Today in History: The Altair 8800 buildable computer goes on sale in 1974 #VintageComputing

1974: The Altair 8800 microcomputer goes on sale.

Via Wired, 1974: The Altair 8800 microcomputer goes on sale. It didn’t offer much, but it was the small start of a big trend toward small things.

A small New Mexico company — with the big name of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems and the small name of MITS — manufactured the Altair as a do-it-yourself kit. At its heart was the Intel 8080 microprocessor, with the remarkable capacity of 8 bits, or 1 byte.

The kit offered a 256-byte memory, just about enough to contain one sentence of text. The Altair’s open, 100-line bus structure evolved into the S-100 standard.

Keyboard? Dream on. That was a few years in the future. Input was accomplished through the “Sense Switches” (I/O address 255), eight toggle switches on the left side of the front panel. Display? More dreaming. Output was accomplished through LEDs on the front panel. LEDs, 1974: high tech, kiddo.

The Altair 8800 kit sold for just under $400 (about $1,900 in today’s money). If you wanted to forgo the case, you could get the kit for under $300. Or you could order the whole deal fully assembled: quotes a $595 price.

Altair 8800

MITS sold more than 2,000 Altairs by the end of 1975, beyond Roberts’ wildest expectations. IMS Associates, which sold the remarkably similar IMSAI 8080 microcomputer, shipped 50 that year.

But the Altair inspired more than knockoffs. The Commodore PET, complete with keyboard and monitor, debuted in early 1977. The Apple II came out later that year.

News of the Altair 8800 excited Paul Allen and Bill Gates, who wrote the first microcomputer BASIC for the 8800 and, within months, went on to found Microsoft together.

Read more on Wired and Wikipedia.

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.