Mers Kutt, President, All Computers Inc.

Published: December 16th, 2004

According to Canadian computing pioneer Mers Kutt, that Pentium chip has ACI inside.

That’s why Kutt, founder of All Computers Inc., slapped chipmaker Intel Corp. with a US$500-million lawsuit in June, alleging that beginning with the Pentium II chip the company infringed a U.S. patent awarded

to ACI in 1996.

The patent describes “”an apparatus and method for the replacement of a slow speed microprocessor in a system board with a high speed microprocessor”” by generating different — but related and synchronized — clock speeds for processor and chipset from a single, sub-harmonic signal.

In a June interview, ACI lawyer Edward O’Connor said it took until this year to investigate whether Intel was using ACI technology. “”It appeared to be doing so based on Intel’s own public documents as well as the understanding by All Computers as to how the technology probably works.””

Intel begs to differ.

“”Our position on the lawsuit is that it is without merit,”” says Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. At press time Intel had asked a judge to dismiss the action.

Kutt’s association with technology in Canada is a long and colourful one. Born in Winnipeg in 1933, he did stints with Philips, IBM and Honeywell before becoming a professor of mathematics and head of the computer centre at Queen’s University. There he developed the first key edit system — a data preparation system to replace the 80- and 90-column punch cards of the 1960s — which was marketed by the first company he created, Consolidated Computer.

Though Kutt’s impact on technology is more often judged by his development of the first personal computer, the MCM/70, he insists that the key edit system was of equal significance.

At that time, in pop culture references to computers, the punch card was emblematic. Key-prepping data changed the face of computing. Each department of Queen’s had one or two key stations sharing a new IBM 360, running the late Ken Iverson’s elegant APL interpretative computer language.

The APL-based time-sharing system wasn’t blazing fast, but it was better than IBM’s time-sharing OS installed at MIT at the time, says Kutt. But the delay in computational response convinced Kutt that a personal computer was needed.

“”I saw how important it was to have something in your office, and it had to be a computer in itself,”” he says. Enter Kutt’s second company, Micro Computing Machines Inc., and the MCM/70. Weighing about 20 pounds and with a form factor that would look oddly familiar to early Apple users,

the MCM/70 was based on an early Intel chip, with APL hard-wired into the ROM.

The combination of native APL on a $4,000 machine led VisiCalc to create its watershed spreadsheet program, which, running on APL, was the early killer-app for Apple computers.

After being shouldered out of both Consolidated and MCM, Kutt launched All Computers Inc. in 1976. ACI created processor upgrades for 8088, 80286, 80386 DX and SX and 80486 processors. The All Chargecard upgrade for the 286 was selected as add-in board of the year by PC Magazine in 1988.

IBM’s architecture was “”terrible”” and the 8088 and 286 chips unsophisticated, says Kutt, but by improving memory management, the upgrade cards made machines five to six times faster without changing the clock speed. “”I’ve spent a whole career at improving the design of Intel chips,”” he says, without irony.

Headed CIPS

Kutt served as president of CIPS in 1969 and 1970, and was instrumental in launching the first Informatics conference in Kingston. “”There wasn’t a lot of money in the kitty,”” he says,

but hardware exhibits were profitable, so the association incorporated one into the conference to help finance the conference.

“”In the early days of the evolution of a new field, it’s important to share knowledge, to rub shoulders with people in your field,”” he says of the significance of CIPS. At the time, the organization was academically oriented, though those in the industry were beginning to see its value.

Now, with computer use so ubiquitous, CIPS has two audiences to serve, he says.

End-users now outnumber the technical users, “”but there still should be a growing number that know what’s going on under the surface,”” he says.