23

All the 8 bit home computers I'm aware of, had BASIC in their ROMs. A notable exception was Jupiter Ace, a British home computer which used Forth.

Were there any other 8-bit home computers that came with other languages in their ROMs? Or perhaps without a full programming language at all, something like a rudimentary OS.

I'm not asking for other languages availability in general on these systems, but only to the embedded language in their ROM chips.

18
  • 12
    Did cp/m computers generally come with BASIC in ROM? I do not think so... Aug 23, 2020 at 18:22
  • 1
    Indeed, yet I don't know if they can be categorized as home computers - at least the type of computers you're referring. Not like Amstrad CPC6128 or Commodore 128 for example which were home computers, starting in BASIC, but could load CP/M afterwards.
    – Krackout
    Aug 23, 2020 at 18:26
  • 3
    How do you define a "home computer", beyond "targeted at and priced for the home market" as suggested by @TonyM? I can think of lots of hobby computers without BASIC, but I assume they don't count (they can probably be considered "exercisers" more than "home computers").
    – tobiasvl
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:03
  • 2
    @TonyM All CPC models with integrated disk drive had CP/M shipped with CP/M.
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 23, 2020 at 21:37
  • 4
    The Amstrad PCW series were definitely home computers, and they came with CP/M Plus on disk, as well as Locomotive Basic. Aug 24, 2020 at 10:40

21 Answers 21

31

One example of popular 8-bit computers without BASIC in ROM is the first three Atari 8-bit computers, the 400, 800, and 1200XL, which didn’t have BASIC built-in but on a separate cartridge.

Their predecessor, the Atari Video Computer System, also had a BASIC Programming cartridge, written by Warren Robinett, but it wasn’t supplied with the system (it was released in 1979) and required two CX50 controllers. (Thanks to supercat for the reminder!)

8
  • That's a surprise for me; back then, a friend of mine had an Atari XL 800, the biege one, which had BASIC embedded. Wouldn't imagine that the first 800 didn't.
    – Krackout
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:31
  • 8
    The XL and XE lines had Basic built-in but it was on a cart for the 400 and 800.
    – mannaggia
    Aug 24, 2020 at 2:03
  • 2
    The 2600 also didn't have a BASIC interpreter on board, but did have one available on a cartridge. Although it was severely limited by the system's lack of RAM, it did have some notable features including a real-time display of the stack, variable contents, and location of execution within the source code--features that wouldn't be commonplace in debugging tools until quite a few years later.
    – supercat
    Aug 24, 2020 at 16:13
  • 5
    @plasticinsect BASIC programs can’t be loaded without it, but many programs on cassette or disk don’t use it, and many even require it to be removed, or disabled on XL/XEs (OPTION at power-on). Cassettes auto-load if START and OPTION are pressed on power-on, and disks auto-load on their own. Many instruction manuals start with “remove all cartridges”. Aug 24, 2020 at 19:03
  • 4
    The 1200XL also did not have Basic built in. And most commercial programs were not written in Basic and did not require Basic at all.
    – Dronz
    Aug 24, 2020 at 21:10
29

(Please see as well other fine answers for more computers fitting the list)

I guess we can put them in four categories (in descending order of application):

Machines with Different Language in ROM

The early models of the Soviet BK-0010 series had FOCAL in ROM. BASIC was available as an add-on module. Later models starting from BK-0010.01 already had BASIC in ROM.

Clean Computers

And then there would be the classic Sharp MZ-80 series with no language in ROM. Clean computers from the start, BASIC or any other language had to be loaded from Cassette. Quite successful around the world.

With Separate but Included Language ROM

Similar but less fitting are machines that had no fixed language built in, but supplied (usually) BASIC separately on a (ROM-) module which was always included when buying the unit. After all, everyone would have had it plugged in ... at least until switching to something more sophisticated. The Exidy Sorcerer of 1978 might be the earliest example. Even more prominent examples are Atari 400 and 800 (as mentioned) of 1979.

Systems From a Time Before Languages Were Included

The same, of course, goes for many very early systems, from single boarders to S-100, including hobbyist systems like Heathkit H8 or the Apple 1. Remember MS' first BASIC for the Altair was delivered on paper tape or cassette. But then again, these are so early, that the term 'home computer' may not really apply.

Close Runners-Up

Also, while not really an 8-bit home computer, the Newton had its NewtonScript interpreter in ROM.

9
  • As I see, Sharp indeed qualifies. But BK-010 used a 16bit cpu. And of course Newton is out of scope!
    – Krackout
    Aug 23, 2020 at 18:22
  • 1
    @Krackout I think it can quite be put into both classes (8 bit and home computer). After all, these are more about performance and use case. The same way a TI99/4 and the Intelivision video game do fit the area - both 16 bit and both as early as 1979.
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 23, 2020 at 18:28
  • 1
    “After all, everyone would have had it plugged in” — not on the Atari, where pretty much every piece of software available in the early days came on a cartridge; users would only plug in the BASIC cartridge if they wanted to use it. Even for cassette- or disk-based programs, if they didn’t need the BASIC cartridge, it wouldn’t be plugged in. Aug 24, 2020 at 6:42
  • 2
    As I read it, the question is only about availability of BASIC in ROM (“I'm not asking for other languages availability in general on these systems, but only to the embedded language in their ROM chips.”). In my mind, that’s the major difference between say the C64 and the Atari 400 in this regard, and why cartridges don’t count in the same way as built-in ROMs — C64 programs could assume that BASIC was available, and use it if they wanted (or mask it to get more RAM), whereas Atari programs couldn’t. Aug 24, 2020 at 7:30
  • 1
    “Modules get switched according to task and BASIC (or whatever language) was one of them.” I agree 100%. The way I read “After all, everyone would have had it plugged in” was that the BASIC cartridge was assumed to be plugged in (whether it was used or not); in my experience on the 8-bit Ataris that wasn’t the case, the choice of cartridge was task-driven as you say just above, and an explicit choice until cassettes and disks became common (which happened a little later). Put another way, on the Atari, whatever was plugged in was whatever had been used last ;-). Aug 24, 2020 at 8:45
17

The French company Micronique had a few models that came with Forth instead of BASIC, like the Hector HRX and Hector MX.

https://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=142&st=1

12

I had a Colecovision Adam computer back in the day. A very odd feature of that system was that the power supply was actually in the printer. It came with a word processor in its ROM rather than a programming language.

I remember using all my lawn mowing money to buy SmartBASIC and SmartLOGO on cassette tape along with a 300-baud modem for it.

5
  • 11
    You owned an Adam!? So, you're the one!
    – FeRD
    Aug 24, 2020 at 2:57
  • @FeRD LOL. I’d heard they had a bad reputation for mass defects but mine never had any problems.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Aug 24, 2020 at 3:00
  • 2
    This is incorrect - the CPU was not in the printer, it was in the main console. What you're probably confusing here is that the power supply was in the printer. This was one of the annoying features of the machine because the printer was huge and always needed to be connected because of this design (and hope it never needs to be sent out for repair!). I believe I've seen that aftermarket power supplies were available at some point to remove the requirement of the printer.
    – bjb
    Aug 24, 2020 at 13:57
  • @bjb; My mistake. Corrected.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Aug 24, 2020 at 19:02
  • 1
    I actually considered the Adam, when picking my first computer, but decided on a C=64 instead. Which was a great decision not because the C=64 was so awesome (it wasn't), but because it seemed a natural progression to upgrade from that to an Amiga 2000, when the time came. And the A2000 was approximately 83% raw, uncut awesome, by volume.
    – FeRD
    Aug 28, 2020 at 18:43
9

Some more Soviet home computers that lacked BASIC in their ROMs:

Vector-06C

Apogey BK-01 (wiki is only available in Russian and it is not very clear about whether there were built-in BASIC, but other sources say there weren't)

Radio-86RK

Specialist

Orion-128

Microsha (only Russian, clear statement that the BASIC was loadable from the tape)

7

The ELAN Enterprise didn't have BASIC built-in. Its IS BASIC was supplied on a cartridge (that was, admittedly, part of the base pack). But you could just as well use any other language. It's "main application" was WP - A simple editor/word processor.

If you consider the Cambridge Z88 a home computer, its "main OS" was definitely not (BBC) BASIC, that was just one application amongst others. OS control was through the GUI.

The Coleco Adam was basically (sic) a ColecoVision plus Expansion Module #3 - the base machine was a games console, that expanded into the Adam home computer (includeing BASIC) using a set of add-ons.

2
  • Still the Z88 was delivered with BASIC in ROM - otherwise the Commodore Plus4 would as well fall into this category. But the Adam is a great example, as the BASIC was always loaded. But while Game and computer did use the same memory/IO board, the computers CPU board differed quite a lot from the Game. And yes, the Enterprise is another one for the list.
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 23, 2020 at 21:04
  • 1
    Even on the BBC Micro itself, the main OS was kept separate from languages; although a BBC BASIC ROM was pre-installed (along with the MOS ROM), other language ROMs could be added and/or the BASIC one removed — it would start up in the first language it found, or dump you at a * prompt if none were found. (Here ‘language’ meant any ROM which took over the system, as opposed to a ‘utility’ ROM which just provided extra commands or handlers; so e.g. a music production environment counted as a language.)
    – gidds
    Aug 24, 2020 at 11:50
6

Likely too many to list.

However, PMD-85 is notable and borderline because it included a BASIC on a detachable ROM module. By default, it started into a monitor (with tape loading routines etc.); there were other ROM modules produced (with Pascal, LOGO, IIRC also KAREL). But they were almost exclusively used with the BASIC module.

2
  • Due to restrictions many interesting machines were produced in Eastern Europe.
    – Krackout
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:01
  • 1
    As soon as external module is considered several machines may qualify... For example the Exidy Sorcerer :)
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:08
6

The Nascom 1 didn't have any high level languages. Its successor the Nascom 2 came with BASIC however.

The Nascom 1 and 2 were single-board computer kits issued in the United Kingdom in 1977 and 1979, respectively, based on the Zilog Z80 and including a keyboard and video interface, a serial port that could be used to store data on a tape cassette using the Kansas City standard, and two 8-bit parallel ports. At that time, including a full keyboard and video display interface was uncommon, as most microcomputer kits were then delivered with only a hexadecimal keypad and seven-segment display. To minimize cost, the buyer had to assemble a Nascom by hand-soldering about 3,000 joints on the single circuit board. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nascom_(computer_kit)

I had one and remember programming Turing machines in assembler (or was it machine code - can't remember). I hand-made various dongles for it including a "slow down" clock and a hardware random number generator.

I cheated and bought the ready-soldered bare board (no case), plus keyboard to avoid all the soldering.

2
  • 1
    I fought myself hard buying one ... Nascom or Superboard ... but money only let me have a KIM ... As well a barebone without any 'real' language.
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 24, 2020 at 14:09
  • Also note that while the Nascom 2 was supplied with a BASIC EPROM, the system worked perfectly well without it (the core system software was on a seperate 1K EPROM), and if you didn't install it you could get up to 62K RAM (using add-on boards) without bank switching -- or the memory block usually assigned to it could be reused for a different EPROM. A lot of Nascom owners worked primarily in assembly rather than BASIC (the Nascom had a pretty good monitor in its 1K EPROM, including single stepping without needing to modify memory), so putting an assembler in the slot instead was common.
    – occipita
    Aug 25, 2020 at 3:10
5

I'm not sure that the IBM5100 could really be considered a "home computer", and I believe that it was not an 8-bit computer (it was, as I recall, based on a cut-down version of the 360), but it might pass today's "sniff test" for home computers, and came in two versions: The 5100B did in fact have BASIC in ROM (which IBM called ROS), but the 5100A came with APL rather than BASIC in ROS. (The follow-on 5110 had both, user-selectable via a front-panel switch.)

3
  • Definitely not a home computer. I don't know how much they cost but it was certainly beyond what anyone would do for casual use. I had access to a 5100A in college, and APL made it very interesting. As I recall it used a Tektronix memory CRT that didn't require refreshing. Aug 24, 2020 at 15:19
  • @MarkRansom - You might want to play with Norbert Kehrer's Javascript Emulator of the 5110. Aug 24, 2020 at 17:15
  • "BASIC in ROM (which IBM called ROS)" ...Of-f$!@ing-COURSE they did. 🙄
    – FeRD
    Sep 11, 2020 at 1:08
5

The Amstrad PCW was clearly sold as a home word processor, its printer was not good enough for most office use. It did not have BASIC in ROM, I can't recall if even had basic on an included disk.

It used a Z80 cpu so was 8 but, but had bank switch ram.

2
  • 3
    In answer to your point, BASIC was provided on the supplied floppy disks. But, indeed, not on ROM.
    – rjpond
    Aug 24, 2020 at 17:20
  • 1
    This was indeed Mallard BASIC (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallard_BASIC) which was supplied by Locomotive software and ran under CPM. The PCW could be booted from the Locoscript disk [sic] or the CP/M disk, and the latter had a copy of Mallard BASIC on it. As you say, there was no BASIC in ROM. Aug 31, 2020 at 17:51
5

The MCM/70 by Micro Computing Machines came with rom APL. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/MCM/70

4

The TRS-80 Model 4P was based on a 4-MHz Z-80a and had no BASIC in ROM.

The Apple 1 was shipped with BASIC on cassette.

4
  • 1
    Then again, the 4P was meant as professional machine, like an Osborne or Kaypro, not a home computer.
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 23, 2020 at 22:06
  • 1
    Also the Heath H-89 and other computers that could run CP/M. Aug 23, 2020 at 23:29
  • Note that the Apple had two different BASICs. The original cassette basic was named Integer Basic. The later models switched to a port of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. It's outlined well at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integer_BASIC
    – Greg Smith
    Aug 25, 2020 at 17:53
  • @GregSmith you are referring to the Apple II, not the Apple 1, which had only a machine-language monitor in its (256 bytes!!) of ROM. The Apple 1 Cassette Interface included a second 256-byte program which could run the cassette functions. Those are the only two ROMs ever shipped by Apple for the Apple 1 in its short life. Dec 11, 2022 at 19:45
4

The Amstrad PCW range begun in 1985 were all 8-bit (except for the final model) and didn't have BASIC in ROM.

Although intended primarily as "home office" machines, they were still essentially home computers.

( https://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=190 : "ROM: No ROM chip.")

4

Victor Lambda in France was a clean ROM micro-computer. It had only 2K of ROM which contained a loader. Languages would be loaded from compact cassette. It was delivered with a BASIC interpreter. Other languages available were LSE (lanngage symbolique pour l'éducation) a kind of BASIC with French keywords. Later models, named Hector would feature the BASIC in ROM and some even had Forth and Assembler included in ROM.

3

The Tatung Einstein shipped with a Machine Operating System (MOS) in ROM, which offered a moderately useful if limited set of commands including a loader to boot from a language disk. Two such disks were included in the pack I had - a version of Microsoft BASIC, and a near-perfect port of BBC BASIC.

Annoyingly, the MS language had been extended to access the hardware capabilities of the machine but the BBC language hadn't - so one was forced to choose between the advanced (for the time) language features of the BBC, or the more rudimentary features (but better hardware support) of MS.

2

The Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom, also known as the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West) did not come with BASIC in ROM. In fact it didn't come with a keyboard, you had you buy a bundle that included the keyboard and BASIC cartridge.

2
  • Not a home computer per se, but a video game console. Though convertible to computer! Were there any appiications for it, should you had a keyboard connected?
    – Krackout
    Aug 25, 2020 at 9:47
  • I think BASIC was the only application ever made for it. The line between games console and computer was blurry in Japan, many computers had console versions (e.g. the FM Towns Marty) and many consoles had computer add-ons. Less common in the West but for example the CD32 could be converted to a computer.
    – user
    Aug 25, 2020 at 9:51
2

I used this kind of computer that had no basic. CHIP8 language was available.

http://www.hobbylabs.org/oscom_nano.htm

2

The Exidy Sorcerer (American, 1978) would boot into a 4-kbyte monitor program when there was no ROM Pac or disk drive. The monitor allowed you to examine and change memory, so if you understood z80 machine language well, you could program directly that way. (Don't laugh -- that's how programming started, well after they decided jumper wires were too spaghetti-y.)

It was sold with an 8-kbyte Basic Pac, and assembler and word processor pacs were also available. I had them all, including a modified PAC I converted to be RAM, giving the machine an awesome 56 kbytes!

1
  • Basis108 — an Apple II clone which came without basic ROMs but a basic on floppy. You had to load it before Apple DOS.
  • KC85 and KC87 — Z80-based computers from the GDR, they booted from tape.
1

The COSMAC ELF was an 8-bit build-it-yourself computer (so I suppose you could consider it a "home computer").

It had no ROM. You entered the machine code of your program using toggle switches after booting up!

(If you really wanted BASIC, a tiny version was available.)

0

Let's first establish that all computers that came with a programming language in ROM could also load a programming language, take a (E)(P)ROM you burned, or either had a cartridge port or something similar like a bus or expansion slot. (As in, the presence of a capable boot ROM was highly desired, and not only could you replace it if you didn't like it, but you could use it to load what you wanted instead of starting blank and entering bits/octals/hex/bytes into RAM just to load from paper tape.)

Home computers of the 80s vs Personal computers of the 70s

Personal computers of the 70s were marketed towards professionals or certainly adults already interested in electronics and hardware programming. You were expected to homebrew parts of the solution, both software and hardware with very few exceptions, or else it came with a cost few families could afford.

Home computers by contrast sold millions, and they were about the cost of a small color TV or record player - a household appliance, not a really good used car. This allowed not only some kids to get one, but there would be TV series to teach you programming, and schools could also afford enough of them, to become part of this nationwide computer education - "let's bring everyone into the future!" - no-one should feel left out of the computer revolution, feel left behind the times. (This was the concern then, not only as countries but individuals - socially, economically, intellectually.)

Why boot to a programming language?

Most if not all of the 8-bit computers of the 80s booted to a programming language prompt precisely in order to become directly programmable. (See last section.)

Why BASIC?

Licensing. Computer manufacturers didn't hire programmers to develop their own built-in languages (there are 3 known exceptions). Microsoft has stayed true to using the code of others or buying a port, then license it as their own product with adaptations to computer manufacturers. They recognized the success of BASIC since the 1960s, as did from necessity those homebrewers and hardware programmers called hobbyists in that open letter.

Competitors

OP is asking for a system that came with a competitor to BASIC. (Not for systems lacking a programming language in ROM, etc.)

The Jupiter Ace came with Forth, as mentioned in the question. I've heard of French, Polish, and Japanese home computers that came with different languages, but I can't substantiate details at the time of writing, as these are one of the few I don't own. As a consequence of the dominance of the licensed built-in commercial monopoly, it's now rare to find these systems as well as detailed information about them.

Partial language support

Most boot ROMs of any system will have so-called routines. In the 1970s, because of ROM and RAM sizes, these would be to provide very basic functions indeed, such as I/O interfacing, but no complete interpreter or compiler - because a big enough ROM to hold it would be prohibitively expensive.

Obversely, this is the strength of a language that is truly built in: without anything but the computer, it could be immediately be put to use - to run your programs. This is what makes home computers more personal than today's personal computers, who turn users into only that, disempowering them.

Late 80s and 90s

The routines (kernel if a reasonably complete set of routines) would again challenge the size and cost of ROM chips, so that no language could be built-in.

ROM sizes did increase for some systems offering a richer operating system than a Shell or language with disk operations added: The Lisa and Mac offered a GUI OS, and the Amiga a modern multitasking one with many features of Unix and Linux, but no longer could you boot to a built-in programming language.

The IBM PC appealed to the 1970s by restricting it to just I/O routines again. This was kept for the CP/M clone branded MS-DOS, and for Linux.

The Acorn Archimedes is currently the last platform to have both a GUI OS (if not modern multitasking) and a built-in language in ROM, even though it might not be a valid answer to the question as the language is called BASIC. (I would pay attention here though, as it's quite different from all other BASIC dialects in merit, and deserves consideration.)

What's a built-in language good for?

The strengths of booting to a programming prompt (over a Shell prompt with limited script and file commands, or a desktop paradigm that you can only click on) is not to be underestimated. Certainly, computers are (sometimes) easier to use than ever - but mostly only to those who would rather not program, and just remains users.

Today, we have to set up things just right on computers (with actually some quite special software and elaborate preparations) to make it as easy as it once was for kids to instantly pick up that "this is a computer, this is how it works, and this is how you make it do what you want".

I think it's educationally powerful, and much more social and democratic, embracing all walks of life, rather than leaving it to only nerds and professionals again, like in the 70s. It really wasn't like that in the 80s with the home computers, we all typed in programs and learned because it was fun.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .