How LAVA Started
By: Adam Swimmer
4 Min Read
October 4, 2023
Founder Roman Wynnyckyj likes to say LAVA came from the ashes of Orange Computers. While Orange had started on a beer-infused dare, LAVA started from a desire to do something new.
Founded in 1981, Orange Computers started by making a 16K memory expansion board for the Apple II. They followed that up with the OrangePeel, a fully Apple II-compatible computer. It was the first personal computer to feature a detachable keyboard.
The OrangePeel was a successful product but when a large shipment of the computers was sent to the U.S., it was seized at the border. Apple had filed a suspicion of piracy claim against LAVA. Despite the fact that Orange’s post-date patent pre-dated Apple’s, Apple managed to drag out the case until Orange ran out of money and was forced to close down.
How LAVA Computer formed
After Orange shut down, Roman got a job at Multiplex where the company’s owner gave him space to work on his own designs. He had no equipment but many ideas and wanted to start a new company. Given how Orange ended, at that point, Roman didn’t have any money. He also didn’t consider himself a salesman, which meant he couldn’t go at it alone.
In late 1984, Roman reached out to Leslie Goldberg of Goldcraft Printers, a connection from his Orange days. At the time, Goldcraft Printers was one of the largest printing shops in Toronto that also created graphic media/promotions for various clients. Roman successfully pitched him an idea of a new company, leading to Leslie bringing in his friend, Brian Spergel, to do sales. Leslie and Brian each put in $10,000 and Roman put in the skills and ideas. Together, they formed LAVA Computer.
LAVA’s early memories
LAVA’s first successful product was a multifunction board. It featured serial and parallel ports and a real-time clock but the real draw was its memory. At the time, most PCs had either 64K or 256K of RAM. LAVA’s multifunction board expanded the PC’s memory to 640K, the maximum at the time.
For this reason, LAVA sold many memory cards in its early years for many high-profile companies, including IBM, Epson, and Commodore.
LAVA finding its niche
Over the next decade, LAVA released a variety of products, including Ethernet cards, Arcnet boards (a competitor to Ethernet), graphics cards, parallel and serial boards.
At the time, motherboards didn’t generally come with any hard drive controllers, serial and parallel ports, and a floppy disk. LAVA’s Complete series, a line of PC cards, featured all of these.
Iterations of this line lasted for 10 years.
UART cards for modems
In the 1990s, LAVA started selling universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter (UART) cards, which sent serial data between two devices asynchronously at a configurable speed. UART cards were often needed for a PC in those days to communicate with a dial-up modem.
Around this time is when U.S. Robotics struck a deal with LAVA to ship LAVA UART serial cards with their modems. This exposure led to similar deals with Motorola and Adtran.
An inexpensive PCI card
Around 1996-1997, LAVA also started making PCI cards. The PCI Bus had been around for a few years and it was much faster than the ISA Bus LAVA had been using on its cards. However, it cost around $120 to make a PCI board, so it wasn’t worth the effort as most people didn’t want to pay that much for a computer card. However, unsurprisingly, LAVA significantly reduced the cost of production and managed to build a PCI parallel card, selling it for only $30 USD. The card could be used to connect an external hard drive, scanner or printer.
From there, LAVA moved onto serial cards and other parallel cards. When PCI Express came along, they made cards for that too. To this day, LAVA still sells parallel and serial cards on its LAVA Ports site.
Starting in 2000, LAVA started developing LAVA IP System (LIPS)—LAVA’s version of the Internet of Things (IoT). However, work on it began before IoT was on anyone’s radar.
Around 2003-2004, LAVA developed Ether-Serial Links (ESL), adapters that allowed your PC to communicate with one or more serial-based devices connected to the same network. You could connect any device with a serial port, such as a printer, anywhere on the Ethernet and make it look like it was connected to a local serial port on the computer.
The move to mobile and SimulCharge
LIPS was put on hold in 2013 when other unrelated deals came to fruition.
In 2013, LAVA changed its trajectory. A group from Utah reached out as they were looking to build a serial tablet-based customer loyalty system for Quiznos and needed a simultaneous power and data solution. This deal led to the development of SimulCharge and, ultimately, pivoted the company towards its current focus of B2B mobile technologies.
However, more recently, the company has started to explore the idea of LIPS again but with a stronger focus on the B2B space as well.
LAVA continues to flow
LAVA has gone through several incarnations as the technology has changed over the decades. From memory cards to mobile adapters, LAVA has had its hand in many ventures. This is also how the company has been able to weather various market ups and downs over the 39 years of its existence.
To learn more about LAVA and what we do, check out our website.
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