My Computers

Mattel Electronics Intellivision© Intelligent Television

Mattel released their Intellivision game machine at the 1979 Las Vegas CES. The console consisted of two controllers which could be overlaid with different buttons for each game utilizing thin plastic cards that could be inserted into each controller above the keypad. Games came on cartridges that would slide into a slot on the end of the game box. The game controller, or master component as it was called, used a General Instrument CP1610 16-bit CPU.

Mattel 1979 game console
Mattel 1979 game console (click to view larger image).

In 1982 Mattel released the Entertainment Computer System (ECS) - My first microprocessor-based computer. It featured an 8-bit General Instruments CP1610 16-bit microprocessor with 1.456K of RAM and 7.168K of ROM. Storage was done on an external cassette tape deck via a data cable and a cable for controlling play and pause on the tape deck. It used a proprietary QWERTY keyboard which plugged into the computer console using a proprietary serial connector. It was on this computer that I first learned basic programming using the built-in IntelliBasic language which was a procedural language with GoTos and GoSubs. A methodology the would eventually lead to a problem known as "spaghetti code".

Intellivision II Master Component with Computer Module and Keyboard

Technical Specifications

  • General Instrument CP1610 16-bit microprocessor CPU running at 894.886 kHz (i.e., slightly less than 1 MHz)
  • 1456 bytes of RAM:
    • 240 × 8-bit Scratchpad Memory
    • 352 × 16-bit (704 bytes) System Memory
    • 512 × 8-bit Graphics RAM
  • 7168 bytes of ROM:
    • 4096 × 10-bit (5120 bytes) Executive ROM
    • 2048 × 8-bit Graphics ROM
  • 159 pixels wide by 96 pixels high (159x192 display on a TV screen, scanlines being doubled)
  • 16 color palette, all of which can be on the screen at once
  • 8 sprites. Hardware supports the following features per-sprite:
    • Size selection: 8×8 or 8×16
    • Stretching: Horizontal (1× or 2×) and vertical (1×, 2×, 4× or 8×)
    • Mirroring: Horizontal and vertical
    • Collision detection: Sprite to sprite, sprite to background, and sprite to screen border
    • Priority: Selects whether sprite appears in front of or behind background.
  • three channel sound, with one noise generator (audio chip: General Instrument AY-3-8910)

Game Controller

The Intellivision controller featured:

  • 12-button numeric keypad (0-9, Clear, and Enter)
  • Four side-located action buttons (where the top two are actually electronically the same, giving three distinct buttons)
  • A directional disk, capable of detecting 16 directions of movement
  • Laminated overlays that would slide into place as an extra layer on the keypad to show game-specific key functions