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Questions tagged [history]

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

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2
votes
0answers
261 views

Why the exterior of PC towers and monitors used to be white in the 90's and now is black? [closed]

White got dirty pretty quick. Why would they chose that color? And why MAC still keep it but other manufacturers do not.
3
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0answers
343 views

When did green LEDs become as cheap as red LEDs? [closed]

Blue LEDs in the cheap, practical form we know them today, arrived in the 90s; before that, the choices were red and green. I want to say there was a time some years before that when green LEDs ...
4
votes
2answers
302 views

Did any retro computers ship with the SP0256-AL2 speech chip or its equivalent?

The SP0256-AL2 Speech IC was a popular solution for text to speech translation but is now out of production. There where several other chips that entered the market but as far as I know did not have ...
79
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9answers
13k views

Why were CLIs typically light text on dark background, whereas GUIs typically use(d) dark text on light background?

My experience is that CLIs were typically shown with light text on a darker background. For example, the IBM PC would use white/light gray (depending on your point of view), amber or green (the latter ...
6
votes
1answer
360 views

Commodore-Motorola lawsuit in 1984

According to Commodore: The Amiga Years, the reason the Commodore UNIX machine project in the early 80s used the Z8000 rather than the 68000 was an ongoing lawsuit with Motorola: With the Commodore-...
2
votes
1answer
212 views

TED computers and delayed RAM chips

From 'A Company on the Edge', page 545: Commodore marketing scheduled the release of the TED computers for May 1984, but met with inevitable delays due to RAM shortages and problems with the ...
11
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3answers
478 views

Turning off the color burst

On early color computers, it was possible to add a feature by which you could turn off the color burst output, restricting the display to black and white but making it significantly sharper and ...
3
votes
1answer
256 views

Transatlantic gray market Commodore PETs and 220V/50Hz vs. 115/60Hz

In the late seventies, Commodore sold the PET in Europe at a considerably higher price than in America; they could get away with this because there was less competition there. Some of the American ...
11
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6answers
1k views

Part-bad chips other than RAM

In the early eighties, you could buy half-bad 64k RAM chips at a discount. Some cost-conscious manufacturers such as Sinclair and Tandy took advantage of this, buying eight such chips to make a 32K ...
5
votes
1answer
251 views

Were Harvard Mark I and Mark II using diodes?

My understanding is that diodes (and other electronic components like vacuum tubes) started to be used in this line of Harvard machines, only with the Mark III computer. Does anyone have some ...
2
votes
1answer
549 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
votes
1answer
248 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 ...
9
votes
5answers
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, ...
14
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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 ...
29
votes
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 ...
7
votes
4answers
403 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
404 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=...
1
vote
4answers
374 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 ...
1
vote
3answers
503 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 ...
3
votes
2answers
334 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 ...
11
votes
2answers
797 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?
13
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2answers
548 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 ...
26
votes
4answers
7k 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.
2
votes
2answers
317 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 ...
35
votes
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 ...
12
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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 ...
2
votes
2answers
302 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 ...
22
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
8
votes
1answer
637 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 (...
10
votes
2answers
773 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, ...
1
vote
1answer
189 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
votes
0answers
193 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 ...
6
votes
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 ...
3
votes
4answers
561 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 ...
15
votes
7answers
3k 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
votes
1answer
326 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
599 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 ...
20
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
512 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?
26
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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 ...
27
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. ...
7
votes
2answers
749 views

What were the selling points of the Atari 800 over the 400?

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, ...
1
vote
2answers
196 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 ...
28
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
208 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
9k 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 ...
109
votes
4answers
26k 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
398 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
277 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 ...