Altair 8800 Microcomputer

Altair 8800 Microcomputer

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Not long after Intel introduced its 8080 chip, a small firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, named MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) announced a computer kit called the Altair, which met the social as well as technical requirements for a small personal computer. MITS succeeded where other, more established firms had failed, and it was their machine that inaugurated the personal computer age. MITS got its start in computing in 1971, when it introduced an electronic calculator kit. Several thousand sold before 1974, when the sharp reduction in calculator prices drove the company out of that market.
H. Edward Roberts, the Florida-born former U.S. Air Force officer who headed MITS, decided to design a small, affordable computer around the Intel 8080. His daughter named the new machine after the star Altair. It was the first microcomputer to sell in large numbers. In January 1975, a photograph of the Altair appeared on the cover of the magazine Popular Electronics. The caption read "World's First Minicomptuer Kit to Rival Commercial Models." According to the magazine, the machine sold as a kit for $395, and assembled for $498. Roberts had hoped to break even by selling 200 Altairs. Within three months he had a backlog of 4,000 orders.
The kit offered by MITS represented the minimum configuration of circuits that one could legitimately call a computer. It had little internal and no external memory, no printer, and no keyboard or other input device. An Altair fitted out with those items might cost $4,000—the equivalent to the cheapest PDP-8 minicomputer, a reliable and established performer. Most purchasers found the kit was difficult to assemble, unless they had experience with digital electronics and a workbench fitted out with sophisticated test equipment. And even if one assembled the kit correctly it was sometimes difficult to get the Altair to operate reliably. Gift of Forrest M. Mims III
Object Name
Date made
the head of MITS
Roberts, H. Edward
Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems
component parts are used
Intel Corporation
Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems
Place Made
United States: New Mexico, Albuquerque
Physical Description
metal. (overall material)
manufactured (overall production method/technique)
overall: 7 in x 17 in x 18 in; 17.78 cm x 43.18 cm x 45.72 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Forrest M. Mims, III
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Computers
Computers & Business Machines
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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We got one of the original Altair in my department at North Carolina school of the Arts in 1976. It was a marvel that opened the world of digital computers to many of the students who like myself went on to successful careers as computer engineers. It opened my eyes to the possible.
The Altair 8800 in your collection was one of the first five assembled units. Ed Roberts gave me this Altair in return for my writing the first operator's manual. While some builders of the kit version had problems, "sophisticated test equipment" was not necessarily required. A meter that indicated voltage and resistance was often all that was needed. The main issue was the many solder connections. This especially applied to the rows of LEDs, each of which had to be properly oriented. While the original Altair 8800 lacked a keyboard and CRT monitor, users were happy to run simple machine language programs. The key role of the Altair was that it attracted Paul Allen and Bill Gates to develop Altair BASIC. They even moved to MITS in Albuquerque to expand their role--and co-found Microsoft.
Greetings digital world!! How were uses of the Altair 8800 utilized in professional recording studios/markets in terms of rendering sound during the 1970s, also 1980s?
Simple. They didn't...
"I have recently acquired an original Altair 8800 computer complete. It has the following components... Computer, floppy drive, keyboard, floppy disks, cables, and all the manuals. It seems to be in excellent condition. My father purchased the kit and built it himself around 1975. I was interested to learn more about it, or if you could refer me to someone that has expertise in this field.Thank You,Scott Weber"

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