3

One answer is yes; I personally remember seeing it for sale at a Radio Shack store in Texas or California. In fact, I almost bought one. The Jupiter Ace was a British computer with the Forth language in ROM. It was developed by Jupiter Contab and marketed beginning in 1982. The Jupiter Ace 4000 was a model for the American market, but the only difference seems to be a slightly more robust plastic case.

It did not sell well, and only 800 Ace 4000s were ever made (5000 of the original British version were built). One reason for this is that it had only 1 kbyte of user RAM. There was separate RAM for video. (I know Forth is space-efficient, but only 1000 bytes to do anything?!) Memory could be expanded, which would double the price of the computer.

Back to my "yes". I saw it at Radio Shack. However I can find no evidence that Radio Shack ever marketed it, though. So perhaps I happened upon a store which chose to buy some and sell them on its own. The official American distributor was:

Computer Distribution Associates
Jupiter* Computer Division
56 South 3rd Street
Oxford, Pennsylvania, 19363, USA

That information came from the Jupiter Ace 4000 Forth Programming Manual by Steve Vickers. A PDF file for the book is available on the web.

I don't actually remember where I saw it. But I can do some deduction. According to the Wikipedia, the Ace 4000 began being distributed in 1983. From 1982 to 1985 I attended college at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. During that time I lived in both Abilene and Midland. So it is extremely likely I saw it at a Radio Shack in one of those two cities. After being graduated (Dec.85) I moved to San Rafael, CA, so there is a minor possibility it was a store in or near there.

Does anyone know if Tandy Radio Shack ever officially marketed these computers?

  • 1
    They didn't even adjust it to run at 60Hz? Regardless, I always feel a little sorry for the Ace; the market really leapt forward between '81 and '82 — the year of introduction of the C64 and Spectrum — so I wonder if perhaps they hadn't been expecting the ZX81/Vic-20 static RAM-type machines to survive in the market a little longer. – Tommy Feb 26 '18 at 4:28
  • 1
    @Tommy They probably did. The Wikipedia article only mentions the better case, though. // I think even if the Ace had been designed with more memory, selling folks on the superiority of Forth would have been tough. – RichF Feb 26 '18 at 5:58
  • Well, you can do a lot in 1000 Bytes. After all, the Sinclair ZX81 did only have 1 KiB total. That includes 125 bytes sytem memory + screen buffer + + line buffer + basic stack + CPU stack and more. That wasn't even enough to fill a whole screen :)) Still, it worked. And Forth is in fact a lot more compact than BASIC. So while 1 KiB wasn't luxurious, having the screen outside did leave enough room for several pages of code. – Raffzahn Feb 26 '18 at 14:19
  • I think it's the result of having only the 2kb of memory for display that is problematic more than the fact of the number: a plain black and white character mapped display when, in practice, most of these micros were really being used for video games. Forth is just the icing on the cake, no doubt repelling any schoolchild who tried to use a display model. – Tommy Feb 26 '18 at 15:36
  • @Tommy The 2 KiB video RAM was a clever way to maximize usability, as half of it is used as a character generator. The hardware could display 128 different characters, made up from a 8x8 matrix. So it was more of a tiled graphics display than a character display. With some clever rendering (we got forth) it does workl as a 192x256 b&w graohics display. Prety good for just 2 KiB, isn't it? – Raffzahn Feb 27 '18 at 9:16
4

(Not a definitive answer)

A plausible reason as to why a Jupiter Ace may have been sold in a local Radio Shack is that many Radio Shacks were independently owned and operated.

My local Radio Shack also sold Sinclair and Timex/Sinclair computers in addition to the Tandy line. But that was not a corporate level activity. Drive a few miles to the next town and that town's Radio Shack did not sell other computer lines.

| improve this answer | |
3

Mind, I don't know, but honestly, while you certainly may have seen a store selling one, RS never "sold them" at the higher level.

If they did, they would have rebranded it. RS sold RS product. From Realistic Stereos to TRS-80 branded computers. The TRS-80 Pocket Computers were SHARP remodels. The Model 100 was from Kyocera in Japan. Archer components, Micronta Meters, Radio Shack calculators (my programmable was a TI, for example).

So, if they did sell it, it would have been a TRS-80 ACE or something.

I never saw it for sale, that's for sure.

| improve this answer | |
  • I quickly scanned over the Radio Shack catalogs for the years 1982~1984 and didn't notice anything that looked like a Jupiter Ace, but feel free to take another look in case I missed it. radioshackcatalogs.com – snips-n-snails Feb 26 '18 at 21:22
  • Will, I agree with what you say. In fact, my actual (likely flawed) memory is that the computer I saw had been rebranded as a Tandy or Radio Shack product, and I only found out later that it was a machine made by a UK company. With ongoing feedback like @traal just gave, I'm thinking it must have been a special case of a store owner or manager seeing these things cheap, and deciding to sell them as a local special. – RichF Feb 26 '18 at 21:44
2

(Caveat: This is more of an educated guess than a definite answer)

I never heared about Tandy selling the Jupiter Ace. Then again, Tandy did buy and rebadge whatever they thought they could sell. From stereos to multimeters - and comuters not the least here (think pocket callculators being TI and handheld computers being Sharp and Casio).

Now being a Texan store location, this might as well been some market test with a few units. Tanking into account that this was the time when litteraly every home computer manufacturer was afraid of the Sinclair machines, I wouldn't be surprised that Tandy played with the idea adding a rebranded Jupiter ACE to fill up the imagined deficit at the lowest end. After all, the Jupiter Ace was in many ways an improved ZX80 - designed by some of the same people. Quite a point. isn't it?

I guess the test sales where less than favourable, so Tandy placed their bet on the MC-10. It had 6847 based graphics like the Coco, but with a 6803 instead, developed by Matra-Tandy-Electronic in France. Which again didn't work out as planned, part due incompatibility, but mostly because of a way too high price tag (>100 USD). But that's a different story.

So from these marks, I would say the machine you have seen was rather a Jupiter Ace then an Ace 4000, as that would be too late and in parallel to the MC-10, which wouldn't make any sense. Also it was rather in 1982, than '83, as it doesn't make sense to testmarket a machine when the follow up is already in the making. It further explains that they tried to setup their own US sales for the Ace 4000 after the Tandy deal didn't come thru.

As said before: It's an educated guess using the facts I know/could find. All under the assumption that your memory is true.

| improve this answer | |
  • This is a good theory. If it were 1982, I did not work in Midland yet, and I began college in January. So the store would have been in Abilene, Texas. – RichF Feb 27 '18 at 18:02
  • January 1983 is still within the frame. Just late 1983 would kill it, as then the MC-10 was already available, and I have a hard time to imagine why RS should testmarket another computer in the same segment. – Raffzahn Feb 27 '18 at 18:13
  • That looks so similar to a Jupiter Ace that 35 years later I might start to believe that an MC-10 I saw in a store was actually a Jupiter Ace! Memory is a funny thing. – snips-n-snails Feb 27 '18 at 21:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.