The Mindset, released in spring 1984, was a personal computer designed specifically to run Microsoft DOS. It had excellent graphics support, comparable to contemporary graphics workstations. The basic unit was priced at US$1,798 (equivalent to $4,095 in 2015).
Like the Macintosh, it lacked a conventional fixed-cell (DOS-like) text mode, and the display was entirely graphical. Continued delays in the release of Windows 1.0 meant the machine reached the market before the operating system it was supposed to run. To fill the gap, a software based text mode driver was added to the system, implemented with technical help from Microsoft. But the performance in text programs was never equal to the PCs that implemented this in hardware, and it was only partially compatible with DOS programs. This meant the Mindset was slower at running existing software, if it ran it at all.
In spite of many glowing reviews, the system never sold well and disappeared from the market after about a year. This was lamented by industry commenters, who looked at this event as the first clear evidence of the end of innovation in favor of compatibility. In contrast to the well-known and conceptually similar Amiga Computer of the same era, the Mindset is little known today. Its distinctive case remains in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In most computer systems of the era, the CPU was used to create graphics by drawing bit patterns directly into memory, either main memory in the case of most computers, or a separate framebuffer in the case of workstations. Separate hardware then reads these patterns and produces the actual video signal for the display. Systems varied in the amount of sophistication in the display hardware, with machines like the Atari 8-bit family and Commodore 64 offering a separate area for small graphics known as sprites which were handled entirely in the software and thus offloaded that bit of drawing from the CPU.
The Mindset was designed by ex-Atari engineers (as was the Amiga) and is in some ways an extension of that design philosophy. However, the design added a new custom-designed VLSI vector processor that could handle many of the common drawing tasks, like drawing lines or filling areas. Instead of the CPU doing all of this work by changing memory directly, in the Mindset the CPU would simply set up those instructions and then hand off the actual bit fiddling to the separate processor. Once in memory, the patterns were read back out using a separate input/output chip, conceptually similar to the one in the earlier Atari machines. Mindset's president compared the chipset to the Intel 8087 floating point processor, running alongside the Intel 80186 on which the machine was based. There are a number of parallels between the Mindset and the Amiga 1000, another computer designed by ex-Atari engineers that offered advanced graphics.
As development continued and it became clear that the machine would be ready before Windows, Bill Gates became personally involved in the project to assist Mindset in emulating IBM character graphics without losing performance. Once Mindset officials determined that most of the desirable software was compatible, development was frozen and the OS burned to ROM in late 1983. The ROM did not run about 20% of the PC software base, including Microsoft Flight Simulator. WordStar was one of the PC applications reported to run, and Mindset publicized a list of 60 applications that ran unmodified. The software base was expected to increase dramatically once a final version of Windows was released.
Before its release, in early 1984 Jack Tramiel is rumored to have tried to buy Mindset's technology. He would also do the same with Amiga, before ultimately buying Atari and designing a new machine from off-the-shelf parts, the Atari ST.
The Mindset was released on 2 May 1984. The base model with 64K RAM and no floppy disk drive sold for US$1099, a 128K model with single disk was available for $1,798, and a 256K dual-disk version cost $2,398. The disk-less version of the machine was still usable, as the system also included two ROM cartridge ports on the front of the machine that could be used for the operating system and another program. The canonical cartridge was an extended version of GW-BASIC. The machine was packaged in a unique enclosure designed by GVO of Menlo Park, visually separated into two sections with the ROM slots in the lower half and the optional diskettes on the upper half. It was sold complete with a custom nylon carrying case.
Mindset's president claimed its graphics capabilities were unmatched except on US$50,000 workstations. Its custom graphics hardware, with 16 colors (512-shade palette), allowed it to update the screen 50 times as fast as a CGA adaptor in a standard PC. At the time it garnered critical acclaim, with reviewers universally praising its graphics and overall performance which was much faster than contemporary PCs. although in many cases with the caveat that the market was rapidly standardizing.
By the summer of 1985, it was clear the system was not selling as expected, and the company re-purposed it for the video production and graphics design markets. That was followed in August by a round of layoffs, and another in January, this time half the employees were let go. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection on 28 August, and never emerged.
By 1985, when it was clear the system was not living up to its promise and Windows 1.0 was a flop in general, John J. Anderson published a review of the system decrying that the personal computer market was beginning to value compatibility over technology. He noted:
|“||...the marketplace has "matured," and in its maturation process it has lost much of its original spark, innovation, and imagination. Today supposed graphics "experts" think of graphics in terms of when to use a pie chart as opposed to a bar chart. Today a program like City had better run on the Commodore 64, or else be capable of charting the cost of equity capital. Today the idea of designing machines that push the envelope of graphics price/performance has caved in to the design of machines that are compatible but cheaper. It is a shift in emphasis that makes the micro world a colder place for those who are motivated enough to seek something more.||”|
The Base System Unit was referred to as Model M1001; later a "Mindset II" computer was released, a badge engineered version of the M1001, with an adhesive label designating "II" under the embossed name. Internally the Video Processor Board is a separate mini-daughterboard. Its enhanced functionality is not totally understood - but from the "Mindset II Advanced Professional Videographics System" users guide it makes mention "Chaining" two Mindset's:
It is possible to genlock any Mindset System to a Mindset II. In such a case, the composite video output of one Mindset is used as an external video source for the Video Production Module connected to the Mindset II. It is very important that the Mindset System being used as a video source be set in the interlaced mode. Otherwise, vertical locking will not occur.
The Mindset II is referred to on the front of the user guide as Model# M1500, however other internal pages reference is an M1000-II and also make mention of Mindset Video Production Module Model# M1011.
The system architecture was based on the Intel 80186, with proprietary VLSI chips that enhanced and sped up the graphics. Although it was disk compatible with the IBM PC's DOS, its enhanced graphics capabilities made achieving full IBM compatibility more difficult than its competitors. Bill Gates became involved with development, assisting Mindset in emulating IBM character graphics without losing performance. Once Mindset officials determined that most of the desirable software was compatible, development was frozen and the OS burned to ROM, which locked out 20% of the PC software base, including Microsoft Flight Simulator. WordStar was one of the PC applications reported to run, and Mindset publicized a list of 60 applications that ran unmodified. The software base was expected to increase dramatically once a final version of Windows was released.
Mindset's design was modular in many aspects. The top of the case had an opening to access its system bus, this allowed for the expansion module to plug into the main computer module to add memory and one or two disk drives. The Mindset was designed by several ex-Atari engineers like the Amiga 1000, another computer of the era with an advanced graphics subsystem and modular expandability. Jack Tramiel (forming TTL – Tramiel Technologies Limited) tried to buy Mindset's technology in Spring of 1984.
A dual 5.25" floppy drive module that sat above the main unit was available and part of the common sales configuration for the system. The module also included Expansion memory as well.
Mindset had dual front-mounted ROM cartridge ports with a locking knob on the left side of the main computer module to lock the ROM modules into place. The Mindset had the option (through its System Configuration Utility) to be able to select whether the system booted from left or right ROM carts, or disk drive. Cartridges could also contain CMOS RAM, which would be retained when unplugged by a battery in the cartridge case. Cartridges were envisioned to be a primary medium for software distribution on the Mindset, but sales of the system were too low for cartridges to be economical, and software was distributed on disk instead.
While released in 1984, models of the M1001 Mindset computer with BIOS ROM code 1.07 and earlier show a copyright notice of (c) 1983 Mindset Computer Corp.
The rear of the computer is equipped with the following ports:
- Audio left
- Composite out
- Channel 3/4 select wwitch
- RGB video
- EXT sync
- Aux in
- Aux out
The rear of the main computer module also has 3× 36 Pin Expansion bus slots.
The Dual Disk/Memory Expansion Unit adds an additional 3 36 Pin Expansion bus slots to the system.
- Dual Disk Drive / Memory Expansion Module
(Note: While no noticeable internal or external differences, some Dual Disk Drive/Memory Expansion modules are marked Model # M1003 and others have been found to be marked M1004)
- Parallel "Cartridge Module"
- Serial "Cartridge Module"
- Modem "Cartridge Module"
- 128 kb memory "Cartridge Module"
- Hard Drive System, consisting of an Interface "Cartridge Module" and HD loader on NVRAM cartridge
- Analog joystick
- Touch Tablet
- Video Fader
- "Sord's lap size, Zenith's compatibility, and Mindset's graphics mark new models". PC Magazine. May 1, 1984. p. 49.
- Anderson 1985, p. 50.
- "MOMA The Collection Robert Brunner, Mindset Personal Computer, 1983".
- "InfoWorld Mar 19 1984".
- Chin, Kathy (14 January 1985). "Arari Awash In Product Rumors". InfoWorld: 20.
- Zientara 1984, p. 43.
- Shea, Tom (7 May 1984). "Putting the computer on a pedestal". InfoWorld.
- Christopher, Tom (12 June 1984). "Mindset: Visually Boggling MS-DOS Compatible". PC Magazine: 47.
- McCarthy, Michael (25 February 1985). "Corvus Cuts Price, Mindset Cuts Staff". InfoWorld: 15.
- McGeever, Christine (9 September 1985). "Mindset Asks Chapter 11 Protection". InfoWorld: 10.
- Anderson 1985, p. 50: "However, perhaps because the Mindset has failed to set the industry on fire, our version of GW-Basic arrived on disk rather than ROM. It seems unlikely to me that new ROM software is likely to appear for the machine, let alone costly CMOS RAM cartridges."
- Anderson, John (February 1985). "Mindset micro; pushing the envelope, or whatever happened to innovation?". Creative Computing: 50.
- "Stylish Graphics Lead PC Parade". PC News: 49. 1 May 1984.
- Mace, Scott (19 March 1984). "The Mindset Computer". InfoWorld: 20–22.
- Lima, Tony (13 August 1984). "Mindset: A versatile IBM PC compatible with excellent graphics". InfoWorld: 54–56.
- Zientara, Marguerite (17 September 1984). "Cheap Chips: Will graphics be the next market to explode?". InfoWorld: 43–44.