Onyx Systems

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Onyx Systems, Inc.
IndustryComputer hardware,
Computer software
HeadquartersCupertino, United States
Key people
Bob Marsh, Kip Myers, Scott McNealy
ProductsC8000/C8001, C8002, C5002A, C8002A, Sundance I, Sundance II, Sundance-16

Onyx Systems, Inc. was founded in Cupertino, California in 1979 by Bob Marsh and Kip Myers,[1] former managers in Zilog's systems group.[2] It was one of the earliest vendors of microprocessor-based Unix systems.[3][4][5]


The company's first product, the C8000, was a Zilog Z80-based micro running the CP/M OS, with a hard disk, and a tape drive for backups.[6][7] It included IBM terminal emulation and a COBOL compiler, with a Z8000-based CPU add-in board to follow.[8]

Later known as the C8001, thus establishing the broader notion of the C8000 series of products, the Z80-based product could be fitted with up to four 64 KB RAM cards for a total of 256 KB. The machine was designed to be upgraded to the subsequent 16-bit model in the range, the C8002, by adding a Z8000 processor card to supplement the existing Z80 card, and for an additional 256 KB of RAM to be added on its own card. Onyx licensed Unix from Western Electric and quoted four-user and eight-user licences costing $1,500 and $2,500 respectively.[9]

In 1980, Onyx introduced the C8002 based on the Z8000. Its price of US$20,000 (equivalent to $71,000 in 2022) was half the cost of any other computer capable of running Unix,[5] and included Bell Labs' recent Version 7,[10] this having been adapted for the Z8000 with a "rewritten nucleus and several new compilers", renamed ONIX, but otherwise being "exactly the same system" as the Western Electric product available for the DEC PDP-11 family.[11] Instead of electing to use Zilog's own Z8001 product to offer a system with memory management, Onyx instead chose to use the Z8002 in conjunction with its own memory management hardware, thus avoiding the delays experienced by other manufacturers who had chosen to base their designs around the Z8001 and its accompanying memory management chip. Onyx's hardware implemented a 2 KB page size and allowed the system to access up to 1 MB of memory, although processes were limited to 64 KB - imposed by the limitations of the Z8002 itself - for each of their program and data sections. These limitations were less onerous that those imposed by various 16-bit minicomputers where the 64 KB limit applied to the combined size of the program and data sections, with the PDP-11/23 noted as an example.[12]

Alongside the Z8002, the C8002 also provided an Am9512 floating-point unit. Mass storage was supported by a dedicated Z80A processor with 64 KB of its own RAM, this hosting the disk and tape control software along with a disk sector cache. Data transfers between the disk system and main memory were performed using direct memory access (DMA). Pricing in the United Kingdom started at around £12,000 (£48,900 adjusted for inflation) for a four-user system with 256 KB of RAM and 10 MB hard drive.[12]

In late 1982, Onyx announced models running Unix System III in the form of the Sundance-16, C5002A and C8002A.[13] Featuring the Z8001 processor running at 6 MHz and 256 KB of RAM, expandable to 512 KB, the Sundance-16 was fitted with a 7 MB, 14 MB or 21 MB hard drive and a tape drive. Two models of the Sundance-16 were offered with variation in the capabilities of the product's built-in display: the Model 80 supported 80-column text, whereas the Model 132 could be switched between 80-column and 132-column modes and permitted double-height and double-width characters.[14] The C5002A and C8002A also featured the Z8001 but were focused on a terminal server role, with the former supporting up to five users and the latter up to eleven users, and both being expandable to 1 MB of RAM. The C5002A was offered with the 14 MB or 21 MB hard drive choices also offered for the Sundance-16, whereas the C8002A was supplied with a choice of larger hard drives: 20 MB or 40 MB. Additional drives could be connected: one for the C5002A and three for the C8002A.[15] A 60 MB drive option for the C8002A was also referenced in publicity.[13]

Similar upgrades to Onyx's Z80-based system were also introduced, with the Sundance II being announced in mid-1982 as a multi-user version of the base Sundance model, having 256 KB of RAM instead of the 64 KB of the single-user model. An upgrade between models could be performed.[16] These Z80-based models were offered with a choice of CP/M, MP/M and the OASIS operating system.[17]

Legacy and fate[edit]

Codata Systems Corporation was established by former Onyx Systems employees in 1979,[18] introducing a similar Z8000-based product to that of Onyx Systems, the CTS-200 running Xenix, before following up with a product based on the Motorola 68000, the CTS-300, running its own Unix variant, Unisis, developed in conjunction with UniSoft.[19] Unisis was based on Version 7 Unix, and Codata claimed to have been "the first to offer a microcomputer-based Unix on the M68000" and to have supplied 500 systems by early 1983.[20] Codata later released the Codata 3300 system employing an 8 MHz 68000 and having 320 KB of RAM, upgradeable to 1.5 MB, a 12 MB, 33 MB or 84 MB hard drive, and a floppy drive, priced at £8,900 for the entry-level model in the UK,[21] $9,600 in the US.[22] The system employed the IEEE 796 Multibus standard.[18]

Onyx's first Unix-based system was the first platform for the Informix relational database system.[23]

Former Harvard economics professor William Raduchel recruited Scott McNealy to manage manufacturing at Onyx. McNealy left Onyx to become a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.[24][25]

Onyx was acquired by Corvus Systems in 1985.[26]


  1. ^ "Board of Directors". Appscio, Inc. Retrieved 3 June 2010.
  2. ^ Greitzer, John (3 December 1979). "Onyx Plans to Market Z8000-Based Microsystem". Computer Business News. pp. 3–4. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  3. ^ Cornelia Boldyreff, ACM SIGSMALL Newsletter archive, v.7 #1 (February 1981), pp.7-8, ISSN 0272-720X
  4. ^ Peter H. Salus, "The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin" [1]
  5. ^ a b Fiedler, Ryan (October 1983). "The Unix Tutorial / Part 3: Unix in the Microcomputer Marketplace". BYTE. p. 132. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  6. ^ "New Onyx CP/M 2.0 Operating System", InfoWorld (then Intelligent Machines Journal), 2 Nov 1979, p.4
  7. ^ "Onyx System Packs 8-inch Winchester", InfoWorld (then Intelligent Machines Journal), 9 May 1979, p.8
  8. ^ "COBOL & IBM 2780/3780 Emulator for Winchester-based Micros", InfoWorld (then Intelligent Machines Journal), 3 Oct 1979, p.2
  9. ^ Beeler, Jeffry (11 February 1980). "Western Electric Licenses Unix To Maker of Micro Systems". Computerworld. p. 67. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  10. ^ Bass, John L. (1999). "More about Onyx Systems". DMS Design. Archived from the original on 2002-12-10.
  11. ^ Onyx C8002 Computer System. Onyx Systems Incorporated. p. 8.
  12. ^ a b Eisenbach, Sue (March 1981). "Onyx C8002". Personal Computer World. pp. 52–53, 55–57. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  13. ^ a b "Onyx Unveils Stand-Alone, 16-Bit Micros for Unix III". Computerworld. 22 November 1982. p. 63. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  14. ^ Sundance-16 Product Description. Onyx Systems Inc. October 1982. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  15. ^ C5002A, C8002A Series Product Description. Onyx Systems Inc. February 1983. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  16. ^ Scannell, Tim (14 June 1982). "Microcomputers Leave Back Seat for Center Stage". Computerworld. p. 4. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  17. ^ Sundance and Sundance II Product Description. Onyx Systems Inc. October 1982. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  18. ^ a b Considerations for Use of Microcomputers in Developing Country Statistical Offices. U.S. Department of Commerce. October 1983. pp. 198–199. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  19. ^ Greitzer, John (16 November 1981). "Codata Weds 68000-Based System With Unix OS". Computer Business News. pp. 48, 50. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  20. ^ Vrolyk, Beau (January 1983). "No Shortage of Multiuser Unix Systems". Byte. p. 14. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  21. ^ "Codata 3300 tackles micro big league". Personal Computer News. 13 May 1983. p. 3. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  22. ^ "Codata Announces Unix-Based Micro". Computerworld. 27 December 1982. p. 103. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  23. ^ "Oral History of Roger Sippl" (PDF). Computer History Museum. 2005. pp. 12, 16. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  24. ^ "Scott McNealy and Sun Microsystems", Center for Management Research, Case Code LDEN039, 2006 [2]
  25. ^ Brent Schlender (October 13, 1997). "JAVAMAN THE ADVENTURES OF SCOTT MCNEALY TODAY'S EPISODE HIS FIGHT TO SAVE THE WORLD WIDE WEB FROM THE EVIL EMPIRE". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  26. ^ "Spring finds Corvus making a profit", Network World, 18 April 1988 p.40