tkc8800

Technology and retro computer blog

MITS Altair 8800

The MITS Altair 8800 is widely accepted as the first commercially successful personal computer.  It was produced by a company called MITS and was developed by H. Ed. Roberts.  The Altair was first publicly released in 1975.  It was also the computer that launched Microsoft, their first product was a Basic interpreter for the Altair called Altair Basic.

MITS Altair 8800 and 88-DCDD MITS Altair 8800 card view

 

 Altair 8800 specifications
  Manufacturer      MITS
  Release date   January 1975
  CPU   Intel 8080, 8 bit
  Speed   2MHz
  Ram   256 bytes to 64k
  Rom   Optional via s100 board
  Storage   Optional 8" floppy disk, paper tape, cassette tape   
  Expansion   s100 slots
  Ports

  Optional: serial, parallel

  OS

  MITS/MS Basic, CP/M, MITS DOS


I purchased this Altair 8800 in July 2011 from someone in Canada.  He was the original owner and builder and purchased it in 1975.  It came with many original MITS s100 cards and all the original documentation.  The serial number on the machine indicates it was a kit because the last letter is a "K" opposed to an "A" which meant factory assembled.  The serial number also indicates that this machine was number 1,919.  This means it was reasonably low in the production run.  From what I've read there were around 10,000 Altairs produced.

It took me almost two years and many hours of research to get the machine to a usable state where it could load software and was usable through a terminal.  Part of the problem was that the machine didn't have an RS232 capable serial card, and they aren't too easy to come by.  After a lot of effort I'm glad to say that I now have two working serial cards, a MITS 88-2SIO and a Solid State Music IO4.  The SSM IO4 is configured just like a MITS 88-2SIO and works just the same.   See my post below for full details.

Want your own Altair 8800?

Original Altairs are still available although they're becoming increasingly rare and expensive as time goes by.  The primary source for finding original Altairs and components  is U.S ebay.  But there's also some easier and cheaper alternatives for experiencing an Altair.  There's a number of software emulators freely available and there's also hardware replicas available at a reasonable cost.

Altair 8800 Clone

My pick for the best hardware replica is the Altair Clone developed by Mike Douglas.  The Altair Clone reproduces the external functionality and look of the original machine but on the inside uses modern hardware.  In fact if you look inside an Altair Clone it appears empty.  The entire functionality of the original machine has been recreated using some tiny chips on the front panel board.  The Clone is a fully loaded Altair with inbuilt capabilities for PROM and floppy disk emulation and also has an optional cassette tape interface.  There's a great library of Altair Clone demonstration videos on YouTube.  These videos are of great use to all Altair owners.  Mike's technical knowledge of the Altair is second to none and he provides excellent service and support.  The Altair Clone comes assembled or in kit form, but both are the same price.  Mike is also the developer of the FDC+, a disk emulator for original Altairs.

Altair 8800 micro

The Altair 8800micro is a hardware replica of the Altair that has front panel switches and lights.  It's smaller than the original machine and uses modern hardware on the inside.  It has various optional components which adds serial port and disk functionality.  It is priced cheaper than the Altair Clone and comes in a kit or assembled.

Altair 8800 Kit

The Altair Kit is a functional and cosmetic replica of the original Altair developed by Grant Stockly, it was available in kit form only.  It replicates the internal hardware of the original machine so closely that components from the Kit can be interchanged with the original Altair and vice-versa.  The case used for the Kit is the original case made by Optima.  The Kit is the closest replica of the original Altair ever made but unfortunately it hasn't been available for many years.  The website is still there and there's been recent rumors of Grant starting up production of the kit again.

SIMH Altair Emulator

A very good Altair software emulator.  It has many configuration options for different hardware and settings.

Altair32 Emulator

A great software emulator that captures the look of the original Altair in it's interface.  There are options for loading PROMS, disks and tapes and configuring memory.


Click here to see my other Altair related posts.


Altair 8800b from Visual Basic 5.0 intro 1997
 

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