The Mindset Computer

I remember reading about this graphics workstation which was far beyond the capabilities of machines available at the time, in a Creative Computing magazine (Feb. ’85 issue, as it turns out). The machine was a pseudo IBM-compatible unit powered by the rarely seen 80186 (also used in the Tandy 2000). The Mindset had a 512-color palette. Recall that the best standard at the time was the PC’s EGA which offered only a 64-color palette. The Mindset had a 320×200 mode with 16 colors out of this 512-color palette, and also an interlaced 640×400 mode with 2 colors on-screen. Today this would be quite a modest capability, but back then it was pretty amazing.

Not long after the Mindset emerged, Atari rapdily put together the ST to beat Commodore’s Amiga to market (which it did). When I heard the graphics specs of the 520ST, the first ST out the gate, it struck a chord in my memory. 320×200 with 16 colors out of a palette of 512. Well, in an interesting twist it turns out that the Mindset was designed by two ex-Atari engineers. It’s not quite clear just how this or that bit of video hardware design went this way or that, but there would seem to have been some “sharing” there.

At any rate, I am rambling on like this because the machine made an impression on me long ago, but I never heard anything more about it. Web searches always came up fairly dry, though I was in e-mail contact with a fellow who owns two of them. At any rate, to attempt to remedy the situation, I took the Creative Computing magazine in question, which I had since acquired, and scanned in the photos and synopsized the writeup and submitted the lot to, a site that tracks all kinds of information about a great number of old machines. They were kind enough to wrap it all up into a full profile about the Mindset computer. So hopefully I have helped fill in a void that existed in the on-line world. Everyone can rest a little easier now.

I also ran across the full text of that Creative Computing article, which can be seen here.

UPDATE (10/20/04): It looks like someone donated a Mindset computer, in excellent condition, to, making it a very good source of info and photos of this rather unique machine of the mid-80’s.

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24 Responses to The Mindset Computer

  1. Tom Meeks says:

    Originally reading the article in Creative Computing lead to my designing what became the JVC Video Titler in 1984. Steve Bress was the programmer. It was, I believe, the first professional desktop video product for a PC clone.

    What made it possible was the video overlay capability and Steve’s clever programming techniques that took advantage of the hardware graphics controller’s shift registers.

    You can actually see an animation created in 1985 using the Mindset computer at

    By the way, Adjay Chopra, the founder of Pinnacle Systems was one of the engineers behind the designog the Mindset. He founded Pinnacle Systems immediately after Mindset’s bankruptcy.

  2. blakespot says:

    Nice submission! I never thought I’d see Mindset animation. Thanks so much! Fascinating stuff you tell.

  3. blakespot says:

    Didn’t Pinnacle have a MC68000-based workstation of some sort. I recall something about that from Creative Computing magazine in the mid 80’s.

    • Tom Meeks says:

      Steve Bress was the programmer on Pinnacle’s first video system as well. While I created the initial user interface, I think it might have been redesigned before release. It was a DVE system.

    • Tom Meeks says:

      I don’t remeber the chip ID; but, right after Mindset declared bankruptcy Ajay founded Pinnacle and we worked on their first product. I don’t think the interface I designed made it into the final product. Steve Bress did more work on that product than I did. He also discovered some tricks for fooling the hardware to get smooth scrolling.

  4. Jeff says:

    I had one of these back in the mid ’80s when I owned a video production company in the Detroit area. There were much better graphics computers at the time (Silicon Graphics comes to mind), but they cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the Mindset was $4995 American!
    I bought mine at the 1987 NAB convention in Dallas, TX. That was also the year they introduced HD video. For the HD demonstrations they had to transfer the video to film because there were no HD displays at the time!

  5. Ken Jennings says:

    Of course there’s a lot of “Atari” in the Mindset due to concepts and design from ex-Atari engineers (some of that done even before they left Atari) , but it was the old Atari pre -Tramiel. If there was “sharing” from the Mindset to the ST it would have been just plain copying by Tramiel’s group, not due to any friendly relationship between Atari and ex/Atari engineers. Primarily, because the ST was designed by ex-Commodore engineers. According to wikipedia Jack tried to buy the Mindset technology, so his Commodore engineers would have been familiar with the Mindset specs.

    If you would like to draw a parallel heritage with the Mindset, the Mindset and the “Commodore” Amiga were both designed by ex-Atari engineers. (and both computers support genlock/video sync capability which is almost unheard of in other computers.)

  6. John says:

    I have one of the rare working Mindset’s. I picked it up used because I was a big Amiga user and wanted to have the only PC analog. Nice machine for the age but the design had power supply issues.

    Include was a game and a stripped down version of Lumina, which was a very expensive title at the time, that included color cycling animation. The color cycling actually exceeded the equivalent on Amiga Deluxe paint in some ways especially the speed. I think they hung the function off an IRQ on the 80186.

    I was never able to find the hard drive interface module so after checking it out I put it in its mindset bag hand have not had it out since. Pretty machine but a bit fragile.

    • Tom Meeks says:

      The Mindset II was to have a hard drive. But, just about all arrive damaged in shipping. People quit buying the Mindset 1 waiting for thr Mindset II and, unfortunately, the Mindset II’s delivery was severely damaged by the drive issue. It’s really strange to look back and see that just a few decades ago, getting a hard drive to work reliably was REALLY difficult. Mondset did nOT lack talented engineers under Ajay.

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  8. DW Smith says:

    I had one in the mid-80s… Upgraded from an Osborne 1 (I was still fighting the IBM crowd). I bought the ($1000 as I recollect) 10MB hard drive upgrade, and used it for mostly software development. The 80186 was fairly limited compared to everybody else’s 286s. The graphics capability was well beyond what I ever used.
    The internal power supply died and I was able to connect an external AT power supply (big red switch type) to power it until I eventually built my own. Not very pretty, but it did the trick. I seem to remember it was limited to 360K DSDD floppies. I believe the RGB output was EGA, but I can’t be sure. Nice keyboard, klunky mouse. Seems like RAM upgrades were weird (modules?). Sorry, I dumped the thing along with the software and moved on.

    • Tom Meeks says:

      The 80186 had one benefit to Mindset. It could be exported to China when an 80286 was deemed too powerful to allow the Chinese to have it.

      It was possible to attach a Mindset tablet as well.

    • Jerri Kohl says:

      Awesome that you had a Mindset! It was more impressive than you recall, actually. When it came out, the AT was brand new (both released in 84 — perhaps Mindset was even first?), so most PCs were running on 8088s at the time, not even 8086s, and the 80186 outruns an 8086, even at the same clock speed, and the 80186 ran at 6MHz. Since it had a 512 colour palette, it had to use analog RGB, and not digital, like EGA.

      • Blake Patterson says:

        I doubt it’s more impressive than I recall. I read about it when it debuted decades ago and it seemed amazing, as did the 80186 processor shared by few other machines, including the Tandy 2000. The Atari ST’s video architecture was quite similar to that of the Mindset. In fact, there was an overlap of teams, as you can see here: .

        I did not personally have a Mindset. I bid on a couple, but it went too high. I don’t really have a place for one anymore, truth be told.

  9. There was a Mindset at Synapse Software. I’m pretty sure they had the prototype, even, and there was a guy, forget his name, working on some kind of game. I remember it was sort of 3d and you flew towards a field of buildings which grew? Maybe? Don’t know if this game ever came out.

    • Dan Browning says:

      It was called Vyper! and indeed it did come out. I was the programmer. I worked with Kelly Jones on it. The prototype Mindset was the size of a small refrigerator, in a zinc case, all wire-wrapped. Before the game was released we got the production machine, but a Mindset investor visited Synapse just to see it, and criticized the two-tier design, because the connector between the first tier and the second was a point of weakness. He actually pounded on the stacked configuration with his fist while it was running (and my unsaved assembly code was in RAM) and caused my screen to flicker. “Don’t do that,” I cautioned him…. Stewart Brand reviewed Vyper! in his Whole Earth Computer Review — he liked it. — Dan Browning

      • Blake Patterson says:

        How interesting! I had no idea any games were ever written specifically for the Mindset computer, taking advantage of its notable graphics hardware. I dug around a bit and found the packaging shown in several photos in this Mindset lot imageset.

        Unsurprisingly I see no video of the game in action and I’m unaware of any extant Mindset emulator out there. This is one I fear I’ll not be seeing in motion. Thanks so much for stopping in and sharing that Mindset anecdote.

  10. Bill Jennings says:

    We got one of these as a donation in the mid-90s. The power supply had failed but I was taking a class in electronics and the professor suggested cobbling it to a standard AT supply, which we did. That worked but we never had the software and wound up junking it.

  11. I forgot how I was able to create a vector image from a photo (or a slide) and then capture the finished image from the Mindset monitor. Any one know the answer? I am sending the image and process to an art blog on early digital graphics/art.

  12. Brad H says:

    I have a Mindset, it is labelled a little differently. This one has a ‘Professional Video Graphics System’ badge on the front and the model is M-1001 with a VS written in marker. Not sure what the difference is.

    I’ve had it for about 4 years but cannot use it because I do not have the keyboard. If anyone has one they’d like to sell please contact me.

  13. Chris Miller says:

    I have a Mindset complete for sale $500 plus shipping


  14. Chuck Hawks says:

    I guess I got one of the “good ones.” I had a Mindset with the dual disk and stereo options. Couldn’t afford another $1k at the time for the 10MB HDD upgrade. I say I got one of the good ones because mine was purchased for software development and intended graphics projects (which later were usurped/outpaced by SW dev gigs) and never had any power supply issues, even though the unit spend extended periods of time powered on.

    The interesting thing that I rarely see/hear about the Mindset anywhere – but was ballyhooed greatly by sales staff back when the units were in stores – was that John Madden used a Mindset when he first started drawing overlays (for replays, and play strategy projections) during NFL broadcasts. At the time, outside of exponentially more expensive solutions, the Mindset was the only computer that could do this. (See Tom Meek’s old Army video that also did overlays instead of chromakey to put graphics over video)
    I even heard Madden mention the Mindset a few times when he first started drawing overlays on live video broadcasts.

    I sold it many years ago (and after it’d been shelved for decades) complete with original packing boxes, etc. but errantly forgot to include the mouse – which I found many months after the sale and I still have it, along with a few sales brochures today. I sold the computer to an entity that only wanted to put the unit on display, so they didn’t seem to care (never even mentioned it) about the missing mouse.
    It was quite the advanced system for its day and a shame that it didn’t go further than it did. A combination of short-sightedness around compatibility by the company (locking the system down with a 20% incompatibility ratio prior to release, with only 60 broad market applications compatible during a time of application dev explosion) and a lack of desire in the general marketplace for innovation over IBM/MS-DOS application compatibility resulted in a short life for what may have been a driving player in pushing the industry forward more rapidly.

    I am impressed that it still remains a permanent resident in the NY Museum of Modern Art to this day, which was another ballyhooed sales point back when they were available for purchase.

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