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Questions tagged [history]

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

1
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1answer
353 views

Were 64k RAM chips $5 in 1981?

According to http://smithsonianchips.si.edu/augarten/p64.htm "In 1981, they slashed the cost of 64K RAMs from some $25 each to about $5, and the price hovered at that level throughout the following ...
6
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1answer
173 views

When did MOS Technology upgrade to 5µm?

I'm trying to understand exactly why various chips were designed the way they were at different times, in the service of which I have a rather specific question: When did MOS Technology upgrade to ...
10
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4answers
1k views

Largest practical motherboard for early computers

The power of a computer is often effectively determined by the size the RAM can be expanded to. In many cases, this was even more important than CPU speed: Memory-limited workloads In the early days, ...
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4answers
5k views

What was computer “Fuzzy” logic?

In the mid 1980's computers began to be advertised as having or being capable of "Fuzzy" logic. How was "Fuzzy" logic added to a computer and what was it suppose to do better than a computer without ...
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1answer
5k views

1913 mystery computer below Grand Central Station

Over on the twobithistory Twitter channel, I came across this post from Gothamist about a computer from 1913 under Grand Central that was purportedly developed by Westinghouse. According to the ...
6
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4answers
291 views

When did 1200bps become the modal speed of installed modems?

Telephone line modems were important in home and business computing for decades. Like a lot of people, I started with a Hayes Smartmodem 300. The modem came out in 1981 but I got mine about 1990. By ...
3
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1answer
241 views

De facto standard width of a business computer

A very interesting article about an interesting, late (in more senses than one) and little remembered computer: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/06/28/30_years_on_the_story_of_the_memotech_mtx/?page=...
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4answers
318 views

Hard disks in 1977

Suppose you wanted to take one of the 1977 trinity (Apple II, Commodore PET, TRS-80) and attach it to a hard disk at that time - in 1977. Of course this wouldn't be easy. Not only was there no ...
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3answers
415 views

When did schools stop caring about form factor?

It has been mentioned in a few places, that in the 8-bit era, schools preferred computers with a bulky all-in-one form factor, in the hope of reducing damage and theft, to the point where they ...
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2answers
276 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 ...
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2answers
700 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?
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2answers
395 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 ...
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4answers
6k 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.
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2answers
252 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 ...
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7answers
8k 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 ...
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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 ...
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2answers
275 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 ...
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1answer
1k 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 ...
6
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1answer
407 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 (...
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2answers
619 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
181 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
168 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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4answers
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 ...
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4answers
410 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 ...
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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,...
3
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1answer
309 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
390 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 ...
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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 ...
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4answers
404 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?
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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
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. ...
5
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2answers
443 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
185 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 ...
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1answer
162 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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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 ...
101
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4answers
21k 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 ...
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6answers
1k 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, ...
10
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1answer
266 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
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2answers
223 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 ...
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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 ...
33
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7answers
10k 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 ...
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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
279 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, ...
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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
279 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 ...
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4answers
544 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 ...
8
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2answers
993 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 ...
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7answers
653 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 ...
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5answers
695 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-...