Emulating An Altair 8800 On An Apple II

The Altair 8800 was, to its creators, a surprise hit. Despite looking nothing like what we would today consider to be a computer, it sold thousands of units almost immediately upon its launch, way back in 1975. A few years later, the Apple II burst onto the scene, and the home computer revolution began in earnest.

Emulating older machines on newer hardware has always been a thing, and [option8] has coded an Altair 8800 emulator for the Apple II. Of course, if you don’t have one lying around, you can run this emulator on an Apple II emulator right in your browser. Honestly, it’s emulators all the way down.

As far as emulators go, this is a particularly charming one, with the Altair’s front panel displayed in glorious color on the Apple’s 40 column screen. Replete with a full set of switches and blinking LEDs, it’s a tidy low-resolution replica of the real thing. Instructions to drive it are available, along with those for another similar emulator known as Apple80.

If that still hasn’t quenched your thirst, check out this Game Boy emulator that lives inside emacs.

Programmable Ruler Keeps 1970’s Computing Alive

A ruler seems like a pretty simple device; just a nice straight piece of material with some marks on it. There are some improvements out there to the basic design, like making it out of something flexible or printing a few useful crib notes and formulas on it so you have a handy reference. But for the most part, we can all agree that ruler technology has pretty much plateaued.

Well, not if [Brad] has anything to say about it. His latest creation, the Digirule2, is essentially an 8-bit computer like those of the 1970’s that just so happens to be a functional ruler as well. Forget lugging out the Altair 8800 next time you’re in the mood for some old school software development, now you can get the same experience with a piece of hardware that lives in your pencil cup.

Even if you’ve never commanded one of the blinkenlight behemoths that inspired the Digirule2, this is an excellent way to get some hands-on experience with early computer technology. Available for about the cost of a large pizza on Tindie, it represents one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to tell your friends that as a matter of fact you have programmed a computer in binary.

The Digirule2 is powered by a Microchip PIC18F43K20, and is programmed by punching binary in one byte at a time with a bank of eight tactile switches. To make things a little easier, programs can be saved to the internal EEPROM and loaded back up just as easily thanks to the handy buttons next to the power switch. Now all you’ve got to do is figure out what all those blinking LEDs mean, and you’ll be in business.

The original Digirule was a logic gate simulator that we first covered back in 2015. We’re always happy to see projects grow and evolve over time, and think this new retro-computer themed variant is going to be quite popular with those who still love toggle switches and blinking lights.

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IMSAI 8080 Resurrection

When MITS introduced the Altair 8800–about 43 years ago–it spawned the first personal computer clone: the IMSAI 8080. The clone had several improvements and MITS had difficulty filling orders for real Altairs, so they sold pretty well. [IMSAI Guy] has one of these vintage computers that has been in storage for over 30 years. He’s restoring the thing and there are 26 (and counting) videos of his progress. You can see the second video below, but be sure to check out the others, too.

The IMSAI is famous for being in the movie Wargames. We miss computers with switches and LEDs on a working front panel.

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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

Replica1

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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