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Ackerman Digital Systems -- History

Ackerman Digital systems was often known as ADS.  They came out with some unique cards. They did not produce a lot of boards initially but the ones they did make were really useful if you needed that function.  The boards were expertly designed and layed out. 

The company was started in 1978 by Steven J. Ackerman and his wife Lawrie in Chicago.  They both were recent BSEE degree graduates and Steve had initially started working for Bally on pinball machines.  While at Bally one of Steve's projects was to design an electronic sound effects replacement for the mechanical chimes of the pinball machines. He used the General Instruments AY3-8910 Programmable Sound Generator.  As a spin-off from this work he designed a sound effects board for the Apple II using the same chip that I called the Noisemaker II.  ADS began selling Noisemakers both as kits and assembled boards. The initial office was in downtown Elmhurst (close to where they lived). 

Steve had read about the S-100 bus and the Altair 8800 computer and later obtained first-hand knowledge when he contracted to write some accounting software for a CPA/Attorney using Gordon Eubanks CBASIC on a Northstar Horizon. Using some of those proceeds from that work he purchased his own Northstar S100 system.  The first board that he did for the S-100 bus was a port of the Noisemaker (with two sound effect chips instead of one).

Other boards followed, some, like the Synthetalker, were spin-offs from the work that he was doing at Bally. His managers there were aware of his side business and generally supportive as long as it didn’t interfere with his day job. Others, like the Promwriter and PromBlaster or Kludge board, grew out of a need and his frustration with what was available at the time. ADS soon outgrew its Elmhurst office space and they rented an industrial building in neighboring Villa Park.  

As the Bally pinball machines at that time were based upon the Motorola MC6800 and they were one of Chicago based Motorola’s larger customers,  he had early knowledge of the MC6809 Advanced 8-bit microprocessor. The pinball machine code was all in assembly language and he was intrigued by the highly orthogonal instruction set of the 6809. He proceeded to design the ADS 6809 S-100 CPU board and wrote a debug monitor for it. He also started conversing with Microware Systems in Iowa about their OS-9 operating system which was light-years ahead of CP/M and eventually was able to get them to port it to S100 bus 6809 platform. However ADS never did sell any  OS-9 systems – the S-100 bus was all about 8080/Z80 and CP/M.

The last S-100 board that ADS did was the Octafloppy. It was fairly advanced in that it used a LSI DMA controller to transfer the data on the S-100 bus. They contracted a local individual to do the CP/M drivers, however only a few were sold.

When the IBM PC came out, literally overnight their S-100 sales stopped. ADS tried to move into the industrial Multibus market.  They designed and tried to sell a custom MC68020 Single Board Multibus computer that had DRAM, parallel I/O, serial I/O and IEEE standard iSBX daughter boards. They produced a couple of prototypes, running CP/M-68K.  But it was too little, too late. The world was moving to Intel, Multibus-II, VMEbus and the PC.  The company was closed and the couple went their separate ways.

Ackerman Digital Systems S-100 Boards
Promwriter     Kludge Board      6809 SBC      Noisemaker


This page was last modified on 10/23/2014