Compucolor – Complete History of the Compucolor 8001

Charles A. Muench

Charles A. Muench (source:

Compucolor 8001

Charles A. Muench, a PhD in Electrical Engineering, started in 1972 in his basement in Duluth, Georgia, his second company— Intelligent Systems Corp. (ISC). The initial goal of the company was to design an intelligent and cheap color CRT (cathode ray tube) based terminal. Until this time, the computer terminals were mechanical Teletype or dumb (text only) electronic devices, using monochrome (black and white, green, or amber) displays.

Their first product was ready in 1973, but was advertised as late as in February, 1976, as the Intecolor 8001 professional intelligent CRT terminal. It was a $1395 kit to be assembled by the purchaser, featuring a huge 19-inch CRT, and based on Intel 8080 CPU married with additional integrated circuit chips from Texas Instruments. ISC’s new design was a breakthrough in terminal design since it offered an 8-color display with text and graphics capabilities. A phenomenal breakthrough in technology at the time!

In December, 1976, the Intecolor terminal was expanded from a computer interface device into a complete stand-alone computer—Compucolor 8001, an expanded, stand-alone micro-computer with built-in BASIC programming language. Compucolor 8001 is often regarded as "First Desktop Color Graphic Computer".

Compucolor 8001

Compucolor 8001 (source:

The Compucolor 8001 (see the User Manual of Compucolor 8001) is housed in a single cabinet with all CPU and monitor electronics in the same housing, and was powered by Intel 8080 CPU, running at 2MHz. RAM memory was 4K to 32K. The 19-inch color CRT display worked at 2 modes: 80 x 48 text or 192 x 160 graphics (8/8 foreground/background colors). Communication ports are one (or two) RS-232. External storage is a floppy-tape (one or two external 8-track, continuous-loop tape drives, running at 4800 Baud rate, storing up to 1024 KB of data per tape). The floppy-tape drive was short lived due to poor performance, thus by 1978, 8-inch standard Shugart devices were supported (with a formatted capacity of 110 KB each).

Compucolor had up to four modes of operation:

  • CRT mode

  • Compucolor BASIC mode

  • CPU Operating System mode (optional)

  • File Control System mode

When initially turned-on or reset, Compucolor 8001 boots in CRT Mode, featuring only two-way communication with another computer via the RS-232 serial port (this is how most standard computer terminals of the day operated.)

  Pressing the keys "ESC"+"W" on the keyboard switches the computer into Compucolor BASIC mode, which allows the user to write, edit and run programs in the Compucolor BASIC programming language.

  If so called option 34 has been installed, pressing keys "ESC"+"P" on the keyboard switches the computer into CPU Operating System mode, which enables the user to manipulate the contents of the system memory, read and write magnetic tapes, and execute programs.

  A fourth mode of operational was added to the system in 1978 to facilitate the newly added floppy-drive capabilities. Pressing "ESC"+"D" on the keyboard switches the system into File Control System mode (sort of DOS), to allow the user to access and manipulate the external data storage devices, like the mini-disk drives, to load and save data and programs.