Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Look at the Franklin ACE 2100

A complete set of ACE 2100 photos is available to browse through the My Picasa Albums link in the page header, above.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but companies tend to take a dim view of it when someone clones their products for profit.  It’s probably even worse when you’re Steve Jobs and the imitations are better than your originals. And so it was that in 1983, Apple decided to sue Franklin Computers for producing a line of 8-bit computer that more than mimicked the various Apple II models.

As a maker of something that is essentially a copy of something else, you have the advantage of being able to study and improve upon the original and Franklin did just this when developing it’s line of ACE home computers.  Beginning in 1982 with the ACE 100, Franklin rolled out a series of systems that cloned each successive 8-bit Apple II model, adding new and extended features with each release.  Franklin even went a step further, cribbing parts of Apple DOS for it’s Franklin DOS operating system.  Apple quickly filed suit, alleging Franklin had copied substantial portions of not only the OS but the system ROMs as well.

Wikipedia and the IT Law Wiki have informative articles on the case (here and here), and links to the various court filings and decisions.  Though Franklin initially won, Apple prevailed in its appeal and Franklin was forced to stop producing clones.   The ACE models released in 1985 (the 2×00 series and the 500) were non-infringing but weren’t 100% compatible with Apple’s IIe and IIc computers, respectively, and didn’t make much of an impact on the market.

Franklin later tried their hand at making IBM PC compatibles, but didn’t find any success in that already crowded market and eventually withdrew from the home computer industry altogether.  As an interesting side note, Franklin is still in business today, selling electronic organizers and business tools to busy professionals.  Even their company logo is the same.

Here’s a list of the 8-bit Apple II models and their corresponding Franklin clones.

Apple II ACE 100
Apple II Plus ACE 1000
ACE 1200 *
Apple IIe ACE 2000
ACE 2100 **
ACE 2200 ***
Apple IIc ACE 500

* Same as the 1000, but with dual inbuilt 5.25” floppy drives and a Z-80 card for CP/M compatibility.

** Same as the 2000 but with an inbuilt 5.25” floppy drive.

*** Same as the 2000 but with dual inbuilt 5.25” floppy drives.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the ACE 2100.  This is one of Franklin’s Apple IIe clones, though once the machine is opened up, it bears little physical resemblance to the IIe.

Case Open

There are only two standard, Apple II-compatible expansion slots, but much of the ACE’s functionality is built directly into the motherboard.  The daughterboard on the lower right is an RGB card and the extended memory card is directly to its left.  The three chips visible on the right next to the power supply and between the memory card and the case fan are Franklin’s custom ROM chips.  The 5.25” floppy controller circuitry exists at the lower right corner in this picture, with two inbuilt connectors at the edge of the board.

Here are some close ups of the various features of the Franklin ACE 2100.

320K Extended Memory Card

 

 

 

 

The 340K Extended Memory Board (left) brought the total system memory to 384K.  These boards were part of the standard system configuration in the ACE 2×00 series.

 

 

 


RGB Card

 

 

 

 

An analog RGB card also shipped in every ACE 2×00.  Note the two Apple II-compatible expansion slots at the right edge of the picture.

 

 

 

 


Keyboard

The ACE 2×00 series featured an advanced detachable keyboard with a full set of user-definable function keys, a numeric keypad and Open and Closed-“F” keys designed to mimic the Open and Closed Apple keys on the IIe.


Centronics Connectors

In addition to the two Apple II expansion slots, the ACE 2×00 had two edge-mounted Centronics-style ports that were externally accessible by removing a cover plate on the side of the machine (below).

Update: These plugs were apparently designed for a planned external expansion case in the style of the TI-99 and the Commodore PET.  I can find no evidence that Franklin ever released such a product.


Centronics Port Access


Franklin Floppy

The ACE 2100 came with a single half-height 5.25” floppy drive that was compatible with the Apple II.


Drive Mounting

 

 

 

 

The floppy drives mounted in an enclosure that was attached to the upper portion of the CPU case.  This made it impossible to use Apple-made floppy drives internally.

 

 

 

 


Case open - both halves

The floppy drives plug directly into the drive controller circuitry on the motherboard.


ACE 2100

The ACE 2100 debuted for sale through Sears at $799.99 in 1985.  The 2200, different only because it came with a second floppy drive, cost $949.99.  By 1985 however, half-height 140K 5.25” drives could be had for around $30, so it was common for users to buy a 2100 and upgrade it to a 2200 at home.


ROMs

 

 

 

The ROMs were re-written after the Apple lawsuit to avoid infringement while still maintaining as much Apple II compatibility as possible.

 

 

 

 

 


Front Panel

The ACE front panel included indicator LEDs for system activity and diagnostic information.


Franklin FDOS2

 

 

 

 

Franklin was also forced to re-write its operating system after it lost the suit.  Franklin FDOS 2 shipped with every ACE 2×00 and 500.

 

 

 

 


Rear panel

A view of the rear panel of the Franklin ACE 2100.  Note the case fan to the right of the unit.  Franklin had no pretentions about active cooling being “”noisy and inelegant”.