Altair 8800

What is Altair 8800?
The Altair 8800 is a computer kit based on the Intel 8080 CPU designed by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) which was directed by H. Edward Roberts in 1974. It became the first commercially successful personal computer, particularly when compared to the first microprocessor-based personal computer - Micral. Because of its success, the Altair 8800 ushered in the age of the personal computer. Also because of its success, its computer bus became the de facto standard, which is known as the S-100 bus (IEEE-696). The first programming language for the machine was Altair BASIC, Microsoft's founding product.

The Altair 8800, based on the Intel 8080 processor, was intended for the hobbyist but became the first commercially successful personal computer as it got the best point in terms of performance and price. It sold at $ 439 per kit, while other commercial PCs ranged in the thousands. The kit provided the minimal configuration of circuitry that could legitimately be called a computer. However, programming the machine was tedious. The user had to toggle switches to positions corresponding to 8080 microprocessor instructions or opcodes in binary form.

A kit was $ 439 and two types of memory cards were available: a 1024-word memory card ($ 176) and a 4096-word memory card ($ 264). Roberts later also offered a parallel interface card ($ 92), two types of serial interface cards, an audio cassette interface card, and teleprinter. The Altair 8800's expansion bus enabled MITS to sell additional memory and interface cards. The available memory was only 256 bytes and users had to purchase their memory board separately.

Announced in July 1975, Altair BASIC requires a 4096 word memory card or two and an interface card, so it added to the cost. Altair DOS was announced in late 1975 and MITS began shipping in August 1977. As a fun historical fact, an Altair 8800 article from Popular Electronics inspired the creation of a group called the Homebrew Computer Club in January 1975. Twenty-three computer companies emerged from this group, including Apple Computer.

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