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Process Computer Systems, Inc.


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  Process Computer Systems, Inc. by Bill Degnan - 03/07/2016 17:32
The Bennett Computerized Marketing System was among the early point of sale systems with an integrated microprocessor. PCS apparently made the computer board as a subcontractor or partner in the project. The Bennett brochure cover photo above shows the Computerized Marketing System installed into a gas pump with back-end control terminal. Click image for larger view.

Prior to the introduction of microprocessors "point of sale terminals" such as gas pumps were either electro-mechanical teletype-like devices or if there was "computing" it would have been done by batch process, remotely. I am not sure which microprocessor was used in the Bennett, but I'd guess it was an Intel 8080 or maybe an 8008 because that's what PCS was using at the time for its other systems. Read more about early micorprocessors

Here is a view of the F8 micro base electronic gas dispenser card. The F8 allowed 2 chip (cup and ROM/RAM/IO micro system. Notice embedded microprocessor. Click image for larger view.

This is a merged photo of the front and back covers of the Process Computer Systems Products and Services Brochure, with the Superpac 180 model displayed. Click image for larger view.

I first wrote about PCS in my Fall 2009 edition of the web site (MITS Altair issue). I found an article by Robert M. Grossman, Associate Editor of EDN Microprocessor Design Series Volume II titled µC Systems Directory: where have all the µP's gone?. NOTE: µC = "microcomputer" and µP = "microprocessor".

Mentioned in the EDN article was the Process Computer Systems MicoPac 80.
Intrigued to learn more about the lesser-known microcomputers from 1974-1975 I spent some time doing a little research. I learned that there was a parallel revolution in the industrial use of embedded microprocessors at the same time the Altair and RCA COSMAC were being sold as general-purpose microcomputer systems.

I was able to locate and speak with the original lead engineer of the MicroPac 80 computer, Rick Barnich. He shared about the story of the MicroPac 80 and told also about Process Computer Systems, other systems, and how it eventually became Xycom.

Cropped photo of the Process Computer Systems MicroPac 80 Microcomputer from the product brochure. This image shows the first version of the MicroPac 80 computer first sold in 1974. The processor was "8080 no A". Click image to see entire page.

Here is a picture of the MicroPac 80/A. This computer replaced the 80 "no /A" and continued to sell through 1979. Click image to see entire page.

Although little is commonly known about the MicroPac 80 today, it is historic and should be recognized. The MicroPac80 was the first commercial computer to use the Intel 8080 microprocessor as the CPU, pre-dating the MITS Altair 8800. According to Rick, the MicroPac was originally designed and built to be used as a front panel interface for technicians to use with the HP 2000 series, DEC PDP, and Data General minicomputers. As a front panel-only device the the minicomputer would provide the CPU capabilities. Rick and his team realized that their MicroPac could instead be used as a stand-alone microcomputer if they had an appropriate microprocessor to install inside it. Process Computer made arrangements with Intel to get one of the new prototype S910 microprocessors to experiment with. The plan was to use the S910 in the MicroPac as the CPU, and then they would also design I/O and RAM boards so that their system could run as a stand-alone microcomputer.

By December of 1973 Rick and his team finished their new MicroPac 80, and in January 1974 the S910 arrived. After minor adjustments to compensate for voltage differences, Rick and his team finished the MicroPac 80. The system was fully functional, had a front panel, and used a teletype for I/O and storage. What's significant here is that the MicroPac 80 was launched with a prototype chip at least 3 months before Intel announced their new microprocessor, by then called the 8080, in April/May of 1974. Rick still has the original prototype 8080 CPU.

The Computer History Museum has an oral history about the 8080 which is in line with Rick Barnich's story.

Rich sent me a CD with a lot of PCS brochures, and since I first learned about PCS I had also obtained a number of additional printed brochures from other sources. I will post more as they are scanned.

Models include:
MicroPac 80/A
MicroPac 180
SuperPac 180
PCS 1810 single board computer
SuperPac 280 (and related items)
SuperPac 380 (and related items)

This was a serious company in the industrial microcomputer market!

In addition to the Bennett Pump, MicroPac 80, MicroPac 180 and the SuperPac 180, there
was a full line of accessories, and peripherals. Start with this Product Brochure and then visit the PCS directory to download the latest scans.



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