DTACK Grounded

Hal Hardenbegh has passed away (in June, actually).  Link.


Why, the author of the 80s newsletter DTACK Grounded.


DTACK Grounded was the rant forum for the smart, driven and idiosyncratic Hal Hardenbergh, who was on a mission to create the fastest 68000 machines (and BASIC interpreter) on the planet.  (DTACK is the signal from the memory system to the 68000 indicating “Yup, you can complete that memory cycle now,” and simply stapling it to ground means you’ve built a system with as few memory waits as you can.  I recall the DTACK Grounded boards were insanely expensive because they used a metric boatload of static RAM, but they ran as fast as raped apes).

Hal’s newsletter was interesting not only because of his outre’ standards for performance, but also for his observations on the computing industry.  IIRC he hated Apple.  He somewhat liked the Atari ST, but was still critical of it.  He ranted against the x86 platform and was never short of advice for the industry.

My roommate and I always looked forward to the next issue of DTACK Grounded, and we were sad when Hal stopped publishing it.  We knew Hal was a lunatic, but he was a fun, expressive geek’s lunatic, and despite his obsession with making a fast BASIC interpreter, pretty dead-on with his pithy observations.

I don’t know if the newsletters are online anywhere, but if you can track ’em down, they’re worth a read.

Author: landon

My mom thinks I'm in high tech.

19 thoughts on “DTACK Grounded”

  1. @Adam: It’s a line from Tracy Kidder’s _Soul of a New Machine_, where the engineers are discussing how fast their “Eagle” system’s going to be. That line had me howling when I first read it; it was my first inkling that a lot of engineers really are a kind of crude bunch.

  2. I have never read the DTACK grounded, but this reminds me the story of the Propeller microcontroller, designed almost by hand, using self-made software tools and a second-hand electon microscope:) As creator says:

    “This project took eight years of my time, plus two years
    of a layout engineer’s time. An excruciating amount of attention went into every aspect of the Propeller’s implementation and
    testing, and I allowed no compromises.”


  3. Thanks for mentioning him, and thanks to those who provided a link to the archives. I’d never heard of him, and after reading a few random selections, I definitely agree he was a lunatic, but a knowledgeable, passionate, and entertaining lunatic.

    Besides, I’m sure some people regard me as a lunatic too, considering I used to advocate loading up PCs with as much RAM as they would hold, and then running Win95/98 out of a ramdisk instead of a slow HDD. It didn’t help stability at all, but it sure was fast… So maybe I appreciate him more than most.

  4. Hal was indeed one of a kind.

    After years of reading DTACK Grounded, I bought DBASIC for my ST, and used it quite a lot to write fast graphics demos. It was a fantastic BASIC, and super-fast, but the incompatibility with standard MS-DOS disks was frustrating; I had to write a program to read/write MS-DOS disks.

    He might have sold enough copies to be profitable if he’d been willing to compromise a LITTLE bit with TOS, but compromising with mediocre systems was never his style.

  5. I had to pause and re-read “raped apes” as well, before grinning like the lowbrow chap I am. Speaking of which, “The soul of a new machine” just arrived from Amazon a couple of weeks ago and I should get reading it.

    This DTACK stuff sounds interesting as well, especially since I had a pair of Atari STFMs (and now have a pair of different STEs, and a butchered Falcon upstairs) and still prefer 68000 to x86 (although MIPS64 is nicer than both – where would you find it in the real world, though?).

  6. @Landon – I must say, I’m a little glad raped apes is a quote; monkey mistreatment may misrepresent a man as malicious.

    Ahem. Have I mentioned that I haven’t been sleeping soundly for months 😉

    Also, on a complete tangent, I forget if I’ve asked this earlier, but have you read either “Close to the Machine” or “The Bug” by Ellen Ullman, and if so, what did you think of them?

  7. Thanks for posting this. I had a blown out Apple with one of the first DTACK grounded boards and possibly 2Meg of static memory. I remember going to purchase the 68000 needed for the board. It was always a delight to recieve the new update from Hal.

    Do you remember the fellow Hal used to call “Otherwise Intelligent?” Or the time Hal blew the whistle on the IBM production plant where he uncovered that both the hardware and the software guys used the same “extra” pin on the processor for efficiency. When the machine was put together it was totally busted.

    Will miss Hal and his insights. The board and His newsletter was cutting edge… I wish I still had mine. Thanks for the posted address so that I can re-read his missives.

    1. I don’t think you could get these with 2 MB of static RAM. Hal was not *that* umcompromising 😉

      IIRC, the original static RAM board could be loaded with up to 96k, plus an optional 128k expansion board. (Which was the same size as the basic PCB, a bit narrower than a sheet of legal-format paper.) They later came out with the “DTACK Grande”, which had 1 MB of *dynamic* RAM. On these boards, DTACK actually was no longer Grounded!

  8. I remember DBASIC for the Atari ST. Basically a flop. Pun intended. He circumvented the built in file system with his own, thus making it pretty much useless. No way to import or export your listings or use them outside of the DBASIC environment. It was a closed system, once you boot the disk you were stuck in DBASIC. It probably helped sell GFA-Basic in the end. Sorry to hear of his passing though.

  9. I did know him many years ago, and he was indeed a lunatic, but in a good way. By the way, if I recall correctly, I found a heat problem that caused his board to fail, by driving the optional National Semi math coprocessor at 100% duty cycle. I don’t know if he ever updated the board layout to fix that.

  10. Hi;

    I still have one of Hal’s DTACK boards in storage with my Apple II system. Those were fun hobbyist times at the dawn of the “personal” computer era. 🙂

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