The Spartans Invade Cupertino
CUPERTINO — 20525 Mariani Ave has been invaded by the Spartans, okay – not quite, but.. The Mimic Systems Spartan is not just an Apple II Clone, but it’s also an expansion chassis for the Commodore 64. The Spartan plugs into the back of a C64 and takes up the space that a monitor occupies on most desktops. All of the C64’s ports are replicated to the perimeter of the Spartan.
Styled similarly to the far eastern clones of the day, but designed by ATG Electronics and manufactured by Mimic Systems of Victora, BC Canada. Similar to the Rana 8086 and the Applied Engineering PC Transporter for the Apple II, that allowed MS-DOS to be used with an Apple II, these really were co-computing devices that used the host systems keyboard and display, presumably offering the user a “cheaper” way to have both platforms on their desktop. In reality, that was not always the case. With the Spartan being offered at $599.00, it cost a little more than the Laser 128 in 1985, but offered a lot more flexibility. The Spartan is really a “backplane” computer, in that the Apple II itself resides on a card inserted into the bus, and the Spartan motherboard works both for the C64 and the Apple II, adding expansion options to each. For the C64 an additional three cartridge slots are added, 1 external and 3 internal, that are software selectable. So you could leave the Epyx FastLoad cartridge in one of the internal slots, or one of the many “Utility” cartridges, with the little red button, with the button on a cable much like the Wild Card or Replay II for the Apple II.
Features shared between the Apple II and C64 are an 8 bit parallel port and the audio cassette connection, and an internal C64 compatible joystick connector that allows the same joystick to be used with either platform. The audio cassette option is in addition to the C64’s edge connector that the Commodore Dataset 1530 connects to. An Apple II specific 16 pin game port is also available. Since the Apple II joystick is analog, and the C64 uses a digital (simple switches) joystick, using the C64 game port for the Apple II will work for games like Pac-Man, but not nearly as well for others like Pole Position.
The right side of the Spartan cabinet has the external C64 memory/cartridge slot and three reset switches. The rear has the 488 (Drive), A/V, Parallel (DIN), and Audio Cassette (DIN), and the the tape and user expansions from the back of the C64 in the similar position. The left side does not have any external connectors as there is an Apple II type power supply installed inside on that side.
The Apple II side of the Spartan actually contains 9 slots, since one is meant to be occupied by the CPU card which is the heart of the Apple II side of things. The Apple II part of the Spartan is an Apple II Plus compatible feature set with 64K inbuilt. The ability to install a tethered language card in Slot 0 is still there as well. The Apple II CPU card has a 16 pin II/II Plus (ASCII) compatible keyboard connector, and 16 pin game port. The 6502 is onboard, hence, the ‘CPU Card’, along with two additional custom chips that allow the whole thing to work together, but separately.
Both the C64 and the Apple II can be used in parallel with just a keypress to switch between them, and in some ways they can be used together, though neither platforms software capabilities are available to the other. The only things shared are hardware as mentioned previously.
The Computer on a Card concept was not new as many far eastern Apple II clones employed this concept as well. Partially as a dodge against the copyright/infringement claims, as the computer chassis would be sold at one vendor, and the CPU cards would be sold at another, often located right next door, if not in the same place. That is if they didn’t offer it all in the same box. But the ATG/Mimic setup is probably the best implementation of the whole concept for the Apple II.
The Spartan was designed for the power user and programmer as there 24 jumpers that can be used to setup everything from the power up modes, the integration of peripherals, and such. The Apple II compatibility is among the better implementations though there’s some debate if it’s a “Clean Room” implementation or not, depending on viewpoints taken.
Another option is an additional PCB that would install inside the Commodore 1541 allowing it to be used ‘directly’ by the Spartan as an Apple II compatible disk drive, with just a key press. This was accomplished fairly easily because the 1541 uses Group Code Encoding (GCR), the same method employed by the Apple Disk II. This probably caused a lot of headaches for people But it also allowed files to be moved between the platforms directly, without serial cable voodoo.
In closing, the Spartan can also be used as a stand alone Apple II by configuring the jumpers and attaching a 16 pin keyboard internally. View some photos of this unique Apple II clone system in our photo gallery.