The race to build an Instant-On computer… Done.


These days, I find myself reading a lot of technology news stories.  I am always looking for the latest in computer news.  Many articles discuss the future of computers;  computers  that start-up instantly after pressing the power button.  No boot time, no loading of drivers or personalized settings.

The funny thing is, we had instant-on computers around 30 years ago!  The Coleco ADAM was just such a machine.  I get up from my chair, flip the power switch on the back of the SmartWriter (the ADAM printer), and sit back in the chair to find that the ADAM is ready to use.  The following video shows the speed of which my Dell laptop running Windows 7, loads versus the Coleco ADAM:

If you have used Windows XP or Vista, you’ll appreciate the faster load time of the Windows 7 operating system.  However, the ADAM is ready to use in about 2 seconds.  Ok, so there is only one program loaded on the ADAM.  My point is that what is old always finds a way to be new again, in this case, the instant-on computer.

Introduction to the Coleco ADAM computer system.


Coleco, the Connecticut Leather Company got their start in computer games in 1976. The device they created was called Telstar; a Pong clone. Coleco went to the next level with the debut of the ColecoVision game console in 1982.  It was clearly superior to the Atari VCS.  The ColecoVision had a Z80A processor running at 3.58 MHz, 8 KB of RAM, three sound channels and a video display unit of 16 colors, 32 sprites and 256 by 192 resolution.  Coleco didn’t stop there.  They created their own computer system which they released in 1983.  They called it ADAM, the ColecoVision Family Computer System.  The ADAM came with a printer, tape drive, two controllers, a keyboard, BASIC programming language on data cassette, and a word processor in ROM.  If there was ever a complete system in those early days of personal computing, this was it.  Children liked it, because it had the ColecoVision built in.  Adults liked it as well thanks to the business applications that were available such as ADAMCalc, a spreadsheet program.   So while the kids were playing Donkey Kong, the parents were typing up shopping lists and entering recipes in Recipe Filer.  The ADAM could be used for both personal and business applications.

Instead of using the more traditional 5.25 inch disk drive, Coleco chose a software-controlled digital data cassette drive to load programs. I’m assuming it was to help bring the price of it down.  Coleco was trying to offer a more affordable system than the competing companies at the time, namely Apple and IBM.  Ultimately, this is a computer built by a toy company, which lead some to believe it would never have the capabilities of a true computer system.  However, as you will see in the following chart, the ADAM was equal to, if not better, to the other computers of the time in terms of power and capability.

Comparison of Features
ADAM Apple IIe ATARI 800 Commodore 64 IBM PC
RAM 80K 64K 48K 64K 64K
No. of Keys 75 63 57 66 83
No. of Sprites for Graphics 32 0 4 8 0
Sound Channels 3 1 4 3 1
Expansion Slots 4 8 4 1 5
Built-in Word Processor YES NO NO NO NO
Printer YES NO NO NO NO
BASIC YES YES YES YES NO
Joysticks YES NO NO NO NO

The ADAM came with enough RAM to be on par with the wildly popular Commodore 64 or business minded IBM PC.  It’s keyboard was given very good reviews by the critics of the time.  In fact, the controller acted as a numeric key pad.  The ADAM had something that not too many other systems had at the time: sprites.  That allowed for better graphic applications.  The ADAM had an expansion slot as well.  With it, you could attach one of several ColecoVision expansion modules.  Coleco was definitely thinking of the long term picture when  they created the ADAM.  Eventually 5.25 inch disk drives became available as well as a 300 baud modem which allowed you to connect to electronic bulletin boards & the online service, CompuServe.