History: Lixco L/B881, the first Romanian commercial microcomputer
November 14, 2010 2 Comments
It was back in the early eighties. Launched in 1977, Apple II became one of the most recognizable and successful computers during the 1980s. In Europe, in 1980, a Cambridge based company, later to be known as Sinclair Research, started to sell, in kit or as ready built, the Zilog Z80 based Sinclair ZX80. In 1981 it was followed by ZX81 and, in 1982, by the highly successful ZX Spectrum.
In communist Romania all these great toys could be seen only in the pages of the few magazines smuggled through the iron curtain. Worse, due to export restrictions, some complex integrated circuits were simply banned for export in the communist countries.
However, during these difficult years, a group of enthusiasts, self named Lixco (after the nickname of Nicoară “Lix” Paulian, the team leader) designed, manufactured and sold, in kit or as ready built, their own version of a microprocomputer, the L/B881.
Based on the already classic Intel 8080, the single board computer included a display controller, a keyboard and a cassette tape interface. Memory was split between 48 KB of RAM and 16 KB of EPROM.
Interesting enough, the components used in the design were carefully selected from the available ones at that time, i.e. most of them were russian and romanian clones of the Intel parts.
As with any such microcomputer, regardless how nice the board looks like, the value of the whole is mainly based on the available software.
As system software, my personal contributions to the product were:
– OS/8, a quite powerful 8-bit micro operating system (written in C!),
– TOLINE, an editor/assembler,
– a complete BASIC interpreter, with lots of powerful/fancy commands (including PLAY, a music playing command, although the audio output was a basic PWM digital port!)
The design was flexible enough, allowing us to later add an Intel 8271 floppy disk controller, and two 8″ (huge by today standards) floppy units. And so, after I wrote my first CP/M BIOS, our cassette tape computer joined the upper league of the disk based computers, running the successful CP/M.
The product was initially sold to HAM radio operators, most of them already Lixco customers, having bought the highly successful A412 transceiver.
In product was followed by a second version, based on Z80 and higher density chips, that also entered commercial production at CCAB, as a CP/M microcomputer and later as a telex machine.