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Questions tagged [history]

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

4
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3answers
471 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 ...
19
votes
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 ...
4
votes
4answers
448 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
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 ...
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. ...
6
votes
2answers
494 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
votes
2answers
188 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
votes
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
177 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
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 ...
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 ...
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, ...
10
votes
1answer
296 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
265 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 ...
46
votes
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
votes
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 ...
13
votes
4answers
5k 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
votes
2answers
318 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
votes
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
votes
1answer
304 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
557 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
votes
2answers
1k 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 ...
11
votes
7answers
713 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 ...
7
votes
5answers
751 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
votes
2answers
479 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
3answers
631 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 ...
27
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
votes
1answer
255 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
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) ...
10
votes
2answers
396 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
votes
1answer
398 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
501 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
800 views

A different kind of sprite system

Early consoles and home computers that were optimized for games, often provided sprites. From the viewpoint of a game developer, these were good to have, though one always wanted bigger sprites, to ...
6
votes
4answers
902 views

What is the (usually lower quality) “software rendering” mode visible in so many “second-generation” FPS games?

During a conversation, a friend of mine sent me this picture: It's the first Thief (I guess), with so-called software rendering. I already experienced this effect in Quake 1-2 and to an extent, in ...
44
votes
5answers
13k views

Why did C have the return type before functions?

In general, there are two types of syntax of defining functions - Something like C, C++, C#, or Java (int functionName(char arg)) vs the ML (and others) tradition of defining the return type after the ...
22
votes
1answer
4k views

Why do all the Speech Synthesizers have that same Voice?

The first time I ever played with software speech synthesis on a microcomputer (not hardware synthesis, like in TI's Speak & Spell) was around 1983, using S.A.M for the Commodore 64. A year later,...
3
votes
1answer
855 views

How did Microsoft take over Winsocks (Windows Sockets)?

In the early days of the Internet, Windows users had to install an application called "Trumpet Winsock" in order to use Internet apps like e-mail, FTP, WWW, etc. There were competitors, but Trumpet ...
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 ...
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.
6
votes
2answers
496 views

Who were the first engineers to “cleanroom” the IBM PC BIOS?

In the first season of the AMC show Halt & Catch Fire, the protagonist "Cameron Howe" is introduced. Cameron portrays a rookie engineer who is recruited for being extraordinarily talented, and is ...
11
votes
6answers
1k views

Why did tactile-feedback keyboards lose popularity?

IBM spoiled me for hardware quality. I've gone through many computers, including a TRS-80, Heathkit H-89, Commodore Vic-20 and C-64, and countless PC's but my first original IBM PC will always be my ...
0
votes
1answer
442 views

Where was MS-DOS used? [closed]

How widely was MS-DOS used? Was it globally, or just in some specific places? Were there any regional substitutes used more commonly, and if so, what were they?
5
votes
4answers
512 views

When did the Z80 compatibles reach very high clock speed?

In the early eighties, the Z80B and Z80H at 6 and 8 MHz respectively, were released. In 1985, the Hitachi HD64180 reached 10 MHz (with some enhancements such that it seems to be reckoned the ...
2
votes
4answers
1k views

Why were teletype printers not used for DOS computers?

Prior to the introduction of DOS in 1981 teletype printers were probably the most common hardcopy printer being used - usually in govt, educational or research facilities. When DOS arrived, teletype ...
19
votes
2answers
1k views

How widely used was 0xDEADBEEF?

Inspired by some comments on the question "The history of the NULL pointer":- There was a practice in the '70s to use the hexadecimal code 0xDEADBEEF to indicate an invalid value. This could be to ...
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 ...
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 ...
41
votes
9answers
16k views

Why were floppy drives not any faster?

180rpm to 360 rpm, unlike 12000rpm on optical discs, was how fast floppy disks got. I am not sure, whether all drives had the same speed, but 360rpm is not close to the physical stress limitations of ...
29
votes
4answers
5k views

Did any computers use the Z80B?

The Z80 was one of the most popular CPUs of the seventies and eighties. In almost all cases that I know of, the version used was the Z80A, rated for 4 MHz, sometimes clocked a little slower in order ...