I've been a vintage/retro computer enthusiast for a long time now and thought that I had a pretty good handle on all of the machines available in the 60s and 70s. So imagine my surprise when I saw the Kristina Panos February 23, 2022 blog post: INPUTS OF INTEREST: CANADIAN MCM/70 WAS KINDA LIKE THE FIRST CYBERDECK.
Wow. Mind blown. Here was a beautiful Canadian built personal computer from the mid 70s that I had no idea existed. As I read Kristina's post I became more and more intrigued. The MCM/70 was conceived by professor Mers Kutt of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and was manufactured in Kingston. The company he formed to build the devices, Micro Computer Machines (MCM), was located in Toronto, Ontario. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, so all of this took place in my own back yard so to speak. Adding to that there was a ‘devastating power struggle’ between Kutt and some of MCM’s investors that in part ultimately lead to the demise of the company. Well I was hooked. Had to know more, had to have one.
Based on the Intel 8008 microprocessor the MCM/70 had 32KB of ROM and up to 8KB of RAM. For output it used a Burroughs Self-Scan module, a 222 column by 7 row dot matrix display, capable of showing 32 5x7 dot characters at a time. Because the MCM/70 supported APL out of the box, the keyboard was based on the IBM 2741 layout. Finally up to two cassette decks were used for offline storage and to implement virtual memory.
The MCM/70's operating system consisted of two modules EASY (External Allocation SYstem), and AVS (A Virtual System) which were built into the ROM. These allowed the user to directly interact with the machine. In addition the ROM contained an MCM/APL interpreter. From cassette, APL application libraries could be loaded for finance, mathematics, statistics, education, and games. There was also printer and plotter support software.
Kristina's blog post was a good place to start learning about the MCM/70. It's a great summary of the origin of the machine, what it was, and its ultimate fate. I would encourage anyone with an interest in the MCM/70 to start there as I did.
For a more in depth look, the blog post references the book Inventing the PC: the MCM/70 Story by Zbigniew Stachniak. I purchased the book and really enjoyed it. A lot of the book is about the history of the company Micro Computer Machines which I found fascinating. More importantly, towards my goal of making an MCM/70, the book talks a lot about the design of the machine and provides insights into what ultimately led to that design some of which were technical, some practical, and some political.
After doing a little more digging I discovered that The York University Computer Museum (YUCoM) has an MCM/70 on display. York University is only about 110 kilometers from where I live, about a hour and a half's drive away. Cool. I also learned that the YUCoM has developed a historically accurate software emulator for the MCM/70 and is offering it free to anyone who requests it. So naturally I requested it through an online contact form and who should answer that request, Zbigniew Stachniak the author of Inventing the PC: the MCM/70 Story who also happens to be the curator of YUCoM. Small world. I hope to visit the museum in the near future now that COVID protocols are being relaxed.
I did some more in depth research into the MCM/70's display and keyboard as these would definitely be the "hard parts" to reproduce. I'll detail my findings in future posts, but I'll say for now that after that research I was convinced that the MCM/70 Reproduction project was feasible, and that I would be happy with the result. So let the fun begin.