Many members stumped by computer history pop quiz

From the origins of the Internet to the birth of RAM, our computer history pop quiz tested members on key events in computer evolution. Find out what they did and didn't know.

Historians trace the evolution of the computer as far back as the abacus, which was known in Egypt by at least 500 B.C. and may be much older. Inventors such as Blaise Pascal and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz invented early calculators in the 1600s. And things really got going in the 1700s as you'll see in the answers to this pop quiz. Over 3,400 TechRepublic members took our computer history quiz, and these are the results. Would you have gotten a better score?

The Internet is born

Figure A

The correct answer is: Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, and 71 percent of the members who took the quiz knew the correct answer, as shown in Figure A. Funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was designed to link research institutions and defense contractors then engaged by the DoD. Initially, ARPANET connected three computers in California with one computer in Utah. Limitations of the ARPANET led, indirectly, to the development of the National Science Foundation's NSFNET, which formed the foundation of the modern Internet.

The answer is in the cards

Figure B

The correct answer is: It was the first machine to use punch cards, and 75 percent of our quiz takers knew this answer, as shown in Figure B. A major advance in computer evolution occurred in 1745, when Jacques de Vaucanson invented a device to control his textile looms. Vaucanson's invention used holes punched in drums, and later in cards, to control the looms. The concept of punched cards would remain a key design component for computers for more than 200 years.

Spock would know the answer

Figure C

The correct answer is: A Start Trek episode, but only 45 percent of those who took our quiz knew this answer, as shown in Figure C. The January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics gave readers their first look at the original computer manufactured for sale to the home market. That machine was the Altair 8800. (The Alto personal computer predated the Altair by a year but was never marketed.)

There are two slightly different stories about how the Altair got its name. The first claims that the computer had no name when it was initially sent to the magazine to be photographed. Its designer, Ed Roberts, hadn't yet settled on a moniker for his brainchild. Les Solomon, the technical editor for the magazine, suggested Altair. Solomon was watching an episode of Star Trek when one of the characters mentioned the real Altair constellation. He liked the ring of the name, and it stuck. The second story claims that Roberts asked his daughter for a good high-tech sounding name, and she suggested Altair, again because a character mentioned it during a Star Trek episode.

It's not just a computer, it's a flying wedge

Figure D

The venerable Apple II debuted in 1977 and could display six colors, ran at 1.0 MHz, and could store data on either a cassette tape or 143-KB floppy disk (available in 1978). Prices ranged from around $1,000 for an Apple II with 4 KB of RAM to nearly $1,800 for a machine with 48 KB of RAM. Serious computer hobbyists could even purchase the Apple II in board-only form for about $800. For more information on the Apple II check out

This question turned out to be a real puzzler for most of our quiz takers. And I concede it was a bit confusing because the Apple II came in a variety of configurations and prices. The question, however, asked specifically for the price of an Apple II with 16 KB of RAM. Although those of you searching for Apple II prices on the Internet may find a price other than this question's listed correct answer of $1,195, this price is the closest of the choices, and 15 percent of our quiz takers chose this answer, as shown in Figure D.

Let there be RAM

Figure E

This correct answer is: It could store data in electronic memory. As shown in Figure E, 47 percent of our quiz takers got this one right. Barely two years after the debut of ENIAC, the U.S. Army's Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, researchers at the University of Manchester (UK) achieved another milestone in the development of computers. On June 21, 1948, the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed "The Baby," made its debut. The Baby paved the way for a larger, more powerful and useful machine, which became known as the Manchester Mark I Prototype, which was later adapted by the Ferranti Company for commercial use.

The SSEM, and later the Manchester Mark I Prototype, was the first computer that could store data. What's more, it could store a short user program in electronic memory and process it at electronic speed. It was also the first computer with a true Random Access Memory (RAM).

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By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic 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 support specialist in the ...