Computing time machine – the MITS Altair simulator

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Now anyone can take a stroll back into computing history and have a play with an Altair 8800 faithfully simulated on the web.

The MITS Altair 8800 was the pointy-end of the computer revolution. Originally created as a construction project in 1975. Using a soldering iron and a kit of components, for around $439 you could build your own Altair, your own computer! Although that was about two weeks income for the average household, any other computer of the time would cost at least ten times that much. Ed Roberts, who came up with the Altair, only expected to sell a few hundred kits; but much to his surprise he sold thousands in the first months. If that wasn’t enough it was the Altair that lead Bill Gates and Paul Allen to work on a BASIC interpreter; and the Homebrew Computer Club which the Altair enabled lead to the creation of many companies including Apple Computers.

So the Altair is really the exemplar of what a home computer meant in 1975 as well as an important point in the history of computing. For anyone born after the mid-70s it is also fascinating because, at least when launched, lacked keyboard or screen. Coding was done by flicking switches and watching little lights come alive. Many would argue that there was no better way to truly understand how a computer worked then and, works today.

Anyway, until now the Altair was something you could stare at in a museum. Now a local Sydney coder has created a faithful simulator for the Altair on the web. The simulator comes complete with fan noise, switch clicks, volatile memory, and a functioning Intel 8080 processor, it works just like a real Altair, and runs at the correct 2Mhz clock speed.

So if you want to reminisce about the dark-ages of personal computing, or see what the first computers were really like, go and flick some switches on the MITS Altair Simulator.

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