Questions tagged [history]

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

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5
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2answers
798 views

Are there any articles elucidating the history of the POPCOUNT instruction?

Figuring out how many bits in a group of bits are set to 1, known as computing "population count", Hamming weight, or "bit summation", among others, has various applications. It is also fairly cheap ...
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1answer
963 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 ...
3
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1answer
295 views

Using audio tape recorders on non-personal computers?

A Soviet manual (1978) for an interactive integrated development system named ПУЛЬТ (translated as "console" or "[remote] control panel") developed for the BESM-6 mainframe contains a cryptic note: ...
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9answers
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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 ...
11
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2answers
1k views

Where did Fast InvSqrt() come from?

The fast inverse square root algorithm is probably best known for its use in Quake III Arena, the source code of which was released to the public a few years after its release. However, the algorithm ...
13
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3answers
1k views

Pattern matching, which language first had it

Which programming language was the first to use pattern match? The oldest ones I know are: Prolog 1972 ML 1973 Are there languages older that have pattern matching? Edit: By pattern matching I ...
12
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1answer
776 views

Early Apple assemblers, getting hold of them

The apple ][ history site https://apple2history.org/history/ah17/#05 has a section on assemblers with these interesting snippets: TED/ASM: Developed at Apple and smuggled out the doors around May ...
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0answers
129 views

Historical cost of semiconductor fab [closed]

How much did a state-of-the-art semiconductor foundry cost in or around 1980? Ideally I'd like to get data on how it changed over time from the seventies to present day, but even a single data point ...
11
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2answers
1k views

How powerful was Knuth’s computer?

The Art of Computer Programming, volumes 1–3, was written in the late 1960s, with vol 3 finalized in Sept 1972 after a delay of “almost 3 years” because of rapid development of the subject matter. I ...
29
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5answers
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How was the C language ported to architectures with non-power-of-2 word sizes?

By the time the C language started to gain popularity outside of the PDP-11 circles (mid-1970s), mainframes with "weird" word sizes, and no capability to address individual bytes efficiently were ...
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1answer
567 views

The history of context switch

I wonder which was the first operating system that had context switch and what are famous examples of OS that didn't have context switch?
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1answer
472 views

Transistor count of early video chips

There are a number of sources that give transistor counts for different CPUs over the decades. I'm looking for transistor counts for early video chips. in particular, I'd be interested in transistor ...
9
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2answers
1k 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 ...
3
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1answer
387 views

When did computers start being able to take both 115 and 230 volts? [closed]

With modern computers and game consoles, it's common to have the ability to take 115 or 230 volt mains supply, selected by a small switch on the back of the machine. Presumably the logistical ...
44
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3answers
7k views

What's the relationship between early 90s Pentium microprocessor and today's Intel designs?

My simplified understanding of the evolution of the Intel processors over the last 20 years is that the Pentium II and Pentium III architectures were sort of "dead-ends", and today's Intel processors ...
12
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6answers
728 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 ...
12
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3answers
1k views

Speed of early ROM versus RAM chips

In the late seventies, up through around 1981, the maximum access speed of off-the-shelf RAM chips was around 2.6 MHz. Did the same speed limit apply to ROM chips of the same era? If not, what would ...
61
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8answers
16k 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 ...
5
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3answers
618 views

When were the analogs of the C operators “break” and “continue” introduced in Pascal?

When published in 1970, the Pascal language did not have a way to implement the functionality equivalent to the (future) C language operators "break" and "continue". Their convenience having been ...
8
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5answers
670 views

How did software engineers test their code in 19xx? [closed]

There is a plethora of tools available for engineers to test their code these days. However, frameworks like Mocha.js came around only in 2011 with the ascent of NPM. So I wonder what were the ...
3
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3answers
628 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 ...
27
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1answer
2k views

Why did keygens play music?

When running some keygens (i.e. applications that generate working license keys for possibly pirated software), low-quality background music is played while the user waits. See this sample YouTube ...
14
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2answers
2k views

What was the first C compiler for the IBM PC?

When did a C compiler first become available for the IBM PC? I have fond memories of Turbo C, but that didn't become available until the mid to late eighties; it definitely wasn't the first one. ...
11
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2answers
942 views

What is the origin of different styles of assembly language mnemonics?

As exemplified in answers to this question (I hope that closed questions that are linked to, don't get purged), the instruction mnemonics in early assembly languages had a 1-to-1 correspondence to the ...
15
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1answer
2k views

Why are the | and ¦ keys labelled the wrong way around?

Note to close-voters: There is a meta question concerning the on-topicness of this question. Please provide an answer or comment. A comment from downvoters wouldn't hurt either. The UK QWERTY ...
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2answers
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Was the first ARM “processor” a BBC BASIC program?

The best background I have found so far on the early development of the ARM processor at Acorn comes from this interview with Steve Furber. The interview does not mention the development of the first ...
8
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1answer
353 views

Was there ever a division instruction with sign of the remainder following the sign of the quotient?

A document about the precursor to ANDF (Architecture Neutral Distribution Format) mentions that two of its integer division/remainder primitives "are those generally implemented directly by processor ...
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3answers
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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 &...
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7answers
2k views

Was Amiga the last of the home retrocomputers sold?

The Commodore-Amiga was offered for sale to home users from 1985 (original A1000 in North America) until 1996, when Escom stopped selling the A1200. By 1996, Apple was selling PowerPC-based Macs for ...
8
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1answer
638 views

What is the history of data compression tools on personal computers?

On UNIX, the progression of the most widespread data compression programs was as follows: (AFAIR: Pre System V) compact (suffix .C), dynamic Huffman coding (AFAIR: introduced in System V) pack (...
11
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0answers
411 views

Who owns the intellectual property of Thinking Machines today?

Who owns the intellectual property regarding the Connection Machine and other products from Thinking Machines? I believe the remnants were bought by Sun, so possibly Oracle, but does anyone know?
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5answers
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What was the purpose and history of the C64's special keys?

I never had a Commodore 64 but I've always been curious what the purpose and history of some of the special keys were. In particular: C= Run/Stop Clr/Home Restore I'm mostly used to the standard ...
21
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9answers
2k views

Why did CP/M and MS-DOS use the BIOS instead of their own drivers to access hardware?

Modern versions of Windows (and other modern operating systems I suppose) have their own drivers to access hardware. But as I have read, in the old days, if CP/M or MS-DOS wanted to access hardware, ...
15
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4answers
2k views

Why is the serial port driver named “/dev/ttyS#”?

Based on my understanding, a tty means a computer terminal/teletype, and that /dev/ttyS1 is the driver for serial port 1/COM1 (or more accurately, a driver for UART chip 1 I suppose). But I don't ...
14
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1answer
2k views

Why BGR color order

Blue Green Red (BGR) byte ordering exists in a few image processing libraries "for historical reasons", mostly because it seems to have been a Microsoft standard. Does anyone know the historical ...
11
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2answers
460 views

Which retrocomputers were dominant in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s?

Australia and New Zealand are somewhat unique among large, developed, economies because they bridge the culture of (mostly) the West with the geography of the East. I am curious how this may have ...
16
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6answers
3k views

What PC “Clone” technology standards were introduced by clone manufacturers?

IBM famously created the PC standard with the introduction of the first IBM PC in 1981. IBM also extended the standard with the introduction of the PC/AT (1984) and the PS/2 line (1987). However, by ...
6
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2answers
444 views

First flat-panel display technology capable of 640x480

What was the first display technology capable of creating a flat-panel display with 640x480 resolution? (And reasonable size, say 12" to 14".) As far as I can see, three flat-panel display ...
8
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1answer
255 views

Grid Compass - why such a small display?

The Grid Compass, released in 1982, was arguably the world's first full-fledged laptop, whose only glaring deficiency to modern eyes is the small display, 320x240 with physical size to match, ...
7
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2answers
803 views

How early could plasma screens be used in laptops?

Back in the eighties, batteries weren't yet at the point where they could run a laptop with similar computing power to a desktop. If you wanted that much computing power, you just accepted that your ...
8
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1answer
352 views

Price of early color monitor versus TV

Some computers in the seventies and eighties had the option of output to either a TV or a dedicated monitor. Suppose repurposing an existing TV isn't an option and you are going to be buying a screen ...
8
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2answers
381 views

First computers to support Japanese script?

What was the first computer to support Japanese script, not just as a toy demo, but at a level where you could actually use it to get a day's work done with Japanese documents? And how did it do it? I ...
24
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4answers
3k views

Why did so many early microcomputers use the MOS 6502 and variants?

Quite a few successful early microcomputers used the MOS 6502 CPU. This included, but was not limited to, systems like the Apple I, Apple II, Commodore PET, and Ataris. A followup known as the MOS ...
12
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9answers
891 views

Do retro-microcontrollers exist?

I'm trying to learn the fundamentals of computer architecture (more here), and it occurred to me that a retro version of an Arduino or Raspberry Pi could be useful for that. Does such a thing exist, ...
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5answers
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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 ...
0
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3answers
715 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 ...
11
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1answer
1k views

What ended the Sony console partnerships with Sega and Nintendo?

Sega and Nintendo were the dominant players in the console market at the end of the 1980s and into the 90s. By early in the next decade, Sony shipped the PlayStation 2, leading Sega to exit the ...
8
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1answer
745 views

128-bit floating point

IEEE 754 defines 128-bit floating point, though perhaps in a three-way chicken and egg problem, it's rarely supported by hardware, rarely supported by compilers, and rarely used. Have there been, ...
12
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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 ...
4
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2answers
388 views

Cost of tape backup in 1980

How much did it cost in 1980 to buy a tape drive capable of backing up 5 megabytes of data? Both for the drive itself and per tape? (If that exact data is unavailable, I'd be interested in something ...