NorthStar - History
NorthStar Computers was the brainchild
of Drs. Chuck Grant and Mark Greenberg. The first name for the company was
Kentucky Fried Computers. Fortunately somebody convinced them to change it early
on. The company started in Berkley CA. They originally made a floating point math processor board for the S-100
bus. This had limited success, but they hit the jackpot in 1978 when they came
out with the "NorthStar disk system". This was a 5" Shugart disk drive that
held 89 kilobytes of storage coupled to an S-100 buss controller along with
North Star DOS and BASIC. It cost $700.00 in kit form and was the first
floppy disk system that was affordable to hobbyists. This was before CP/M had
really taken hold. It was a hard sectored (10/track) formatted disk system.
Reliable and far better than paper tape or cassette recordings then used at the
time. It took well
over a year before the Western Digital chip based soft sectored S-100 disk
controllers became widespread for such 5" drives. -
Utilizing funds from this great success
in 1979 they proceeded to make their own S-100 computer system. The stocked it with
their own S-100 boards and motherboard. It was called the NorthStar Horizon.
While metal case versions were made, it was commonly seen with its characteristic
The 10 slot
had its own
circuitry for port IO's. The power supply was massive -- even by IMSAI
standards. The Horizon was an Z80A-based computer, typically with 16K to 64K of
RAM. It has one or two single-sided double density hard sectored floppy disk
drives. It had serial interfaces connect it to a computer terminal and a
printer. It ran CP/M or NorthStar's own proprietary HDOS.
Later (1982), company came out with an
"All in one" system called the NorthStar Advantage.
It was well accepted particularly in the academic community. Based on the Zilog
Z-80 4Mhz processor, it had 64K of RAM and originally came with two 360K floppy
disks. However the cost was high ($4000). The second floppy was later replaced
with a 5 Megabyte Winchester hard disk drive. Hard disks were ultimately
offered in a 30 megabyte size. The North Star Advantage ran both NorthStar DOS
and BASIC as well as CP/M applications. The latter came about initially
when a separate group called
ported CP/M on to their system. For a time this provided
a boost to the unique hard sectored disk system.
In 1984 NorthStar announced their
NorthStar Dimension. This was a server computer. It utilized an Intel 80186 CPU.
The Dimension employed multiple screens each connected to a PC-compatible
8086-based slot card that mounted in the server. The screens and keyboards then
connected to the workstation cards in the server. The unit shipped with MS-DOS.
However Novell NetWare
was available as an option.
While initially successful, NorthStar's
sales suffered from the company's short-sighted adherence to
hard sector floppy drives
which made software difficult to port onto NorthStar machines. It was no longer
a significant player in the industry by the time cheaper computers, such as the
Osborne and the KayPro, were released. The Dimension was NorthStar's last
product and while probably ahead of its time it unfortunately did not enjoy the
success of NorthStar's previous models.
NorthStar S-100 Boards
16K Dynamic RAM
32K Dynamic RAM
48K Dynamic RAM
64K Dynamic RAM
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