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Questions tagged [history]

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

54
votes
6answers
14k views

How were the first ZX Spectrum games written?

Being a child of the 80s I loved my ZX Spectrum, did my best to learn BASIC but I felt like the games I was playing (Jetpac, Dizzy, Renegade etc) were perhaps not written using BASIC. I wondered: how ...
51
votes
12answers
11k views

What early home computers have more than one CPU, where both could be used by the programmer? [closed]

I am interested to know if any computers that are on-topic for this site had more than one CPU, where this plurality could be leveraged by a programmer. Some cases I don't so much care about: The ...
37
votes
11answers
5k views

What is the oldest computer capable of running a modern version of Linux?

A bit of a trivia question: What is the oldest hardware capable of running a modern Linux-based operating system ? By this I mean being capable of running a fairly recent Linux kernel, in some form. ...
23
votes
9answers
5k views

Graphics chips in 1980

Suppose you were trying to build a computer with a color graphics display in 1980, you have limited engineering resources and time to market is critical, so you want to get as many of the parts off ...
18
votes
2answers
1k views

First computer emulator in Windows

I released my ZX Spectrum emulation Wspecem, and GPL sources first time publicly in the Internet at large, the 15th May 1996, for Windows 95. I am quite sure it was the first ZX Spectrum emulation ...
16
votes
5answers
964 views

Limiting factor on sprite sizes

Early consoles and home computers that were optimized for games, tended to provide sprites. From a game programmer's viewpoint, these were good to have. Of course, one always wanted more and larger ...
11
votes
8answers
2k 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 were less common sizes such as 250 kB, 800 kB, ...
8
votes
1answer
519 views

How was the Traf-O-Data 8008 simulator developed?

Traf-O-Data was the first business partnership between Paul Allen, Bill Gates and Paul Gilbert. In order to develop the software for their custom-built Traf-O-Data machine (Intel 8008 Inside™), ...
0
votes
3answers
676 views

Does anyone have the source code of an early program written in Assembly? [closed]

I am interested in looking at the source code of any program that was written in Assembly just about when the Assembly language was invented. If anyone have a source code for such a program, please ...
103
votes
4answers
22k 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 ...
66
votes
6answers
7k views

What technological factors drove the rise of “high-speed” modems in the early 1990s?

The first inexpensive modem I ever purchased was a 300 baud direct-connect unit for the C64 User Port in late 1983. I recall that a couple of years later (1986), 1200 baud modems were affordable and I ...
30
votes
3answers
10k views

Where does this esoteric Pascal operator come from?

In the documentation for an implementation of Pascal for a Soviet computer, I've encountered a very weird language extension. I'll try to translate it: Branching operator (branch) Syntax &...
71
votes
12answers
16k views

Back in the late 1980s, how was commercial software for 8-bit home computers developed?

When hobbyists wanted to write software for e.g. the Commodore 64, they either used the built-in BASIC interpreter (with all its limitations) or some native tools, like compilers for other languages ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

Can a retro-computer be a useful way to learn computer-architecture fundamentals?

I've been reading about the fundamentals of computer architecture, but I think I could get a better grasp of the basics if I could could have an actual device to play with. I had considered building ...
35
votes
2answers
6k views

Did IBM encourage Bill Gates to retain the rights over PC-DOS?

As is well-known, Microsoft's negotiations with IBM to deliver PC-DOS 1.0 with the original IBM PC resulted in: IBM licensing the OS from Microsoft, as opposed to purchasing it outright. Microsoft ...
26
votes
3answers
3k views

What was the first operating system to feature a separate kernel?

Kernels are programs that abstract the hardware of a computer to some extent, allowing other programs to use standardised system calls (e.g. malloc) to perform hardware tasks (e.g. writing to memory, ...
30
votes
4answers
4k views

What was the IBM PC cost saving for using the 8088 vs 8086?

The decision to use the 8088, a version of the 8086 with the data bus restricted to 8 bits, in the original IBM PC, seems strange on the face of it, certainly hurt performance and intuitively shouldn'...
25
votes
7answers
11k 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. ...
14
votes
3answers
2k views

How much did the 6502 and Z80 cost?

It is said that the 6502 was cheaper than the Z80. As of 1978, what were the actual prices of the two chips, in wholesale quantity?
21
votes
3answers
3k views

Why did 80x25 become the text monitor standard?

Prior to the 1981 release of the IBM PC, the VT105 (72x20 1971), VT52 (80x12 1974), and VT100 (80x25 1978) text terminals were used on many Unix machines and the PDP11 (probably the most widely used ...
11
votes
1answer
480 views

Why is the 8254's default rate 18.2 Hz?

The Intel 8253/8254 timer, in its default configuration, triggers IRQ0 18.2 times per second. Why this strange rate, and not something like 60 Hz (to match the most common video refresh rate) or 100 ...
29
votes
5answers
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 ...
25
votes
6answers
4k 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 ...
11
votes
7answers
5k views

Is there a reason why MS-DOS didn't use more English words for commands?

When using diskpart, I can list all the drives by typing LIST DISK or to select a specific drive I can type select disk 1. Is there a reason why MS-DOS didn't use more English words to do tasks, for ...
7
votes
4answers
647 views

Video chip for hypothetical 1988 arcade game

I have a project where I aim to create a retro arcade game cabinet, the technology would be ~1988. For now I am planning to only simulate the system on my PC in order to develop the game. The ...
16
votes
2answers
3k views

First commercial DOS game?

What was the first commercial game sold for use on IBM/MS/PC DOS after the IBM August 12, 1981 release.
12
votes
1answer
2k views

First computer with LCD screen

The Toshiba T100, the company's first laptop computer, shipped in 1982 with an LCD screen of 80x25 text resolution: http://oldcomputers.net/toshiba-t100.html Was this the first computer ever to have ...
12
votes
6answers
2k views

Memory-limited workloads

I'm trying to figure out whether computing workloads, particularly those related to science and engineering, have historically been limited by memory or CPU. (By the former, I mean not memory access ...
10
votes
1answer
413 views

Where was the Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1) used?

While chatting about data recovery, an obscure filesystem came up. It apparently claimed the MBR partition ID 0x20 and was named "Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1)". In the modern world, it seems ...
8
votes
1answer
441 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) ...
3
votes
1answer
180 views

What was the first publication documenting AT&T syntax assembly language?

What was the first publication to document what is (now) known as AT&T syntax assembly language?
21
votes
5answers
3k views

Over its lifetime, how many Apple II computers were sold?

It would be nice to break it down by model if possible.
15
votes
7answers
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,...
15
votes
4answers
4k views

Why did 3.5" floppies win? [duplicate]

It's an open question whether desktops would've kept using 5.25" until the end of the floppy era, but laptops meant something smaller was going to be introduced; that much was essentially ...
13
votes
6answers
684 views

Largest ratio between base and maximum RAM

For example, the Apple II originally shipped with a base 4K of RAM but could be expanded to 48K, so the maximum was twelve times the base. Of all the computers ever shipped, which one has had the ...
11
votes
1answer
1k views

Did all NES “Black Box” games come in carts with five screws?

When the NES was released, there were a list of original titles from Nintendo such as Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid. These titles came in a distinctive box that was mostly black. Plus, the ...
10
votes
1answer
876 views

Where do command line switches originate from?

In Linux we have command line switches traditionally started with minus ls -al. In Windows those start with slash dir /b. I remember that on RSX-11M that I used to deal with and later on RT-11 the ...
9
votes
1answer
341 views

When were the various frequency Z80 CPUs introduced?

The Z80 was introduced, as I understand it, at a clock speed of 2 MHz. Later, Z80-based computers at 3.5 MHz started showing up. In what year did this faster clock speed become available? (In ...
9
votes
3answers
408 views

Origin of dealer networks

Roughly speaking, the two main ways to sell computers are, and particularly were in the old days, Three digit price tag sold to individuals => mass market, department stores and suchlike. Four digit ...
8
votes
2answers
893 views

When did 64K RAM become about as cheap as 16K?

In the days of 8-bit computers, two of the more common memory configurations were 16K and 64K, implemented as eight RAM chips of 16kbit or 64kbit respectively. The setup was one chip per bit over the ...
8
votes
5answers
432 views

When did smart terminals arrive?

In the days of mainframes and minicomputers, a common user interface was a serial terminal where each keystroke was sent to the computer, which could respond with an update to the contents of the ...
5
votes
1answer
329 views

Cost differential between 2 and 4 MHz RAM chips in 1982

The most common speed of the 6502 was 1 MHz, allowing the use of 2 MHz RAM chips (half the bandwidth went to the video chip to refresh the screen). In 1982, the BBC Micro shipped, with double speeds ...
3
votes
1answer
134 views

ST-506 price: wholesale or retail?

The ST-506 was an early personal computer hard disk, introduced in 1980 with a capacity of 5 megabytes and a price of $1500. While several sources confirm the price, I haven't been able to find ...
3
votes
1answer
476 views

How did PC boot games handle saving?

I was reading on this RCSE page about old PC games that you had to boot into to play. Obviously the machine that the game would run on would at least have enough RAM and necessary graphics ...
3
votes
3answers
582 views

How to compute performance of a CPU in FLOPS?

For a computer that took a variable number of clock cycles to execute floating point instructions, what would be the formula to estimate its performance in FLOPS assuming that it can execute either A ...