Questions tagged [history]

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

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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 ...
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13 votes
1 answer
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Historical cost of computing (when was $1/FLOPS crossed?)

The relevant Wikipedia page has a large gap between 1961 and 1984, not allowing to estimate, even approximately, in what year the symbolic threshold of $1/FLOPS (or, as the wiki table puts it, $1bn/...
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16 votes
4 answers
2k views

Historical price of ROM

Historical price charts for RAM are quite readily available, e.g. in the mid-seventies a ballpark figure was a penny a byte. What was the price of ROM (assuming you were getting the chips produced in ...
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13 votes
5 answers
2k views

Magnetic tapes as a random access medium?

A two-part question: How widespread in legacy systems was the practice of using magnetic tapes as a genuinely random access medium at the OS level by pre-formatting them in a way before the first use,...
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14 votes
3 answers
893 views

Which programming systems used object files on punch cards?

In a batch programming system developed in the late 1960s - early 1970s at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in the city of Dubna near Moscow, it was possible to dump object files to punch ...
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6 votes
1 answer
447 views

When were floating point rounding modes first implemented?

It appears that at least some pre-IEEE 754 computers had only one hardwired floating point rounding mode, e.g. away from zero as in PDP-11 (page 154 of PDF). Which historical architectures were the ...
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9 votes
4 answers
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Were people building FPGAs out of TTL logic prior to the first sales in 1984?

My experience growing up was that my Dad would program 'EEPROMs' or Flash ROMs from his Apple IIGS. (I don't know if that is similar to an FPGA or not). He used these in custom wire-wrap computers he ...
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25 votes
13 answers
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Were people building CPUs out of TTL logic prior to the 4004, 8080 and the 6800?

I've just finished reading Charles Petzold's book, Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software. In it Charles explains building relays into gates, gates into logic components, and ...
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13 votes
2 answers
608 views

Do any interesting POP-2 programs survive?

On a disk image (which I had for many years) from a BESM-6, I've suddenly found a working POP-2 (POPLAN) interpreter (for all these years I'd considered that area as useless bits and pieces of various ...
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20 votes
2 answers
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Actual code written by Ada Lovelace?

I have seen some claims that Ada Lovelace was the first programmer. Is there any actual code to back this up?
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18 votes
9 answers
2k views

How were bugs reported for compilers that were shipped on floppy disks?

Take the Microsoft C 1.0 compiler for example. It shipped on multiple 5.25" 360K disks, and when it ran on machines without internal hard disk, so users had to switch floppies between the editor, ...
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67 votes
7 answers
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Where did the popularity of the `i` variable come from?

I have heard that the reason the i variable is used so much is because there was an old computer where each variable could only be a single letter and that reserved the variables a through h as ...
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29 votes
3 answers
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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, ...
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26 votes
4 answers
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What register size did early computers use?

Prompted by this question querying the prevalence of byte-addressable memory on machines with 32 bit registers: Why is every address in a micro-controller only 8 bits in size? I'm familiar with the ...
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12 votes
2 answers
4k views

Computer graphics before the modern GPU [closed]

Modern computers use a graphics processing unit in order to provide hardware-accelerated graphical operations. Conceptually, I am used to thinking about graphics as a bidimensional array of ...
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16 votes
1 answer
1k 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 ...
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20 votes
8 answers
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Retrocomputing software development process/methodologies

This is a test question based on this meta post. If the question can be reworded to be more on-topic, please feel free to suggest improvements. This is an open ended question about software ...
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20 votes
1 answer
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Logo of a bow tie guy with a spoon

I was in the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley last week, and I saw this badge. I know I've seen that logo somewhere before, but I can't remember where! Does anyone know where it's from?
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45 votes
8 answers
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What was the first programming book

I'm curious, what was the first book, about programming for digital computers. I tried to google it, but it led me to multiple results. I'm mostly interested in the language it was about and the ...
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34 votes
1 answer
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What soviet computer used trinary bits?

Discussing 'non-standard byte sizes' with co-workers today, one mentioned hearing of soviet experiments with computers that used three-state bytes - and not just what is common today, 0, 1 and High ...
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28 votes
6 answers
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Over its lifetime, how many Apple II computers were sold?

It would be nice to break it down by model if possible.
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33 votes
6 answers
3k views

Why did the Bell 103 modem use a data rate of 300 bps?

Virtually every telephone modem in existence runs at a data rate that's a multiple of the Bell 103A's 300 bps. Why was the base 300 bps chosen in the first place?
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48 votes
11 answers
10k views

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

A bit of a trivia question: What is the oldest hardware capable of running a modern Linux-based operating system, including user-space? (Not necessarily GNU userspace, but running a standard GNU/Linux ...
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20 votes
2 answers
2k views

What was the earliest non-valve, non-mechanical computer?

Just wondering how history questions will fare here. They could be a good addition to our scope. Pretty much exactly as the title says. Some of the earliest computers were based on valve systems or ...
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20 votes
9 answers
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Were there any commercially available graphical interfaces before the apple Lisa?

I just finished the Steve Jobs biography and I thought... Was the apple Lisa really the first commercially available Graphical interface? This is just out of interest but I'll be really interested ...
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