Questions tagged [history]

For questions concerning the history of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers and software developers.

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8
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6answers
2k views

Was memory corruption a common problem in large programs written in assembly language?

Memory corruption bugs have always been a common problem in large C programs and projects. It was a problem in 4.3BSD back then, and it's still a problem today. No matter how carefully the program is ...
2
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4answers
638 views

Are there some non-OOP programming languages that does not allow you to make a variable private? [closed]

In the non-OOP programming languages that I know of, you can't make a variable private (i.e. there is no private keyword), but there are some tricks that you can use to effectively make a variable ...
28
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13answers
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What language(s) implements function return value by assigning to the function name

In this Stack Overflow question the original code made the mistake of using the function name as a variable, and assigned the return value to it. A commenter mentioned that he once used a language ...
6
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2answers
650 views

What was the first microprocessor to overlap loads with ALU ops?

Modern out of order CPUs can do all sorts of things in parallel, having not only multiple functional units, but a lot of logic to check at runtime exactly which instructions really depend on others, ...
3
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0answers
128 views

What was a DEC PDP-11/85 intended to be, and why might it be able to use DECsystem-10 software?

In this DEC PDP-11 Strategy Memo from Sept 1974, there is this curious question. HOW MUCH OF THE DEC SYSTEM 10 SOFTWARE CAN THE 11/85 USE, OR DOES THE 11/85 HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH? CONFLICTING ...
2
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1answer
153 views

What was the most popular operating system on the PDP-11 computers? [closed]

What was the most popular operating system on the PDP-11 computers? And is it known what percentage of PDP-11 computers used this operating system?
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3answers
2k views

When was the phrase “sufficiently smart compiler” first used?

In discussions and arguments about programming language design, one often hears comments about "sufficiently smart" compilers, as in "X needn't be inefficient, since a sufficiently ...
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8answers
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Were there any computers that did not support virtual memory? [duplicate]

Were there any computers that did not support virtual memory? if yes, were these computers able to run multiple processes at the same time? By “virtual memory” I mean when a process would want to ...
6
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1answer
1k views

Did any CPU ever expose load delays?

There have been CPUs with exposed branch delays, such as early MIPS: What was the first CPU with exposed pipeline? (Later MIPS kept the delay slots from the early MIPS, though by that time, it wasn't ...
5
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0answers
140 views

What percentage of DVD forum royalties did Sony get?

A slightly arcane question that I think is relevant to a chapter of the history of game consoles whose dynamics I'm trying to understand. In the mid-nineties, several companies were developing optical ...
6
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1answer
321 views

Did the Saturn fail because of game distribution issues?

The Sega Saturn sold only nine million units, well short of the ambition with which Sega launched it, and as it would turn out, well short of what was needed to ultimately keep the company in the ...
4
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1answer
139 views

How much RAM was sold each year in the 1970s?

I'm trying to get an idea of the quantitative parameters of the computer industry in the era that saw the rise of personal computers. Of course, the industry as a whole was old by then; companies like ...
16
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2answers
650 views

What process node were 4k and 16k DRAMs first made at?

In the history of computers, much is said of microprocessors, for good reason, but the relatively unsung RAM chips were equally important. Of particular significance were the 4kbit and 16kbit dynamic ...
26
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3answers
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What was Pong called in Britain?

Pong, the electronic ping-pong game invented by Atari in 1972, was the first really successful video game. In Britain, 'pong' was also slang for a nasty smell, and I remember reading somewhere, a long ...
20
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1answer
1k views

When did the IBM 650 have a “Table lookup on Equal” instruction?

In 1959, Donald Knuth wrote an assembly program named SuperSoap for the IBM 650. Here is the manual, and here is a listing of the program (in SuperSoap assembly language). Quoting from the abstract: ...
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3answers
325 views

What software used Turbo Vision back in its prime time?

Turbo Vision, Borland’s text-mode widget toolkit, is fairly widely known by those old enough to remember it, and apparently quite influential: it gave rise to a number of ports and reimplementations (...
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3answers
512 views

What was the earliest use of |> pipe in programming?

I am trying to find which language used the |> operator first. It's being discussed for use in R, and it's been in OCaml for some years. Did it originate in OCaml? If not, what are its earliest ...
20
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11answers
5k views

Did any European computers use 10-line fonts?

Most 8-bit computers implemented hardware text mode, and most of those used 8x8 fonts. This was logical for American computers; the title safe area on NTSC is about 200 scan lines; font height 8 gets ...
32
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3answers
4k views

Why is the ‘auto’ storage class specifier included in C?

The auto keyword in C seems quite redundant: wherever it makes sense to define a variable with automatic storage duration, it is already the default, so there is no reason to use the keyword. The ...
6
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4answers
2k views

Could any computers use 16k or 64k RAM chips?

An interesting feature of the Apple II was that it had three rows of sockets for RAM chips, each of which could take either 4k or 16k chips. That meant the minimum configuration was 4K (cheap) but it ...
6
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1answer
602 views

What non-Spectrum computers did Sinclair sell 4 million of?

Reading Alan Sugar : The Amstrad Story, I just came across one of those little oddities that initially manifest as 'huh, wait a minute' and sometimes just mean someone has made a typo, and sometimes ...
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7answers
4k views

Why did DEC develop Alpha instead of continuing with MIPS?

I have been rereading a fascinating discussion about why DEC replaced VAX with Alpha based on talks with people who were there at the time; in a nutshell, in the opinion of the VAX engineers, it was ...
4
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4answers
986 views

IBM vs DEC and business partners

A Quora question Why did Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) fail? has gathered some really interesting answers, including from former DEC people. There is one such answer I do not quite understand: ...
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1answer
217 views

Bill-of-material cost of early hard drives

Based on this topic (and continuing this topic), my question once again surfaced: And what was the layout of the prime cost of early 8 and 5.25 inch hard drives? From Seagate and competing ...
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4answers
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Why was “C:” chosen for the first hard drive partition?

I was reading this answer, as the question came to my mind: why does C: indicate the first hard drive partition? The usage dates back to CP/M (as noted in a comment), was embraced by MS-DOS, and ...
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0answers
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Record definitions with IBM COBOL and IMS

A common technology stack for line of business applications in the sixties and seventies was IBM COBOL with the IMS database. I'm curious about how the combination handled record definitions. COBOL ...
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17answers
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Were any IBM mainframes ever run multiuser?

Now of course there is a sense in which they were – some mainframe installations supported thousands of users! But there is a distinction. Consider the familiar fixture in so many 80s computer science ...
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1answer
136 views

What was the first database to start compressing in situ?

The obvious way for a database to store data is with each record in a contiguous chunk, and each field having a fixed size and offset in the record. Joel Spolsky praises that way of doing things: ...
4
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1answer
241 views

How did the DEC RP06 respond to unscheduled power off?

The DEC RP06 disk drive was a remarkable piece of hardware. It seems to have been the last generation of drives that used rigid magnetic disks in removable packs, before their replacement by '...
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5answers
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Why did mainframes have big conspicuous power-off buttons?

Some fascinating stories in this discussion thread. It starts with discussion about computers overheating, but about halfway through the thread, it switches to discussion of mainframe installations in ...
3
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0answers
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Why did Gran Trak 10 cost so much?

In 1974, Atari released a driving game called Gran Trak 10. The development prototypes had used real car steering wheels and pedals, but it was realized these were too expensive, so they were changed ...
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4answers
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Why did MacOS Classic choose the colon as a path separator?

I mean, all other OSs that I know of use some form of slash as a path separator, so why did Apple choose the colon?
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3answers
969 views

How was it possible to run IBM mainframe software in emulation on HP?

... At least, without getting sued into the ground? According to one of the answers to What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes? We installed a new HP replacing an ...
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7answers
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What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes?

Over the past half-century, one of the largest trends in the computer industry has been the replacement of mainframes by microcomputers. Not total by any means – there are still many mainframes in ...
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3answers
2k views

Why did decimal arithmetic slow down VisiCalc?

There is an excellent article about VisiCalc that goes into all the details about what happened and why, highly recommended if you are interested in that part of computing history. I was reading this ...
13
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2answers
889 views

How were 4-digit IC part numbers assigned?

It seems that integrated circuits of the 1970s tended to have 4-digit part numbers. This includes not only the ones that came to be well-known like CPUs (Intel 4004, 8008, 8080, 8085, 8086, 8088, ...
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8answers
3k views

Why user-assembled kits?

Many early computers were sold as self-assembly kits (you get a box of parts and an instruction leaflet and have to solder them together yourself). For example, the Altair was priced at $439 kit, $621 ...
3
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2answers
224 views

What was the first vector supercomputer?

I am trying to understand the trade-offs between scalar and vector machines, the threshold of complexity/transistor count/performance at which vector machines started to make sense. As data points, ...
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5answers
3k views

Did IBM originally plan to use the 68000 in the PC?

One of the big turning points in the history of the industry was IBM choosing the Intel 8088 over the Motorola 68000. Given that most people outside IBM considered the 68000 preferable, there has been ...
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7answers
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Why did 8-bit Basic use 40-bit floating point?

Nowadays floating point is usually either 32 or 64 bits, sometimes 16, occasionally 128. But of course, the Basic interpreters on the 8-bit machines, having to implement floating point in software ...
12
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1answer
1k views

When did the Altair move ROM to the top of memory?

The 8080 starts running code at location 0 on reset. The natural layout of memory on a computer using that CPU is therefore ROM at the bottom of the memory map and RAM at the top. CP/M demands the ...
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2answers
3k views

What did Pete Stewart think he knew about efficient implementation of floating point denormals?

The most controversial part of the IEEE 754 floating-point standard is gradual denormals. Typically they trap to software rather than being implemented in hardware. In the common case where a workload ...
2
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2answers
168 views

Why did the SWTPC 6800 Computer System not take off? [closed]

In 1974, a major semiconductor company released its first 8-bit CPU that was good enough to build a serious computer around. In 1975, a smaller company built a computer around it, a horizontal box ...
1
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1answer
112 views

Why was the SWTPC 6800 Computer System cheaper than the Altair?

In 1974, Intel released the 8080, which basically was the first microprocessor good enough to build a serious computer around. That led to the Altair 8800 the following year, which was the beginning ...
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2answers
3k views

Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

Reading on the AGP spec, the little bits I've found on sites like https://old.pinouts.ru/Slots/agp_pinout.shtml, say: The Accelerated Graphics Port (also called Advanced Graphics Port) is a high-...
8
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1answer
516 views

Why did the Altair use 100-pin edge connectors?

The Altair 8800 was based on what came in later years (much to the displeasure of MITS) to be known as the S-100 bus, because it had 100 lines, because MITS found 100-pin edge connectors were ...
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2answers
1k views

Was natural convection ever a consideration in orienting expansion cards?

Many computers have followed the design pattern of a backplane with expansion cards, including arguably the three most influential microcomputers ever built: the Altair 8800, the Apple II and the IBM ...
5
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1answer
405 views

Was Steve Jobs really Atari employee number 40?

To be clear, I am not questioning that Steve Jobs spent a while working for Atari; that much is indubitably historical fact. Apparently he joined the company in 1974. Atari was founded in the summer ...
15
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2answers
2k views

Who owned the rights to the TIA chip?

The two most important chips in a game console are the CPU and GPU. In the Atari 2600, the CPU was a cut down version of the 6502, a very common low-cost microprocessor. The GPU was the TIA, which was ...
8
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1answer
261 views

How did a UNIVAC predict the results of the 1952 U.S. Presidential election?

The first computer prediction of a U.S. Presidential election was by a UNIVAC I computer used by CBS News on election night 1952. At 9:15 pm, with only 3.4 million of the eventual 61.8 million ...

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