Synertek VIM-1 (1978, later SYM-1)
|Also known as||VIM-1|
|Manufacturer||Synertek Systems Corp|
|Type||single board "trainer" computer|
|Release date||circa 1975|
|Introductory price||US$238 (equivalent to $1,059 in 2016)|
|Operating system||Supermon monitor|
|CPU||Synertek 6502 @ 1MHz|
|Memory||1 KB RAM (expandable to 4 KB on board), 4 KB ROM|
|Display||6 digit LED display|
|Input||29 'sensitive' keys, Serial RS232, 51 I/O lines connector|
|Power||External 5V - 1.5A power supply unit|
|Dimensions||10.75 inch x 8.25 inch x 0.5 inch|
The SYM-1 was a single board "trainer" computer produced by Synertek Systems Corp in 1975. It was designed by Ray Holt who also designed the first microprocessor chip set used in the CADC for the F-14 Tomcat. Originally called the VIM-1 (Versatile Input Monitor), that name was later changed to SYM-1.
The SYM-1 was a competitor to the popular MOS Technology KIM-1 system, with which it was compatible to a large extent. Compared to the KIM-1, enhancements included the ability to run on a single +5 volt power supply, an enhanced monitor ROM, three configurable ROM/EPROM sockets, RAM expandable on board to 4 kB, an RS-232 serial port, and a "high speed" (185 bytes/second, the KIM-1 supported about 8 bytes/second) audio cassette storage interface. It also featured on-board buffer circuits to ease interfacing to "high voltage or high current" devices.
One rather distinctive capability of the SYM-1 was its ability to allow an oscilloscope to be added to provide a 32 character display under software control. As explained in Chapter 7 of the "SYM Reference Manual", the vertical input, ground and trigger input of the oscilloscope were to be connected to the "Scope Out" connector AA on the SYM-1 board. The "Oscilloscope Output Driver Software" code provided in this chapter of the manual was to be entered into the SYM-1's memory and executed to enable the oscilloscope display. This code provided control of the oscilloscope display, as well as a rudimentary character set. Resistors R42 and R45 were to be adjusted to refine the displayed image.
Synertek sold ROMs which could be installed to add the BASIC programming language or a Resident Assembler/Editor (RAE). Synertek contracted with a company called Eastern House Software to port their Macro Assembler/Editor (MAE) into an 8 kB ROM. The author of MAE, RAE, and another version sold by Skyles Electric Works was Carl Moser. MAE was sold in various forms not only for the SYM-1 but also for other 6502-based computers including Commodore, Atari, KIM, and Apple. Other forms of MAE included a cross assembler for 6800 and 8085—and an offering of these cross assemblers was planned for RAE.
One of the more subtle features of the SYM-1 was the use of a look up table in the low memory of the 6502. This provided a vectoring function in its operating system to redirect subroutine calls to various input and output drivers, including interrupt servicing. Users were able to develop their own interface routines, and substitute new vectors for the original vectors in the startup UV-EPROM. This seamlessly maintained the normal operation of the board's monitor and languages such as Synertek Systems BASIC. One of the later home/education computers that used this concept extensively was the BBC Micro produced by Acorn Computers in the UK. Some of the other computer designers of this era failed to grasp the significance of this elegant use of vectors to the software mapping of new developments in hardware.
- Technical details taken from SYM Reference Manual (PDF). Synertek Systems Corp. August 1978.
- Slide 13, PowerPoint - World's First Microprocessor, Ray Holt, Bonnie Sullivan, programmer for SYM-1: “I worked on the software for the SYM-1 project, and I can add some details. The software was written by Nelson Edwards and students in Walla Walla. They hand-assembled the 6502 code. There was an option to have the SYM-1 with Microsoft Basic. Bill Gates himself came to see us and provided the Basic. He was arrogant, baby-faced, and he wrote buggy code, then refused to believe that it didn't work. I think he assembled it with macros in a PDP-10 assembler. We would provide him with hardware specs, he would customize Basic, send us the code, we would burn an EPROM, and it wouldn't work. "That's impossible!", he would say, despite the fact that he didn't have the hardware, so he hadn't tested it.
- Synertek SYM1, OLD-COMPUTERS.COM Museum, Ray Holt, the designer of the SYM card, sent us this note: Hi, I was the designer of the SYM and JOLT in 1974-78. The JOLT sold about 5000 units worldwide and the SYM sold 50,000. Today the Super Jolt, an enhanced version, is still in manufacturing and is being use in an audio tester for the deft. The SYM is still in operation at the Navy lab in San Diego in the Robart robot. http://www.spawar.navy.mil/robots/land/robart/robart.html My earlier microprocessor design for the F14 fightjet can be viewed at: http://www.microcomputerhistory.com Regards, Ray