AMD bit-slice machines

Steven N. Hirsch shirsch at
Wed Jan 4 15:27:03 CST 2006

On Sun, 1 Jan 2006, Jim Battle wrote:

> Steven N. Hirsch wrote:
> > On Fri, 30 Dec 2005, Richard wrote:
> > > Besides the Lilith Modula-2 workstation, what other computers were
> > > made from the AMD 29xx bit-slice architecture?
> > 
> > I believe the late, lamented New England Digital Corp. built the
> > Synclavier music system (quarter-million buck digital synthesizer and
> > audio workstation) CPU from AMD 29xx pieces.  Early on, they produced a
> > bit-slice mini (late 70s?) for commercial applications and propagated the
> > same ISA to the Synclavier in the early-to-mid 80s.  I'm drawing a total
> > blank on the name of the mini, but recall seeing terminal sessions all
> > over their engineering department.  
> ...
> Google says:
> This says the CPU was called "ABLE", and it was programmed in "Scientific
> XPL".

Yes, that's it!  XPL was, IIRC, a high-level assembly language optimized 
for music synthesis.  It was quite an amazing gadget in its day and really 
pushed the envelope for memory and attached storage.  A typical system had 
32MB of DRAM, which in 1986 was some serious address space.  The memory 
cards were so static-sensitive that performers typically ran a large 
ultrasonic humidifier behind the CPU rack to head off any crashes during 
live performances.

They had an option called Direct-to-Disk, which used an array of 16 of the 
largest 5-1/4" RLL drives available (maybe a few hundred MB?); one for 
each track.  There was a QIC tape drive mounted underneath each drive for 
making permanent copies.  With all that, I think it was limited to about 
20-minutes of full-bandwidth recording.  Hard to believe how far things 
have come since then.


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