Digital Group: The Complete History of a Pioneering Microcomputer Company

The Digital Group was a pioneering microcomputer company based out of Denver, Colorado in the 1970s and early 1980s. Founded in 1974, they stood out early on for modular and upgradeable personal computer systems centered around interchangeable CPUs – an innovative design philosophy that was ultimately ahead of its time. Over their 10+ year history, Digital Group was a leading brand shaping the early hobbyist PC market, though disagreements with industry trends led the company to eventually shut down. This is the little-known but important story of the Digital Group.


To quickly summarize key details:

  • Founders: Dr. Robert Suding and Dick Bemis
  • Years Active: 1974 – 1986
  • Location: Denver, Colorado
  • Key Products: Early microcomputers with interchangeable processor cards and S-100 bus architecture
  • Target Customers: Electronics hobbyists and early adopters

Founding a Microcomputer Sect

The Digital Group story begins in 1974, when an electrical engineer and former IBM employee named Dr. Robert Suding decided to build a computer of his own after seeing an ad for a hobbyist DIY kit called the Mark-8. Intrigued by computers small enough for personal use, he partnered with businessman Dick Bemis to start selling microcomputers based on Dr. Suding‘s custom designs.

Calling their new company "Digital Group", this pair stood out with a philosophy about personal computing very different from competitors at the time:

"The Digital Group thought that the industry would continue to create new microprocessors. The computer hobbyist ought to have a personal computer system that allows him to switch from one processor to another without losing his investment in the whole system."

With new processors rapidly being introduced in the 1970s, they believed the answer was modular and upgradeable computers where swapping out the CPU would not make other components obsolete. This idea would be at the core of every machine Digital Group built.

Quality Products for Serious Hobbyists

Digital Group‘s first product shipped in 1974 was a bundle of upgrade plans and directions for the Mark-8 computer Dr. Suding had first learned on, showing off their engineering skills. Soon after, Digital Group began shipping their own complete microcomputer systems intended for serious electronics hobbyists.

Their computers stood out against competitors by:

  • Supporting interchangeable CPU cards housing popular processors like the Intel 8080 and Zilog Z80
  • Integrating cutting-edge features other hobbyist machines lacked, including video output to a monitor, cassette storage for saving programs, and an operating system stored right on the machine in ROM chips

For example, within just weeks of the Z80‘s introduction in 1976, Digital Group were first to market with a full Z80-based system – absolutely blazing compared to the 6+ month delays common then. Rather than hype vaporware, they waited until designs were fully tested and operational before announcing products.

With prices premium to match their performance (advertised as the "Cadillac of Computers"), Digital Group targeted their quality, modular systems directly at hobbyists willing to pay more for computers they could tinker with and expand.

Riding the Hobbyist Boom

Over the later 1970s, public interest exploded in personal computers for hobbyists to build and program themselves at home. Standouts like the Apple II, Commodore PET and later IBM PC got most attention, but many niche players catered specifically to the electronics tinkerer market.

As a hardware company exclusively focused on flexibility for hobbyists, Digital Group rode this rising wave through strong sales and growing name recognition in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Revenues were further buoyed by their interchangeable CPU design prompting users to continually upgrade their systems.

Several hardware innovations drove demand from electronics buffs during these winning years:

ProductYearNotable Features
DG Z80 MicroNova1976First Z80 processor computer system readily available; Cassette-based DOS integrated; $849 price tag
DG-6819786800 processor; Advanced thermal design; RAM expandable to 65K
DG ONE + TWO1979Z80 or 6502 interchangeable processors; Dual floppy storage; Business PC capabilities

Positive press coverage in hobbyist magazines buoyed enthusiasm and encouraged third party companies to offer specialized Digital Group software applications. For a time in the late 1970s, it seemed their vision of upgradeable, modular systems might be the way forward.

Downfall: Clashing with Industry Trends


"Unfortunately, not enough amateurs agreed with the group‘s views, and the firm died when the pool was depleted."

Several issues emerged that collectively spelled trouble for Digital Group:

  • The hobbyist programmer market began shrinking faster than expected in the mid-1980s as cheaper, mass-produced PCs took over the mainstream. Lacking business applications, Digital Group‘s computers failed to transition to wider audiences.

  • IndustryVisitor 5 Visitor 5 standards coalesced around integrated motherboards with fixed, non-removable processors rather than interchangeable CPU cards – demolishing their core design philosophy.

  • Quality delays and botched deliveries, potentially spurred by those clashes with market trends, hurt Digital Group‘s reputation in its final years. Despite loyal fans, their idiosyncratic views cost then support.

By 1986, a collapse was imminent. Digital Group had creditors owed payment for years of products never delivered, alongside shrinking sales from a shrinking customer niche. They hung on as long as possible – but financial insolvency coupled with virtually no demand was not survivable. The pioneering Digital Group ultimately shut its doors after an impressive 10+ year run.

Lasting Legacy

While they ultimately failed in their specific modular architecture model, Digital Group had enormous influence on the early microcomputer industry. Many concepts in their systems inspired later computers or were outright copied by competitors.

Moreover, in recent decades, desktop PCs have moved increasingly to more modular designs – modern motherboards with interchangeable CPU sockets and GPU slots now dominate over proprietary all-in-one configurations. In that sense, perhaps Digital Group‘s defining core vision has finally been realized, even if the company isn‘t still around to see it.

So that‘s the story of Digital Group – brave pioneers whose ideas were ahead of their time, but nonetheless left an impression shaping personal computing long after they faded away. Hopefully this overview has shed more light on this little-known but important player from those early revolutionary years launching the PC industry. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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