Hackaday owes a lot to the hobbyist electronics magazines of yesteryear. Back in the day, Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics would publish projects and articles about DIY electronics – more or less the same editorial purview we hold today. Some of these projects would become full-fledged products, and you need only look at the Altair for what can happen at this confluence of publishing and engineering.
One of the more popular companies to come out of these hobbyist trade magazines was SWTPC, or Southwest Technical Products Corporation. This was the company that brought one of the first microcomputers to the masses with the SWTPC 6800. This wasn’t just a homebrew microcomputer company – there were Nixie clocks, test gear, and stereo preamplifiers – all things that could easily find a place on the pages of Hackaday today.
This year at the Vintage Computer Festival East, [Michael Holley] brought out the test gear he’s been collecting for the past few decades. These are machines that wouldn’t be out of place on any DIY electronics blog today. This is by all accounts the pre-history of the maker movement.
Interesting items in the exhibit include the Popular Electronics Digi-Vista, a digital clock laden with Nixie tubes from the December 1970 edition. The construction of this clock seems bizarre today – the Nixies are mounted at a right angle to individual boards connected to a backplane. Today, when you can build a Nixie clock as an example of how to lay out a PCB. Back when you could buy traces at Radio Shack, not so much.
But of course the most well-known product from SWTPC was the 6800, a backplane microcomputer based on the Motorola 6800. Combine this with SWTPC’s improvement on the TV Typewriter from a few years before, and you had a complete computer system a year before the Apple I was available. This was the height of consumer technology at the time.