In 1971, Intel released the first microprocessor. The microprocessor was a specialized integrated circuit which was able to process four bits of data at a time. The chip included its own arithmetic logic unit, but a sizable portion of the chip was taken up by the control circuits for organizing the work, which left less room for the data-handling circuitry. Thousands of hackers could now aspire to own their own personal computer. Computers up to this point had been strictly the legion of the military, universities, and very large corporations simply because of their enormous cost for the machine and then maintenance. In 1975, the cover of Popular Electronics featured a story on the "world's first minicomputer kit to rival commercial models....Altair 8800." The Altair, produced by a company called Micro Instrumentation and Telementry Systems (MITS) retailed for $397, which made it easily affordable for the small but growing hacker community.
The Altair was not designed for your computer novice. The kit required assembly by the owner and then it was necessary to write software for the machine since none was yet commercially available. The Altair had a 256 byte memory--about the size of a paragraph, and needed to be coded in machine code- -0s and 1s. The programming was accomplished by manually flipping switches located on the front of the Altair.
Computers: From the Past to the Present
The Altair: Last modified July 30, 2006
©1994-2006 by Michelle A. Hoyle