a typewriter application, and a word processor called SmartWriter, along with two DDPs for SmartBASIC and the Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom Super Game.[17]: 128–130  The IBM PCjr sold for $669 but included no peripherals, and although the popular Commodore 64 sold for around $200, its price was not much lower after the purchase of a printer, tape or disk drive, and software.

Like many home computers of its day, the Adam was designed to be able to use a television set for its display via an included RF port and RF modulator, but it also supported higher-quality video output to a contemporary computer monitor via a built-in composite video port or a DIN connector which also carried audio. The SmartWriter electronic typewriter loaded when the system was turned on. In this mode, the system operated just like a typewriter, printing letters as soon as the user typed them. Pressing the Escape/WP key put SmartWriter into word processor mode, which functioned similarly to a modern word processor.


Unlike other home computers at the time, the Adam did not have its BASIC interpreter stored in ROM. Instead, it featured a built-in electronic typewriter and word processor, SmartWriter, as well as the Elementary Operating System (EOS) OS kernel and the 8 KB OS-7 ColecoVision operating system. The SmartBASIC interpreter was delivered on a Digital Data Pack tape cassette; this version of BASIC was designed to be mostly compatible with Applesoft BASIC. The interpreter was developed by Randall Hyde of Lazer Microsystems.[18]

Software developers who received technical information from Coleco had to agree to an extremely restrictive license. Coleco demanded the right to inspect and demand changes in their software, forced them to destroy inventories of software if Coleco revoked the license, and prohibited them from publicly criticizing Coleco in any way.[19]

A less expensive version of the Adam plugged into a ColecoVision, which delivered on one of ColecoVision's launch commitments that owners would one day be able to upgrade their game system to a fully featured computer system.


The Adam printer computer used daisy wheel printing, giving a higher quality print than most dot-matrix printers of the time. The print ribbon was a one-time ribbon, of the type also used by IBM Selectric typewriters. The one-time ribbon produced better quality print than reusable ribbons, but they needed to be replaced more often. While the print quality was high, the print speed was quite low. Daisy wheels with different fonts were available, but difficult to find. The printer had a friction feed rather than a tractor feed system, so they didn't need continuous form paper. The printer was only capable of printing text, so it couldn't do graphics (other than ASCII art).


Many early Adams were defective. An author of the computer's manual reported receiving "300 calls on Christmas week" from owners with problems, saying that some callers were on their fourth or fifth Adam. Defective computers at the time could be repaired only by mailing it to Coleco in Connecticut. Despite improving product quality and the Honeywell repair partnership, the company could not improve the computer's poor reputation.[16] Problems included:

  • The Adam generates a surge of electromagnetic energy on startup, which can erase the contents of any removable media left in or near the drive.[2] Making this problem worse, some of the Coleco manuals instructed the user to put the tape in the drive before turning the computer on.[2][19] A sticker on later Adams warned users to not turn the power on or off with tapes in the drive.[16]
  • Since Coleco made the unusual decision of using the printer to supply power to the entire Adam system, if the printer's power supply failed or the printer was missing, none of the system worked.[2][16] Amstrad CPC and PC designs of the era did similar with the power supply in the monitor.
  • Once put into Word Processor mode, SmartWriter could not get back into the typewriter mode without the system being rebooted.[citation needed]
  • The Adam's Digital Data Pack drives, although faster and of higher capacity than the audio cassette drives used for competing computers, were less reliable and still not as fast as a floppy disk drive.[19] At the time of Adam's design, tape drives were still a popular storage medium for home users, but by the time of its release, floppy disks had dropped in cost and in some markets were the preferred medium. Coleco eventually shipped a 160 KB 5¼ inch disk drive for the Adam.


ColecoVision software that was not built-in was mostly on ROM cartridges, with AdamCalc, Personal Checkbook, and SmartFiler programs also being on tape.

  • Adam Banner
  • AdamCalc
  • Business Pack I
  • CP/M 2.2 and Assembler
  • Data Calculator
  • Home Budget Planning
  • Personal Accountant
  • Personal Checkbook
  • Power Print
  • Savings and Loan
  • SmartFiler
  • SmartLetters & Forms
  • SmartLOGO
  • Turbo Load
  • Update for Coleco AdamLink Modem


To showcase the machine at the 1983 Summer CES in Chicago,[20] Coleco decided to demonstrate a port of its ColecoVision conversion of Donkey Kong on the system. Nintendo was in the midst of negotiating a deal with Atari to license its Famicom (later called the Nintendo Entertainment System) for distribution outside Japan, and the final signing would have been done at CES. Atari had exclusive rights to Donkey Kong for home computers (as Coleco had for game consoles), and when Atari saw that Coleco was showing Donkey Kong on a computer, its proposed deal with Nintendo was delayed. Coleco had to agree not to sell the Adam version of Donkey Kong. Ultimately, it had no bearing on the Atari/Nintendo deal, as Atari's CEO Ray Kassar was fired the next month and the proposal went nowhere, with Nintendo deciding to market its system on its own.[citation needed]

The September 1983 issue of Byte reported that the Adam's introduction had "dominated" the June CES in Chicago. Citing its $599 price, bundled hardware, and compatibility with ColecoVision and CP/M software, the magazine compared the Adam's potential impact on the home-computer industry to that of the Osborne 1.[1] Ahoy! reported in January 1984 that "early indications were that the Adam would be a runaway best seller" but the delays, technical problems, and Coleco's reputation as a toy company "should combine to keep buyers away in droves", and predicted that "there is no reason to think that the Adam will topple the C-64 from the catbird seat".[6]

The Washington Post's T. R. Reid gave "an 'A' for ingenuity [but] would have to stretch to give Adam a gentleman's 'C' for performance" in January 1984. While praising the keyboard and SmartWriter's ease of use, and calling the data pack "a reasonable compromise", he described the documentation as "wholly inadequate" and "generally inexcusable". Reid said that "a more serious flaw with Adam is in the hardware", citing defects in a data pack and both the printer and a replacement, and the computer's unusability without a working printer. He concluded that "I'd dearly like to" recommend the Adam, but "for the time being, though, I'd advise you to proceed with caution", including confirming that the computer worked before leaving the store.[21] Popular Mechanics in February 1984 was more favorable. Calling the bundle "the most revolutionary concept in how to design and sell a home computer that we have seen", it also praised the keyboard and SmartWriter. While citing flaws such as the "slow and very noisy printer", the magazine concluded that "Adam competes with and overpowers everything else in its class", inferior only to the IBM PC and Apple IIe.[22]

Compute!'s March 1984 review also approved of the Adam's prepackaged, all-in-one nature and called the keyboard "impressive", but cited widespread reports of hardware failures.[2] Byte's April 1984 review was much harsher, stating that "it is often said that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Coleco Adam is no exception to this rule". It called the tape-drive technology "impressive", and approved of the keyboard, but reported several cases of data errors and deletions when using the tape drives, a buggy word processor, and a BASIC manual that was "the worst I have ever seen". The reviewer reported that he was waiting for his fifth Adam after four previous systems malfunctioned in two months; only the keyboard did not fail. Surmising that "the computer was apparently rushed into production", he advised "don't buy an Adam—yet. Wait until Coleco fixes all of the Adam's bugs and delivers on all of its promises", and concluded "Coleco is [apparently] betting the whole company on the Adam and it's not yet clear that it's going to win that bet".[19]

The Adam received some good reviews based on the quality of its keyboard and printer, and offered competitive sound and graphics. Its BASIC interpreter, called SmartBASIC, was largely compatible with Applesoft BASIC, which meant that many type-in programs from computer books and magazines would work with the Adam with little or no modification.

Sales were weak, especially after the technical problems became obvious. Coleco lost $35 million in the fourth quarter of 1984 as returns flooded in. Officially, Coleco blamed "manuals which did not offer the first-time user adequate assistance".[23] Coleco reintroduced Adam with a new instruction manual, lower price, and a $500 college scholarship along with each unit for use by a young child (with $125 paid for each completed year of college). Fewer than 100,000 units ultimately sold.[citation needed]

A New York City-based advertising firm, Ketchum Advertising, won the assignment of promoting the computer. The agency staffed up to handle the work, and the prestige, of the new business. However, when the January 3, 1985, edition of The New York Times reported that Coleco was abandoning the computer,[24] agency executives, who had no prior warning, were caught off-guard.[citation needed]

The Adam was permanently discontinued in 1985, less than two years after its introduction.[25] Coleco never recovered from the $258 million it had suffered in losses, which has been attributed to the launch of the Adam. Shortly after, the company discontinued sales of its ColecoVision line of consoles, and, in 1988, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[26] Because of its numerous defects and design flaws, several computer journalists consider it to be one of the worst personal computers of all time.[27][28][29][30]


Despite its critical and commercial failure, the Adam has attracted a group of enthusiasts who continue to develop hardware and software for the computer with the help of early dedicated newsletters.[17]: 133  Third-party developers contributed to the overall success of the Adam after Coleco abandoned the Adam. Developers such as Orphanware, In House Reps, Thomas Electronics, Oasis Pensive, Eve, E&T, Micro Innovations, Microfox Technologies and others added multiple-density disk drives, memory expanders, speech synthesizers, serial cards, printer cards, IDE cards and other hardware so the Adam could follow other computers into a newer modern age.[citation needed] A group of Adam enthusiasts have also been gathering every year since 1989 for an event called AdamCon.[31]


The Coleco Adam, in word processing mode


  1. ^ a b c Lemmons, Phil (September 1983). "A Report on the Consumer Electronics Show". Byte. p. 230. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Bateman, Selby; Halfhill, Tom R. (March 1984). "Coleco's Adam: A Hands-On Report". Compute!. p. 54. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  3. ^ Coleco Presents The Adam Computer System. Computer History Museum. 2016-05-03 [1983-09-28]. Event occurs at 44:30 – via YouTube. We're doing that with five new television commercials, which have just been completed, and which will be shown in conjunction with the Adam launch date. These commercials are each directed to our target audience, which is composed of our friendly neighborhood children, boys age 8 to 16 and their fathers. We believe those are the two groups that really fuel computer purchases, [boos] and we've directed right at 'em [more boos] - oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Women, we've a commercial for you, trust me, but the key point is that our research, which is consumer research, directed that thought [inaudible] from the research, and we've directed our commercials at that target user group.
  4. ^ Mitchell, Peter W. (1983-09-06). "A summer-CES report". Boston Phoenix. p. 4. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Anderson, John J. (March 1984). "Coleco". Creative Computing. pp. 65–66. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  6. ^ a b Springer, Steve (January 1984). "Can the 64 Crack the Peanut?". Ahoy!. p. 39. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  7. ^ Coleco Presents The Adam Computer System. Computer History Museum. 2016-05-03 [1983-09-28]. Event occurs at 1:13:55 – via YouTube. We have a mid-October shipping date ... This is not, primarily, a Christmas item.
  8. ^ Mace, Scott (1983-11-21). "Low-cost letter-quality printers face home tests". InfoWorld. pp. 78–79.
  9. ^ Coleco Presents The Adam Computer System. Computer History Museum. 2016-05-03 [1983-09-28]. Event occurs at 55:40 – via YouTube. Questions like 'How many are you going to ship in October?' or 'How many are you going to ship this year?' ... they've been thoroughly, thoroughly ventilated in the press and is perhaps not appropriate to go into those tonight.
  10. ^ "Adam". Review Responses. InfoWorld. 1984-01-23. p. 82.
  11. ^ "Penney's Holiday Line Omits Adam Computer". The New York Times. 1983-11-15. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-02.
  12. ^ "Under 1983 Christmas Tree, Expect the Home Computer". The New York Times. 1983-12-10. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-02.
  13. ^ a b c "Coleco sells Adam inventory, expects 4th quarter losses". The Lewiston Daily Sun. Jan 2, 1985. p. 24.
  14. ^ Bryan, Jay (1983-12-03). "Coleco to expand Montreal plant". Montreal Gazette. pp. D-3. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  15. ^ Uston, Ken (March 1984). "Barbara Isgur talks to Ken Uston; an industry analyst speaks out". Creative Computing. p. 18. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
  16. ^ a b c d Adams, Jane Meredith (1985-01-03). "Adam Just Couldn't Deliver on Promises". The Boston Globe. p. 41.
  17. ^ a b Loguidice, Bill; Barton, Matt (2014). Vintage Game Consoles: An Inside Look at Apple, Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, and the Greatest Gaming Platforms of All Time. Focal Press. ISBN 978-0-415-85600-3. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  18. ^ D. Sage (Jul–Aug 1985). "West Hartford Endings". Expandable Computer News (9). Archived from the original on 2018-03-07. Retrieved 2020-08-16.
  19. ^ a b c d Gilder, Jules H. (April 1984). "The Coleco Adam". Byte. p. 206. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  20. ^ Storch, Charles (June 8, 1983). "Adam home computer quickly becomes apple of Coleco's eye". Chicago Tribune. p. 3-14. Retrieved October 15, 2023 – via newspapers.com.
  21. ^ Reid, T. R. (1984-02-06). "Coleco's 'Adam' Gets Gentleman's 'C' for Performance". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ Shapiro, Neil (February 1984). "Big Bytes for Little Bucks". Popular Mechanics. pp. 98–99, 139–142.
  23. ^ Greenwald, John (1984-06-18). "How Does This How Does This #%*@! Thing Work? Instruction Manuals". Time. Archived from the original on 2010-10-29. Retrieved April 29, 2007.
  24. ^ Sanger, David E. (January 3, 1985). "Coleco Gives Up on the Adam". The New York Times. p. D1. Retrieved October 15, 2023 – via timesmachine.nytimes.com.
  25. ^ Winter, Christine (January 3, 1985). "Coleco Signing Off Adam Computer". Chicago Tribune.
  26. ^ Carlisle, Rodney P. (2009). Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society. Vol. 1. SAGE Publications. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-4129-6670-2. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  27. ^ Tynan, Dan (2007-03-19). "The 10 Worst PCs of All Time". PC World. Archived from the original on 2015-07-09.
  28. ^ Edwards, Benj (2009-06-14). "Fifteen Classic PC Design Mistakes". Technologizer. Archived from the original on 2023-05-25. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  29. ^ Jones, George (2011-04-07). "The 16 Worst Failed Computers of All Time". Maximum PC. Archived from the original on 2015-05-06.
  30. ^ Pachal, Peter (2011-08-09). "The 12 Biggest PC Duds Ever". PCMag. Archived from the original on 2023-05-25. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  31. ^ Carton, Sean (2005). 2005 Gamer's Almanac: Your Daily Dose of Tricks, Cheats, and Fascinating Facts. Que Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 0-7897-3241-6. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  32. ^ David Wilson (April 23, 1984). "The Adam: Coleco's home computer with the works". InfoWorld. 6 (17): 66. ISSN 0199-6649.

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