The Web Site to Remember National Semiconductor's Series 32000 Family

Emulator III

Do you expect to see a system like the one in Figure 1 on this website? It was a big surprise to me to get the information that it's central processor is a NS32016! A wise choice: a powerful processor for a powerful instrument!

Fig. 1. Embedded computing for musicians: the Emulator III

E-mu Systems was the company which developed the Emulator series in the 1980's. They were based in California, US. The machine is a so-called Sampler. Due to the quality of the machine you can still buy them at e-bay and use them. Therefore it must be in 2015 the only system on earth running with first generation Series 32000 chips!

The owner of the instrument wrote that the Emulator III was the last E-mu sampler based on analogue filters. It appeared 1988 on the market. Emulator III was able to do more sample processing (i.e. rate conversion or tone pitch transformation) due to its faster processor than its predecessor Emulator II. It also used for the first time 16 bit resolution and provided 8 stereo voices. The price was nothing for people with a weak heart. The 4MB version costs 12,695 US-$ and the 8MB version 15,195 US-$. The price included a 40 MB SCSI Harddisk which was very good for this time. The instrument could be expanded externally with other SCSI devices like CD-ROM.

The interesting question for me is why E-mu choose the Series 32000 as the central processor. Either the duo NS32016/NS32081 provided enough performance and was cheaper then competing 32 bit processors or they wanted to prevent potential competitors from easy copying the machine by using an unusual architecture.

Fig. 2. Inside Emulator III.

One serious problem today with a running system from the end of the 1980's is mass storage. 3.5" floppy disks and hard disk drives using the SCSI bus are no longer in use. Therefore you get a problem when such a device is broken. But there are flash replacements for the old mechanical drives often build by electronic hobbyist like me. The Emulator III shown here has already a ZIP drive instead of the floppy disk.

Fig. 3. The central processor board on the left side.

Fig. 4. The brain of Emulator III: the NS32016 CPU.

The NS32016 CPU stepping is S which is the latest entry in the Series 32000 Bug Sheets for the NS32016. Nevertheless there are still bugs reported which were obviously never solved in this first generation Series 32000 CPU.

Fig. 5. The assistant of the brain: the NS32081 FPU.

This machine is well documented. The Service Manual of 1988 contains all the schematics and can be downloaded here.

Next chapter: Encore