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M > MITS  > ALTAIR 8800


Marco Chrappan kindly sent us from Italy a copy of the montly "Computer Notes" reviews, dedicated to Altair systems and published in 1975-76. All issues have been gathered in one pdf file (5.8 MB).

About Altair memory boards, Mike Boyd adds:
First memory for the Altair was a 1K memory board with 4 pairs of 5101 memory, usual first purchase was just 256 BYTES.
MITs came out with a 4k DRAM memory card that didn't work, and then came out with several fixes that still didn't work - so people used SRAM cards from SEALS and PT that were 8x8 arrays of 2102 (1kx1) chips, wasn't uncommon to spend $300 on a 8k memory board for your computer.
There was a company that made a add-on video card that went into a slot and plugged into some of your controller chips on your SEALS memory card; what a "hack"

Rick Kosiorek memories:
Mine was serial #8. the power supply was a massive brute force transfomer and filter capacitors. it provided an unregulated +8v, +15v, -8v, -15v. the individual cards contained the regulators. most commonly the computer was purchased with a serial card and a surplus ASR-33 teletype terminal was used to type and display. as well the paper tape/punch unit was used to load stuff like Microsoft 8kBasic. This is the basic that Bill Gates railed about when he first wrote about software theft to a computer club.
I sold a lot of newspapers to buy this puppy in high school :)

Charle Maier reports:
This same year, Mits Altair came out with a Motorolla 6800 version of this machine with memory mapped IO and very similar looking case. It had a 1K rom and 1k static memory. Mits eventualy offered a mono color display driver kit, a serial and parallel board kit.

Gene Roy reports:
Price for the Altair 8800 was $595. It was originally offered as a "box of parts a month" for (I think) 8 months. The first month you received the thick manual whichj contained the assembly instructions and information on how to program it via the switches. The second month was the cabinet, and so on. The last month brought you the microprocessor.

Chris Haake wants to add:
I notice in your entry for the Altair 8800 that the name came from a Star Trek episode. This may be true, but did you know that Star Trek, in turn, borrowed that name from the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet? It was the name of the planet itself (Altair 4, actually). Since that movie, "Altair" has been used many times in SF purposefully as an homage. Just thought I'd drop a little trivia on you. Keep up the good work!

Angel Robert Lynas comment:
Trivia expansion: not sure why Star Trek needed to "borrow" Altair from Forbidden Planet -- it's a perfectly respectable magnitude 1 star in the constellation of Aquila, and has been for some time... The name comes from Arabic "Al-Taa'ir", The Bird (or Eagle, some say).

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