Absolutely Everything About The Coleco Adam, 8-bit Home Computer

[Thom Cherryhomes] shared with us an incredible resource for anyone curious about the Coleco Adam, one of the big might-have-been home computers of the 80s. There’s a monstrous 4-hour deep dive video (see the video description for a comprehensive chapter index) that makes a fantastic reference for anyone wanting to see the Coleco Adam and all of its features in action, in the context of 8-bit home computing in the 80s.

[Image by Akbkuku, CC BY 4.0]
The Adam aimed to be an all-in-one computer package, targeting a family audience for both education and gaming purposes, with a price target around $600, a pretty compelling pitch.

The video is a serious in-depth look at the Adam, providing practical demonstrations of everything in various scenarios. This includes showcasing commercials from the period, detailing the system’s specs and history, explaining the Adam’s appeal, discussing specific features, comparing advertisement promises to real costs, and giving a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the system. All of the talk notes are available as well, providing a great companion to the chapter index.

Manufactured by the same Coleco responsible for the ColecoVision gaming console, the Adam had great specs, a great price, and a compelling array of features. Sadly, it was let down badly at launch and Coleco never recovered. However, the Adam remains of interest in the retrocomputing scene and we’ve even seen more than one effort to convert the Adam’s keyboard to USB.

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Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Duplex Typewriter

The Coleco Adam? A not-so-great home computer that likely contributed to the downfall of the company. The keyboard, however, is a different story, and worth repurposing.

[Nick Bild] has created a USB adapter that uses a Teensy 4.1 and an RJ-12 breakout board. Now this wasn’t just a simple matrix to decode. No, the fine folks at Coleco rolled their own communications protocol called AdamNet.

The keyboard uses an RJ-12 connector and a single data line to communicate over a 62.5 kbit/s, half-duplex serial bus. Inside the keyboard is a Motorola 6801 that caches the key presses and sends them to the computer. So the BOM is limited to what you see above — an RJ-12 breakout and a Teensy 4.1. It’s great to see old keyboards come alive again, especially one with such cool sci-fi keycaps. Want to hear it clack? Of course you do.

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Brand New Colecovision Console – On A Breadboard

The Colecovision console from the early 1980s is probably not the most memorable platform of its era, but it retains a retrocomputing following to this day. The original hardware can be a bit pricey in 2023, so [nanochess] has built one of his own on a breadboard. It’s fully functional from original Colecovision cartridges, and we see it in the video below the break running Frogger.

Behind the mess of wires is a surprisingly simple circuit with only a few logic chips beyond the Z80 processor, the various memory and EPROM chips, and the video and sound chips. We’re told the complexity is considerably reduced by the use of a Texas Instruments¬† TMS9118 video controller instead of a 9918.

Had we been building it we would probably have taken the less brave step of using color coded wires for the various signals, because we remember the fun and games associated with wiring old-style 8-bit computers by hand only too well. But we have to admit that it reminds us of a lost youth working out Z80 address decoder schematics, so it’s very pleasing to see one built today.

If you’re hungry for more Coleco goodness, this isn’t the first home made Colecovision we’ve brought you.

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Resurrecting PONG, One Jumper Wire At A Time

Between 1976 and 1978, over one million Coleco Telstar video game consoles were sold. The Killer App that made them so desirable? PONG. Yep, those two paddles bouncing a ball around a blocky tennis court were all the rage and helped usher in a new era. And as [Dave] of Dave’s Garage shows us in the video below the break, the bringing the old console back to life proved simpler than expected!

Thankfully, the console is built around what [Dave] quite aptly calls “PONG on a chip”, the General Instrument AY-3-8500 which was designed to make mass production of consoles possible. The chip actually contains several games, although PONG was the only one in use on the Coleco.

After removing the CPU from the non-functional console, [Dave] breathed life into it by providing a 2 MHz clock signal that was generated by an Arduino, of all things. A typical 2N2222 amplifies the audio, and a quick power up showed that the chip was working and generating audio.

Video is smartly taken care of just as it was in the original design, by combining various signals with a 4072 OR gate. With various video elements and synchronization patterns combined into a composite video signal, [Dave] was able to see the game on screen, but then realized that he’d need to design some “paddles”. We’ll leave that up to you to watch in the video, but make sure to check the comments section for more information on the design.

Is a breadboarded PONG console not retro enough for you? Then check out this old school mechanical version that was found languishing in a thrift store.

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(Re)Making A ColecoVision

[Leaded Solder] found some ColecoVision game cartridges at a flea market, and like most of us would, thought, “I’ll build a ColecoVision console from scratch to play them!” Well, maybe most of us would think of that, but not actually do it. He did and you can read about the results in great detail since he wrote up two posts, one covering the design and one covering the construction.

The ColecoVision was a game console that famously could be expanded into a nice — for its day — personal computer. It even had a daisy wheel printer in that configuration. However, in either configuration, the game console was the brains of the operation. According to [Leaded Solder] the price of a unit in working order is high even though over 2 million were made because of several design problems that make them less likely to survive the decades. Rather than repair and modify an original unit, it was cheaper and much more educational to build new.

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Coleco In Spat With ColecoVision Community

If you were a child of the late 1970s or early 1980s, the chances are that your number one desire was to own a games console. The one to have was the Atari 2600, notwithstanding that dreadful E.T. game.

Of course, there were other consoles during that era. One of these also-ran products came from Coleco, a company that had started in the leather business but by the mid 1970s had diversified into handheld single-game consoles. Their ColecoVision console of 1982 sold well initially, but suffered badly in the video game crash of 1983. By 1985 it was gone, and though Coleco went on to have further success, by the end of the decade they too had faded away.

The Coleco story was not over though, because in 2005 the brand was relaunched by a successor company. Initially it appeared on an all-in-one retro console, and then on an abortive attempt to crowdfund a new console, the Coleco Chameleon. This campaign came to a halt after the Chameleon¬†prototypes were shown to be not quite what they seemed by eagle-eyed onlookers. Continue reading “Coleco In Spat With ColecoVision Community”