PCs

Ed Roberts, creator of the Altair 8800, dies

Dr. Ed Roberts, creator of the Altair 8800 died yesterday. In celebration of his accomplishments, here's a look inside his creation--the first successful PC.

Dr. Ed Roberts,  co-founder of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) and creator of the Altair 8800 died yesterday, April 1, 2010. He was 68.

If not the first home computer, Dr. Roberts' Altair 8800 was definitely the first successful one. In memory of  his accomplishments, I'm republishing a few photos from our gallery of the Altair 8800. Erik Klein, vintage computer collector and Webmaster of Vintage-Computer.com, takes you inside the Altair 8800 as he restores one of these classic machines.

Erik has graciously allowed us to republish his photos and descriptions. You can find a much more detailed description of Erik's Altair restoration in our gallery, "Inside the Altair 8800 vintage computer," and on Erik's Web site Vintage-Computer.com.

For more information on Rd. Ed Roberts and his contributions to the world of computing, try the following:

Next Page (More photos) »

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

27 comments
PromptJock
PromptJock

I remember well machines built on the venerable Intel 8080 MPU. I also remember the CP/M-like systems they used. Look how far "Personal" computers have come in (roughly) 35 years: starting with "simple" 2 mHz boxes with 4, 8, or 16 KILOBYTES of memory (static or dynamic), 5 or 8 inch floppies (100KB storage!), monochrome displays, and "operating systems" that consumed no more than 2-3 Kilobytes of memory to multi-gigahertz boxes with multi-gigabytes of memory, data storage capacities measured between Gigabytes and Terabytes, multi-color displays, and operating systems that (can) consume upwards of ONE GIGABYTE of memory..... ....all for playing Solitaire or searching for Porn on the internet... Ah, progress.....

Strayer
Strayer

I have a DEC Rainbow and LA50 dot matrix printer. It is in the original box. Needs a motherboard.

trud
trud

RIP Ed - I met him at a talk he gave a few years ago to a small group of people at a luncheon and he was gracious, humble and brilliant. My first computer was a TRS-80

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Dr. Ed Roberts, creator of the Altair 8800 died yesterday. In celebration of his accomplishments, I republished several photos from our gallery of the hardware inside the Altair 8800. Original post and gallery: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1634 Reading about MITS and the early days of personal computing got me thinking about the first "real" personal computer that I owned--a Tandy 1000. Although I had worked on Tandy TRS-80s, Apple IIs and Macs, TI-99/4As, and even an IBM PC or two, the Tandy 1000 was "my" first computer. And yes, I still have it, and it still works. What was the first personal computer that you owned?

BreezyKen
BreezyKen

I wanted a TRS-80 (Trash-80) but it was to expensive for my budget. I started small with a KIM-1 6502 based MOS Technology board with tape cassette storage and a whopping 1024 BYTES of RAM. I gradually expanded with an S-100 motherboard, lots of RAM, audio synthesizer card, full video terminal (text only) and dual 5.25 floppies. Programming language was in manual machine code and then BASIC. I learned a lot with that setup that's still on the shelf in my basement.

Walthy
Walthy

I was working at a communications site in Alaska from 1970 and I just had to have the new HP-45 Calculator which was later stolen. I moved back to Albuquerque in early 1974 and am surprised that I had never run into Ed Roberts at that time. I remember the Popular Electronics article about the Altair and later the "Soltec"(if I'm correct). I wanted to build one so bad, but couldn't afford it at the time. I was working for an awesome engineer in the 70's in Albuquerque, Bill Honey, SunTeq Engineering. Bill got a job to harden an Electric Meter that could be read at distances up to a mile that was a project funded in part by Ed Roberts (It's interesting that I have just had a new meter at my home that can be read remotely, only 30 years later). I then went to work for the City of Albuquerque and bought my first computer, a TRS-80, 16k, with tape. I got the city to buy a TRS-80 Model 1 with 4 disc drives in the late 70's and programmed the entire Commercial Refuse route system with customers, addresses, container inventory, and routes. I wrote the software to balance 33 commercial routes and 10,000 customers for upcoming union negotiations. The 5-1/4" drives were constantly in the shop for realignment. Oh, how a 10MB hard drive would have been appreciated. Assembly language routines from Racet Computes and I believe a "DataFlex?" database was used. That was the first "PC" used by the city, and the mainframe folks weren't happy. I think the original cost for the setup with a printer was over $3,000. $250 for each drive and $1000 for a Centronics proportional spacing printer plus a line printer and expansion box. I then graduated to a Kaypro and then later to TRS-80 Model 4P. I had a chance to work on a PDP 11-34 and -70 to manage and maintain a Vehicle Maintenance System for the entire city's fleet, Police, Fire, Waste Management, and everything else. We also had an automated fueling system in the early 80s with two fueling locations for all city vehicles, which imported its data into the Vehicle Mainenance System. Initially it took over a day to import a day's worth of data. I ended up rewriting most of the code of the VM System and got it down to less than a day so we could keep it real time. I remember that Microsoft had an office on San Pedro in a building that also housed a company called Basic Plus 4. It manufactured a 32-bit computer that was 4 8088 processors combined to work like a single processor. Ed Roberts was an early hero of mine. I knew of the Bill Gates and Paul Allen connection, but I didn't know about Ed's other connections to people like Forrest Mims and David Bunnell and many others. (See the Cringley Blog).

SniperTech
SniperTech

Mine was a Kaypro IV, and an Bell & Howell (Apple II Plus, in disguise), and of course a Commodore 64c. I have to say i still love the Kaypro, only because it was the first "portable" computer. I still have these and they are all in excellent working condition!!

Ole88
Ole88

My first computer was a TRS-80 that my parents bought for my siblings and I in 1980. I was the only one that enjoyed playing with it. I even wrote my mother a digital birthday card in basic in 1981 (take that e-card vendors!!!) Even though I had to use cassette tapes to load and save my work, it was still a fun experience.

Systems Guy
Systems Guy

I bought an IBM PC, the version with a max of 256k on the mobo. Bought an add on card to take it to 640k. Also,they had just come to market so I bought a monitor with the amber colored characters. Oh, yeah, also had 2 5.25" floppy drives. The mobo also had the audio cassette tape interface feature. I tried it a few times, never was to impressed with it.

Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne

Geez you guys are old. :) I remember my first PC vividly as it was not that long ago that my brother-in-law helped me build it (1989). It was a custom built 8088 XT (w/CGA monitor) which ran at 15 MHz if I pressed the turbo button on the front. It had 1 MB of RAM, but under DOS 3.3 I could only use RamDisk to access anything over 640k. It had 3.5" 1.44MB and 5.25" 1.2MB floppy drives. All this cost on $700.00 to build from parts. I later purchased a used 40MB ST250R Seagate RLL drive for $300.00. I had just started college and I told my mom that this computer was "All I'll ever need."

AFoshee
AFoshee

Best little computer I've ever owned. Probably because in the several years I used it, it never even once gave me a lick of trouble - but provided endless hours of fun and productivity. I really miss that little bugger!

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

As I recall bought it Christmas 1981. 6809 was the most advanced 8 bit processor on the planet at the time, but Microsoft BASIC with floating point and high level graphics routines were what drew me in. Ahh good times, good times... As an aside I REALLY wanted an ATARI 800, but couldn't afford it. That was a piece of amazing hardware.

eM DuBYaH
eM DuBYaH

My first was an Atari 400, with that worthless membrane keyboard. Then I graduated to an 800XL, then 1200XE. Jumped ship to a Commodore 64, then I got an Amiga 500, which I still have to this day. LOVE that machine. Learned how to build PCs, and it's been home brew computers ever since. My favorite setup is an Nvidia chipset motherboard, AMD processor and Nvidia video card.

webmaster
webmaster

My first was a TRS-80 Model 4. I had a Simutek graphics program (there was a key for the serial port that had to be in place to run it) and a spreadsheet program. TRSDOS 6.0 too! Everything ran off 2 5.25 floppies and, if memory serves, 64KB of RAM. I also had a daisy wheel printer. I didn't get into the computer industry until years later, I used the TRS-80 to run small, part-time business.

cdiorio
cdiorio

My first was an IBM PCjr...they had ditched the chicklets on the keyboard, but it was still wireless, and I had a Tecmar JrCaptain board with extra parallel port and additional RAM, bringing my total to 640k. Always wanted the JrCommander, so I could get the additional disk drive, but oh well. That computer served me well, and the fact that it ran Lotus 1-2-3 flawlessly on the big 13" monitor meant my dad could get some use out of it as well (hence the upgrades he gladly paid for). I used it for 4 years before stepping up to an Amiga 500 (8MB of RAM, 20MB HD...in '88!), which is another oft-misunderstood machine.

twobrats64
twobrats64

I had used a number of shared PCs, including a "portable" Compaq that was as portable as a boat anchor, but my first personal system was an IBM Jr. IBM was a client, and the Jr. was a less-than-successful product. After a year or so, they gave the computer away to employees and vendors who purchased the bundled software for about $250. The wireless keyboard, far ahead of its time, was a great novelty at the time. I used my Jr. for years and eventually installed a whopping 10Mb HDD!

edward.j.baggs
edward.j.baggs

The first real PC was a Tandy 1000, and I also still have it working. Also I still have a CoCo II and III just for fun.

online
online

My first was a Timex/Sinclair. I'd been married less than a year, and had to wait until my wife was at work in the evenings to hook the little thing up to the TV. I had a 16K memory module and even borrowed the thermal printer once from a friend. That lasted less than a year before giving way to first machine I really loved -- the Commodore 64.

ayaz.haniffa
ayaz.haniffa

RIP - Dr. Roberts. What a great mind. If I am not mistaken I believe he was a medical doctor too. My first computer was an IBM XT :)

BigRed_32399
BigRed_32399

I built my first PC - a Heathkit H-8. It was based on the 8080 CPU, had a whopping 4 K of static RAM which I upgraded to 8 K. Used audio cassettes for storage and had an octal front panel. I also built the display terminal - the H-9. THe H-9 was more complex than the H-8. If you tried to run the terminal at speeds over 4800 bps, the screen would blank out, update and then reappear. I later upgraded to better terminal. Anybody remember Benton Harbor Basic?

drpaulanderson
drpaulanderson

My first PC was a 6800 based micro in 1979. Such fun saving and loading programs and data from/to a cassette recorder. It was so slow compared with the punch card and paper tape readers I used at work.

yooper
yooper

I vividly remember finding the Commodore64 my parents were going to give me for Christmas 1982 under the bed, and it changed my life when I tried to act suprised on Christmas morning. :) When a wonderful computer that was. I'm one of the people that get offended when people refer to it as "just good for playing games and screwing around" The 64 was very versatile and was way ahead of it's time! Just think though, the little mouse arrow cursor on our monitors takes up about as much memory as the whole Commodore 64!!

danerd
danerd

that was me with my amiga 600 with 2meg chip ram AND a 40 yes 40MEG harddrive, boy what that machine was capable of, was truly amazing for its time.

Frank-nomustard
Frank-nomustard

I remember working with my son on the Commodore 64 that he used to beat the crap out of when 'puter games didn't go his way. I had to gently teach him not respond that way when things went haywire (though, I suspect he may have learned a little bit of that from me), and watched in awe as he wrote his first batch files on our little 8088 that we got for home business use.

yooper
yooper

The VIC really got teased for being a piece of junk, and although it didn't have the same advanced features the C64 had, check out what some guys were able to do with an unexpanded, that's 5K of RAM demo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SdGkkp1aq8

brian.swlaurier
brian.swlaurier

Great little machine. But don't forget the Commodore Vic-20.

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