Vintage Computers and Hardware with pictures, information and technical specifications. An in-depth view at yesterday’s technology featuring some forgotten, and not so forgotten iconic machines such as Amiga, Commodore 64, and many others. Browse through a fine selection of Vintage Computers and see how technology has evolved over the years and become what it is today as we know it.
The Datapoint 2200 was a mass-produced programmable terminal, designed by Phil Ray and Gus Roche. It was announced by Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC) in June, 1970. Shipping of units began in 1971. It was intended by its designers simply to be a versatile, cost-efficient terminal for connecting to a wide variety of mainframes by loading various terminal emulations from tape rather than being hardwired as most terminals were.
However, enterprising users in the business sector (including Pillsbury Foods) realized that this so-called “programmable terminal” was equipped to perform any task a simple computer could, and exploited this fact by using their 2200s as standalone computer systems.
Equally significant is the fact that the terminal’s multi-chip CPU (processor) became the embryo of the x86 architecture upon which the original IBM PC and its descendants are based.
The Kenbak-1 is considered by the Computer History Museum and the American Computer Museum to be the world’s first “personal computer”. Only 40 machines were ever built and sold. It was designed and invented by John Blankenbaker of Kenbak Corporation in 1970, and was first sold in early 1971.
The system first sold for US$750. Only around 10 machines are now known to exist worldwide, with various collectors. In 1973, production of the Kenbak-1 stopped as Kenbak Corporation folded.
Since the Kenbak-1 was invented before the first microprocessor, the machine didn’t have a one-chip CPU but instead was based purely on discrete TTL chips. The 8-bit machine offered 256 bytes of memory (=1/4096 megabyte). The instruction cycle time was 1 microsecond (equivalent to an instruction clock speed of 1 MHz), but actual execution speed averaged below 1000 instructions per second due to architectural constraints such as slow access to serial memory.
To use the machine, one had to program it with a series of buttons and switches, using pure machine code. Output consisted of a series of lights.
Hewlett-Packard 9830s were built with a processor similar in architecture to the HP 1000/2100 series minicomputer with 16-bit memory address, and an AX and BX general processor register. They ran at a speed comparable to the first IBM PCs. They could draw a mesh of a 3D SIN(X)/X function with no hidden lines over the course of several minutes, a technological breakthrough for the time.
Because programs were designed to run from ROM (read only memory) the call subroutine instruction had to be changed because in the HP211x the return location was written in the first location of the subroutine. Instead, another register was created to keep track of return locations on a separate stack area, like more modern processors.
Some models (e.g. 9835B) used a 32-character 1 line uppercase LED display, which on the one hand might seem limiting, but on the other hand had the same effect as one-line window into a full screen editor which did not become common until the 1980s, with controls to go up or down a line, and cursor left and right, inserting or deleting characters. They powered on ready to do math in “immediate mode”, where you would type in an expression such as PRINT 2 + 3, and you would get an answer when you hit enter, without the complication of logging in, or the overhead of maintaining a big computer room and operator.
A computer controlled cassette drive using audio cassettes with clear leaders was used for storage, with random access to file by number, but a hard drive could also be attached.
The matching line thermal printer was quite fast, printing one horizontal line of dots at once. The speed of a page was faster than later dot matrix printers, and not much worse than modern ink jet printers. HP incorporated thermal printers into many plotting and terminal products later.
Micral is a series of microcomputers produced by the French company Réalisation d’Études Électroniques (R2E), beginning with the Micral N in early 1973. According to the Computer History Museum, the Micral N was the earliest commercial, non-kit personal computer based on a microprocessor (in this case, the Intel 8008). R2E founder André Truong Trong Thi (EFREI degree, Paris), a French immigrant from Vietnam, asked Frenchman François Gernelle to develop the Micral N computer for the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), starting in June 1972.
Alain Perrier of INRA was looking for a computer for process control in his crop evapotranspiration measurements. The software was developed by Benchetrit, with Alain Lacombe and Jean-Claude Beckmann working on the electrical and mechanical aspects. Gernelle invented the Micral N, which was much smaller than existing minicomputers. The January 1974 Users Manual called it “the first of a new generation of mini-computer whose principal feature is its very low-cost,” and said, “MICRAL’s principal use is in process control. It does not aim to be a universal mini-computer.”
SCELBI (SCientific ELectronic BIological, pronounced “sell-bee”) Computer Consulting was a personal-computer hardware and software manufacturer located in Milford, Connecticut. It was founded in 1973 by Nat Wadsworth and Bob Findley. Initially, they sold hardware (called the SCELBI-8H) based on the first 8-bit microprocessor from Intel, the 8008.
The 8H came with 1K of random-access memory and was available either fully assembled or in a kit (consisting of circuit boards, power supply, etc. that the purchaser assembled). Some sources credit SCELBI being the first (March 1974) advertised personal computer sold in kit form, with advertisements in QST, Radio-Electronics and later in BYTE magazine.
SCELBI soon had competitors. In July 1974 Radio-Electronics published plans for a similar 8008 machine, called the Mark-8 that skilled hobbyists could fabricate for the cost of parts. Companies like MITS and IMSAI started selling systems based on more capable processors, such as the 8080 used in the MITS Altair 8800 and IMSAI IMSAI 8080.
SCELBI responded by introducing the SCELBI-8B model with 16K of memory, the limit on the 8008.
No high-level programming language was available for the 8H in the beginning. Wadsworth wrote a book, Machine Language Programming for the 8008 and Similar Microcomputers, that taught the assembly language and machine language programming techniques needed to use the 8H.
The book included a listing of a floating point package, making it one of the first examples of non-trivial personal-computer software distribution in the spirit of what would much later become known as open source. Because of the similarities between the 8008 and the 8080, this book was purchased by many owners of non-SCELBI hardware.
SCELBI discovered that they made more money selling software books than hardware and the business switched to highly documented software published in book form, including many games, a monitor, an editor, an assembler, and a high-level language dubbed SCELBAL (a dialect of BASIC that incorporated Wadsworth’s floating-point package) to compete against Altair BASIC.
Wang 2200, appeared in May 1973, was Wang Laboratories’ first minicomputer that could perform data processing in a common computer language. Unlike some other desktop computers, such as the HP 9830, it had a cathode ray tube (CRT) in a cabinet that also included an integrated computer controlled cassette tape storage unit and keyboard.
Microcoded to run interpretive BASIC, about 65,000 systems were shipped in its lifetime and it found wide use in small and medium-size businesses worldwide. The 2200 evolved into a desktop computer and larger system to support up to 16 workstations and utilized commercial disk technologies that appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The disk subsystems could be attached to up to 15 computers giving a theoretical upper limit of 240 workstations in a single cluster.
Unlike the other product lines such as the VS and OIS, Wang Laboratories aggressively used value added resellers (VARs) to customize and market 2200 systems. One such creative solution deployed dozens of 2200 systems and was developed in conjunction with Hawaii and Hong Kong-based firm, Algorithms, Inc. It provided paging (beeper) services for much of the Hong Kong market in the early 1980s.
Overshadowed by the Wang VS, the 2200 languished as a cost-effective but forgotten solution in the hands of the customers who had it. In the late 1980s Wang revisited the 2200 for one last dip in the revenue well, offering 2200 customers a new 2200 CS with bundled maintenance for less than customers were then paying just for maintenance of their aging 2200 systems.
The 2200 CS was accompanied by updated disk units and other peripherals, and most 2200 customers moved up to the 2200 CS, after which Wang left the market and never again developed any new 2200-series products. In 1997 Wang reported having about 200 2200 systems still under maintenance around the world. Throughout, Wang had always offered maintenance services for the 2200.
Wang 2200 Basic2 code can run on PCs and Unix systems using compilers and runtime libraries sold by Niakwa or Kerridge. These allow accessing the much larger, inexpensive random access memory and disk space available on modern hardware. The programs run many times faster than they did on the 2200 hardware.
The Mark-8 is a microcomputer design from 1974, based on the Intel 8008 CPU (which was the world’s first 8-bit microprocessor). The Mark-8 was designed by graduate student Jonathan Titus and announced as a ‘loose kit’ in the July 1974 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine.
The Mark-8 was introduced as a ‘build it yourself’ project in Radio-Electronics’s July 1974 cover article, offering a US$5 booklet containing circuit board layouts and DIY construction project descriptions, with Titus himself arranging for $50 circuit board sets to be made by a New Jersey company for delivery to hobbyists.
Prospective Mark-8 builders had to gather the various electronics parts themselves from a number of different sources. A couple of thousand booklets and some hundred circuit board sets were eventually sold.
The IBM 5100 Portable Computer was a portable computer introduced in September 1975, six years before the IBM PC. It was the evolution of a prototype called the SCAMP (Special Computer APL Machine Portable) that was developed at the IBM Palo Alto Scientific Center in 1973.
In January 1978 IBM announced the IBM 5110, its larger cousin, and in February 1980 IBM announced the IBM 5120. The 5100 was withdrawn in March 1982.
When the IBM PC was introduced in 1981, it was originally designated as the IBM 5150, putting it in the “5100” series, though its architecture was not directly descended from the IBM 5100.
The IBM 5100 is based on a 16-bit processor module called PALM (Put All Logic in Microcode). The IBM 5100 Maintenance Information Manual also referred to the PALM module as the controller. The PALM could directly address 64 KB of memory. Some configurations of the IBM 5100 had Executable ROS (ROM) and RAM memory totalling more than 64 KB, so a simple bank switching scheme was used.
The actual APL and/or BASIC interpreters were stored in a separate Language ROS address space which the PALM treats as a peripheral device. Prices ranged from $11,000 (16k model) to $20,000 (64k).
The MITS Altair 8800 was a microcomputer designed in 1975 based on the Intel 8080 CPU. Interest grew quickly after it was featured on the cover of the January, 1975, issue of Popular Electronics, and was sold by mail order through advertisements there, in Radio-Electronics and other hobbyist magazines. The designers hoped to sell a few hundred build-it-yourself kits to hobbyists, and were surprised when they sold thousands in the first month.
The Altair also appealed to individuals and businesses that just wanted a computer and purchased the assembled version. The Altair is widely recognized as the spark that ignited the microcomputer revolution. The computer bus designed for the Altair was to become a de facto standard in the form of the S-100 bus, and the first programming language for the machine was Microsoft’s founding product, Altair BASIC.
The IMSAI 8080 was an early microcomputer released in late 1975, based on the Intel 8080 and later 8085 and S-100 bus. It was a clone of its main competitor, the earlier MITS Altair 8800. The IMSAI is largely regarded as the first “clone” computer. The IMSAI machine ran a highly modified version of the CP/M operating system called IMDOS. It was developed, manufactured and sold by IMS Associates, Inc. (later renamed IMSAI Manufacturing Corp). In total, between 17,000 and 20,000 units were produced from 1975 until 1978.
The Sphere I was a personal computer completed in 1975 by Michael Donald Wise of Sphere Corporation, of Bountiful, Utah. The Sphere I featured a Motorola 6800 CPU, onboard ROM, Monitor, 4 KB of RAM, and a keyboard with a numeric keypad. The Sphere I was among the earliest microcomputers. Michael touted it as the first “true PC” because it had a keyboard, a number pad, a monitor, external storage, and did not run on a punch tape. When Byte Magazine did its annual history of the computer, it always included Sphere 1, showing that prior microcomputers lacked the user I/O interface built into the Sphere I.
The Sphere 1 also included a keyboard operated reset feature consisting of two keys wired in series that sent a reset signal to the CPU triggering a Hard reboot. Wise considered this to be the first keyboard activated reset – a predecessor to the now-common Control-Alt-Delete combination.
The U.S. company SWTPC started in 1964 as DEMCO (Daniel E. Meyer Company). It was incorporated in 1967 as Southwest Technical Products Corporation of San Antonio, Texas. They produced a wide variety of electronics kits, and later complete computer systems. In the 1960s, many hobbyist electronics magazines such as Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics published construction articles, for many of which the author would arrange for a company to assemble a kit of parts to build the project.
Daniel Meyer published several popular projects and successfully sold his kits. He soon started selling kits for other authors such as Don Lancaster and Louis Garner. Between 1967 and 1971 SWTPC sold kits for over 50 Popular Electronics articles. Most of these kits were intended for audio use, such as hi-fi, utility amplifiers, and test equipment such as a function generator based on the Intersil ICL8038.
In 1972 SWTPC had a large enough collection of kits to justify printing a 32 page catalog. In January 1975 SWTPC introduced a computer terminal kit, the “TV Typewriter”, or CT-1024. By November 1975 they were delivering complete computer kits based on Motorola MPUs. They were very successful for the next 5 or so years and grew to over 100 people. Most of the companies that were selling a computer kit in 1975 were out of business by 1978. Around 1987, SWTPC moved to point of sale computer systems. The original company was terminated about 1990 and became Point Systems. This new company lasted only a few years.
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