Doing It With Fewer Bytes Than Bill Gates

The MITS Altair 8800 occupies a unique place in computing history as the first commercially succesful microcomputer for personal rather than business use. It is famous as the platform upon which the first Microsoft product ran, their first BASIC interpreter.

[Josh Bensadon] has an Altair 8800, and became intrigued by its bootloader. The simplest method of programming the machine is through binary using a set of switches on the front panel, and he remarks that there should be a warning in the manual: “fingers will get sore after repeated use of the small switches on the ALTAIR”.

In the Altair manual there are two listings, one 21 byte, and another in 20 bytes. Bill Gates is on record as saying that their first effort was 46 bytes long, but with more work he managed to create one in 17 bytes. Now [Josh] has beaten that, he’s created an Altair 8800 bootloader in only 14 bytes.

His write-up goes into great detail about how those bytes are shaved off, and provides us with a fascinating insight into the 8800’s architecture. Even if your 8-bit assembler is a little rusty, it’s a fascinating read.

We’ve featured Altair-inspired projects many times here at Hackaday, but rarely the real thing. This Altair PC case with the ability to emulate the original was rather a nice idea, as was this Altair front panel project. If you want the joy without the heartache though, there is an online emulator.

The Altair Shield

From PDPs to Connection Machines, the Hackaday crowd are big fans of blinkenlights. While this project isn’t an old CPU, RAM, ROM, and an S-100 bus wrapped up in a fancy enclosure, it is a great recreation of the Altair 8800, the historic kit computer that supposedly launched the microcomputer revolution.

[Justin] says his project is just another Altair 8800 clone, but this one is cut down to the size of an Arduino shield. This is in stark contrast to other Altair recreations, whether they are modern PCs stuffed in an old case, modern replicas, or a board that has the same functionality using chunky toggle switches.

On board [Justin]’s pocket-sized Altair are a few LEDs, some DIP switches, and an octet of spring-loaded dual throw switches that wouldn’t look out of place in a 40-year old computer.

This shield targets the Arduino Due rather than the Mega, but only because the Due performs better running an Altair simulation. Everything is there, and a serial terminal is available ready to run BASIC or any other ancient OS.

VCF East: [Vince Briel] Of Briel Computers


Judging from the consignment area of the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend, there is still a booming market for vintage computers and other ephemera from the dawn of the era of the home computer. Even more interesting are reimaginings of vintage computers using modern parts, as shown by [Vince Briel] and his amazing retrocomputer kits.

[Vince] was at VCF East this weekend showing off a few of his wares. By far the most impressive (read: the most blinkey lights) is his Altair 8800 kit that emulates the genesis of the microcomputer revolution, the Altair. There’s no vintage hardware inside, everything is emulated on an ATmega microcontroller. Still, it’s accurate enough for the discerning retrocomputer aficionado, and has VGA output, a keyboard port, and an SD card slot.

The Replica I is an extremely cut down version of the original Apple, using the original 6502 CPU and 6821 PIA. Everything else on the board is decidedly modern, with a serial to USB controller for input and a Parallax Propeller doing the video. Even with these modern chips, an expansion slot is still there, allowing a serial card or compact flash drive to be connected to the computer.

Video below, with [Vince] showing off all his wares, including his very cool Kim-1 replica.

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Altair 8800 pc case can emulate the original hardware

The Altair computer is commonly considered the genesis of personal computing and for that reason it has a special place in the hearts of many. [Bob Alexander] brings back the glory of the Altair 8800 plus a lot of added computing power. This PC case houses a Core i5 system but the front panel isn’t just for looks. He designed a PCB and resized an image of the original Altair front panel to end up with a fully functioning control interface. In the demo after the break you’ll see that the buttons can be used for power and reset and the LEDs can show random Altair-like patterns. But the interface can also works in conjunction with an Altair emulator to perfectly mimic the original Altair experience. This is a great way to sidestep the buyer’s remorse one might experience with a standalone kit.

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