It recently came to me that probably 95% of the people who buy computers
today will never learn what goes on inside them. This is not their fault,
it is a reflection of our changing attitude to technology.
Today’s computer user doesn’t have the choice that we had in the past. None of the current computers can be easily programmed in their native machine code. Early home computers all had relatively simple machine code access and didn’t have to worry about segmented memory or different processor modes. This made low level programming very accessible and many users preferred it to the high level languages.
The rot sets in with the introduction of macro assemblers and gets worse through BASIC, Pascal, C, Visual Anything or whatever your favourite programming poison is. The end result is that the true workings of computers become as hidden as the workings of a TV set. This is a pity, as low level programming is not really a difficult task, it just appears that way.
Eventually even the most advanced home computer user only learns high level programming because that is all that is necessary to write spreadsheet or word processor macros.
About 40 years ago a small firm calling themselves Nascom Microcomputers produced a computer kit known as the Nascom-1. It introduced computer hardware, machine code and assembler programming to a lot of people throughout europe. I would like to introduce this ancient machine and its close relatives to you.
Firstly, If you were ever associated with Nascom, Gemini or the Nascom section of Lucas Logic and have comments to make – or you would just like a chat about Nascom or Gemini systems – please feel free to email me (see the Feedback page). I will try to reply to everyone.
I was, and still am to some extent, somewhat of a fan of the NASCOM computers. They, particularly the NASCOM-1, had a simplicity that I didn’t appreciate at the time. This is why I still think that they are superb as educational tools. You can follow the logic of all the computer from the CPU through to the video without large unknown ICs getting in the way. Likewise the monitor listings were supplied so even the operating system is visible.
The NASCOM-1 appeared at a time that computers were only available as imports at very high prices indeed (early 1978). Its selling price was under 200 UKP but you still needed a power supply, cassette recorder & TV. The cheapest American computers cost over three times as much in the UK. As a guide, the Commodore PET appeared later in the year (complete with calculator-style keyboard, built-in cassette recorder & 9in monitor) and sold for about 1000 UKP and the Research Machines 380Z cost about 1400 UKP for the 32k model. I bought my NASCOM-1 on the 12th of March 1979 if a scribbled note on the cover of INMC NEWS issue 1 is to be believed (it sounds about right)!
If some of the pages on this web site seem a little technical then I’m sorry. At the time these computers were around they were used (and often built) by enthusiasts. It’s difficult to convey a bit of that enthusiasm without getting technical now and again – even after all these years!
I’ve just (Nov 2016) added the circuit diagram for the Nascom test board, a new circuit diagram for the Hobbit tape drive and the maintenance manual for the Philips unit used in it. I intend adding a little more to the Hobbit drawing.