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NAME  

Micro 440

MANUFACTURER

Comp-Sultants, Inc.

TYPE

Home Computer

ORIGIN

U.S.A.

YEAR

December 1975

BUILT-IN LANGUAGE

None

KEYBOARD

22 switches on the front panel

CPU

Intel 4040

SPEED

0.5 MHz

COPROCESSOR

None

RAM

256 Bytes (8KB max)

ROM

None

TEXT MODES

No display interface

SOUND

No Sound Interface

I/O PORTS

1 I/O port and TTY interface

BUILT-IN MEDIA

None

POWER SUPPLY

Built-in Power Supply

PRICE

$275 for a partial kit, $375 assembled

 

Micro 440

Comp-Sultantsí Micro 440 might have been first 4040-based kit. An entry-level system for hobbyists, its processor had only a 4-bit word length, as opposed to the Intel 8080 8-bit length, so the system was limited even by the dayís standards. Partial kits were sold, so itís possible to find Micro 440 components in other home-made systems.

Having very limited capabilities, Micro 440 had a tuff time competing agains other "more powerfull" 8-bit systems. In 1976 Comp-Sultants dropped the prices for the kit. Microcomputer Digest,Vol 2, #7 Jan, 1976 placed a following add:

"$90 4-BIT MICROCOMPUTER KIT Comp-Sultants, Inc. is now offering their MICRO 440 4-bit computer kit (PC board, Intel 4040, clock interface, 256 bytes of RAM and an 87 page manual) for only $90 in single units; $75 in quantities greater than ten. All other parts needed to complete the microcomputer kit are standard and can be purchased elsewhere. The PC boards are early-run versions without plate-through holes. This represents a significant savings in cost, at the expense of having to solder the components on both sides. For an additional $20, Comp-Sultants will throw in the major components of the power supply/TTY interface (PC board, transformer, and regulators)."

However, the price reduction did not help and Comp-Sultants went out of business a year later. Only about 10 kits were sold out of 200 built.

Jack Crenshaw, formerly a columnist for Embedded Systems Design magazine shared some interesting details about the company and Micro 440:

"In 1975 I was manager of Comp-Sultants, Inc., in Huntsville, AL. We sold the Micro 440 computer, based on the 4040 chip. To my knowledge, it was one of the very first computer kits after the Altair 8800, which I had bought before joining the company. Comp-Sultants was pretty much a financial disaster. We sold quite a few to various universities, etc., and the computer was featured in a Radio-Electronics article, but it never caught on. The problem wasn't its limited memory. MITS also supplied the Altair with the base 256-byte RAM. Our problems were more about quality control and marketing. We just fundamentally misjudged the market. We thought we'd sell a bunch of the computers because we could price them lower than the Altair. But cheap wasn't what the public wanted. What they wanted was a Cray-1 they could afford.

In 1976 I went to the Computer Faire in Philadelphia, and was completely blown away. In a single year, the hobby computer had gone from the 256-byte RAM of the Altair and Micro-440, to a host of products with 64K of RAM, dual floppies, CRT terminals, cassette interface, and exotic stuff like the Cromemco color graphics card. DRI already had their CP/M operating system, and people were all wanting business software like the Peachtree accounting package.

Actually, Comp-Sultants had never intended to be about personal computers (though we sure wanted to get on the gravy train). President Paul Bloom had started it to capitalize on the use of microprocessors in industrial automation. At the time I joined the company, he had two contracts. The first was for a 4040-based controller for a gigantic cold-forge machine. The second was a software project for Scientific Atlanta, to control a satellite tracking antenna. I did the software for that one. We delivered that project on schedule and budget, so it was a great success.

Not so the cold-forge controller, which was a disaster. Basically, the problem was that Paul had hired a grad student from U. Ala. at Huntsville (UAH) to write the software. He went to the head of the CompSci department, and said "I want to hire your best grad student." Now, Tim may have been a great student of CompSci, but he was a _TERRIBLE_ programmer, didn't know anything at all about hardware and bits and bytes, and could never manage to write software that worked. Worse yet, we had no way of testing the software, except to burn the code into ROM chips, drive them up to the customer's site in Nashville, and plug them in.

Now, a cold-forge machine is a scary thing. There are multi-horsepower motors driving 5000-psi hydraulics. If the software does the wrong thing, valves get slammed shut at the wrong times, and the "water-hammer" effect would break steel and split hoses. At 5000 psi, a pinhole leak will cut right through you, so when Tim's software failed, not only would it break the $500,000 machine; it had guys diving under trucks and out of windows to avoid danger. During this time, Paul was on permanent assignment on the Scientific Atlanta project. As manager, it was my job to handle the irate phone calls from Nashville. Finally, in desperation, I fired Tim, took over the project, and delivered working software in two weeks. But it was already too late. We had defaulted on the contract, so the customer got his software for free. That was one of the main reasons the company went belly up."


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