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

1
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1answer
46 views

Labor input for manufacture of early personal computers

In the early days of personal computers, manufacturing was not as automated as it later became, and a factory would often consist of people sitting at tables placing components by hand. I'm ...
6
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1answer
194 views

Why did MS-DOS choose percent symbol to designate variable?

I couldn't find anything but is there any reason for choosing % over $ like in *nix shells?
8
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2answers
136 views

What was “whole-value computation” in early real-time systems?

I've been reading Achieving Accuracy: A Legacy of Computers and Missiles by M. W. McMurran, who helped develop the Autonetics D-17 guidance computer for the Minuteman ICBM in the early 1960s. For all ...
17
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3answers
5k views

History of Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q for flow control

Which OS was the first to use Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q on the console for pause and continue? I first discovered Ctrl-S in IBM PC DOS 1.1.
2
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2answers
152 views

Cost of a chiclet keyboard

Early personal computer keyboards could be membrane (Atari 400, ZX80, ZX81), chiclet (PET 2001, ZX Spectrum, Oric, IBM PC Jr) or mechanical/full-travel (later PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Vic-20, and most ...
26
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5answers
7k views

How did Apple fail to tap the business and scientific markets?

Currently reading an excellent book called Blue Magic: The People, Power and Politics Behind the IBM Personal Computer, which is just what it says on the tin; highly recommended to anyone who wants to ...
12
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6answers
2k views

MITS to Dell: the mail order gap?

In 1975, MITS advertised the new Altair (not actually the first personal computer, but close enough that many historical accounts proclaim it as such) by mail order, and it sold very well by the ...
2
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2answers
248 views

FCC RF limits and wire transmission speeds

As I understand it, in the early days of personal computers, strict FCC limits on RF emissions, were a factor limiting the speed at which data could be transmitted over wires, but I'm trying to ...
10
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1answer
370 views

The almost-was Atari IBM PC

One of the more remarkable events in the history of personal computers was IBM contemplating basing their PC on Atari technology. That this was seriously considered, everyone agrees, but it's hard to ...
5
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1answer
235 views

Who established the original F1 desktop BIOS key and why did laptops use a different key?

It seems early on IBM, MS, and DOS clones established a standard of holding the F1 key down during boot to access the BIOS setup. Yes there were a few much less common combinations that used the DEL (...
10
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2answers
488 views

What is the history of the PDP-11 MARK instruction?

The PDP-11 MARK instruction was intended to be used as part of the standard PDP-11 subroutine return convention. MARK facilitated the stack clean up procedures involved in subroutine exit. To use it, ...
0
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1answer
155 views

Anyone here with a Sol-20 or images thereof? [closed]

I've just completed an obviously long-overdue article on the Sol-20 for the Wikipedia. It really needs some images. Does anyone out there have images that they took of this machine? Especially the ...
3
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0answers
148 views

When did Multics begin using '>' as a pathname separator?

As described in this question, Multics used > as the separator between components in pathnames, and < as a parent directory indicator in relative paths. However, an early paper describing the ...
5
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3answers
2k views

80286 pricing and availability

Most information online states that the 80286 (or iAPX 286 as it was initially known) was first available in February 1982. But information about it from this time is hard to come by, and famously it ...
2
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4answers
326 views

How was corporate training done before PowerPoint?

The usual thing today is a laptop (maybe desktop) PC (or Mac) connected to a video projector to display content from PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides. How was it done, in general, before this hardware ...
14
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6answers
2k views

CP/M in less than 80 columns

The standard for business computing in the seventies and eighties was 80 columns, and CP/M was primarily for business computing, so it's unsurprising that CP/M typically ran in 80 columns. For example,...
3
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1answer
256 views

What was the retail price of CP/M?

In the early days of the IBM PC, it was offered with a choice of four different operating systems including PC-DOS for $40 or CP/M for $240. Customers looked at what appeared to be essentially ...
3
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3answers
289 views

What was the first integrated PC compatible computer?

When IBM developed the PC, they famously chose a bunch of off-the-shelf components. Besides making the machine relatively easy to clone, another effect of this was it used a lot of chips and board ...
17
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2answers
2k views

Who made the Atari 2600 TIA video chip?

At the heart of the Atari 2600 was the TIA video chip, designed by Jay Miner, well known for his later work on the chips for the Atari 400/800 and the Amiga. Who manufactured the TIA? As an in-house ...
2
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3answers
225 views

What home computer was the first to use a external ROM cartridge?

When was the external ROM cartridge first used and what home computer was the first to use it?
25
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6answers
3k views

History behind the text column restriction

In the old days, I remember we were told to never go beyond the 70'th column in the text editor (the actual value was usually something above 70, but less than 80). Further, at least in the program I ...
25
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7answers
10k views

Why did computers use a power supply with a socket?

Most home electrical appliances use a fixed power cord and have a on/off switch near the front. I was in many government electronics labs and that cord and socket was not used i.e HP test equipment. ...
3
votes
2answers
271 views

Atari 400 vs 800

Apparently when the two Atari 8-bit machines were released, the 400 outsold the 800 2 to 1, which is unsurprising considering they were priced at approximately $500 and $1000 respectively. Indeed, ...
0
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2answers
175 views

Lead Free Solder in Pre-2006 Electronics

In 2006, the European Union passed the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) which pretty much restricted the use of traditional lead-tin solder. Is it the case that all consumer ...
25
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2answers
6k views

Why was 2^127-1 an interesting problem for “Baby”?

The BBC News article The 'Baby' that ushered in modern computer age along with the short embedded video begins with: A machine that took up an entire room at a laboratory in Manchester University ...
1
vote
1answer
150 views

When and where was the first home computer game convention held?

This might have been networked computers or people that took turns at a computer console. It may have been something like Wolfenstien, Frogger, Pacman, or Missile Command played on a PDP-11, home, or ...
29
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4answers
8k views

Why were early personal computer monitors not green?

Green was traditionally the most common color for computer monitors; it combines strain-free readability with low cost. Given this, it's surprising that the first versions of the Commodore PET and ...
97
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4answers
18k views

It's now safe to turn off your computer

One thing I remember very well from my childhood is the screen you got at the end of a shutdown process ond old computers: I don't know if this was a Windows 95/98/2000/ME only thing but I wonder why ...
6
votes
4answers
606 views

Why did common floppies never advance past 1.4 MB in size?

The chronology of some early floppy standards was: 80 kB, 160 kB, 360 kB, 720 kB, 1.2 MB, finally 1.44 MB. (There where less common sizes such as 250 kB, 800 kB,...
7
votes
1answer
200 views

VIC-II transistor count

I'm curious about the transistor count of the VIC-II, the video chip in the Commodore 64. According to http://visual6502.org/wiki/index.php?title=Chips_in_our_collection the Atari 2600 TIA chip has ...
0
votes
2answers
175 views

What was the first piece of hardware to utilise quantum effects? [closed]

Processors used to be mechanical, using macroscopic switches and gears. Then they began to use valve switches. Then they used microscopic circuitry that you could only see with a powerful magnifying ...
43
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4answers
8k views

Why did F1 become the Help Key?

There was actually a pretty big push among some vendors in the 1980's to have a dedicated Help Key (conveniently labeled as Help). Atari introduced it in 1983, and kept it to the end. The Commodore ...
31
votes
7answers
8k views

Why did Commodore 64 cartridge games disappear?

The Commodore 64 has a cartridge slot, but by the mid-eighties, cartridge games disappeared; everything was on tape or disk. Why? One answer that suggests itself is that by that time, a larger ...
7
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3answers
4k views

Why plastic cases?

Early computers of the 'all in one' form factors, such as the Commodore PET, the early IBM microcomputers and later models of the TRS-80, as well as the 'box' form factors such as the Altair, used a ...
0
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2answers
209 views

Is emulation ultimately the future of retro computing? [closed]

As you probably know, nothing really lasts forever in the human-made world of appliances, especially electronic ones. Whether it stems from market evolution, technical advancements, newer paradigms, ...
41
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20answers
14k views

How were files transferred between different systems in the late 1980s?

Today there are adapters available allowing you to connect historic floppy drives to a modern PC. This allows you to copy data from historic floppy disks to the PC. In the late 1980s and the early ...
9
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1answer
223 views

Can we express the instructions to the Analytical Engine in terms of assembler or machine code?

On a recent trip to the London Science Museum I saw Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Apparently this had an ALU (or equivalent). I can build an ALU out of logic gates but I can’t conceptualise how to do ...
6
votes
4answers
488 views

What was the 2nd best selling computer ever? [closed]

It's widely known that the Commodore 64 was the best-selling single model of personal computer. Which computer make & model got second place? To clarify, I'm looking for an objective answer about ...
3
votes
1answer
549 views

Why did expert systems fall?

Wikipedia gives a good summary of the AI winter of the late eighties and early nineties (the qualification is necessary since there has been more than one). Some aspects of it are clear enough, but ...
10
votes
7answers
496 views

Can I build a working(ish) vacuum tube byte?

This is a somewhat odd question. I teach a course on media history, and spend some time talking about digital data towards the end. I am interested in building a device to illustrate some basic ideas ...
3
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2answers
373 views

Power of university computer in the '70s?

I have run into a condensed-matter-physics research paper published in 1973, from the Physics Department of Rutgers University, NJ, USA. The paper provides some numerical computations of condensed-...
6
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2answers
409 views

What system pioneered displaying masking characters for password entry and why?

On the mainframe OSes I was familiar with, and on UNIX to that day, when there is a prompt for a password in "text mode" (a command line session), the echo is suppressed, and there is no visual ...
6
votes
2answers
431 views

Was there any particular reason the 6502's LDX#imm and LDY#imm aren't opcodes A8 and AA?

Parts of the 6502 opcode map are fairly regular, and parts of it aren't. One bit that strikes me as really weird is the decoding of LD_ instructions, in relation to the decoding of other ALU ...
35
votes
3answers
6k views

Why does nobody attempt to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine?

The Difference Engine was built in the 90s. Why has nobody succeeded in building the Analytical Engine? Charles Babbage designed the Analytical Engine as a general-purpose computer to succeed his ...
26
votes
3answers
11k views

Why were early computers named “Mark”? [closed]

I have seen many examples, Harvard Mark 1, Manchester Mark 1, Colossus Mark 1 and 2. It is possible that this is a very obvious thing for native English speakers, but not entirely for me. Was this an ...
8
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1answer
192 views

Did Charles Babbage design three Difference Engines?

At the British Science Museum they have four different models of Charles Babbage’s difference engines (including his designs). The display implied that he had at least three different designs. This ...
8
votes
1answer
366 views

Is S-100 alive?

1) Is S-100 still supported or available for serious home brew? Does anyone still actively sell new boards, cases, designing, support, etc? If not, then about what year did S-100 development stop? 2) ...
10
votes
2answers
350 views

Why Game controllers changed from righthanded to lefthanded?

Why are video game and computer joysticks of the seventies and early eighties right-handed (eg. Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Apple II), and game pads, since Nintendo Entertainment System to today, all left-...
15
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1answer
332 views

Zilog's relationship with Mostek

The Wikipedia page on Mostek, one of the original fabricators of Z80 chips, includes the following claim: When Vin Prothro, President, and L. J. Sevin, Chairman of the Board, discovered that ...
8
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0answers
261 views

When did README files start showing up in software?

Everyone knows how important documentation is -- for a project to grow past a certain point, it's a must-have. However, almost every software project of any size nowadays comes with at least a README ...