Reasonable price for a complete SOL-20 system?

James Attfield james at
Mon Oct 17 16:20:17 CDT 2016

> From: "Mark J. Blair" <nf6x at>
> Subject: Re: Reasonable price for a complete SOL-20 system?
> The gunstock wood origin story sounds more plausible, but less fragrant.
> --
> Mark J. Blair, NF6X <nf6x at>

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but speaking as an owner of probably one of
the first Sol-20's in the UK I would have to comment that the wood (which we
always thought was a nice touch) was actually quite light in appearance and
weight and if anyone had suggested wharf wood at that time I am fairly sure
the suggestion would have been met with a degree of scepticism as would the
suggestion of gun stock wood (I had achieved my marksman status by then and
had some small experience of the feel of the stock in the hand and
shoulder). For all that, I liked the SOL-20 as the best word processor on
the planet at that time (with the Electric Pencil ROM) as it took great
advantage of the VDM-1 memory-mapped display board to achieve what products
like WordStar struggled for years  to do. In fact, we often used to marry
the VDM-1 to the Horizon for that very reason - that and the fact that we
could then play ATC (Air Traffic Controller) on the North* which was a great
mapped video game unavailable to serial terminals.

It was also liked because it had a great keyboard with a good feel and, turn
and turn about, could also have the North* drives bolted on to make a great
little twin drive system. Another advantage was that we didn't have to
solder up all the boards and assemble it like the IMSAI and some of the
North* boards. I did love my IMSAI though, but the 8080 CPU was a drag as
everyone was gung-ho for the 'new-ish' Z80 even though CP/M was still in
8080-land. Then came Cromemco and everything changed with CDOS and Cromix.
People still wanted CP/M though - I recall even now assisting with porting
CP/M to a Cromemco Z2 I took down to the Byte Shop in London one weekend. Of
course, my IMSAI never flew better than when it was filled with Cromemco
boards and a 299B drive on the side :) - those lovely blinkenlighten!

Anyhoo - back to the SOL-20 - we always figured that the reason that the
wooden side panels were featured was simply because the Horizon (the Big Dog
at that time) was available with a very attractive wooden case cover for
those who preferred something other than a functional blue metal case (in
fact strangely remarkably similar to the blue of the SOL-20). Of course,
although opinion may vary, either was arguably more attractive in an office
than the metal mesh that SWTPC went with. I say this with some affection
since as I write this my foot leans against the case of my old SWTPC AC-30
cassette interface. The innards gave up the ghost long ago but I can't bring
myself to skip it as it brings back too many fond memories of a basement, an
SWTPC processor, a lovely dual 8" drive unit and FLEX.

In summary, if you don't mind an 8080 and you can get some decent drives for
it (we were never very fond of the Helios drives) a SOL-20 is a very nice,
well designed integrated system. I would have one again in a trice.


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