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Cromemco, Inc.
IndustryComputer Manufacturing
FoundedLos Altos, California (1974; 50 years ago (1974))
FounderHarry Garland, President
Roger Melen, VP R&D
FateSold to Dynatech Corporation in 1987
SuccessorDynatech Computer Systems
Key people
Chuck Bush, VP Manufacturing
Andy Procassini, VP Marketing
Mike Ramelot, VP Finance
Brent Gammon, General Counsel

Cromemco was a Mountain View, California microcomputer company known for its high-end Z80-based S-100 bus computers and peripherals in the early days of the personal computer revolution.

The company began as a partnership in 1974 between Harry Garland and Roger Melen, two Stanford Ph.D. students. The company was named for their residence at Stanford University (Crothers Memorial, a Stanford dormitory reserved for engineering graduate students). Cromemco was incorporated in 1976 and their first products were the Cromemco Cyclops digital camera, and the Cromemco Dazzler color graphics interface - both groundbreaking at the time - before they moved on to making computer systems.

In December 1981, Inc. magazine named Cromemco in the top ten fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S.[1]

Early history[edit]

Cromemco advertisement on Page 1 of Byte Magazine, September 1976

The collaboration that was to become Cromemco began in 1970 when Harry Garland and Roger Melen, graduate students at Stanford University, began working on a series of articles for Popular Electronics magazine.[2] These articles described construction projects for the electronic hobbyist.[3][4][5] Since it was sometimes difficult for the hobbyist to find the needed parts for these projects, Garland and Melen licensed third-party suppliers to provide kits of parts. In 1973 a kit for one of these projects, an “Op Amp Tester”, was sold by a company called MITS which would later launch a revolutionary microcomputer on the cover of Popular Electronics.[6]

In 1974, Roger Melen was visiting the New York editorial offices of Popular Electronics where he saw a prototype of the MITS Altair microcomputer. Melen was so impressed with this machine that he changed his return flight to California to go through Albuquerque, where he met with Ed Roberts, the president of MITS.[7] At that meeting, Roberts encouraged Melen to develop add-on products for the Altair, beginning with the Cyclops digital camera that was slated to appear in the February 1975 issue of Popular Electronics.[8][9]

On returning to California, Melen and Garland formed a partnership to produce the Cyclops camera and future microcomputer products. They named the company “Cromemco” after the Stanford dorm (Crothers Memorial Hall) where they first began their collaboration.[10]

First products[edit]

Cromemco JS-1 analog joystick console

Melen and Garland began work on the Cyclops Camera interface for the Altair, and this spawned several other projects for their young company. There was no convenient way to store software for the Altair, other than on punched paper tape. To remedy this problem Melen and Garland went to work on designing a programmable read-only memory card they called the “Bytesaver.” The Bytesaver also could support a resident program that allowed the computer to function immediately when it was powered up, without having to first manually load a bootstrap program. The Bytesaver proved to be a very popular peripheral.[11]

There was also no way to see a Cyclops image stored in the Altair. So work began on a graphics interface card which could connect the Altair to a color TV set. This graphics interface, called the Dazzler, was introduced in the February 1976 issue of Popular Electronics.[12]

One use for an Altair Computer with a Dazzler was to play games. But there was no way to interface a game console or joystick to the Altair. So the next project was to design a joystick console and an interface card that supported an 8-bit digital channel and 7 analog channels (called the D+7A). The D+7A could do much more than just interface a joystick, however, and it was this card that allowed the Altair to be connected to the world of data acquisition and industrial computing.[13]

Cromemco called themselves “Specialists in Computer Peripherals” and had a reputation for innovative designs and quality construction.[14] They were, however, just a few steps away from offering their own computer system based on the Altair computer bus structure, named by Garland and Melen the "S-100 bus".[15][16]

From boards to systems[edit]

Cromemco Z-1 (1976)
Cromemco System One (CS-1H) 1981
Cromemco System 400 32-bit Super Microcomputer with XXU (1985)

The first computer released by Cromemco was the Z-1 in August 1976.[17] The Z-1 came with 8K of static RAM and used the same chassis as the IMSAI 8080 but featured the Z80 microprocessor rather than the IMSAI computer's Intel 8080 chip.[18] The Z-1 was succeeded by the Z-2 in June 1977, which featured 64K of RAM[19] and the ability to run Cromemco DOS (CDOS), a CP/M-like operating system.[20] The Z-2 also added a parallel interface in addition to an RS-232C serial port and no longer included the large panel of switches that had been part of the Z-1 model.

Cromemco re-packaged their systems to produce the System One, followed by the larger System Two and System Three. The System Three, announced in 1978[21] was capable of running both FORTRAN IV and Z80 BASIC programming languages. The System Three was designed for multiuser professional use and included an optional hard disk, CRT terminal, printer and the main computer unit.[22]

Cromemco software includes CDOS, which was very much like CP/M, and CROMIX, Cromemco's own multi-user Unix-like OS.

CROMIX used banked memory, and with 448k installed, could support up to 6 users (1 bank for the system, and 1 bank for each user). CROMIX was released in 1979.

CROMIX, initially ran on the System Three and would later run on Cromemco systems using the Motorola 68000 series of microprocessors.

Cromemco S-100 Microcomputer Systems (Z-80 Processor)
System Year Introduced S-100 slots Internal Floppy Disk Internal Hard Disk Operating systems
Z-1 1976 21 n/a n/a
Z-2 1977 21 n/a n/a CP/M
System Zero 1980 4 n/a n/a CP/M, Cromix
System One CS-1 1981 8 2 x 5-inch n/a CP/M, Cromemco DOS, Cromix
System One CS-1H 1981 8 1 x 5-inch 5 megabytes CP/M, Cromemco DOS, Cromix
System Two Z-2D 1978 21 2 x 5-inch n/a CP/M, Cromemco DOS, Cromix
System Two Z-2H 1980 12 2 x 5-inch 11 megabytes CP/M, Cromemco DOS, Cromix
System Three 1978 21 4 x 8-inch n/a CP/M, Cromemco DOS, Cromix

In 1982, Cromemco introduced a Motorola 68000 CPU card for their systems. It was a dual-processor card (called the DPU) with both a Motorola 68000 processor and a Zilog Z-80 processor (for backward compatibility).[23] Their System One, Two, and Three computers evolved to the 100-series, 200-series, and 300-series respectively. Additionally a 400-series was introduced in a tower-style case. The DPU was followed by the increasing capable XPU and XXU cards also based on the Motorola 68000 family of processors.[24]

Cromemco also introduced the C-10 personal computer in 1982, a Z-80 floppy disk based system for the low end of the market.[25][26] It ran CDOS and came with several business software tools such as spreadsheet, word processor, and the BASIC programming language.[27]

Cromemco S-100 Central Processor Units
Cromemco CPU Card Year Introduced Microprocessor Clock Rate Performance (in Whetstones)
ZPU 1976 Z-80A 2 MHz/4 MHz (switch selectable) 7,000
DPU 1982 Z-80A/MC68000 4 MHz/8 MHz 40,000
XPU 1984 Z-80B/MC68010 5 Mz/10 MHz 50,000
XXU 1986 MC68020 with MC68881 16.7 MHz 1,050,000
Wordmark used from 1983 to present
Wordmark used from 1983 to present

By 1983, Cromemco employed over 500 people, had annual revenues of US$55 million, and had sold more S-100 based computer systems than any other company.[28][29] The company was wholly owned by Garland and Melen until it was sold to Dynatech Corporation in 1987. Dynatech was a major customer of Cromemco computers through its subsidiary ColorGraphics Weather Systems.[30] The European division of Cromemco reorganized as Cromemco AG and was in liquidation in 2018, but the Cromemco operation in Greece, founded in 1978 as Information Systems & Control Ltd., was continuing to operate as Cromemco Hellas S.A. in 2021.[31][32]

Engineering contributions[edit]

Cromemco was known for its engineering excellence, design creativity, and outstanding system reliability.[33] “If they hired you into their R&D Department, they gave you an office and a computer and asked you what you wanted to do” recalls Roger Sippl, an early Cromemco employee.[34] Cromemco’s engineering firsts for microcomputer systems include the first digital camera (the Cyclops Camera), the first color graphics card (the Cromemco Dazzler), the first programmable storage (the Bytesaver), the first memory bank switching, and the first Unix-like operating system (Cromix).[14][34][35]

Cromemco drew on engineering talent from Stanford University, the Homebrew Computer Club, and even its own distributors. Joe McCrate, Curt Terwilliger, Tom McCalmont, Jerry May, Herb Lewis, and Marvin Kausch had all been students of the company founders at Stanford University.[36][37][38] Ed Hall and Li-Chen Wang came to Cromemco through the Homebrew Computer Club.[39] Nik Ivancic, Boris Krtolica, and Egon Zakrajšek joined from Cromemco’s distributor in Yugoslavia where they had developed structural engineering software for Cromemco systems.[40]

Several Cromemco engineers went on to found other Silicon Valley companies. Roger Sippl,[41][42][43] Laura King, and Roy Harrington formed Informix Corporation.[34] Tom McCalmont founded REgrid Power Inc. and later McCalmont Engineering.[38] Jeff Johnson went on to found UI Wizards, Inc. and publish best-selling books on software user-interface design.[44]

Notable installations[edit]

Cromemco production line of CS-250 computers for USAF Mission Support System (1986)

In 1981, a study was commissioned by the United States Air Force Systems Command to select a microcomputer for the Theater Air Control System (TACS).[45] From a field of 149 microcomputers the Final Technical Report concluded that “the equipment offered by Cromemco is the most responsive to the general selection criteria.”[46] In the years following this study the United States Air Force became a major customer for Cromemco computers.[47] [48]

Cromemco developed a special version of the CS-200 computer (called the CS-250) to meet the requirements of the Air Force's Mission Support System (MSS).[49] The CS-250 had a removable hard disk based on patented Cromemco technology.[50] The United States Air Force deployed 600 Cromemco Systems from 1985 to 1996 as Mission Support Systems for the F-15, F-16, and F-111 aircraft.[51][52] These systems received their first war time use in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.[53]

The United States Navy deployed Cromemco computers aboard ships and Ohio class submarines, and to generate speech output for the Aegis Combat System in the Combat Information Center.[54][55]

Cromemco systems were also widely used in commercial applications, including at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) where a bank of 60 Cromemco Z-2 systems were used to process trades. Each Z-2 system was populated with Cromemco Octart interface cards, with each card supporting eight terminals on the trading floor.[56] For ten years, from 1982 to 1992, all trades at the CME were processed by these systems. In 1992 the Cromemco systems were replaced by IBM PS/2 computers.[57]

Cromemco computers were the first microcomputer systems widely distributed in China.[58] In 1985 Newsweek reported that over 10,000 Cromemco computer systems had been sold to Chinese universities.[59]

Cromemco systems were also broadly adopted by U.S. television stations for generating weather and art graphics, using software developed by ColorGraphics Weather Systems. By 1986 more than 80 percent of the major-market television stations in the U.S. used Cromemco systems to produce news and weather graphics.[60]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1984, the Cromemco System One Computer appeared in the movie Ghostbusters as a computer in the Ghostbuster Laboratory.[61]

In 2011, Paul Allen commented on the Cromemco Cyclops Camera in his book, Idea Man: a memoir by the cofounder of Microsoft, noting that "The Altair even debuted a digital camera back in 1976."[62]

In 2011, Mona Simpson revealed, in a eulogy for her brother Steve Jobs, that she had considered buying a Cromemco as her first computer.[63]

In 2013, the Cromemco System Three Computer appeared prominently in Andrew Bujalski's film Computer Chess.[64][65]

In 2013, Deborah Perry Piscione in her New York Times best-selling book, Secrets of Silicon Valley, identified Cromemco, along with Apple Inc., as the two Silicon Valley companies that created the personal computer industry.[66]

In 2018, the Cromemco C-10 computer was added to the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.[67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ketchum, Jr., Bradford W. (December 1981). "The INC. Private 100". Inc. 3 (12): 35–44.
  2. ^ "The Cromemco Story". I/O News. 1 (1): 6–11. September–October 1980. ISSN 0274-9998.
  3. ^ Garland, Harry; Melen, Roger (1971). "Build the Fil-oscillator". Popular Electronics. Vol. 34, no. 5. pp. 58–62.
  4. ^ Garland, Harry; Melen, Roger (1971). "Add Triggered Sweep to your Scope". Popular Electronics. Vol. 35, no. 1. pp. 65–66.
  5. ^ Garland, Harry; Melen, Roger (1971). "Build the Muscle Whistler". Popular Electronics. Vol. 35, no. 5. pp. 60–62.
  6. ^ Garland, Harry; Melen, Roger (1973). "Build a Low-Cost Op Amp Tester". Popular Electronics Including Electronics World. Vol. 4, no. 6. pp. 34–35.
  7. ^ Solomon, Les. "Solomon's Memory". Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  8. ^ Freiberger, Paul; Swaine, Michael (2000). Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (Second ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 48.
  9. ^ Walker, Terry; Garland, Harry; Melen, Roger (1975). "Build Cyclops". Popular Electronics. Vol. 7, no. 2. pp. 27–31.
  10. ^ Levy, Steven (1984). Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday. p. 202. ISBN 0-385-19195-2.
  11. ^ Veit, Stan (1993). "Cromemco: Innovation and Reliability". Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer. Asheville, North Carolina: WorldComm. pp. 104–105. ISBN 1-56664-023-7. The Bytesaver proved to be a very popular peripheral for the Altair and IMSAI computers.
  12. ^ Walker, Terry; Melen, Roger; Garland, Harry; Hall, Ed (1976). "Build the TV Dazzler". Popular Electronics. Vol. 9, no. 2. pp. 31–40.
  13. ^ Veit, Stan (1993). "Cromemco: Innovation and Reliability". Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer. Asheville, North Carolina: WorldComm. p. 107. ISBN 1-56664-023-7. The D+7A analog interface board was one of the most important peripherals that Cromemco ever made, because it provided a gateway into the word of scientific and industrial computing.
  14. ^ a b Veit, Stan (1993). "Cromemco: Innovation and Reliability". Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer. Asheville, North Carolina: WorldComm. p. 106. ISBN 1-56664-023-7. Their products were noted for both innovative design and quality construction.
  15. ^ Freiberger, Paul; Swaine, Michael (2000). Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (Second ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 66. ISBN 0-07-135892-7.
  16. ^ "The Cromemco Story". I/O News. 1 (1): 10. September–October 1980. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  17. ^ History of Cromemco, from Robert Kuhmann, January 2008
  18. ^ Cromemco Z-1,
  19. ^ "OLD-COMPUTERS.COM : The Museum".
  20. ^ Cromemco System I/II/III, from OLD-COMPUTERS.COM ONLINE MUSEUM Archived 2010-11-21 at the Wayback Machine "CDOS is a CP/M like operating system."
  21. ^ "System Three advertisement".
  22. ^ Cromemco System I / II / III,
  23. ^ Mandlekern, David (March–April 1982). "The Development of a New Family of Computer Products". I/O News. 2 (4): 15. ISSN 0274-9998.
  24. ^ "New XXU Processor Offers Enormous Speed Advantage". I/O News. 5 (4): 1, 9. August–September 1986. ISSN 0274-9998.
  25. ^ Swaine, Michael (August 9, 1982). "Change comes to Cromemco: New low-cost system". InfoWorld. Vol. 4, no. 31. p. 3.
  26. ^ Cromemco C-10, see advertisement
  27. ^ OLD-COMPUTERS.COM Museum ~ Cromemco C10
  28. ^ Parkinson, Roger; Johnson, Jeff (December 10, 1998). "A Partial History of CROMEMCO". Stanford University InfoLab. Stanford University. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  29. ^ "Computer Systems - Cromemco". Computer Buyer's Guide and Handbook (13). Computer Information Publishing Inc.: 49 1983. ISSN 0738-9213. This company has sold more S-100 systems than any other
  30. ^ "Mergers and Acquisitions". Computer World. Vol. 21, no. 12. March 23, 1987. p. 108. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  31. ^ "Cromemco AG in Liquidation".
  32. ^ "Company Profile". Cromemco Hellas S.A. (in Greek). Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  33. ^ Warren, Jim (February 7, 1979). "A Report on Outstanding Cromemco Reliability". The Intelligent Machines Journal (2).
  34. ^ a b c "Oral History of Roger Sippl" (PDF). Computer History Museum. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  35. ^ Hogan, Thom (June 8, 1981). "Share and Share Alike: Multiuser Hardware Explained". InfoWorld. Vol. 3, no. 11. p. 18. Cromemco was the first microcomputer manufacturer to refine and exploit bank switching.
  36. ^ McCrate, Joe (July–August 1981). "Major New Enhancements to CROMIX". I/O News. 1 (6): 9–12. ISSN 0274-9998.
  37. ^ Terwilliger, Curt (November–December 1980). "A New Approach to System Design: The C-Bus, IOP, and QUADART". I/O News. 1 (2): 1, 22–25. ISSN 0274-9998.
  38. ^ a b Ritch, Emma (July 25, 2008). "REgrid's McCalmont comes full circle as solar stalwart". Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. 26 (12). Business Journal Publications, Inc.: 16–17. "He was one of several students plucked out of a class taught by professor Harry Garland to join startup microcomputer company Cromemco
  39. ^ Segaller, Stephen (1998). Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet. TV Books. p. 143. ISBN 1-57500-088-1.
  40. ^ Nardini, Dubravko; Nikolaj Ivancic; Miljenko Srikoc (January–February 1981). "STRESS:A Program for Linear Static Analysis of Engineering Structures". I/O News. 1 (3): 1, 14–17. ISSN 0274-9998.
  41. ^ "Entrepreneurs Are Investing In Next Start-Up Generation". The Wall Street Journal. October 8, 1996.
  42. ^ "Borland to Purchase Visigenic In Deal Valued at $150 million". The Wall Street Journal. November 18, 1997.
  43. ^ Andrew Pollack (January 6, 1989). "Another Silicon Valley Tailspin". The New York Times. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  44. ^ "UI Wizards, Inc". Archived from the original on 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
  45. ^ "Center for Army Lessons Learned - Thesaurus". 26 September 2012. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012.
  46. ^ Bunker-Ramo Corp. "Microprocessor Front-End Terminal Study". RA-TR-81-149 Final Technical Report, June 1981, page 76. Archived from the original on 2013-04-09. Retrieved 2013-03-31.
  47. ^ "Cromemco to supply Micros to Air Force". InfoWorld. Vol. 4, no. 25. June 28, 1982. p. 11.
  48. ^ Creagan, Danny J. (1983). Computer Assisted Instruction in Basic. Air Force Institute of Technology. The Air Force recently approved the purchase of 1500 Cromemco microcomputers.
  49. ^ Arnoild, R.J.; Knight, J.B. (1992). Weapon Delivery Analysis and Ballistic Flight Testing (PDF). North Atlantic Treaty Organization. p. 62. ISBN 92-835-0677-4. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 8, 2021. The MSS Weapon Delivery Module (WDM) effort was subsequently initiated... The hardware platform was a Cromemco/UNIX system.
  50. ^ "U.S. Patent #4,870,605". USPTO.
  51. ^ Kuhman, Robert. "The Cro's Nest RCP/M-RBBS". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  52. ^ "USAF will equip its tactical fighter squadrons with a mission planning system". Aviation Week & Space Technology. 126 (22): 105. June 1, 1987.
  53. ^ Gillott, Mark A. (1998). Breaking the Mission Planning Bottleneck: A New Paradigm (PDF). pp. 5–6. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 4, 2015.
  54. ^ "Cromemco C-10". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 24 October 2021. Cromemco systems were the first commercially marketed microcomputer certified by the U.S. Navy for use aboard ships and Ohio class submarines
  55. ^ Sterne, D.F. "Tactical Speech Synthesis" (PDF). Defence Technical Information Center. pp. 64–66. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 11, 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  56. ^ Breeding, Gary (January–February 1984). "Cromemco Systems Network Transactions at Chaotic Exchange". I/O News. 3 (6): 20. ISSN 0274-9998.
  57. ^ "CME Taps Datacode To Distribute Quotation Data To Floor Traders". WatersTechnology. January 27, 1992. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
  58. ^ Ost, Laura (November 9, 1979). "Cromemco Saw the Future for Computers Overseas". The Peninsula Times Tribune: E1, E3.
  59. ^ Williams, Dennis A.; Lubenow, Gerald C.; Findlay-Brown, Ian (February 18, 1985). "China Looks West to Learn". Newsweek: 84.
  60. ^ "Painted Sky". UNIX Review. 4. Review Publications Company: 75. April 1986. Retrieved 2021-12-03. Cromemco, Inc., whose hardware is used to produce news and weather graphics for more than 80 percent of the major-market television stations in the US, and ColorGraphics Systems, Inc. have reached a joint marketing agreement...
  61. ^ Carter, James. "Cromemco System I in Ghostbusters (1984)". Starring the Computer – Computers in Movies and Television. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  62. ^ Allen, Paul (2011). Idea Man: a memoir by the cofounder of Microsoft. New York: Penguin Group. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-59184-537-9. The Altair even debuted a digital camera back in 1976.
  63. ^ Simpson, Mona (October 30, 2011). "A Sister's Eulogy for Steve Jobs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  64. ^ Carter, James. "Cromemco System Three". Starring the Computer – Computers in Movies and Television. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  65. ^ Ebert, Roger (18 July 2013). "Computer Chess". Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  66. ^ Piscione, Deborah (2013). Secrets of Silicon Valley. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-137-27917-0.
  67. ^ "Cromemco C-10". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 24 October 2021.

External links[edit]