Hardware Software Misc. Links

Created by Howell Ivy of Exidy Inc. in 1978, the Sorcerer was in many ways a computer a little too ahead of its time.  Featuring a 2MHz Zilog Z80, high resolution 512 x 240 monochrome graphics (64 x 30 text), RS-232 serial and parallel ports, full 63 key keyboard (plus number pad), a cartridge slot, and up to 48K of RAM (although the original model only supported 32K),  the Sorcerer (on paper at least) seemed to have all makings of a highly advanced computer for a relatively competitive price ($895 at launch).  Unfortunately the Sorcerer quickly fizzled and was gone from the US market a scant 2 and a half years after its initial debut. 

One of the more notable features of the Sorcerer was its cartridge slot.  Although the Sorcerer was not the first computer to have a cartridge slot (that honor belongs to the VideoBrain), it did have something all other computers lacked.  8-Track Tapes!  Well not really, but Exidy Sorcerer cartridges (called Pacs) did use the same case molds as the then popular 8-Track music format.  The reason for this was simple, money.  8-Track molds were readily available and once modified, fit a circuit board quite nicely.  Their large size also allowed Exidy to put instructions and keyboard shortcuts on the label itself.  Although Exidy only produced three cartridges, they were a huge selling point at a time when most software was loaded from slow and unreliable tapes.  Cartridge based software loaded instantly and were sturdy and reliable.  Exidy’s cartridge offerings included a Word Processor Pac (a repacked version of Spellbinder, a popular word processor for CP/M based systems), Standard BASIC Pac (an 8K version of Microsoft BASIC), and the Development Pac which was a Z-80 based assembly language development system.  Exidy also offered a EPROM Pac which was a blank EPROM cartridge that users could program with their own programs (assuming they had a way to program EPROMs).  A Game Pac was also shown in early advertisements but was never released.

Interestingly, despite its quick exit from the market, Exidy produced several high quality peripherals for the Sorcerer.  Not only was there an S-100 expansion box (providing six S-100 card slots), but also a combination 12” monitor and dual disk drive attachment known as the DisplayDisk.  Unfortunately as the Sorcerer itself didn’t sell in high numbers, these peripherals are extremely rare and are highly prized by collectors.  With the expansion box and a disk drive (8” or 5.25”) one could explore the world of CP/M on the Sorcerer, the standard DOS of the time.  CP/M offered hundreds of productivity programs, utilities, and even text adventures.  With a fully loaded Sorcerer one had a mighty computer system indeed.

There were several reasons for the Sorcerer’s quick demise.  The main one being that Exidy was first and foremost an arcade machine manufacturer, they simply didn’t have the marketing expertise or network to sell a home computer to the masses.  The result was that outside of a few magazine ads and a presence at some computer shows, the Sorcerer was relatively unknown outside of major cities.  Compare this to the TRS-80 (a similarly specced Z80 based computer) which was being sold in each of Radio Shack’s 3,000 stores across the country.  Exidy also had problems with hardware bugs in the first version of the Sorcerer resulting in important features like the RS-232 port not working properly.  While these bugs were fixed in the Sorcerer II (a revision of the original Sorcerer), at that point it was too little too late.  The Sorcerer also required that the user purchase an expensive composite monitor as the system did not offer RF out for use on TVs.  This is most likely due to the fact that the high resolution 64 column graphics would not display properly on a standard TV.

After Exidy decided to get out of the computer business they sold their remaining US operations to a Texas based company called Dynasty Computers who sold a rebadged and slightly updated version of the Sorcerer II called the Smart ALEC.  Unfortunately for Dynasty Computers, the Smart-ALEC had even less success as the original Sorcerer and quickly disappeared from the market.  CompuData (later Tulip Computers) handled sales in Europe where they partnered with the Dutch broadcasting company TELEAC to sell the Sorcerer after TELEAC’s original deal to create and market their own new computer failed.  While the Sorcerer had much better success in Europe than in the US, it was in Australia where it really shined.  Sold by Dick Smith Electronics, the Australian version of the Sorcerer was extremely popular with hobbyists who could afford its expensive price tag (approx. $3,000 AUD).  In fact, the Sorcerer Computer Users group of Australia (SCUA) continued to support the Sorcerer long after Exidy had exited the business.