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History of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers, and software developers.

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18 votes
2 answers
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Why doesn't sed have a j command?

It has always bugged me that sed, which is mostly compatible with ed, doesn't have the same j command (to join two lines together) that ed does. Once upon a time I imagined this was because sed works ...
Steve Summit's user avatar
11 votes
1 answer
1k views

Did any attendees write up accounts of pre-1980 Homebrew Computer Club meetings?

Per Wikipedia, "The Homebrew Computer Club was an early computer hobbyist group in Menlo Park, California, which met from March 1975 to December 1986." I'm looking for written accounts or ...
cjs's user avatar
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5 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did any 8-bit machine select palette by character name instead of color memory?

8-bit home computers, and contemporary third-generation consoles, commonly displayed graphics with an array of character cells, a.k.a. character names, character pointers, name table etc, each of ...
rwallace's user avatar
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8 votes
1 answer
537 views

Why does the boot-up screen for Cruis'n USA (arcade version) display this strange text?

(I originally asked this in the "gaming"/Arqade section. However, it was suggested by a commenter that I should instead migrate it here. Since I don't know how one "migrates" a ...
user296681's user avatar
4 votes
0 answers
247 views

Looking for early examples of extended precision by interpretation

The other day I came across a clever way of implementing variable-length extended precision, dated 1967 (on the BESM-6, apparently as part of the system software available at the time of introduction ...
Leo B.'s user avatar
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4 votes
1 answer
305 views

Why didn't Commodore run the 6502 at 2 MHz? [closed]

The Atari 800, in 1979, ran the 6502 at 1.79 MHz. That rounds to 2, and was presumably a 6502A rated for 2 MHz, underclocked. Why did Commodore keep running their 6502 computers at 1 MHz, even the 64 ...
rwallace's user avatar
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17 votes
5 answers
4k views

Why was the 1540 a computer in its own right?

The Commodore 1540 disk drive, along with its better-known successor the 1541, is a computer in its own right, with its own 6502 CPU. Why was it designed like that? It adds significant cost to the ...
rwallace's user avatar
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7 votes
0 answers
227 views

The works of Frontier Manufacturing

Having spent the last however many decades believing Commodore Semiconductor Group was a simple rename of MOS Technology, I just watched a video – quite interesting in its own right – which casually ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
3 votes
0 answers
263 views

What process node enabled the 6502 to reach 2 MHz? [duplicate]

The original version of the 6502 was rated for 1 MHz, but before the end of the decade, the CPU was available in a 2 MHz version. Presumably what changed was Dennard scaling: make the transistors ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
9 votes
2 answers
550 views

How did the PL/I designers not understand environments?

In Charles Lindsey's “A browse through some early bulletins”, he mentions (regarding Knuth's Man Or Boy test): As a postcript to this whole episode, it may be noted that a couple of years later Bekic ...
texdr.aft's user avatar
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2 votes
1 answer
180 views

When were the late 70s FCC regulations introduced?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-99/4A Through the development period, several companies attempting to enter the home computer market were faced with significant pushback from the ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
3 votes
0 answers
156 views

Did Commodore have an alternative chip company acquisition target?

One pf the pivotal historical events of the 8-bit computer industry was the acquisition by Commodore of MOS Technology in 1976. This gave Jack Tramiel the vertical integration he wanted, and led ...
rwallace's user avatar
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5 votes
5 answers
1k views

How much extra did a color RF modulator cost?

I've been doing more reading about the early 8-bit home computers, a fascinating era, in which the cost of the hardware was of course a constant, dominating constraint, and trying to understand ...
rwallace's user avatar
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33 votes
2 answers
7k views

How did ALT + F4 become the shortcut for closing?

This is another in a long line of computer history trivia questions. It is very much related to this question. How did Alt + F4 become the close keyboard shortcut? I always used that close command on ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
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15 votes
2 answers
685 views

Why did Acorn use the 6502?

It is an interesting quirk of the British microcomputer industry, that the main vendor of cheap microcomputers, Sinclair, used the better, more expensive CPU (Z80), whereas the main vendor of better, ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
11 votes
1 answer
383 views

What's the earliest source for the legend of Gary Kildall's airplane snub?

A commonly repeated (and commonly debunked) legend describes how Gary Kildall blew his chance at writing the operating system for the IBM PC. Examples include the following: …legend has it that ...
Psychonaut's user avatar
  • 7,681
17 votes
6 answers
6k views

Why did 5.25″ floppies invert the meaning of the write-protection notch?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floppy_disk#8-inch_and_5%C2%BC-inch_disks A small notch on the side of the disk identifies whether it is writable, as detected by a mechanical switch or ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
2 votes
0 answers
157 views

Apple II sales by sector

Of the American 8-bit personal computers, the Apple II was arguably the most general, in that it sold well to home enthusiasts (Woz's original intended target market), schools (thanks in part to the ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
2 votes
1 answer
171 views

US equivalent of the Microvitec Cub monitor

In the 8-bit computing era, UK schools acquired BBC Micros in a project sponsored by the BBC. The monitor typically used with these was the Microvitec Cub. In the US, there was also a push to put ...
rwallace's user avatar
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3 votes
0 answers
96 views

Was the Atari 800 expansion port hidden because of RF emission? [duplicate]

I just stumbled on a curious detail about the Atari 8-bit machines that I had not known about: https://forums.atariage.com/topic/133652-400800-expansion-port-pinouts/ I've seen questions about the ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
9 votes
6 answers
4k views

Did ROM chips jump from 8K to 32K?

This is a question about mask ROM (not EPROM) chips of the 8-bit era. The size of DRAM chips increased by factors of 4, so there were 4kbit chips, then 16kbit, 64kbit, 256kbit etc. The natural width ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
15 votes
1 answer
3k views

What's the story behind the "mysterious" 486DX3?

As I was skimming through an old MS-DOS game's README, I stumbled upon this: Therefore, we reccomend a newer 486-100 or better, preferably with a large external cache. Best performance will result ...
aybe's user avatar
  • 7,112
11 votes
0 answers
385 views

When was the asterisk first used for "unsaved changes" and why?

The asterisk itself has been around as a symbol since literally (pun intended) before the earliest writing systems. Among its many uses, in some user interfaces it denotes unsaved changes to a file or ...
TypeIA's user avatar
  • 211
2 votes
3 answers
860 views

Understanding the Need for Positive Sync Polarities in Sony PVM Monitors

Understanding the Need for Positive Sync Polarities in Sony PVM Monitors Note: This post has been edited several times during its lifetime, and some questions may have already been answered. I'm in ...
Tai Alt's user avatar
  • 73
3 votes
0 answers
149 views

Hierarchical/navigational database engine available on RSX-11M

Around 1988-1990 I worked for a company that was using an old RSX-11M system to host an ERP application. The application used a third-party database product of which I am trying to recall the name. ...
Anthony X's user avatar
  • 441
5 votes
4 answers
292 views

First free and open source assembler and linker for i386 targeting and running on Win32

I'm looking for the first free and open source assembler and linker for i386 targeting and running on Win32. My requirements are: It has to be able to build a Win32 PE .exe from assembly source, the ...
pts's user avatar
  • 2,013
51 votes
1 answer
13k views

After creating HTML, why did Tim Berners-Lee bother creating HTTP? Why didn't he just write a HTML renderer for a FTP client?

My beginning 'facts' in this question are: HTTP is essentially nothing more than a file transfer protocol that only moves HTML. Networked file transfer protocols were well established by 1991, were ...
recursived's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
1k views

What other terms have been used to describe storing working data permanently besides "save"?

Today, we "save" the file we're working on to disk. This terminology appears to be specific to architectures combining volatile and non-volatile memory. I also distinctly remember a "...
Therac's user avatar
  • 923
21 votes
9 answers
8k views

What were the major things that caused TCP/IP to become the internet standard protocol?

I was wondering what were the major reasons that TCP/IP became the protocol used to communicate over the Internet, as this was uncertain for quite some time in the 80'es and early 90'es. Wikipedia ...
Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen's user avatar
40 votes
4 answers
38k views

Did any processor implement an integer square root instruction?

Has any processor ever implemented an integer square root instruction? Obviously, floating-point square root instructions are quite common, but I've never seen one specifically for integers. One close ...
v-rob's user avatar
  • 857
16 votes
3 answers
3k views

Minimum game cartridge manufacturing time

I saw a remark in a documentary on the 1990s game console industry, The Story of the Nintendo 64 - Nintendo's Defiant Innovation - The Complete Deep Dive Story, that a key point that swayed third-...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
18 votes
3 answers
4k views

Did the UNIVAC I really have a 2.25 MHz clock speed?

Wikipedia states that UNIVAC I "could perform about 1,905 operations per second running on a 2.25 MHz clock." (link) This claim is repeated basically all over the Internet. I find this clock ...
Jeroen's user avatar
  • 183
14 votes
1 answer
3k views

Historically speaking, why is man-db a separate package that is not part of the GNU project?

As far as I understand, GNU had a goal to create a completely free (libre) operating system, and to that end, created FOSS replacements for many UNIX programs. It puzzles me why they didn't try to ...
Kidburla's user avatar
  • 465
6 votes
0 answers
462 views

Why did only the TRS-80 see complaints about the screen?

Of the 1977 trinity, the PET and TRS-80 came with monitors built around black-and-white TV tubes, and the Apple II was commonly used with a black-and-white TV set. According to https://en.wikipedia....
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
17 votes
3 answers
3k views

What methods were used for password encryption before adoption of DES?

It is well-known that, for quite a while, UNIX passwords were hashed using the DES algorithm (see here). However, DES was not published until 1975 and not standardized until 1977. What were the multi-...
Leo B.'s user avatar
  • 19.4k
3 votes
1 answer
258 views

When did work begin on the VIC-II?

The VIC-II, the video chip used in the Commodore 64, was the most sophisticated video chip of any 8-bit personal computer. I'm curious about how long it took to design. According to Wikipedia In ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
9 votes
2 answers
1k views

Atari SIO vs IEEE 488

When Atari was designing the 800 series of computers, they needed a way to connect peripherals. To comply with FCC regulations on RF emission, it needed shielded cables. To achieve low cost of entry ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
2 votes
0 answers
186 views

Commodore 64 software sales peak year

Sales of the Commodore 64 itself appear to have peaked (along with sales of 8-bit home computers in general) around 1984, though continued for another decade after that. I'm curious about sales of ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
8 votes
2 answers
915 views

What were MECC's specifications for a school computer in 1978?

It is well-known that one key moment for Apple was selling 500 Apple IIs to the Minnesota school system in 1978. I came across this video which discusses the background to that, including a reminder ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
7 votes
1 answer
319 views

Northern Telecom SL-1 PBX Programming Language

My first job in 1981 was programing the Northern Telecom/ BNR SL-1 PBX. It had been licensed in the UK by GEC (the UK company, not the US one) from Northern Telecom, and I added some UK specific ...
masonas's user avatar
  • 71
9 votes
2 answers
1k views

Did VMS ever acquire filesystem cross-links?

Both Unix and Windows, quite early, acquired cross-links in their filesystems, such that the filesystems are not trees, but general directed graphs. I'm curious about whether this was an inevitable ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
26 votes
6 answers
7k views

What did corporations use for long-distance networks in the 1980s?

Although ARPANET was invented in 1969, the Internet as publicly available infrastructure didn't really become available until 1989. But people were certainly using computers as communication tools in ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
3 votes
2 answers
259 views

Was an Amiga 'Enhancer' software package ever released for Kickstart/Workbench 1.1?

When the original Amiga 1000 was released, it shipped with version 1.0 of Kickstart and Workbench. However, it wasn't long before Commodore released version 1.1 and computers started shipping with ...
Geo...'s user avatar
  • 10.2k
18 votes
3 answers
6k views

Which OS first implemented hibernation?

According to the relevant Wikipedia article, [h]ibernation was first implemented in 1992 and patented by Compaq Computer Corporation in Houston, Texas. This appears to refer specifically to hardware- ...
Leo B.'s user avatar
  • 19.4k
3 votes
0 answers
185 views

What aspects of microprocessor ISAs have been patented?

A key objective of RISC-V was that every aspect of the ISA must be based on an expired patent. It was felt that this is the only truly reliable defense against patent lawsuits. It is surprising that ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
3 votes
2 answers
319 views

Did anyone use quarter-bad RAM chips?

There was a time in the early 80s when 64k RAM chips had a significant defect rate, such that half-bad ones could be obtained at a discount. Some computer manufacturers such as Sinclair and Tandy took ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
13 votes
11 answers
5k views

Did any 8-bit device ever merge a CPU core?

Looking at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Commodore-64-1541-Floppy-Drive-04.jpg I started thinking the following: There are too many chips in that drive. It is crying out for a ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
14 votes
7 answers
5k views

Which CPUs have implemented trap on signed integer overflow?

All mainstream microprocessors from the 4004 on, have implemented signed integer arithmetic with twos complement and silent wraparound on overflow (by which I mean that the CPU itself will not trap, ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
21 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did 486 SMP systems provide Total Store Ordering?

Cache-coherent SMP (symmetric, or shared-memory, multi processing) systems can provide various grades of memory ordering guarantees, the stronger ones being more expensive but making it easier to ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
23 votes
3 answers
5k views

Did any x86 CPU optionally trap unaligned access?

x86 CPUs have always supported unaligned load/store. Early RISC CPUs didn't. So imagine writing portable code on a 386. It seems to work fine, but how do you know you haven't accidentally misaligned ...
rwallace's user avatar
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