The story of the Mindset computer actually
starts in 1984. But for us here in the Dallas area, it sort of starts around May of 2019.
Many of you have probably seen LGR’s video about the Computer Reset warehouse, which
is a place that’s almost like going on an archeologic expedition, only instead of looking
for bones, you’re looking for vintage electronics. Well, even before LGR filmed that, another
YouTuber and good friend of mine, TXDj had filmed a video exploring the depths of this
place and posted the video online. Even though all of us here in the Dallas area, including
myself, had already been to this place many times, there is just no way to see or notice
everything. Plus, things get moved around, and new stuff is uncovered. So, many of us
watched this 30 minute long video by TXDj just to listen to his commentary and look
for neat stuff that we hadn’t seen while there in person. And sure enough, another
local YouTuber, The Obsolete Geek, was watching and noticed an unusual computer in DJ’s
video. He practically couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the Mindset. He had been looking
for one of these for years and never able to find one. And there is was, literally just
sitting upside-down on a pile of junk. So, he immediately called DJ and asked him
to pick up the computer for him, which he did. Unfortunately, it was only the computer
and not the keyboard. And since the keyboard on this computer is proprietary, it’s pretty
important that that be found. So, he emailed our local group and asked anybody who happened
to be visiting Computer Reset, that if they happened to stumble across the Mindset keyboard,
he’d pay them $100 for it. And sure enough, about a week later, somebody was rummaging
through a box of unrelated stuff in an unrelated part of the building and sure enough found
the Mindset keyboard. And then about a week after that, the mouse and joystick turned
up. And so now he has the complete setup, which is good because he’s loaned it to
me and now I can make this video for you guys. And, I think you’re going to find this computer
really interesting, so stick around! So, let’s take a closer look at the Mindset.
Considering this came out in 1984, it has a much more modern look than any IBM compatible
desktop computer of the era, being made of nice curved plastic instead of painted metal.
The keyboard also has a very modern appearance for 1984. Believe it not, this top section
with the disk drives actually comes completely off. In fact, it was considered an optional
accessory. So, presumably, this port would have had some kind of snap on plastic cover
for those that didn’t have the disk drive module. Also, believe it or not, this disk
drive module is more than it appears as well. It actually contains an additional 128K of
RAM for the system, as well as 3 expansion ports in the rear. But, you might be wondering
how you would use this computer in 1984 without disk drives. Well, I will show you that too.
If you rotate this knob on the left, it will unlock these two cartridge ports on the front.
As you can see, these are typical ROM cartridges of the era, only these here are just cosmetic
blanks. There’s nothing inside. But, they did offer a cartridge with GW-BASIC on it,
which means the computer would have booted to BASIC immediately on power up. And since
it has two slots, similar to the IBM PCjr or the Atari 800, the idea would have been
to have different application ROMs that worked together. Although, much like the PCJr and
Atari 800, this never really happened. And, as you an see, when I lock this back, the
cartridges will not come out. OK, let’s mount the drive section back on
top, it actually glides in really easily. OK, now let’s take a look at the rear of
this thing. These 3 areas are the main expansion slots. And these cartridges are actually very
much the equivalent of an ISA card like you might find on an IBM PC or clone of the era.
This particular one is a stereo audio card. And the way this thing works is that the left
audio comes from the main unit down here. And if you have this module then it becomes
the right channel. However, I don’t think there is any software that uses it. Over here
we have what looks like a parallel port card. And sure enough, they call it a printer module.
I really like this setup as it is so much easier to insert and remove cards than a traditional
IBM PC. No need to take the computer apart, no need to remove any screws or anything. Now, what we have here is composite video
output and RF output for a television. Now, what we have over here is a little more complicated
to explain. There is also an RGB video port, this is compatible with any regular CGA monitor.
And then over here is external sync and they also have an auxiliary in and out. The purpose
of this is for video production. So, if you have two video signals that you want to mix
together, for example, something as simple as overlaying some text onto an advertisement
or something, this would be difficult to do in realtime because the two different video
signals would be out of sync with each other. So, this works like the genlock on an Amiga
so that the computer will sync its video signal with an external source, thus aligning the
two signals so that one can be overlaid onto the other. One thing you probably haven’t seen on the
computer so far is a power switch. Believe it or not, it’s on the back of the keyboard.
And unlike most soft-power solutions, it’s an actual rocker switch. But wait, there’s
more. Notice that on each side of the keyboard you’ll find a 15-pin Dsub connector. And,
if you are thinking that looks like a PC joystick connector, you would be right. In fact, here’s
really rare item. It’s a Mindset joystick. It has two buttons, and it is does have analog
movement in all directions. The cable is not very long, but since it doesn’t have to
reach around the back of the computer, it doesn’t need to be very long. And so that
plugs in right there, like so. There are other peripherals besides a joystick. For example,
they have a special mouse. And believe it or not, it has a ball of steel, which is quite
interesting. This mouse is also extremely heavy as far as computer mice go. And it has
the same connector. Also available for these ports was a touch tablet for drawing, and
a video fader switch for video editing. OK, so now I’m going to connect up a CGA
monitor. Now, this particular monitor is just a Tandy monitor for the Tandy 1000. It’s
just a generic CGA monitor, and any CGA monitor should work fine. Now, the thing is, a lot
of people associate CGA with only having 4 color graphics. But, that’s actually not
a limitation of the monitor, that’s usually a limitation of the CGA card. That’s why
the Tandy machines were able to display full 16 color graphics on these monitors. The mindset
can also display a full 16 colors on a CGA monitor. Interestingly enough, the documentation
for the Mindset says that it can display 512 colors, which the CGA monitor is not capable
of doing. I don’t know where the rest of the colors come from. I have a suspicion,
that this computer does have a composite output. And maybe, the 512 colors is only available
on composite. I really don’t know. I haven’t been able to find a good answer for that.
But for the time being, let’s hook up the CGA monitor here and see what we can do. When you power on the Mindset, it shows this
logo on the screen. Which, is actually cooler than just about any computer from 1984. If
you insert an MS-DOS disk, it will boot to DOS. On the surface it would appear to be
just another IBM PC clone. But the MindSet is very different. For starters, it uses an
Intel 80186 processor. That alone makes this computer very unique as there were very few
desktop computers that ever used this chip. The only other one I can think of was the
Tandy 2000. The Mindset sold for a base price of $1,099
with just the base unit and 64K of RAM. Apparently for $1,799 you could get twice the RAM and
a single floppy drive. However, I haven’t been able to find any photos of what a single
floppy configuration would look like. And, for $2,399 you could get the 256K version
with dual floppies, which is what I have here. The keyboard is pretty normal, but I want
to show you these two keys. One is sysconfig and the other is reset. The way these work
is if you hold down the ALT key, and press sysconfig, you’ll get this screen here.
And one of the things you can do is select TV or Monitor, and that will change the color
palette for that mode. So, we’ll leave it on monitor for now. Over here you can turn
the Beeper speaker on or off. Oh and this is neat. You can adjust the screen position
here with the cursor keys. When you are done, you can reset the computer with alt-reset. The Mindset will boot MS-DOS, but it was not
entirely IBM compatible. This was probably one of the reasons it failed in the marketplace.
According to this article in Infoworld, the company had verified it to work with 60 off
the shelf software titles. The magazine listed a lot of them here, but as you can see, most
of these programs are text-based business applications. Virtually no existing games
would work on the MindSet. As an experiment, I tried Planet X3 since it will run on a 256K
system. It appears to start, and I can pick CGA graphics, and PC speaker sound, but then
it goes to this blank screen and the whole computer locks up. So, let’s take a look at some programs that
do actually work. So, apparently all Mindset computers come with GWBASIC, whether on a
cartridge or disk. The one I have here came with a disk version. So, let’s try it out. Listing the directory here, I can see there
are a few example programs. So, I’ll be sure to try those out here. Allright, here is GWBASIC, which looks pretty
normal compared to other IBM compatibles. I’m going to load the sample program called
Saturn. Listing it, I notice they are using a lot of graphics commands. Let’s run it!
What is happening here is they are pre-rendering a rotating planet. You’ll see why shortly.
And there we go. Now, what they are doing here, I’m pretty darned sure could not be
done with BASIC on a regular IBM compatible at the time. They are using some of the hardware
accelerated video features of the computer to do this. In fact, I’m about to press
control-C to stop the BASIC program, and I want you to watch what happens. Yep, I’ll show that again in slow motion.
The program is stopped, yet the sprite keeps moving. Proof, if any be needed, that this
is definitely using hardware acceleration. Now I’m going to load another program. This
one is JSBACH, which I suspect is a musical demonstration. And, when I list it I see a
lot of play commands with notes, which confirms that it is a music demo. Well, lets try it
out. OK, nothing terribly exciting here. It only
uses a single voice and doesn’t sound much any better than this would on a regular PC
speaker. So, nothing to see here, moving along. There is another program on the disk called
AT. Not sure what that means. Admittedly, I have no idea what is going on
here. They’ve created a pac-man figure doing weird things. That’s all I can tell you.
OK, enough of BASIC, let’s move on. This is Vyper. Its the only game ever made
for the Mindset, the best of my knowledge. You can at least hear that whatever sound
chip they are using does at least have more than one voice, but that’s about all I can
say for it. So here we go. I can use the joystick to fly
around this 3D world. There are a few things to take away from this game. First of all,
the game is terribly boring after about a minute of playing it. So, this game gets an
F for gameplay. But, I am very impressed with the graphics. You have to keep in mind that
this is running on a 6 Mhz computer that was designed in 1983 and sold in 1984. The only
reason it is able to play at this speed is because of the vector processor used in the
video chip. In fact, this may be the first personal computer ever to be sold with what
we would call a GPU these days. Also, here’s what it looks like on the CGA
monitor. The colors are much more saturated, which if anything is simply because the limited
palette on a CGA monitor is by its very nature extremely vivid colors. It’s kind of like
the difference between looking at games made for the Sinclair spectrum vs. the Commodore
64. At least from a palette perspective. And the last piece of software I am going
to show you is PC-Paintbrush. This version is designed for the Mindset. These are the
video modes it supports. Only one of these modes has 16 colors. So, we’ll pick that
one. OK, here we go. This looks pretty typical
for a paint program of the era. I’ll just play around here a bit. I’m definitely not
qualified to draw anything exciting. But you definitely have free reign with the 16 colors.
I don’t really understand the palette at the bottom of the screen since many of the
colors appear duplicated. So, what happened to the Mindset? Well, the
company barely sold any computers and went bankrupt the first year. It briefly saw some
use in the video production market, such as this video made for the US Army explaining
how computers work. What you are seeing here are Mindset graphics being overlaid onto of
an external video source. So, the floppy disk dude is generated by the Mindset, everything
else is from a separate video stream. This was accomplished using that video sync feature
that I talked about earlier. I think there were two major issues that killed
off the Mindset. And the first big one was the lack of compatibility with existing software.
Now, this was an easy mistake to make in 1984. In fact, Commodore made the same mistake when
they brought out their Plus/4 series in 1984 which also failed to get any market share
due to the lack of software compatibility. A lot of companies simply didn’t understand
the change that had occurred in the software market over the last two years. The software
market had grown substantially and suddenly compatibility with that existing software
was a more important purchasing decision for customers than to have fancy graphics or sound. According to this info world article, Mindset
officials decided that they already had most of the desirable software included, so they
froze the operating system’s read only memory and thus locked out perhaps 20% of the total
IBM PC software base. However, from what I can see, it was more like they locked out
95% of PC software, especially games. And games…. That was the second mistake.
I mean, yes, there was some small market for video production and things like that. But,
if you’re going to bring a computer to market in 1984 that has advanced graphics and sound,
the primary market for that graphics and sound is going to be games. And Mindset just completely
blew it on that one. There was only one game for the system and it wasn’t even any good.
OK, well, now it is time to take this thing apart and see what is inside. I will note, this isn’t the first time it’s
been taken apart. The Obsolete Geek took it apart when he first got it because the fan
was noisy. He compared it to the sound of a Vespa. So, he replaced the fan with a modern
one. Also, it blew a filter cap, which is pretty common for these old machines. OK, so I’m going to take the Mindset apart.
And, there’s something I wanted to mention right quick about it. So, if you look right
here, you’ll notice there’s a little bit more discolored plastic than the rest of the
computer. And yes, this whole computer could use a retrobrite job, but this isn’t mine
so I’m not going to do that to it. But yeah, you’ll notice it’s a little bit more yellowed
here and the reason is because the power supply in this thing runs all of the time. It has a soft power on the keyboard, just
like Macintosh computers do, but the power supply never goes into a deep sleep like those,
so it stays hot even when the computer is off. Before taking it apart, check out the serial
number. It is number 854. You might think this is a really early unit, but I don’t
think it was made long enough for any high serial numbers to exist. So, this is probably
pretty typical for the surviving machines. Anyway, let’s take it apart. Interesting, so it has like a riser card.
This goes directly to the motherboard, and there’s an identical connector here, which
the disk drive unit goes, so it passes the entire data bus straight through. In order to see the entire motherboard, I’ll
need to take front off as well. Well, I’ve got to admit, I don’t recognize
much of anything on this board. I’m about 95% sure this is the CPU, but even it is not
marked with anything recognizable other than it was made in Malaysia. I did at least get
a high resolution photo of the board. Taking a closer look. These two Intel chips
here are identical, other than date codes. They are both considered slave micro controllers.
If I had to guess, I’d say one of them is for communicating with the keyboard. The other
one could potentially work in conjunction with the video chip. If you remember where
I showed this program keeps running even after I stop the execution of the BASIC program,
perhaps one of these slave micro controllers was doing that job? Obviously this is the system ROM here on a
pair of EPROMs. And here is 32K of dynamic RAM. Moving over to this part of the board, my
guess is these two chips are for the enhanced video. And there is another 32K of RAM over
here. So that gives us the 64K base RAM of the system. Which means, all of the rest of
the RAM must be in the drive expansion unit. Of course, I didn’t expect to see any chips
on this board for disk drive controllers or anything, since I knew all of that would be
in the drive unit. But, what I was not able to locate was a recognizable sound chip. Now, I could be totally wrong about this.
But I did managed to locate a chip over here next to the micro controllers that is an 8-bit
digital-to-analog converter. Basically, this could be used to play digital audio samples.
It is also possible that one of these slave micro controllers is used to multiplex some
square wave voices together. Maybe that is where the music comes from on Vyper. Although,
the only music we ever hear happens during the title screen and nothing else is happening.
So, maybe the main CPU is used for that, and maybe that is why we only hear sound effects
during the game play? One possible way to get an answer would be
to open up this stereo sound module because I’m sure there would be a matching sound
chip inside this one. But I haven’t figured out how to take it apart without damaging
it and since it is so rare, I don’t want to risk it. So I guess the sound will remain
a mystery for now. There’s a few more interesting tidbits about
the Mindset I should mention. Bill Gates was working directly with Mindset
during the development of the very first version of Microsoft Windows. The Mindset was going
to use its hardware video acceleration to make Windows operate at much faster speeds
than other computers. Again, putting it way ahead of its time, as
we wouldn’t see this sort of hardware acceleration used in Windows for almost another decade
after. Also, there is a Mindset on display at the
Museum of Modern Art. And last, there is some credible evidence
that Jack Tramiel, the CEO of Commodore, may have tried to buy the Mindset company either
to bring it into the Commodore brand, or perhaps after he left left Commodore in 1984. He ended
up buying Atari instead. Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about this
rare, obscure computer that was very much ahead of its time, but just didn’t quite
make it in the market place for various reasons. So, as always, I encourage you to stick around
for the next episode and thanks for watching!