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Dawn of the Personal Computer: From Altair to the IBM PC
Maximum PC ^ | 03 June 2009 | Erik Klein

Posted on 06/03/2009 6:34:36 AM PDT by ShadowAce

Imagine a world in which all cars are like the Toyota Prius: four-door midsize hybrids. Sure, they aren’t bad cars, you can paint them any way you want and even modify some parts, but in the end you still just have a generic Toyota with a funky paint job.

That’s the world of personal computing today. It doesn’t matter if you’re running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Your machine is almost certainly using Intel chips at its core and almost everything else is fairly generic—even the world’s greatest case mod with water-cooled dual-Xeons and quad-SLI graphics is just a really fast PC.

This was definitely not the case 35 years ago. A quick tour of the Computer History Museum in San Jose, CA, reveals machines that were as varied and unique as the companies that made them.

The microprocessor, if there even was one, were supplied by Intel, MOS, Zilog, RCA, or any number of other companies. Memory was static, dynamic, and shift-register. And without the Internet, programs were loaded from paper tape, punched cards, cassette tape, floppy disks, cartridge, or even manually switched in by hand.

In the following pages, we take a close look at some of the most influential personal computers of the past 40 years. From pre-microprocessor machines to the venerated IBM PC, each of these systems contributed in some way to the modern personal computing era.

Kenbak-1

Widely considered to be the first true personal computer, John Blankenbaker’s $750 Kenbak-1 had almost everything a modern computer has: I/O (lights and switches,) memory (256 bytes of shift-register memory), and a full set of op-codes. Missing were storage and an actual CPU; the Kenbak pre-dated the microprocessor by more than a year so the logic was implemented in discrete transistor-to-transistor logic (TTL).

The machine, designed by engineer John Blankenbaker, sold for $750 from a tiny ad in the back pages of Scientific American magazine at a time when a new Ford Pinto could be had for a cool $2,000.

Only a few dozen were ever built and many were used to train mainframe programmers.

RAM    256 Bytes
CPU    No CPU (logic in TTL)
Supporting OS    None
Predecessor     Early mainframes
Successor     All other PCs
Notable Firsts    By most accounts this was the first PC

Xerox Alto

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was the source of numerous computer innovations including the mouse and the windowed graphical user interface. The company’s Alto system was never a commercial product but it did incorporate most of the aspects one expects from a modern computer: mouse, hard drive, networking, and a windowed GUI represented on a bitmapped screen.

Xerox built thousands for internal use and donation to various educational institutions.

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were given demonstrations of the Alto’s (and the later Xerox Star) user metaphor and both went on to design their own versions for commercial sale.

Xerox eventually tried to capitalize on the technologies with the Xerox Star, released commercially in 1981, but the system was expensive and sold poorly.

RAM    64K-256K words (128K-512K bytes)
CPU    Proprietary 16-bit
Supporting Operating Systems    Alto Operating System
Predecessor     Various bits of Xerox PARC research
Successor     All GUI based PCs
Notable firsts    First GUI, first Mouse

Scelbi-8

In early 1974 there weren’t many microcomputers available, but in March of that year, SCELBI (Scientific, Electronic, Biological) introduced its $550+ 8 series, based around the Intel 8008 microprocessor. Offered were the 8h hobbyist kit and the 8b business computer.

In addition to the machines, SCELBI produced some programming books and software. When the company realized that the documentation and programs made more money than the machines, it quickly adjusted its business model and abandoned hardware sales.

RAM    1K to 16K
CPU    ~.5MHz Intel 8008
Supporting Operating Systems    None
Predecessor     Early mainframes/Mini-computers
Successor     Other Intel-based personal computers
Notable firsts    First microprocessor-based hobbyist PC



Mark-8

Radio Electronics and Popular Electronics magazines used to engage in contests of one-upmanship for front-cover projects. In July 1974 Radio Electronics’ cover featured one of the first CPU-based PCs, the Mark-8 minicomputer kit.
For about $50 you got an instruction booklet and a few circuit boards. 

After gathering  $250 or so in components like RAM chips, resistors, capacitors and the expensive 8008 microprocessor and then doing a whole bunch of soldering the buyer would, hopefully, end up with a real computer running at .5 MHz with 256 bytes of RAM and some basic I/O.

Hobbyists found many ways to expand this system but the 8008’s address limit of 16K ultimately proved a barrier, especially when alternatives existed such as Popular Electronics’ response: the Altair 8800.

RAM    256 bytes to 16K
CPU    .5MHz Intel 8008
Supporting OS    None
Predecessor     None
Successor     Various Mark-8 homebrew iterations
Notable Firsts    First popular computer kit

MITS Altair 8800

In 1975, responding to Radio Electronics’ Mark-8, Popular Electronics debuted the Altair 8800, an Intel 8080-based machine sold as a 1K kit for $500.

Although the Altair wasn’t really the first PC, what it lacked in primacy it made up for with its ability to generate excitement.  A soon-to-be Harvard dropout named Bill Gates was so taken by the machine that he and some friends felt compelled to write a version of BASIC for it. This landed them on the MITS staff and, eventually, led to the founding of “Micro-Soft” - later Microsoft.

The machine also defined the first standard Personal Computer bus architecture, the S-100 bus, and inspired a new generation of personal computing pioneers; the number of companies formed and fortunes made because of the Altair is simply amazing although few of those made it to today.

RAM    256 bytes to 64K
CPU    2 MHz Intel 8080
Supporting OS    MITS DOS, CP/M, and others
Predecessor     Mark-8 and other early PCs
Successor     IMSAI 8080 and all other S-100 machines
Notable Firsts    First S-100 bus machine, first widely popular PC

KIM-1

The KIM-1 was designed to showcase the new MOS 6502 microprocessor. The chip was introduced at $25 per unit when the cost of Intel’s 8080 was nearly $200 in bulk. In spite of the price, the 6502 was for real, as the KIM-1 proved.

MOS was quickly bought up by Commodore who used the chip in their Commodore PET line of computers.

A couple of guys named Steve quickly built a single-board computer using the new chip and then named it after a fruit.  Over time, it was incorporated into machines from Atari, Ohio Scientific and more.

The 6510, a later version in the 6502 family, powered the popular Commodore 64.

RAM    1K
CPU    1 MHz 6502
Supporting OS    None
Predecessor     None
Successor     All other 6502-based machines (Apple, Commodore, Atari, etc.)
Notable Firsts    First use of the 6502 computer



IMSAI 8080

 

With the overnight success of the MITS Altair 8800, others quickly geared up to tap into the market. IMS Associates Incorporated (IMSAI) quickly reengineered a pre-production machine to conform to the new S-100 standard while simultaneously fixing a number of obvious flaws in the MITS design.

The result was the IMSAI 8080; the first Personal Computer clone and a movie star to boot.

The IMSAI 8080 conformed to the Altair’s standards while upgrading the front panel, case and power supply with far more robust parts.

In the end the IMSAI outsold and outlasted the Altair; proving that you don’t have to be first to succeed.

RAM    1K-64K
CPU    Intel 8080
Supporting OS    IMSAI DOS, CP/M, and others
Predecessor     Altair 8800
Successor     Later S-100 systems
Notable firsts    First S-100 clone

Apple I

In 1976 Steves Jobs and Wozniak were both active in the tight-knit Silicon Valley computer hobbyist scene. Inspired by what they saw at various Homebrew Computer Club meetings, they sold their toys (a calculator and a van) for the capital to hand-build the earliest Apples, launching an industry icon.

The Apple I wasn’t particularly revolutionary but it was very well engineered, included video circuitry and it was relatively inexpensive which helped it catch on.

The first run of 200 or so units sold out quickly (at $666.66 apiece) and convinced Apple to build and sell the Apple ][ which, with a little bit of help from the first “Killer App,” revolutionized the Personal Computer market.

RAM    4K
CPU    1MHz 6502
Supporting OS    Cassette BASIC
Predecessor     KIM-1 and early 6502 systems
Successor     Later Apple systems
Notable firsts    Apple’s first computer

Sol-20

Until the Sol-20 hit the scene, a personal computer was pretty impersonal. The best a user could hope for was rows of switches and lights or a hex keypad and a handful of LEDs.
It took a lot of work to make those machines do things which meant that they were reserved for only the geekiest of users.

Lee Felsenstein, the yardstick-wielding moderator of Homebrew Computer Club meetings changed that with his S-100 based Sol-20.  This machine, sold as a kit or fully assembled, was the first “out of the box” PC, sporting a keyboard, video circuitry as well as ROM based software available at power-up.

When plugged into a TV set (with an RF Modulator) or an inexpensive monitor it was ready to go.

RAM    4K-64K
CPU    2MHz Intel 8080
Supporting OS    SOLOS, CP/M, Northstar DOS, and others
Predecessor     Altair 8800
Successor     Other integrated computers (Apple, Commodore, etc.)
Notable firsts    First integrated machine with keyboard, video, etc.

Commodore Pet 2001

The $600 Commodore PET was the first fully integrated “appliance computer” that included everything needed out of the box.
It was effectively an expansion of the earlier KIM-1 with video logic added to drive the internal monitor.

The PET was a popular machine, especially in the educational market, possibly because it was built into an amazingly sturdy steel case.

The system was also attractively designed although some of that came at the expense of functionality.  One early complaint was the chicklet-style keyboard (designed to use Commodore calculator keys) which was a far cry from the full-size keyboards included with the PET’s competitors.  The original issue of 8K (a 4K model was quickly dropped) of included RAM was also a problem.

These deficiencies, as well as others, were addressed with later updates and helped the Commodore PET line attain high levels of popularity in the US as well as in Europe.

RAM    8K
CPU    1MHz MOS 6502
Supporting OS    Built-in BASIC
Predecessor     KIM-1
Successor     Other Commodore machines
Notable firsts    First fully integrated “appliance” computer



TRS-80 Model I

Tandy/Radio Shack produced one of the earliest personal computers and, for a while, the “Trash-80” systems were very popular in a crowded market. The TRS-80 competed well with the Apple ][ and Commodore PET and earned a loyal following among the limited number of home computer enthusiasts. The Radio Shack system was based on the Zilog Z-80 processor (an Intel 8080 clone, with a few upgrades) and used a modified Tandy television as its monitor.

The Model I was felled by the FCC for its RF interference but was followed by a series of models designed to serve the home and business PC markets.

Tandy Ultimately succumbed to the IBM PC steamroller and produced PC work-alikes and clones after axing the venerable TRS-80 line.

RAM    4K-48K
CPU    1.78 MHz Zilog Z80
Supporting OS    TRSDOS
Predecessor     None
Successor     Several more models in the TRS-80 line
Notable Firsts    First Tandy/Radio Shack computer

Apple ][

After the Apple I, Steve Wozniak designed a new version of his baby which addressed several of the original’s biggest shortcomings. For one, the new machine was a complete system. The power supply and keyboard came standard!
With Integer BASIC and a hardware monitor in ROM the Apple ][ was a “turnkey” system – turn it on and it worked – which had suddenly become de-rigueur for the industry.

A combination of an open architecture and brilliant marketing helped the Apple computer quickly become a household name.

With the advent of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet, the Apple also turned the business world on its head as people snuck them in to work to compete with the Big Iron.

RAM    16K-48K
CPU    1MHz 6502
Supporting OS    Apple DOS
Predecessor     Apple I
Successor     The rest of the Apple line (][+, ///, ///+, IIgs, //c, etc.)
Notable Firsts    First mass-market Apple

Exidy Sorcerer

The Exidy Sorcerer was an early Z80-based system that tried to bridge the gap between lower-end home/educational machines and the S-100 business world.

Exidy offered an S-100 expansion chassis that could be plugged in to their base system to turn it into a full-fledged S-100 box capable of using the cards and running the software of the likes of the IMSAI and Altair.

The Sorcerer was likely the first personal computer with a cartridge slot for at-boot software.  In an odd twist, cartridges used hollowed out 8-track tapes to hold the circuit boards and ROMs. Software from BASIC to word processors was available via these cartridges.

Although it was a well built and highly functional machine with a good keyboard, built-in software monitor and good expandability it wasn’t nearly popular enough to live on.

 

RAM    8K-64K
CPU    2MHz Zilog Z80
Supporting OS    CP/M
Predecessor     None
Successor     None
Notable Firsts    First cartridge-based PC



Atari 400/800

Atari became a household name with their arcade games and built on that reputation with home gaming systems including Pong and the Atari 2600 game console.

It was inevitable, then, that Atari further capitalize on their name by entering the burgeoning home computer market.  They did so in 1979 with the introduction of the Atari 800 and its little brother the Atari 400.

The Atari systems were similar to their competitors, the Commodore Pet and Apple ][, in their use of the 6502 processor, but Atari’s gaming roots resulted in the inclusion of several custom chips to control sound and graphics making the Atari 800 an early gaming masterpiece.

This helped sell the machines while various productivity applications such as word processing, database and spreadsheets helped them find a solid following in the home market.

RAM    16-48K
CPU    1MHz 6502
Supporting OS    Atari DOS
Predecessor     Prior Atari products
Successor     A whole line of later Atari computers
Notable Firsts    Atari’s first home computer

Apple ///

The Apple /// represents Apple’s first real failure.

With 128K of RAM, a built-in floppy drive and optional hard drives this Apple was intended to be a true business computer but early design flaws and a high price kept it from success while IBM came in and stole the show. 

The machine was sold without a fan which made it overheat causing the main-board to warp.  One official Apple solution promoted percussive maintenance to fix the issue - users were advised to drop the machine several inches to re-seat loose RAM chips.

By the time Apple had addressed the early flaws with the introduction of the improved Apple ///+ the PC was the dominant player in the business market and Apple was on the sidelines.

RAM    128K
CPU    1MHz 6502
Supporting OS    SOS, CP/M, Apple DOS
Predecessor     Apple ][
Successor     Apple Lisa, Mac, etc.
Notable Firsts    Apple’s first misstep

Osborne 1

Adam Osborne did lots right when he bundled his computer with all the useful applications—word processing, spreadsheet, database, programming etc.—and sold it for a reasonable price.

He also made computer marketing history when he pre-announced the “Next Big Thing” way too soon and killed the revenue stream he needed to complete development on that next big thing.

The Osborne “luggable” was an evolutionary dead-end (which didn’t prevent dozens of other companies from Compaq to Zorba from copying the form-factor) but it did show that people wanted to be able to take it with them and it proved that hardware was only a means to software.

RAM    64K
CPU    4MHz Z80
Supporting OS    CP/M
Predecessor     Early CP/M machines
Successor     All suitcase portables, later Osborne models
Notable Firsts    First suitcase portable, first system bundled with full suite of applications



Epson HX-20

Epson’s HX-20 was the world’s first effective and popular notebook computer. It could run for 50 hours on its internal battery, had a real keyboard, built-in productivity applications, and mass storage. It even had a built-in printer!

Sure, the 4x20 character LCD was a bit limiting and the tape drive was slow, but this was a real computer in a sub-4lb package that worked! 

The ability to add ROMs for additional functionality made this machine popular for targeted applications like engineering and data gathering.

The system also presaged the laptop form-factor, minus the clamshell screen.

RAM    16K
CPU    .6MHz Hitachi 6301
Supporting OS    CP/M
Predecessor     None
Successor     Later notebook formfactor computers
Notable Firsts    First notebook computer

IBM PC

The IBM PC was one of the most anticipated arrivals to the personal computer era. IBM countered its usual process to produce the PC quickly using mostly off-the-shelf parts.

Almost all modern PCs, even those running Mac OS and UNIX flavors, are descendants of this venerable architecture.
Although IBM entering the Personal Computer market had a profound effect on how computers were accepted in business, the biggest impact was Microsoft licensing DOS and BASIC to IBM.  Bill Gates was able to wrangle an open agreement that allowed Microsoft to eventually sell these products to other vendors.

As soon as the clones started coming Microsoft had a ready market that just kept growing.

RAM    16K-640K
CPU    4.77MHz 8088
Supporting Operating Systems    PC DOS, CP/M, UCSD-P
Predecessor     IBM 5100 and various early PCs
Successor     IBM PC XT and the rest of the line
Notable firsts    First successful IBM Personal Computer

Commodore 64

 

The Commodore 64 is one of the most recognized computers ever built. It should be; it holds the world record for the most units sold of any computer. What the C64 lacked in technology it made up for in popularity and price.
This machine helped cement the idea of a “home” computer when that concept was almost as alien as a personal aircraft carrier and it did so because the machine was both affordable and accessible.

While a few Commodores were used for productivity most ended up as game systems while an entire generation of software engineers got their programming start writing BASIC code on a C64.

RAM    64K
CPU    1MHz MOS 6510
Supporting OS    Built-in BASIC and CP/M (with additional hardware)
Predecessor     Commodore PET line
Successor     Commodore Plus/4, Amiga, and later machines
Notable Firsts    Best-selling PC ever

Franklin Ace 100

The nascent personal computer industry had never addressed copyright issues for hardware and firmware designs until Franklin copied the Apple ][ (down to the ROMs) and started selling them at a discount.

Apple quickly sued and, in 1983, won a judgment against Franklin in a landmark court case. Franklin was then forced to reengineer their products and to reverse engineer Apple’s ROMs, but by the time they came out with their new machines it was already near end of life for the Apple ][ line, the PC was king and the Mac was out of the gate.

RAM    16K-48K
CPU    1MHz 6502
Supporting OS    Apple DOS
Predecessor     Apple ][
Successor     Ace 1000, Ace 1200
Notable Firsts    Caused the first software copyright lawsuit



Compaq Portable

 

A few guys from Houston got together to design the first true PC clone—on a placemat, no less!
Sure, at nearly 30 pounds it wasn’t a lightweight, but it was “portable” and, most importantly, you could run Flight Simulator on it.

They reverse engineered the BIOS so as not to be stuck with IBM royalties or legal issues and quickly built one of the more successful computer companies. 

In the long run they beat IBM to the punch in releasing a 386 based machine and they stuck with the ISA bus when IBM went to Micro Channel. For these reasons and others they outlasted Big Blue in the PC market.

 

RAM    128K-640K
CPU    4.77MHz 8088
Supporting OS    MS-DOS, CP/M
Predecessor     IBM PC
Successor     Later Compaq machines
Notable firsts    First black-box reverse-engineered IBM PC clone

IBM PCjr

IBM tried the home computer thing, too. Although the IBM PCjr was highly publicized and much anticipated, the reality of the machine was well below expectations.

Sure, it was a powerhouse as compared to the Atari’s and Commodores it targeted, but it also cost hundreds more and it came with a really crappy keyboard and awkward expansion via sidecars.

And, on top of that, it wasn’t 100% IBM PC compatible!

In the end, being a 16 bit player in an 8 bit home computer market wasn’t enough to save this little peanut.

RAM    64K-640K
CPU    4.77MHz 8088
Supporting OS    IBM PC DOS
Predecessor     IBM PC
Successor     None
Notable firsts    First IBM home computer

IBM PC XT

A hard drive and an OS with subdirectories don’t seem like much now, but in 1982 these were hawt! IBM and Microsoft weren’t the first to deliver either technology but they were the first to really mainstream it. Before the XT, hard drives were a luxury. After the XT, they were expected.

IBM also killed the cassette port, added slots and beefed up the power supply in recognition of the real users of their technology and in acceptance of their earlier “misunderestimation” of the PC market.

RAM    64K-640K
CPU    4.77MHz 8088
Supporting Operating Systems    PC DOS, CP/M, UCSD-P
Predecessor     IBM PC
Successor     IBM PC/AT
Notable Firsts    First IBM PC with a hard drive

Apple Macintosh

Introduced in a now-world-famous Super Bowl ad, the Apple Macintosh wasn’t the first GUI PC — it wasn’t even Apple’s first GUI PC— but it was the little computer that could and it sparked a revolution in personal computer design while redefining people’s expectations of PCs.

When introduced, the Macintosh was underpowered with only 128K of RAM and a slow Motorola 68000 processor, but popular technology and rapid-fire upgrades helped it hold its own.

The Mac not only represented a new technological age for Apple, it defined a break from their “open architecture” standards of the Apple ][ era.  With the Mac Apple rebuffed the aftermarket and saw their market share decline dramatically.

RAM    128K
CPU    8MHz Motorola 68000
Supporting OS    MacOS
Predecessor     Xerox Star, early Apples
Successor     All later Macs
Notable Firsts    First “affordable” GUI-based PC



IBM PC/AT

 

 

The PC/AT introduction was the last time IBM managed to set the PC pace. Its Intel 80286 processor was a true 16 bit unit which meant that IBM had to redesign the bus for 16 bit addressing.  The bus quickly became the industry standard and was soon named as such.

The ‘286 also upped RAM limits from 1MB to 16MB and brought about new levels of suffering with Expanded and Extended memory management.

Over-clocking was briefly possible with the earliest ATs until IBM redid the ROMs to prevent that.  Other vendors, however, were more accommodating.

Either way the AT brought forth enough power for Microsoft to run a new DOS shell with technology borrowed from Xerox PARC.

And thus Windows was born.

RAM    256K-16MB
CPU    6MHz 80286
Supporting Operating Systems    IBM PC DOS, CP/M and others
Predecessor     IBM PC XT
Successor     IBM PS/2 line
Notable Firsts    First IBM 16 bit PC and Bus

 

A look back at these old machines shows the clear path of Moore’s Law. Since the release of the IBM PC/AT, the personal computer has grown faster and microchips have shrunken smaller by orders of magnitude. The antiques we’ve showcased may be considered slow and crude by today’s standards but they all contributed, even if only a little, to the PCs we use today.

 

Early Media

 

In the early days of personal computing, users had any number of options for loading programs and for keeping their data safe. Floppy and hard disks were common, but so was paper tape and cassette tape. Less common were micro-cassette tape, bubble memory, and even “floppy ROMs,” which were thin, plastic records sent with some computer magazines. And speaking of ROMs, there were the standard ROM chips plugged into boards but many manufacturers put them into card-edge packages and tucked them into plastic cases (cartridges.)

Magnetic Media

Examples: 5.25” 30 MB hard drive, 8” floppy, 5.25” floppy, 3.5” floppy, Coleco Adam High Speed Digital Data Pack, Cassette Tape, Micro Cassette Tape.

All of these and more were used on early computers. Most were slow and fairly clunky, but they were far better than re-keying programs every time you rebooted.

The total capacity of these represents less than 1/20th of one CD ROM.

Solid State Media

Examples: 2K ROMs, ROM Board/bare Exidy Cartridge, Atari Cartridge, Commodore 64 Cartridge, TI 99/4a Cartridge, Intel 1702 EPROM (256 bytes), Exidy Sorcerer Cartridge (in a hollowed out 8-track tape case) Coleco Adam/Colecovision cartridge.

Cartridges and ROMs were used to provide ready code at boot so that the computer was useful as soon as power was applied.

Analog Media

Examples: Paper tape, Interface Age Floppy ROM, Punched cards.

Paper tape was widely popular for the earliest computers due to the easy availability of used Teletypes. These operated at 110 baud (10 bytes per second) which meant that a typical 8K program would take nearly 15 minutes to load! Most other media were faster, but not always by much.

Bill Gates Asks Hobbyists to Pay Up

Early users groups from coast to coast (the SiliconValley Homebrew Computer Club being the most famous) were venues for geeks to gather, demonstrate their knowledge, and share their inventions. Some folks demonstrated their new computers, some shared renditions of old tunes played on an Altair computer, and some shared software. Sometimes it was software they wrote and sometimes it was software that someone else wrote.

In one notable early incident, a regular at the Homebrew Computer Club obtained a copy of Altair BASIC on paper tape. Prior to the next meeting he made dozens and dozens of copies, which he freely distributed to other attendees.

So, in 1976 Bill Gates had a problem. He was making software that everyone loved but that few were bothering to pay for. In frustration, Gates penned an “Open Letter to Computer Hobbyists,” which was published in the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter and elsewhere. In the missive he explained that the unauthorized copying of software was theft and that doing so inherently discouraged developers from producing good software.

He explained that only about 10 percent of Altair owners had bought BASIC (although all seemed to own it) and that he and his staff were effectively working for $2 an hour producing quality software that the hobbyist community clearly valued.

The letter sparked some harsh exchanges, including a more pointed follow-up letter by Bill Gates, and ultimately started the discussion about software piracy. This discussion has, of course, picked up steam and continues to this day.



The Big Boys of Computing’s Early Days

Before computers were staple appliances in the home, they were the domain of corporate offices, research laboratories, and even government bases. Like the one in Adam West's batcave, these machines were mechanical giants, taking up entire rooms and prominently displaying analog parts. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, hosts a grand collection of these computing artifacts, and here are three of our favorites.

SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) Air Defense Computer

The SAGE display represents a small portion of the typical 300-ton installation of a computer used by the military to detect threats. These vacuum tube computers were deployed in redundant pairs at 27 linked installations throughout North America with the goal of tracking Soviet bombers during the Cold War. The SAGE project, started in 1954, included forward-looking technology such as modems, networking, and even light guns. The software driving the machines was amazingly advanced for the day, as well. Look closely, and you can even see a cigarette lighter built into the console!

IBM System 360

The IBM System/360 represents a major turning point in computer history. Prior to the 1965 introduction of the System/360 a computer upgrade meant a complete rewrite of all software. With the 360, IBM unified its computer architecture and permitted users to move up and down the line using the same software and operating systems. This enabled computing to penetrate deeper into industry worldwide and allowed IBM to dominate the market for decades.

Babbage Difference Engine

Charles Babbage (1791-1871) was, perhaps, the earliest computer pioneer. He designed numerous computing devices using Victorian-era technology, although the limits of that technology made it impossible for him to ever build any of his ideas. Fast forward 150 years and our technology proved his concepts viable with the creation of a working Babbage Engine. A functional replica of this analog computer sits in the lobby of the Computer History Museum, on loan until the end of this year.



TOPICS: Computers/Internet
KEYWORDS: computer; history; hitech

1 posted on 06/03/2009 6:34:36 AM PDT by ShadowAce
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To: rdb3; Calvinist_Dark_Lord; GodGunsandGuts; CyberCowboy777; Salo; Bobsat; JosephW; ...

Long, but fun.

2 posted on 06/03/2009 6:35:11 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce
And to think that all of this happened "after" I graduated from college with a BSEE!

Lord, am I getting old! ;-)

Seriously, it has been one hell of a trip from the four-function calculators that couldn't replace my Post Verslog and CRC Math Tables in undergrad school to the laptop my son takes for granted now to do his high school homework and research!

3 posted on 06/03/2009 6:40:38 AM PDT by Redleg Duke ("Sarah Palin...Unleashing the Fury of the Castrated Left!")
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To: ShadowAce
Imagine a world in which all cars are like the Toyota Prius: four-door midsize hybrids. Sure, they aren’t bad cars, you can paint them any way you want and even modify some parts, but in the end you still just have a generic Toyota with a funky paint job.

That’s the world of personal computing today. It doesn’t matter if you’re running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Your machine is almost certainly using Intel chips at its core and almost everything else is fairly generic—even the world’s greatest case mod with water-cooled dual-Xeons and quad-SLI graphics is just a really fast PC.

Interesting article but I don't really buy the analogy. Their 'diverse' computing world would be if everyone had different vehicles - that each had different, incompatible propulsion methods. Gas-engined vehicles would need to scope out an appropriate gas station, hydrogen vehicles the same, electric vehicles would need a power station, and the like.

We have plenty of different models of computers that all have features in common (x86) that allow us to run many varieties of software and operating systems with very little inconvenience.

It's a great time to be in computers!

4 posted on 06/03/2009 6:44:11 AM PDT by Dan Nunn (Some of us are wise, some of us are otherwise. -The Great One)
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To: Redleg Duke
..am I getting old!

Me too. While I graduated high school later than some of these machines, my first computer was a TRS-80 Model I with 16K of RAM and a cassette drive.

I've watched the progression of computers since the late 70s and am still amazed at what they are capable of doing.

5 posted on 06/03/2009 6:44:56 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce

Yes, memory lane.

I had a much modified Trash 80, full compliment of memeory 64K on mother board by strobing stacked chips. No hard drive, and twin 5-1/4 floppies. Long term storage was a magnetic tape drive.

Terrible RF generator. Could not have a radio within 50 feet of the unit, even with a RF suppressed home brew power supply.

I was pretty good with DOS and Basic then. Oddly, still use some of those skills. Pretty comfortable with command line.

PC’s have always been “another tool” for me, have never got into having the latest just to have it. Utility user.


6 posted on 06/03/2009 6:46:47 AM PDT by Texas Fossil (Once a Republic, Now a State, Still Texas)
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To: ShadowAce

Interesting, but devoting an entire museum to computer history is a little too geeky for me.


7 posted on 06/03/2009 6:47:09 AM PDT by shorty_harris
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To: ShadowAce
Ah memories...

I think I have owned a least half the PCs listed here...

In some ways it was easier then to master the art of being in what would become IT...

8 posted on 06/03/2009 6:50:46 AM PDT by ejonesie22 (Mitt Romney is a more subtle version of Arlen Specter with better hair...)
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To: qam1; ItsOurTimeNow; PresbyRev; Fraulein; StoneColdGOP; Clemenza; m18436572; InShanghai; xrp; ...
Xer Ping

Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.

Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.

9 posted on 06/03/2009 6:55:33 AM PDT by qam1 (There's been a huge party. All plates and the bottles are empty, all that's left is the bill to pay)
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To: shorty_harris

My camera has 20X memory than the first mainframe I used in my first job. The mainframe fit into a room the size of a large classroom. The memory for my camera is the size of my thumbnail.


10 posted on 06/03/2009 6:57:13 AM PDT by AppyPappy (If you aren't part of the solution, there is good money to be made prolonging the problem.)
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To: ShadowAce
Now here's the first computer:


11 posted on 06/03/2009 6:59:44 AM PDT by dfwgator (USM is Gator Bait! (Congrats to U-Dub!))
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To: ShadowAce
even the world’s greatest case mod with water-cooled dual-Xeons and quad-SLI graphics is just a really fast PC

Even the world's greatest McClaren, with water-cooled dual turbos and four wheel drive is just a really fast car.

12 posted on 06/03/2009 7:04:29 AM PDT by laotzu
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To: ShadowAce

Great memories... Thamks for posting!


13 posted on 06/03/2009 7:11:49 AM PDT by Gondring (Paul Revere would have been flamed as a naysayer troll and told to go back to Boston.)
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To: AppyPappy

I worked for a company that manufactured disk and tape drives. The mainstay was a drive that was the size of a washing machine, that had a removable stack of 12” platters that sat on top, and could hold a total of 40mb of data.


14 posted on 06/03/2009 7:14:36 AM PDT by shorty_harris
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To: theKid51; ourusa

ping


15 posted on 06/03/2009 7:15:05 AM PDT by bmwcyle (Hey GOP follow Dick Cheney's lead)
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To: shorty_harris

We had those on our Burroughs 6800 mainframe. I think we had about 20 of them in some type of RAID config.


16 posted on 06/03/2009 7:20:29 AM PDT by AppyPappy (If you aren't part of the solution, there is good money to be made prolonging the problem.)
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To: shorty_harris

When the company I worked for finally stopped using what seemed like acres of those machines, your company probably went bust.


17 posted on 06/03/2009 7:23:03 AM PDT by paulycy (BEWARE the LIBERAL/MEDIA Complex)
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To: ShadowAce
*sigh*

Once again, the way-ahead-of-its-time Commodore Amiga machines are left out of a "history of the personal computer" bit.

All the powers-that-be scoffed and ridiculed the Amiga for capabilities we all have come to expect in a PC today.

History of the Amiga - Part 1

History of the Amiga - Part 2

History of the Amiga - Part 3

History of the Amiga - Part 4

History of the Amiga - Part 5

History of the Amiga - Part 6

History of the Amiga - Part 7

18 posted on 06/03/2009 7:24:10 AM PDT by TChris (There is no freedom without the possibility of failure.)
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To: ShadowAce

Geek power!


19 posted on 06/03/2009 7:24:56 AM PDT by Free Vulcan (No prisoners. No mercy. 2010 awaits.....)
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To: TChris

Great addition! Thanks!


20 posted on 06/03/2009 7:25:50 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce; Ernest_at_the_Beach; N3WBI3
And you can still probably find a lot of that Olde Tyme Weirdeness right here:


21 posted on 06/03/2009 7:42:15 AM PDT by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: Dan Nunn
Interesting article but I don't really buy the analogy. Their 'diverse' computing world would be if everyone had different vehicles - that each had different, incompatible propulsion methods. Gas-engined vehicles would need to scope out an appropriate gas station, hydrogen vehicles the same, electric vehicles would need a power station, and the like.

We have plenty of different models of computers that all have features in common (x86) that allow us to run many varieties of software and operating systems with very little inconvenience.

It's a great time to be in computers!


That was kind-of the point. . . ;)
22 posted on 06/03/2009 7:43:48 AM PDT by Filo (Darwin was right!)
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To: TChris
Once again, the way-ahead-of-its-time Commodore Amiga machines are left out of a "history of the personal computer" bit.

Not left out, just too new. . .
23 posted on 06/03/2009 7:46:23 AM PDT by Filo (Darwin was right!)
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To: martin_fierro
And here:
24 posted on 06/03/2009 7:48:53 AM PDT by Filo (Darwin was right!)
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To: Filo

Linkee No Workee.


25 posted on 06/03/2009 7:51:06 AM PDT by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: TChris
I started out with Atari, but agree. The computer "old school" was really funny. They'd mock advancements and new ideas until the benefits became so obvious it was impossible to avoid adopting them. The mainframe guys mocked the PC. The command line guys mocked the GUI. There used to be T-shirts that said "real men don't use mice."

I remember the mainframe guys pretending to be gurus. I worked with a guy one time, and one of the people in the office had deleted an important data file. He said, "Well, I'll see if I can recover it." He had them bring the computer down to his office and closed the door. He sat on his @ss reading magazines for about seven hours, ran a file recovery program and recovered the file in about two minutes, opened the door and said, "I did it!" It reminded me of the old commercial where the woman locks the family out of the kitchen for a couple of hours, reads magazines, throws flour on her face and walks out with the Rice Krispies treats. The only thing he didn't do was spray sweat under his arms.

26 posted on 06/03/2009 7:51:51 AM PDT by Richard Kimball (We're all criminals. They just haven't figured out what some of us have done yet.)
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To: ShadowAce

27 posted on 06/03/2009 7:53:07 AM PDT by dfwgator (USM is Gator Bait! (Congrats to U-Dub!))
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To: ShadowAce

TRS-80! I learned BASIC on one of those when I was about 8.


28 posted on 06/03/2009 7:53:54 AM PDT by mysterio
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To: Filo
Not left out, just too new. . .

???

The Amiga's development timeline fits right in with the PC and the Mac.

It had multi-channel sound first, graphics acceleration first, high-color displays first and a true, preemptive multi-tasking GUI in 1985.

I'd say it's worth mentioning. :-)

29 posted on 06/03/2009 7:55:46 AM PDT by TChris (There is no freedom without the possibility of failure.)
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To: martin_fierro
Hmm. Odd one.

I was pointing to the Vintage Computer and Gaming Marketplace (http://marketplace.vintage-computer.com)

You'd think I'd have figured out simple HTML by now. . . :D
30 posted on 06/03/2009 7:55:46 AM PDT by Filo (Darwin was right!)
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To: Richard Kimball
He sat on his @ss reading magazines for about seven hours, ran a file recovery program and recovered the file in about two minutes, opened the door and said, "I did it!"

LOL!

I've FELT like doing something similar from time to time.

31 posted on 06/03/2009 7:57:30 AM PDT by TChris (There is no freedom without the possibility of failure.)
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To: ShadowAce
Intersting, thanks for posting.

Years ago, a buddy in the Air Force built an Altair. He called me late one night and told me to come over... he had hooked up an old teletype to it and had finally been able to get the Altair to ring the bell on the teletype. Drove his wife crazy playing with that thing. :-)

32 posted on 06/03/2009 8:08:16 AM PDT by ken in texas (come fold with us - team #36120)
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To: mysterio
TRS-80! I learned BASIC on one of those when I was about 8.

Me too. My first program was Hangman. Then my Apple IIe kept all of my D&D character info. Just print your D&D character on the thermal printer, grab the fritos, and head off to enjoy the eight-hours-locked-your-friend's-dank-basement fun!
33 posted on 06/03/2009 8:12:14 AM PDT by mmichaels1970
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To: ShadowAce

‘Nother cool site:

http://www.thegalleryofoldiron.com/


34 posted on 06/03/2009 8:16:26 AM PDT by Fresh Wind (Hey, Obama! Where's my check?)
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To: ShadowAce

Way cool !
Anyone want to buy a 1986-7 Compaq Portable,, it still boots up..


35 posted on 06/03/2009 8:30:47 AM PDT by ▀udda▀udd (7 days - 7 ways Guero >>> with a floating, shifting, ever changing persona....)
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To: AppyPappy
We had those on our Burroughs 6800 mainframe.

Ah, the B6800. Utah State University had one of those when I started attending. It was on the way out, being replaced by a VAXcluster.

36 posted on 06/03/2009 9:31:25 AM PDT by Vroomfondel
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To: mysterio
TRS-80! I learned BASIC on one of those when I was about 8.

I was a bit older; sophomore in high school. A bunch of us went up to Montana from Utah for the '79 eclipse and one brought his TRS-80. We read the manual on the way up, then stayed up all night programming the thing.

4K Level I BASIC.

37 posted on 06/03/2009 9:33:40 AM PDT by Vroomfondel
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To: ShadowAce
The most awesome Kaypro:

It sucked.

38 posted on 06/03/2009 9:40:09 AM PDT by humblegunner
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To: ShadowAce
Taking off on this theme....came across some fascinating ...stuff:

The Big Boys of Computing’s Early Days

Build Your Own Linux Ubuntu Supercomputer For Under $350

****************************EXCERPT*******************************

Jun 2, 2009, 21 :03 UTC

"What's more interesting is that, on average, I would guess that most of these machines will never be used to 1/100 of one percent of their capacity. What a waste of power. See On Programming: Ecocode.

"Note that a copy of Vista would cost $100, over a quarter the cost of the hardware. Thank goodness we have Linux Ubuntu available at no cost.

"Note especially the CDC 6600, the world’s largest supercomputer from 1966 to the early 1970’s. It cost almost $10 million in 1970 dollars. You can now get a machine that is several orders of magnitudes bigger in memory , , with one terabyte of disk space, AND faster, for less than 1/30000th the price of the 6600.

"Or put the other way, the CDC 6600 would cost at least three hundred billion dollars today!!"

39 posted on 06/03/2009 11:13:31 AM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach (Support Geert Wilders)
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To: martin_fierro; ShadowAce
Which lead to this:

The Wayward Word Press (Dave Shields )

40 posted on 06/03/2009 11:22:15 AM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach (Support Geert Wilders)
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And This....:

******************************************************************

MIPS Equivalents

41 posted on 06/03/2009 11:25:48 AM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach (Support Geert Wilders)
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To: ShadowAce
This guy was a wheel in IBM's support of Linux:

Meet the Tuxers

42 posted on 06/03/2009 11:36:06 AM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach (Support Geert Wilders)
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To: paulycy
When the company I worked for finally stopped using what seemed like acres of those machines, your company probably went bust.

I worked in the Advanced Disk Technology Division at my company. We were working on an 8" winchester drive that had 80mb of storage...thought we were hot stuff! While it was still in development, we heard that some Japanese company had introduced a 160mb drive in a 5" form. It was shortly after that the whole division was dismantled and everyone in it was laid off.

43 posted on 06/03/2009 11:39:23 AM PDT by shorty_harris
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To: shorty_harris
It was shortly after that the whole division was dismantled and everyone in it was laid off.

Stuff changed fast. Looks like you survived to FReep another day. ;0)

44 posted on 06/03/2009 12:31:21 PM PDT by paulycy (BEWARE the LIBERAL/MEDIA Complex)
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To: shorty_harris
While it was still in development, we heard that some Japanese company had introduced a 160mb drive in a 5" form.

At a previous place of employment, I was one of a team that was tasked with designing a hard disk/floppy controller for PC/AT class machines that showcased the technology of a particular manufacturer's controller chip. We designed a controller with about a dozen chips on it that could handle MFM hard disks and floppies; at the time, the IBM controller was a monster board packed full o' stuff.

Our design only had two problems:

To work around those, we sprouted a 765 floppy controller and an on-board microprocessor to emulate the WD controller used by the PC.

By the time we were done, we had this monster board crammed full of chips, just like the original PC/AT controller.

Right about that time, WD came out with their new generation hard disk controller, which swept everything (compatibly) into about half a dozen chips.

Needless to say, all that hard work never saw the light of day...

45 posted on 06/03/2009 12:48:50 PM PDT by Vroomfondel
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To: paulycy

First and only time I’ve ever been laid off. I got out of that particular line of work...


46 posted on 06/03/2009 1:37:42 PM PDT by shorty_harris
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To: martin_fierro; Swordmaker

I miss Octal. ;’)


47 posted on 06/03/2009 3:49:09 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/__Since Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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Shaky Early Days of Apple Revealed
NBC Bay Area | Tue, Jun 2, 2009 | JACKSON WEST
Posted on 06/02/2009 2:22:49 PM PDT by nickcarraway
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/2263234/posts


48 posted on 06/03/2009 4:09:42 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/__Since Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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