An Epson QX-10 with RX-80 printer
|CPU||Zilog Z80 @ 4 MHz|
|Memory||256 KB of RAM|
The Epson QX-10 is a microcomputer running CP/M or TPM-III (CP/M-80 compatible) which was introduced in 1983. It was based on a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, running at 4 MHz, provided up to 256 KB of RAM organized in four switchable banks, and included a separate graphics processor chip (µPD7220) manufactured by NEC to provide advanced graphics capabilities. In the USA, two versions were launched; a basic CP/M configuration with 64 KB RAM and the HASCI configuration with 256 KB RAM and the special HASCI keyboard to be used with the bundled application suite, called Valdocs. The European and Japanese versions were like the CP/M configurations. TPM-III was used for Valdocs and some copy protected programs like Logo Professor.
The machine had internal extension slots, which could be used for extra serial ports, network cards or third party extensions like an Intel 8088 processor, adding MS-DOS compatibility.
Rising Star Industries was the primary American software vendor for the HASCI QX series. Their product line included the TPM-II and III operating system, Valdocs, a robust Basic language implementation, a graphics API library used by a variety of products which initially supported line drawing and fill functions and was later extended to support the QX-16 color boards, Z80 assembler, and low level Zapple machine code monitor which could be invoked from dip switch setting on the rear of the machine.
Its successor, the dual-processor QX-16, added a 16-bit Intel processor with Color Graphics Adapter enabling it to also boot MS-DOS 2.11. The case of the QX-16 was enlarged to provide enough physical space for an internal hard-drive in contrast to the QX-10's dual-floppy configuration.
VALuable DOCumentS by Rising Star Industries is a pseudo-GUI WYSIWYG integrated software/OS for document creation and management, written as a set of interactive application and system modules which ran only on Epson's QX-10 and QX-16 computers. A version designed to run on the IBM PC was in development when Rising Star closed in 1986.
Valdocs shipped to beta testers c. late 1982. Beta and initial production releases of Valdocs' application modules were written in the Forth programming language while its system-oriented modules (such as E-Mail and disk utilities) were written in Z-80 Assembly Language. Later releases of Valdocs' applications were written in the C programming language with some modules written in compiled RSI Basic.
The initial release of Valdocs included WYSIWYG word processor and spreadsheet applications (with onscreen fonts, an UNDO key, keyboard macros and multiple screen formats), a cardfile database, an E-Mail/communications module, and a desktop manager with an address book, mailing list manager, notepad, spell checker, ValDraw & ValPaint, calculator and more. Chris Rutkowski and Roger Amidon worked on the preliminary QX-10 design; Amidon continued designing software for the QX system after Epson and Rising Star Inc. stopped production. Graphic and other software for the QX-10 and QX-16 were developed by program designers such as Dan Oja and Nelson Donley.
Switching between programs was done by pressing an associated hotkey on the QX-10's keyboard (which was specifically designed to support Valdocs, including an UNDO key) or by selecting a program from a menu the hotkey invoked. The keyboard was referred to as HASCI (Human Application Standard Computer Interface) after the user interface with the same name pioneered by Rising Star Industries.
Performance and stability issues
Valdocs on the QX-10 was very slow and buggy. InfoWorld's 1983 review of the QX-10 described the software as "great idea, questionable implementation". It reported that Valdocs on the computer "is slow. Sometimes it merely dawdles slightly, but other times, it crawls. Entering text becomes a disconcerting pastime when the screen display lags as many as 60 characters behind your typing, and you lose characters". It added that "VALDOCS crashed (failed) numerous times while we were using it to write this review. We lost data each time, came close to losing a whole disk, and ended up retyping it into our trusty IBM PC to meet deadline". It advised users to backup their files, but stated that since the process was so slow it encouraged them to avoid doing so until it was too late. While praising the QX-10 itself ("Physically this is an excellent machine") and Valdocs' ease of use, Jerry Pournelle wrote in BYTE in August 1983 that "the first problem is obvious from the other side of the room. The Valdocs system is slow. It seems to take forever to do disk operations ... Getting from the beginning to the end of a six-page document takes 15 seconds. Deleting the first three pages of the same document takes 20 seconds". He believed that the software "has pushed the Zilog Z80 chip past its limits ... I don't think Valdocs will ever run properly until something like the 8086 or 68000 is used".
In January 1984 Pournelle reported that version 1.18 "is fast, [but] it's not fast enough for me, my wife, or my assistant. In particular, it is not designed to be used as a substitute for an office machine. It simply takes too darned long to get a business letter out using Valdocs. Just getting the envelope addressed can take a full minute or longer." He reiterated that "the hardware is fine", but wondered if "the industry need yet another Z80 computer for more than $2500" without usable software. Pournelle concluded, "I cannot in good conscience recommend [Valdocs] to anyone who has actual production work to perform. It's just too darned slow." The president of one QX-10 user group complained in April that the word processor was "slow compared to my mother running the mile ... I have four different versions and not one works well". Creative Computing's mostly favorable review of the computer and software in June also noted the slow speed of the Valdocs editor, calling it "maddeningly slow in many cases". It noted that the QX-10's 4 MHz processor was not at fault, because other word processors ran as fast as on other 8-bit CP/M computers. Despite Epson's promise of speed improvements, Valdocs 2 remained slow; InfoWorld's 1985 review of the QX-16 reported that the computer was "severely limited by [Valdocs'] slow operation". While the reviewer did not report crashes, a "small but perceptible delay" between pushing a key and the character appearing on the screen when using the word processor grew over time to be "significant and would annoy heavy-duty word processing users", and the spreadsheet was "excruciatingly slow to do just about everything". Pournelle concluded that year that Valdocs "was fatally flawed", noting that Epson advised Valdocs 2 users to share data between the chart maker and word processor with "scissors, tape, and a copy machine".
In 1983, Mark W Ballard authored the 65+ page "Computer Graphics Base Mapping Operations Manual" for the City of Austin using VALDOCS Word Processor on a QX-10. The Word Processor supported text formatting (bold, italics) and page numbering. According to Ballard, "Coming from an IBM electric typewriter, I was thrilled with the features and power the QX-10/VALDOCS system offered. I created separate 'chapter' files with 20 to 30 pages each and did not suffer the data loss and frustrations noted herein." For its time, the hardware was state of the art, supporting vector graphics on a 640×480 monochrome monitor.
- Inside Track, By John C. Dvorack, Page 80, InfoWorld, 29 Oct 1984, ...from his days at the defunct S-100 firm Technical Design Labs: Roger Amidon and ... Amidon apparently had much to do with the QX-10's hardware design...
- Zussman, John Unger; Zussman, Patti Peters (1983-07-11). "QX-10 computer and VALDOCS from Epson America". InfoWorld. p. 60. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Pournelle, Jerry (June 1983). "Zenith Z-100, Epson QX-10, Software Licensing, and the Software Piracy Problem". BYTE. p. 411. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Pournelle, Jerry (August 1983). "Epson QX-10, Zenith Z-29, CP/M-68K, and More". BYTE. p. 434. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Pournelle, Jerry (January 1984). "Too Many Leads, or What in *;?!#"*? Goes First?". BYTE. p. 61. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Piczko, Joseph (1984-04-09). "In disagreement (letter)". InfoWorld. p. 6. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Edelson, Roger H. (June 1984). "Epson QX-10; the friendliest computer around". Creative Computing. p. 14. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Lombardi, John (1985-09-09). "Epson Offers The QX-16: A Sophisticated Microcomputer". InfoWorld. p. 47. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Pournelle, Jerry (September 1985). "PCs, Peripherals, Programs, and People". BYTE. p. 347. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Valdocs Programming Manual contains a chapter on the theory and philosophy of HASCI
- Roger Amidon's QX-10 support Page
- QX-10 User Manual from Epson
- Obsolete Computer Museum Entry
- AtariArchives - Test Driving the QX-10
- Yet another computer museum
- Why someone chose a QX-10 over an IBM PC
- Roger Amidon resume, showing the link between TDL, TPM, CDL, QX-10, Rising Star