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Hello, Computer: Just what was that computer Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry used?

Gordon Mah Ung | Jan. 15, 2016
We solve the mystery of who made the generic-looking computer that Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry used for years

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Was Gene Roddenberry a Mac guy or a PC guy? How about neither?

His vision of the future inspired legions of engineers, nerds and techies as well as Bluetooth headsets, the iPad, Siri and cell phones.

But what kind of techie was the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in real life? Or more specifically, what kind of computer did the man use? 

These questions all bubbled up when Gene Roddenberry’s long-lost floppy disks surfaced. The disks, all artifacts in themselves, were salvaged, but information on the actual computer he used to create them has been a mystery.

Roddenberry had two of these generic-looking computers. One his estate kept after he died, while the other was sold off in an auction to benefit charity in 2010. For that, auction house Julien’s Live described it as “IBM identification number ‘GS 113302’ dual floppy disk drives with built-in monitor and separate keyboard. This early portable IBM PC retailed for nearly $3,000 in the early 1980s. The metal case has a “GR” handwritten on upper left side, indicating that this computer was owned and used by Gene Roddenberry.”

The auctioned computer appears to have been purchased by a fan, where its notoriety has secured it a spot on the Star Trek convention circuit. 

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Gene Roddenberry’s computer is important enough that it even made the Star Trek convention circuit in 2014. Credit: Daniel Lewis

That’s no IBM

If you know your computers, you know that’s not an IBM PC. In fact, it’s so generic, you’d think it was one of those plastic props used in an Ikea furniture store to sell Blërg desks.

I consulted our resident vintage computing expert Benj Edwards of Vintagecomputing.com and our own "This Old Tech" column, and even he was stumped by the make of Roddenberry’s computer.

“That’s probably not an IBM compatible machine. It’s likely a very obscure CP/M business machine circa 1978-83, “ Edwards said after seeing pictures of it and being told of the auction house details. His educated guess was a Blackhawk Computer Systems Model III or older running on a Zilog Z-80 processor.

“It’s possible the chassis was generic and it was used by a different company to build a PC compatible machine, but judging by the keyboard, it looks like it even predates the (system Model III).)”

And no, it’s not a Daystrom Institute M-5 Multitronic unit from the episode, "The Ultimate Computer."

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The Ultimate Computer in the 22nd century is still a desktop as we can tell from this M-5 multitronic computer. Credit: Paramount Pictures

 

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