New Altair 8800 Kit Available

Bill Loguidice's picture

Altair 8800 ReplicaAltair 8800 ReplicaGrant Stockly has announced the culmination of an ambitious project to create perfect replicas of the infamous Altair 8800 -- widely considered to have officially kicked off the home computer revolution with the 1975 advertisement for the kit in Popular Electronics and relative buying spree it elicited. It's a switch-based computer with no display other than LED lights -- all programming was done by flipping switches on the front panel, with the big advantage being that you were programming the system about as directly as possible. Of course it established what came to be known as the S-100 bus (for expansion cards with 100 pin connectors) that could greatly expand the system's capabilities, from alternate input and output methods to various storage and subsequent OS integration (most popularly, CP/M). The S-100 bus standard lasted from the mid-1970's through to the early 1980's when more user friendly systems began to become more prevalent and powerful. Of course the Altair 8800 also begat many clones, including the more capable IMSAI 8080, released only about six months later and featured (in a greatly expanded form) in the popular 1983 movie, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick.

In any case, the replicas will run you about $1700 or so, so they're not cheap, but if you try to get an original you'll find that it won't be any better of a deal. Regardless, the story of the replica's creation is quite compelling, as related here -- it's certainly a labor of love. It's also worth noting that the Altari 8800 saw the first appearance of Bill Gates' and Paul Allen's BASIC, helping the duo form what would of course become Microsoft. But that's a story for a different day...

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Mark Vergeer
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Interesting, but where would you get your software?

Interesting, but where would you get your software?

-= Mark Vasier - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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Anonymous (not verified)
The Answer

Interesting, but where would you get your software?

-= Mark Vasier - Armchair Arcade editor =-

Armchair Arcade Editor

- W R I T E I T ! -

Bill Loguidice
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Not a major issue
Anonymous wrote:

Interesting, but where would you get your software?

-= Mark Vasier - Armchair Arcade editor =-

Armchair Arcade Editor

- W R I T E I T ! -

It's more to build and/or use the hardware in a manner that's much more reasonable that getting an original. You can also run standard CP/M stuff and program in BASIC. The usual things.

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Bill Loguidice
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Check out:

Check out: http://www.altairage.com/ for tips on getting software, Mark. However, I think potential owners of this system really wouldn't need it, though I imagine these systems are considerably more fun when expanded...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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Matt Barton
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The Altair

Indeed, this is a very significant machine. I've been reading Veit's History of the Personal Computer, and this system (along with the IMSAI and a few others) played a huge role in the earliest days of home computers. Of course, in those days, hobbyists constituted the sole market for these products, and most of them were advertised in hobbyist electronic magazines like Popular Electronics.

Obviously, the appeal of a unit like this is more in the hardware than software. It'd be great for anyone wanting to learn more about how computers actually work at a very "close to the machine" level.

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Bill Loguidice
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Indeed, we're talking pure

Indeed, we're talking pure hardware love here. All S-100 bus stuff, be it in traditional form factors - keyboard and monitor - or the initial form factors of switches and lights is on a technical level that appeals more to engineering-minded individuals than even what we think of today as hardcore computer users. Even with all the ways one could trick out more traditional computers from the early 80's to the present, the emphasis shifted more to the software than the hardware. With S-100 buses, you needed not only a deep understanding of the software - often having to write your own routines - but a deep understanding of the hardware in order to properly address it all. It's a fascinating time period, but admittedly well beyond my comprehension, even with two S-100 books in my possession and an understanding of the basics. I have an empty S-100-based system as part of my collection just waiting for a processor card, memory and whatever else would make it functional. Whether I'll ever be able to figure out how to do that is another story.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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