Another Vermont Microsystems Board

My junk pile turned out to contain another board by Vermont Microsystems, Inc. (VMI), probably no less exotic than the mystery board.

VMI Page Manager 100, component side

This one is a Microchannel board built around an Intel 82786. An in this case, VMI was kind enough to etch their name on the PCB, complete with the model name—Page Manager 100.

Unlike the mystery board which is equipped with a TMS34010 and a VMI VCAD chip and was clearly intended as a high-end CAD board, the Page Manager apparently targeted the desktop publishing market.

It’s built around the infamous Intel 82786, one of Intel’s many failed attempts to get into the graphics market (followed for example by the no less unsuccessful i740).

Intel 82786

The DAC is a Brooktree Bt454, right next to a 102.5MHz oscillator. This particular board was manufactured sometime in early 1988, probably February or March.

If I’m reading the memory chip markings correctly, there are eight TMS4464-12L chips, which should add to 256KB video memory (and there’s room on the board for 8 more chips).

A very high-speed DAC (for a 1987 design, anyway) coupled with relatively small amount of video memory suggests that the board was intended for use with high-resolution monochrome monitors, typical for workstations of the era.

Unfortunately, I have nothing to hook up to this board because the display connector looks like this:

VMI Page Manager 100 Connector

That’s a workstation style connector, most likely a monochrome version of a 13W3 plug. That confirms the suspicion that the board is intended for monochrome operation.

It’s worth mentioning that the board does not include any kind of VGA compatibility. It doesn’t need to, since it’s designed for PS/2 machines with on-board VGA.

Back issues of InfoWorld confirm that the board characteristics gleaned from simply looking at the hardware were right: The Page Manager 100 supported 1024×1024 monochrome resolution and was shipped with drivers for Ventura Publisher and Aldus PageMaker, and was available bundled with a B&W monitor for somewhere around $2,600. It appears to have been first demonstrated in August 1987, although it’s unclear whether it began selling in 1987 or 1988.

The Page Manager 100 was probably one of the early Microchannel add-on graphics cards, although it was also available in an ISA version. A relic of the bygone days when application-specific graphics adapters cost $1,000 or more.



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19 Responses to Another Vermont Microsystems Board

  1. Darkstar says:

    If you have an oscilloscope you could hook it up and figure out the pinout, then hook it up to a regular CRT. Probably not worth the trouble without the drivers/software packages though…

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    Sadly, no oscilloscope here… and yeah, I can’t find any surviving drivers either, and I’m certain without a driver the board won’t do anything at all.

    Hmm, is this really the first photo of the Page Manager 100 on the Internet?!

  3. Rich Shealer says:

    That really is an odd connector. Looking at sources for these things that combination seems to have been a custom build. I would think the number would be a 6W1. I found nothing even close to it. Is that an A or B size DSub shell?

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    I honestly have no idea what the connector would be called. Given that VMI was reportedly bundling the cards with monitors, it’s entirely conceivable that they used custom cabling.

    The outer size at the largest point is about 26mm wide and 9mm tall. I’m pretty sure it’s DA, looks to be the same size as 10Base5 Ethernet or a game port. So even weirder than I thought?

  5. Stiletto says:

    I’ve seen that connector before but it’s been a VERY long time.
    I think I may have seen it depicted in an old “Upgrading and Repairing PCs” book.

  6. Rich Shealer says:

    Both the Ethernet MAC and PC game ports connectors used a DA15S connector. I’ve found that there are many electronic systems that use a standard connector with a proprietary pin layout. In the expanded image of your connector it looks like you can see the mold plugs where two additional coax pins could be.

  7. Darkstar says:

    Indeed, it even says R and B on the not-present pins, suggesting that the one analog pin is G(reen), which would be standard for a monochrome monitor…

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    Well spotted! I didn’t even notice that but you’re right, the connector was clearly designed to support 3 R/G/B pins. The mono-only card just has the green pin.

  9. George Matsukis says:

    You are looking at VMI’s Page Manager Graphics card designed to run at 76kHz/70Hz offering a monochrome 1024×1024 resolution. NECHE (Itasca, IL) produced the paper white monochrome monitor.

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    You sound like you have some experience with those boards…?

  11. DOS says:

    My “Upgrading and Repairing PCs” 5th edition (1995) doesn’t have any pictures of similar connectors in it that I could find, maybe it’s not old enough!

  12. George is correct. The Page Manager was produced as a high-end simulated paper background black and white display intended for word processing applications. The dual frequencies handled European standards at the time. It was built for both retail and OEM sales and as OEM, it was used as the display portion of other products. The product came into stress because color was very interesting at that time in the market and although this ultra high resolution (for the day) B/W display was a dream to look at, the cost was also high enough that someone could purchase color at less-but-adequate resolution. The connector was custom, as it came paired with the monitor that George mentions above. The age of this board is between 1987 and 1990. In 1990, we had remaining 1000 cards and the color video resolution in the market at that time made it difficult to find a home for those cards and monitors. Original designers of this equipment are now top-level technical executives at Nvidia and I’m certain they have the original specs somewhere.

  13. Michal Necasek says:

    Thanks for the information! Sounds like the OS/2 Museum has a real rarity there, albeit unusable without the custom monitor… not to mention drivers.

    The stuff about high-res B&W monitors is very interesting. I remember a lesser variant of those from old Sun workstations. I wonder how much of a factor was publishing itself moving to color — after all, if you’re trying to lay out a color publication, then a B&W display is not going to be adequate, no matter the resolution.

  14. Louis Ohland says:

    Thought I remembered Vermont Microsystems… Here’s the ADF for it, and no, I don’t have one or a monitor.

  15. Louis Ohland says:

    Could I get a higher resolution scan say 300 dpi? I’d like to detail it akin to this page:

  16. Michal Necasek says:

    I’ll see what I can do. Please give me a couple of days.

  17. Michal Necasek says:

    Here you go. It’s a bit out of focus and my scanner isn’t really big enough, but that’s the best I can do at the moment.

  18. Robert Glennon says:

    I worked for VMI for 7 years.
    That board was an OEM board that was designed to work with a desktop publishing system software and a specific funky portrait monitor . It was a Cambridge MA company, I think Leaf Systems?
    The project was a bust, and I objected to its development.
    VMI was a small company & in my opinion this was a deviation from VMI core strengths. The old “stick to your knitting” thing

    I had sales responsibility for the North East. Computer Vision was a biggie

  19. Michal Necasek says:

    Fascinating, thanks for posting that. From the previous comments I gather that the monochrome-only output turned out to be a problem, and the card didn’t sell well.

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