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Mar 8th

the Albert Computer, a unique Apple II Clone

The Albert Computer Company in Thousand Oaks, California saw a good thing and tried to ride the wave, and make it better. Unfortunately for them, they probably did too good of a job and that got them a little too much attention. Apple Computer, Inc. came down hard on them and it didn’t last long. Their goal out the door was to offer a complete system for just a little over what the basic Apple //e cost. While a bare-bones Apple //e included just upper/lower case and 64K, over what the Apple II Plus shipped with, the Albert Computer included that and a whole host of other things.

With a feature set that includes serial and parallel ports, an A to D converter, useful to scientists and hardware hobbyists. Enhanced graphics modes and Analog RGB support right out of the box,  and an AppleWorks-featureset like package, all for just $1,595.00, they clearly were aiming for the heart of the consumer. For just $50 more you could even get a battery backup option that integrated with the computer. If you were using the A to D capabilities for an alarm system, you would not be unprotected during a power outage.

Albert Computer said theirs was not a copy, but an improvement. The courts on the other hand, were not convinced and they ended up retreating. Despite their soft-boot method, perhaps they were just a few years too early as Video Technology (Laser Computer) managed to finally figure out how to do it and launch a product a year later.

No extra cards to buy! With the most commonly needed cards inbuilt, purchase decisions were easy. Just pick your choice of printer and head for home! Voice Recognition? Albert’s got it! Your wish is my command. Just say it and it’s done. As long as your name isn’t Dave .. they claimed that it even could be configured to work with only certain voices. Turn on the lights, turn off the TV.

Digitized audio in 1983, for the masses? Surely, you can’t be serious. Right? If anyone ever told you back then, that you’d be playing with 5 second pieces of sound from various movies you’d probably have laughed, and imagined yourself still laughing about it years into the future. Well? … think about some of those system alert sounds, ring tones and such that we’ve been hearing for many years now. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

The Albert Computer has inbuilt graphics features that it took Apple another two years to offer with the Apple IIgs. Instead of the 16 color option that the Apple II has, the Albert Computer offered 256 colors and color worked across text and graphics modes combined. Something that no other Apple II offered until the IIgs, and that isn’t quite the same. Sounds great doesn’t it? ..and probably looks great too, if only .. but wait. The Albert Computer also included an RGB interface.  Similar to the inbuilt graphics display capabilities of the Apple ///, the standard configuration included Analog RGB support for a 140 x 192 pixel display. The Apple //e has double high-res, at 280 x 192, and at a premium price as the Apple Extended 80 Column RGB card and AppleColor 100 monitor were a pretty penny back in the day.

The other unique feature included with the Albert Computer was a graphics digitizer tablet, much like a CAD (Computer Assisted Design) operator would use, but included with the base package, again ready to go when you get home.

Some years ago I came across one of these systems in a thrift store. What caught my eye was the disk drive unit. I recognized the Super 5 logo, but it was green instead of red, and when I picked up the unit  I saw ribbon cables hanging out of it. “Neat, a dual drive cabinet”.. here in the thrift store. Then I saw the other two pieces that were the same color and realized it was a set, as the price tag was marked “X3″ which meant there’s there pieces to this set. So I put them all in the cart.

It did not have a power supply, and I’ve never tried to do anything else with it all these years. The computer was designed to use a DC power supply, presumably as it was simpler to make a world-compatible product by just substituting the proper wall-wart style brick.

When I went to the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook to post the announcement of the opening of the General Files section, I saw a blurb asking about the Albert Computer, and said “I have one of those… ” and got it out yesterday and took some pictures. I’m not exactly sure which model it is, they’re not really labeled. I knew it needed a pre-boot floppy, and since I didn’t find any in the thrift store with it, and I scoured the place, the book shelves, and such for any more stuff that might have gotten separated from it. Floppy disks were not an uncommon sight at this particular store, either. So it wouldn’t have been out of place. You just had to sort through them like records, books and tapes, and they were sold for a quarter each, or a fistful for a sawbuck.

So, here it is.. if the disk is around, I’ll setup a switching power supply for the unit, as I’ve heard that using the OEM power board isn’t a good idea :)

The photos are among the first to be added to the Reset Vector Retro-computing Image Gallery, and there will be plenty more coming. They can be found under the Apple II – A2 Clones sub-heading.