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Pertec Computer Corporation (PCC), formerly Peripheral Equipment Corporation (PEC), was a computer company based in Chatsworth, California which originally designed and manufactured peripherals such as floppy drives, tape drives, instrumentation control and other hardware for computers.
Pertec's most successful products were hard disk drives and tape drives, which were sold as OEM to the top computer manufacturers, including IBM, Siemens and DEC. Pertec manufactured multiple models of seven and nine track half-inch tape drives with densities 800CPI (NRZI) and 1600CPI (PE) and phase-encoding formatters, which were used by a myriad of original equipment manufacturers as I/O devices for their product lines.
In the 1970s, Pertec entered the computer industry through several acquisitions of computer producers and started manufacturing and marketing mostly minicomputers for data processing and pre-processing. This split up Pertec into two companies. Pertec Peripherals Corporation (PPC), which remained based in Chatsworth, California, and Pertec Computer Corporation (PCC), which was located at 17112 Armstrong Avenue, in Irvine, California.
Pertec and MITS
Pertec bought MITS, the manufacturers of the MITS Altair computer, for US$6.5 million in 1976. This purchase was motivated mainly by the ownership of the Microsoft BASIC sources and general license that Pertec erroneously assumed to be included in the deal.
As a result of the acquisition, Pertec became involved in the manufacturing of microprocessor-based computers. Their first models were expanded versions of the Altair models, typically coupled to the existing disk-drive range. These sold reasonably well, but as the decade closed, it became apparent to the company that the Altair's day had passed, due to new competition from other small computer makers like Apple, Commodore and Radio Shack.
In 1978, the company launched the first of its own designs, the PCC-2000. This was based on two Intel 8085 series microprocessors: one of which was given over to I/O control. Being a high end machine, it was intended to be the core of what would now be described as a workgroup. The machine was intended to support four "dumb" terminals connected via RS-232 serial lines, in addition to its internal console. The basic machine had twin 8-inch floppy drives, each capable of storing 1.2 megabytes and could link to two Pertec twin 14-inch disk drives, giving a total of 22.4 megabytes of storage, which was a very large amount for the time. The system was generally supplied with a multi-user operating system called MTX, which included a BASIC interpreter that was similar to Business Basic. The PCC-2000 was also available with MITS DOS or CP/M. In the UK, several systems were run under BOS. Unfortunately, the PCC-2000 was too expensive for the market and was never a great success.
Pertec Business Systems
Pertec's primary line of computer products was aimed at the key-to-disk minicomputer systems that were used as front-end data processors for the IBM 360/370 and similar systems. This line was opened in the first half of the 1970s by the Pertec PCC-2100 data entry system, which was essentially different from the PCC-2000 mentioned above. The system was able to serve up to 16 coaxial terminals, two D3000 disk drives and one T1640 tape drive.
Pertec XL-40, introduced in about 1978, was a more successful successor of Pertec PCC-2100. The XL-40 machine used custom 16-bit processors built from the TI3000 or AMD2900 slices, up to 512 KB operating memory and dedicated master-capable DMA controllers for tape units, floppy and rigid disk units, printers, card reader and terminals.
The maximum configuration came in two different versions. One featured four T1600 / T1800 tape units (manufactured by Pertec), two floppy disk units (manufactured by IBM or Pertec) and four D1400 / D3400 rigid disk units (4.4, 8.8, 17.6 MB formatted capacity, manufactured by Pertec or Kennedy). The other one featured two large capacity disk units (up to 70 MB formatted capacity, manufactured by Kennedy or NEC), one line printer connected through long-line interface (DataProducts LP600, LP1200, B300, Printronix P300, P600), four station printers connected through coaxial cable (Centronics), one card reader (Pertec), four SDLC communication channels and 30 proprietary coax terminals (Model 4141 with 40x12 characters or Model 4143 with 80x25 characters).
The system was mainly used for key-to-disk operations to replace the previously popular IBM card punches and more advanced key-to-tape systems manufactured for example by Mohawk Data Sciences (MDS) or Singer. In addition to the basic key-to-disk function, the proprietary operating system, called XLOS, supported indexed file operations for on-line transaction processing even with data journaling. The system was programmed in two different ways. The data entry was either described in several tables that specified the format of the input record with optional automatic data validation procedures or the indexed file operations were programmed in a special COBOL dialect with IDX and SEQ file support.
System maintenance operations were performed in a protected supervisor mode; the system supported batched operations in the supervisor mode through the use of batch files that specified operator selections. The operating system interacted with the user through a series of prompts with automatic on-screen explanations and default selections, probably the ultimate user-friendliness achievable in text-only human-computer interaction. The XL-40 was also marketed by Triumph-Adler in Europe as TA1540 or Alphatronic P40, the beginning of a relationship that would eventually see a merger of the two companies.
Pertec's final in-house computer design was a complete departure, the MC68000-based Series 3200. The primary operating system was an in-house developed multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, but it could also run Unix. As with the XL40, Triumph-Adler marketed the system in Europe under their own brand with the model name MSX 3200 (There were four models, eventually, in the Triumph-Adler series: 3200, 3220, 3230 and 3240). The key to disk application from the XL40 was re-implemented on the 3200. The other main application was a BASIC language driven database, similar to the ones used by MAI Basic Four or Pick operating system. These BASIC database business systems would be purchased by outside companies that bundled the PCC 3200 with their software to provide a complete small business package (accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, inventory, sales tracking, taxes, etc.) customized for specific businesses.
The 3200 was extremely advanced for the time, being intended to support up to 16 users, all using intelligent Z80-based terminals, each of which could optionally run CP/M attached to the 3200's high speed coax cable. Later an ISA bus to 3200 coax interface was made for the PC, and this allowed the usage of PC's as smart terminals for the 3200 or as networked systems running MS-DOS. It was the first Pertec product to support the emerging "Winchester" standard for miniature hard disks.
Soon after the introduction of the 3200, Pertec Computer Corporation was purchased by Triumph-Adler. Later PCC was acquired by Scan-Optics (around 1987). During the transition from systems based on custom-made CPUs to CPUs made by Intel and Motorola, prices for these systems dropped dramatically, but without an offsetting increase in demand, and eventually companies such as PCC slowly dwindled away to small remnants of their peak days in the mid-1980s, or were bought out by larger companies.
Pertec's PPC magnetic tape interface standard of the early 1970s rapidly became an industry-wide standard and is still in use by tape drive manufacturers today. Similarly, its PERTEC disk interface was an industry standard for pre-Winchester disk drives of the 1970s.