1984: Finally, An East German Home Computer
By James Grahame
In most of the world, the era of 8-bit computing was winding down in 1984, even though computers like the Commodore 64, Radio Shack CoCo and Apple IIe still dominated the home market. Things would change dramatically in the next year, with the introduction of machines such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga with their powerful Motorola processors, custom chipsets and svelte 3.5" floppy disk drives.
Things were much different in the German Democratic Republic. It would be another 5 years before the Berlin Wall crumbled, and the struggle to appear modern in a world of microprocessors and accelerating technology was getting harder with each passing month. The GDR has a burgeoning electronics industry, but the primary focus was the production of desktop machines destined for business use. Home computers were unheard of.
That's where the Robotron Z1013 comes in. Once you got past the rustic presentation, it was a reasonably powerful home or educational machine. The processor was initially a Z80 clone running at 1MHz, with a 2K ROM bootloader, 16K RAM, monochrome video output and a cassette tape interface for program storage.
There were a couple of gotchas, of course. Available as a DIY kit, this single board computer didn't include a real case and the horrific membrane keyboard was arranged alphabetically. Worse, a chronic shortage of microchips meant that the system used chips that had been rejected for use in commercial machines -- the Z80-compatible processor and memory were de-clocked from 2MHz to 1MHz, simply because they didn't function reliably at full speed.
The Z1013 was on the market for five years, but sales dried up with the collapse of the communist regime and the sudden availability of much more sophisticated machines from the west. Still, many brilliant German programmers learned to code on this machine before stepping to the forefront of software design in the early 1990s.