A memorable collecting experience about an IBM 5110 complete system (Model 2). A historical system with software, documentation, and even the dust cover. Read about the computer and accessories, the history of this machine, and a deeper look at the system, including; disassembly to perform the needed maintenance and alleviate the systems issues.
About the 5100 Computing System.
In 1975, IBM released the 5100, one of the first commercially supported microcomputers priced effectively and targeting engineers, analysts, statisticians, and other problem-solvers, mainly in educational or engineering settings. Based on a proof-of-concept system called SCAMP, for "Special Computer, APL Machine Portable", the 5100 was IBM's first commercially available and supported "personal" portable computer. The system was a self-contained computer that could transport easily. It featured onboard storage of 204K via the tape drive, up to 64K of memory (R/W Storage), a full-featured keyboard with a numeric pad for quick keying of data, and a built-in 5" screen.
The difference is the terminology changed from the 1970s to the 1980s as technology advanced. The term microprocessor was used to mean a processor that executes microcode in order to interpret a higher-level instruction set. Official usage changed to refer to it as a processor, implemented on a single monolithic integrated circuit. To summarize, the computer is unique because it contains a board-level processor. Not on a single die, but made up of mostly TTL Logic on different physical boards. The system sparked the beginning of IBM's entrance into the personal computer market, years before any x86 based computer would assume that title.
About the 5110 Computing System.
Jump forward three years to 1978 when IBM released the 5110 to market more microcomputers to small and medium-sized businesses. As BASIC was becoming the choice language for computing, IBM added the disk storage option and released a catalog of programs. Options like General Ledger, Payroll, Accounts Payable and Receivable, and Inventory and other titles targeting different business data processing needs like word processing and financial data processing programs.
With the newer model, more I/O options were available like the choice of either/or the Diskette Unit and tape storage, different printer options, choice of Programming Language, a communications interface, and even serial and parallel options for special purpose attachments. There were also authorized third-party options, including a 10MB hard disk drive.
2 Models are displayed from a sales ad for the 5110. (Background) the Model 1 with the External Tape Unit (5106), both APL and BASIC. (Foreground) the Model 2, with 2 Disk Units (5114) and the Printer (5103).
The Disk System offered users more options for storage and advanced applications. Operators can attach one or two diskette units to the 5110—each diskette unit featuring one or two diskette drives. The expanded disk I/O provides operators with a total online diskette storage capacity of 1.2 million to 4.8 million bytes, massive for the time this machine came out.
The 5110 with Tape, Disk Unit, and Printer. The processor shown appears to support both APL and BASIC with both the Tape and Disk System.
The drives are Double Sided-Double-Density drives, referred to as IBM Type 53FD. Diskette Type 2D and the 53FD diskette drives provided new diskette capacity and performance to IBM systems and permitted users to further optimize or extend their systems. The IBM 5110 enhanced applications with dual diskette drives that provide an economical processing Direct Access Storage Device (DASD) file capability and the exchange medium function of the diskette.
Taken directly from the pages of the IBM Documentation, to ensure accuracy in descriptions.
The name APL stands for A Programming Language. The APL language is particularly well-suited for scientific, engineering, and research applications; it also adapts easily to commercial business applications. Although powerful and concise, APL is designed to be simple and easy to learn. Most APL users require and use only a small subset of the total APL language to develop their own functions.
There are, however, many powerful shortcuts available to the APL user, which allow you to express complex functions with a single keystroke. APL proves that power and simplicity can go together in a programming language.
For example, the following is an APL statement that allows you to find the sum of a series of sales figures:
This same exercise might require several statements in other programming languages.
The name BASIC stands for Beginners All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. The key terms in the name are Beginners and All-Purpose. BASIC, as its name implies, is oriented toward the person who requires a direct, understandable programming language to satisfy the needs of his business. Because of its structure, BASIC allows you to feel comfortable using the language almost immediately. Then, as you gain confidence, you can proceed to the more sophisticated functions of the language.
BASIC is all-purpose because it allows you to manipulate its capabilities according to your individual needs. In other words, BASIC can be used to print an invoice, evaluate compound interest problems, or determine a hyperbolic cosine, depending on your needs. The BASIC language is composed of a series of commands and statements. What you enter tells the system what you want done and how you want it done. By their names, BASIC statements and commands imply the action they perform.
For example, the PRINT statement prints data, and the INPUT statement allows you to enter data from the keyboard. Thus, the elements of the BASIC language speak for themselves.
Information about where this machine came from and what it was used for.
The best part of finding and acquiring these hidden treasures is getting the story behind them from the original owners when possible. What they bought it for, how much they paid, how big of an effect on them, and any other unknowns.
Our meeting was about a five-hour trip out to Goldthwaite, TX. The owners had stored the machine on the 2nd floor of the building pictured center in the photo. Thankfully the building was well maintained, and the computer system remained stored safely inside and untouched.
The owners provided computerized accounting and payroll services and explained to us when we met; the original owners used the computer system for business until the mid-1980s. They purchased a more modern computer and continued on an upgrade path with a different system. They provided a box that contained the IBM floppy organizer, full of 2D Diskettes. The system binder is filled with documentation and a separate stack of guides, manuals, and system cover.
The family helped us load the computer, there is no elevator on-premise, and the external staircase was just not up for the task of supporting two people and the 80lb Diskette Unit. We used the internal stairway, and we could carefully inch it down and out the side door to the alley. I remembered to open the diskette drives as we transported them to prevent the heads from colliding with each other from vibration.
We loaded the computer from the side of the alley and talked a little while more. I felt terrible that I couldn't stay and chat longer or enjoy more of the town, the Museum, and other public attractions. Since it was a Sunday, most were closed, and we still had the drive back home ahead of us.
Found among the documentation is a single leaflet of legal pad paper handwritten from a "Paul Denton", to "Gary". The letter is stapled to a 12-15 page printout of a BASIC program listing of the Recap Program Master. This letter was the only handwritten item in the complete documentation. There are no other ownership documents found with owner or customer information included with the system.
"Enclosed is the new Recap Program Master. It includes the Employers Payment of Employees' FICA."
"Please copy this to your Payroll Recap Master and return."
"We are still working on the new Depreciation Revision and will contact you as soon as we complete it."
"Copied 11/2/81 and returned diskette" (illegible signature or initials)
Fun Fact: The legal pad was invented by a paper mill worker, Thomas Holley, in Massachusetts around 1888. In olden times, lawyers and people working in the law enforcement sector preferred to use colored legal pads. As time progressed, people from different fields and professions started to use writing pads in various shapes, sizes, and colors. However, a yellow-colored writing pad is still referred to as a legal pad.
There is no mention or finding of the last name, but research on Gary in Goldthwaite, TX showed in 1982, a Gary owned and operated Gary Holcomb and Company Real Estate and Accounting. He received a B.B.A. from the University of Texas in 1971, and He formed a partnership beginning his accounting and real estate career in 1974, also in Goldthwaite. Gary served with the Goldthwaite Independent School District from 1979 until 1991. He sadly passed away in 1998 from a sudden heart attack.
We believe that Gary was the original operator of this computer and that he likely used it to provide financial services to the local community. We were sad to learn about his passing, and we are honored and grateful to know more about the history of the machine and the operator. We are incredibly thankful they allowed us to acquisition the system.
The main computer of the system.
This particular system (Model 2) shipped with no APL; it has two 16K R/W storage cards giving it 32K of memory. It did not ship with the tape unit or the hardware installed to run the external tape drive (5106). This setup targeted businesses that needed programs for word processing, databases, and financial applications.
The keys on the keyboard are in a typewriter-like arrangement. The keyboard also contains a cluster of 10 numeric keys and calculator functions arranged like a standard adding machine.
The 5110 keyword and command keys are easily identified along the top row of the keyboard. You can request specific system functions and enter character combinations with a single keystroke using the keyword and command key combinations. Just above the keyboard are specific routine BASIC functions like RUN and LOAD. Operators can use the CMD + desired FN key instead of typing out the entire word when programming.
The Front Panel features switches for controlling the screen's brightness and a special L32 64 R32 rocking 3-way switch. This switch changes the screen to a 32 column mode that spaces out the displays left or right 32 columns.
The other switches on the front allow the operator to reverse the display, only affecting the internal display. Reversing the display was helpful for some who preferred the viewing option for comfort. It made the text black on a white background.
Online Storage for the processing system.
The Disk Unit is the biggest part of the system; the diskette unit features two eight-inch double-sided, double-density diskette drives. The diskette system for the 5110 allowed operators to exchange data with other computer systems, such as the IBM 3741 Data Station, IBM System/32, IBM 3031/3032 processor, and the IBM System/34.
"The capability to exchange data with other systems helped operators to adapt the 5110 to growing data processing needs. For example, data recorded by a 3741 could be read from the diskette and processed by the 5110 while the 3741 operator recorded more data on another diskette."
The diskette used to exchange data between the 5110 and another system had to be IBM-compatible diskette types 1, 2, or 2D. The data was recorded in the 128-byte basic exchange or 256-byte H-type exchange formats.
The most intriguing and daunting part about this drive system is that it is 100% IBM Proprietary. From the cards that control the diskette unit to the cards that control the floppy drives, it's all documented highly detailed in the service guides but not common at all. With most other computers of the 80s, manufacturers followed standards. This system contains the IBM 53FD floppy disk units, made a few iterations before more modern standards that made the later 5.25" mini-diskette.
Unfortunately, there is no option to drop in a replacement drive if something goes wrong. It will likely require modifying a more modern drive if we cannot repair the current diskette drives.
Power is passed through the cable that runs from the main processor to the disk units, tape, and printer, but the disk units contain power supplies for the disk drives. The internal PSU delivers +5/-5v and +24v for the diskette drives and AC for the cooling fan at the top.
The drive systems are seemingly complex, with detailed schematics and test points on all aspects of the Disk Unit. The disk drives can be individually troubleshot, serviced, and repaired using the documentation that comes with the system in the right hands of someone who understands it.
Output for the processing system.
The 5103 Printer shipped in two models, Model 11 has a speed of 80 characters per second (cps), and Model 12 has a rate of 120 characters per second. We will need to reference which model we have.
The 5103 Printer is capable of printing uppercase and lowercase characters, numeric characters, and special symbols. The head prints in both directions, thus reducing print time and features a print overlap capability; that is, certain calculations and output printing can occur simultaneously.
For example, the 5110 can be calculating an extended price (unit price times quantity) while the printer is printing the previous calculation results. This overlap of functions can increase the speed with which the system completes a job.
Leedex Video 100 Composite Monitor
The documentation states that if you need a group of people to view the same information on the display screen, you can attach up to six black-and-white TV monitors to the 5110. The composite output allows the information on the internal display screen to be viewed on additional screens. You might see this in a financial office where data needs to be seen during processing by multiple teams.
Included is a LEEDEX Corporation Video 100 monochrome monitor. The look and feel of this monitor, similar to the TRS-80 computer experience, more than any others.
Sticking keys and degraded materials.
The first brave step in getting work completed with the machine is opening it up, and opening the system does not disappoint. There is serious intrigue in the technology, not because it is ancient but almost foreign to the computers we know today.
Opening the case reveals the A1 board, upside down in the operating position. The motherboard, referenced as the A1 board, is not a Printed Circuit Board (PCB); the wiring is done either by hand or machine-assisted hands. The board acts as an insulator, and each pin is connected by wire.
All of the A1 boards throughout the processor and the disk system are wired this way. There is likely some form of it in the printer, but we haven't opened it up yet for maintenance.
Notice the numbers and letters that run the perimeter of the board? These are used in troubleshooting and, combined with documentation, guide technicians to the troubled part. The documentation supports a heavily formatted framework for troubleshooting the machine, including schematics, Maintenance Analysis Procedures (MAPs), and other supporting processes for diagnosing and repairing the entire system.
Inside the machine, generally above the keyboard electronics but under the keys and the main cards of the system at the base, is a foam that has broken down over time. This foam supports the main A1 board and feature cards and provides insulation to the keyboard mechanisms. The foam parts have broken down into either fine dust and circulated through the machine, or what was touching the glue used to hold it to the sticky backing turned it into a tar-like substance.
You could describe the consistency as really moist cake, and as you can see by the photos, it breaks apart very easily. As you touch and try to manipulate it, the material turns to tar and becomes even more challenging to remove.
Glues and sticky substances used back then break down over time; most manufacturers did not expect and therefore calculate this into production costs. After a certain period, wild things happen that weren't planned on.
The material needs to be removed while the system is working and before it causes any significant problems.
As previously stated, and if not, the electronics in this computer as of this writing are 42 years old. Getting the dirt and any contamination away becomes a priority at this point. Using a gentle hand and taking time, we removed the bad foam. Luckily the material was initially held in place by a thin sheet of plastic-backing, making removal relatively clean.
The next major hurdle to overcome was the stuck key issue. The system for intended purposes has been without issue. The BASIC games and other software titles provided with the machine worked great until we decided to make its first appearance in public.
During its debut with a local computer group meetup, it began acting up. The Video 100 monitor lost its vertical hold, the material in the keyboard started causing the keys to stick, which in turn caused the system to halt. The problems combined made a terrible first impression of the system, and most visitors lost attention quickly.
With the keyboard finally removed, an accurate picture of the damage can be seen. Each of the key posts pierced a protective sheet called the contamination shield. The material is so fragile it breaks up like the paper of a 4000-year-old scroll. As each part broke into smaller pieces and the keyboard was used, they started making their way down the access holes in the key module or down the middle.
After separating the assembly, multiple keys were found to have dislodged flyplates, and a few more might have been knocked loose during removal. The key modules snap into place from below the keyboard frame. All were put back together and lightly cleaned using mild detergent and water.
With all of the key modules in good shape, attention turns to the keyboard frame. Previously the frame contained a similar foam material that isolated the key modules from the frame and likely prevented mechanical interference when neighboring keys were depressed. Since the flyplates rest on the electronic pads of the keyboard, the slightest movement or resonance might cause unwanted keystrokes. The new material was applied to the keyboard frame using a soldering iron to make the holes and 15mm thick foam adhesive, and all keys were reinstalled, completing the keyboard.
The computer system is reassembled with the keys cleaned, the bad foam removed, the key flyplates fixed, and the machine blown out. One last undocumented step was to carefully remove the "smoked" plastic viewer that protected the CRT for cleaning. With the processor powered up, we performed a keyboard test to ensure all typewriter keys were working. So far, there have been no issues with the keyboard, and the system is much friendlier to use now.
While this may be the end to this feature, there is still so much more to show and a lot more work to do to officially declare this machine problem-free. We hit the limitation for this page but we hope to post more soon. Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed this experience.