Calcomp System 25

Calcomp System 25

The RICM recently rescued a large collection of Calcomp CAD workstations and peripherals.

CalComp vs. IBM Records (CBI 2), Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Calcomp Corporate History

California Computer Products, Inc. (CalComp) was a manufacturer of digital plotters, disk drives and other "plug compatible" computer equipment. It was incorporated in September, 1958 and was involved primarily with the production plotters until about 1968, when it began selling disk drives manufactured by Century Data Systems of Anaheim, California. Total revenues for the company were over $6 million in 1966 and $118 million by 1977. By 1970, CalComp had acquired controlling interest in Century.

A portion of CalComp's business, particularly disk drives, was aimed at providing peripheral equipment for other manufacturers' systems at a substantial reduction to the manufacturers' price. On October 3, 1973, CalComp filed a claim against IBM for preventing CalComp from competing in the disk drive market. The company claimed that IBM had monopolized the market through premature introduction of new central processing units and disk drives, price cuts on existing disk products, leasing policies and other unfair marketing practices over a period of ten years (1963 - 1972). CalComp sought treble damages (as stipulated under section 4 of the Clayton Act) on an amount of $102 million. The claim was filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, as number 73-2331-RM.

Calcomp evidently requested a jury trial because the company felt that a jury would be more sympathetic to CalComp's complaint and it would be more difficult for an appellate court to reverse a jury decision. After three years of discovery, the trial began on November 15, 1976 with Judge Ray McNichols presiding. Maxwell M. Bletcher of Bletcher, Collins and Hoecker was lead counsel for CalComp. David Boies of Cravath, Swaine and Moore represented IBM. Testimony was given in person and through deposition by both IBM and CalComp executives, as well as other computer manufacturers and expert witnesses.

After CalComp had presented its case, IBM moved for a directed verdict. On February 11, 1977, Judge McNichols ruled in favor of IBM's motion, citing that there was "not substantial evidence in the record to support a finding of unlawful monopolization in any of the relevant markets suggested."

CalComp filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on February 16, 1977 in San Francisco (no. 77-1563). Judge Herbert Y. C. Choy denied the rehearing on November 16, 1979 and ruled that IBM's pricing, marketing and design changes did not constitute an attempt to monopolize the market.

CalComp was bought by Sanders Associates in 1980.


In the February 1999 issue of A-E-C Automation Newsletter it was reported that CalComp was going out of business in what the company described as an "orderly shutdown." Many readers may not realize that in the early to mid-1980s, CalComp was an active vendor of turnkey CAD systems targeted at A&E organizations. In June 1984, when Ed Forest wrote his feature article on CalComp, the company was a division of Sanders Associates, a NH-based defense and aerospace vendor that also manufactured high-performance graphics terminals. Sanders was subsequently acquired by Lockheed which in turn, merged with Martin Marietta several years ago to form Lockheed-Martin.

The June 1984 article portrayed a CalComp that was on the verge of becoming a major factor in the AEC CAD market. The company was forecasting that by 1989 it would be a $750 million business. That never happened and a few years later the company dropped out of the systems business to concentrate on its graphic output business, where for many years it was the industry leader.

The hot new product in 1984 was the System 25. The System 25 was built around a MASSCOMP MC-500 which incorporated a 10 MHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor. It used a UNIX operating system which CalComp tailored to meet its specific needs. The 68000 was the leading microprocessor for engineering workstations at that time.

A two-seat (the maximum configuration) System 25 was priced at $145,340 including a CalComp 965 E-size plotter. So what could you get for $72,670 per seat 15 years ago? The 68000 microprocessor delivered about 0.5 MIPS performance or about 1/2000th of what a current Pentium III can provide. The system came with a 1 MB main memory and a 20 MB hard disk. Floating point acceleration was an option as were tape backup and a Digital VAX 11/750 which could be used to link multiple System 25s together. Each user station included a 19-inch color monitor, a 12-inch alphanumeric display (this was before the days of on-screen menus) and a tablet for cursor control and command entry.

CalComp offered a wide range of software, mostly aimed at architectural users. This include the SABA (Stacking and Blocking Application) planning software from the Computer Aided Design Group, architectural design, architectural drawing production, architectural costing , HVAC, electrical, piping and instrumentation diagrams and piping isometrics. The software was fairly expensive. As an example, the Architectural Design System which consisted of design, drawing production and costing sold for $20,000.

One of the more interesting applications was what the company called a solids modeling package. It would take a plan view and project it into a 3D view. From what we can tell today, this was not true solids modeling, but rather 3D surface representations of buildings. It did enable a user, however, to work in a mixed 2D and 3D mode with hidden lines removed.

Calcomp 965 Plotter

Calcomp System 25 Server

Calcomp System 25 Workstation, Right Inside View

The Application Processor is in the left card cage and the Pixel Processor is in the right card cage.

Calcomp System 25 Workstation