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Tech Time Travel: Altair 8800

Building the Foundation of Personal Computing
Kelsey Brandt
Contributing Writer

Altair 8800 Computer” by euthman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Design By TNCR Staff

In December 1974, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) unveiled the “Do It Yourself” Altair 8800 kit, a pivotal moment in the early era of personal computing. Founded by Ed Roberts, MITS initially specialized in electronic kits for hobbyists. The Altair 8800, named after the star Altair in the Aquila constellation, allowed users to assemble their own computer.

Revolutionary Design

The Altair 8800 was groundbreaking due to its design based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor and its open architecture. It featured a front panel equipped with switches and lights, enabling users to manually toggle switches to input binary code and observe results through the lights.

Popularity and Impact

The computer garnered widespread attention after gracing the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics magazine, hailed as “the first minicomputer kit to rival commercial models.” This popularity birthed the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, a hub for early computer enthusiasts and future tech pioneers.

The Altair 8800 catalyzed software development for the machine, including the creation of a BASIC programming language interpreter by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. This marked a significant early milestone for Microsoft.

Legacy and Influence

The Altair 8800 left an indelible mark on personal computing. It inspired experimentation among individuals and hobbyists, laying the groundwork for the personal computer revolution. Despite its relatively high cost and requirement for technical expertise for assembly and operation, it played a pivotal role in shaping the more user-friendly personal computers that emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s.

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