Questions tagged [history]

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

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When was the phrase "sufficiently smart compiler" first used?

In discussions and arguments about programming language design, one often hears comments about "sufficiently smart" compilers, as in "X needn't be inefficient, since a sufficiently ...
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8 votes
8 answers
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Were there any computers that did not support virtual memory? [duplicate]

Were there any computers that did not support virtual memory? if yes, were these computers able to run multiple processes at the same time? By “virtual memory” I mean when a process would want to ...
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7 votes
1 answer
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Did any CPU ever expose load delays?

There have been CPUs with exposed branch delays, such as early MIPS: What was the first CPU with exposed pipeline? (Later MIPS kept the delay slots from the early MIPS, though by that time, it wasn't ...
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6 votes
0 answers
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What percentage of DVD Forum royalties did Sony get?

A slightly arcane question that I think is relevant to a chapter of the history of game consoles whose dynamics I'm trying to understand. In the mid-nineties, several companies were developing optical ...
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6 votes
1 answer
419 views

Did the Saturn fail because of game distribution issues?

The Sega Saturn sold only nine million units, well short of the ambition with which Sega launched it, and as it would turn out, well short of what was needed to ultimately keep the company in the ...
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3 votes
1 answer
320 views

How much RAM was sold each year in the 1970s?

I'm trying to get an idea of the quantitative parameters of the computer industry in the era that saw the rise of personal computers. Of course, the industry as a whole was old by then; companies like ...
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16 votes
2 answers
721 views

What process node were 4k and 16k DRAMs first made at?

In the history of computers, much is said of microprocessors, for good reason, but the relatively unsung RAM chips were equally important. Of particular significance were the 4kbit and 16kbit dynamic ...
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26 votes
3 answers
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What was Pong called in Britain?

Pong, the electronic ping-pong game invented by Atari in 1972, was the first really successful video game. In Britain, 'pong' was also slang for a nasty smell, and I remember reading somewhere, a long ...
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22 votes
1 answer
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When did the IBM 650 have a "Table lookup on Equal" instruction?

In 1959, Donald Knuth wrote an assembly program named SuperSoap for the IBM 650. Here is the manual, and here is a listing of the program (in SuperSoap assembly language). Quoting from the abstract: ...
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13 votes
6 answers
878 views

What software used Turbo Vision back in its prime time?

Turbo Vision, Borland’s text-mode widget toolkit, is fairly widely known by those old enough to remember it, and apparently quite influential: it gave rise to a number of ports and reimplementations (...
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11 votes
2 answers
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What was the earliest use of |> pipe in programming?

I am trying to find which language used the |> operator first. It's being discussed for use in R, and it's been in OCaml for some years. Did it originate in OCaml? If not, what are its earliest ...
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22 votes
11 answers
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Did any European computers use 10-line fonts?

Most 8-bit computers implemented hardware text mode, and most of those used 8x8 fonts. This was logical for American computers; the title safe area on NTSC is about 200 scan lines; font height 8 gets ...
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31 votes
3 answers
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Why is the ‘auto’ storage class specifier included in C?

The auto keyword in C seems quite redundant: wherever it makes sense to define a variable with automatic storage duration, it is already the default, so there is no reason to use the keyword. The ...
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7 votes
4 answers
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Could any computers use 16k or 64k RAM chips?

An interesting feature of the Apple II was that it had three rows of sockets for RAM chips, each of which could take either 4k or 16k chips. That meant the minimum configuration was 4K (cheap) but it ...
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7 votes
1 answer
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What non-Spectrum computers did Sinclair sell 4 million of?

Reading Alan Sugar : The Amstrad Story, I just came across one of those little oddities that initially manifest as 'huh, wait a minute' and sometimes just mean someone has made a typo, and sometimes ...
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34 votes
8 answers
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Why did DEC develop Alpha instead of continuing with MIPS?

I have been rereading a fascinating discussion about why DEC replaced VAX with Alpha based on talks with people who were there at the time; in a nutshell, in the opinion of the VAX engineers, it was ...
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4 votes
4 answers
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IBM vs DEC and business partners

A Quora question Why did Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) fail? has gathered some really interesting answers, including from former DEC people. There is one such answer I do not quite understand: ...
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2 votes
1 answer
281 views

Bill-of-material cost of early hard drives

Based on this topic (and continuing this topic), my question once again surfaced: And what was the layout of the prime cost of early 8 and 5.25 inch hard drives? From Seagate and competing ...
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25 votes
3 answers
12k views

Why was "C:" chosen for the first hard drive partition?

I was reading this answer, as the question came to my mind: why does C: indicate the first hard drive partition? The usage dates back to CP/M (as noted in a comment), was embraced by MS-DOS, and ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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Record definitions with IBM COBOL and IMS

A common technology stack for line of business applications in the sixties and seventies was IBM COBOL with the IMS database. I'm curious about how the combination handled record definitions. COBOL ...
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20 votes
17 answers
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Were any IBM mainframes ever run multiuser?

Now of course there is a sense in which they were – some mainframe installations supported thousands of users! But there is a distinction. Consider the familiar fixture in so many 80s computer science ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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What was the first database to start compressing in situ?

The obvious way for a database to store data is with each record in a contiguous chunk, and each field having a fixed size and offset in the record. Joel Spolsky praises that way of doing things: ...
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4 votes
1 answer
300 views

How did the DEC RP06 respond to unscheduled power off?

The DEC RP06 disk drive was a remarkable piece of hardware. It seems to have been the last generation of drives that used rigid magnetic disks in removable packs, before their replacement by '...
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22 votes
5 answers
6k views

Why did mainframes have big conspicuous power-off buttons?

Some fascinating stories in this discussion thread. It starts with discussion about computers overheating, but about halfway through the thread, it switches to discussion of mainframe installations in ...
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4 votes
0 answers
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Why did Gran Trak 10 cost so much?

In 1974, Atari released a driving game called Gran Trak 10. The development prototypes had used real car steering wheels and pedals, but it was realized these were too expensive, so they were changed ...
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29 votes
4 answers
6k views

Why did MacOS Classic choose the colon as a path separator?

I mean, all other OSs that I know of use some form of slash as a path separator, so why did Apple choose the colon?
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5 votes
3 answers
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How was it possible to run IBM mainframe software in emulation on HP?

... At least, without getting sued into the ground? According to one of the answers to What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes? We installed a new HP replacing an ...
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21 votes
7 answers
4k views

What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes?

Over the past half-century, one of the largest trends in the computer industry has been the replacement of mainframes by microcomputers. Not total by any means – there are still many mainframes in ...
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9 votes
3 answers
2k views

Why did decimal arithmetic slow down VisiCalc?

There is an excellent article about VisiCalc that goes into all the details about what happened and why, highly recommended if you are interested in that part of computing history. I was reading this ...
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19 votes
2 answers
1k views

How were 4-digit IC part numbers assigned?

It seems that integrated circuits of the 1970s tended to have 4-digit part numbers. This includes not only the ones that came to be well-known like CPUs (Intel 4004, 8008, 8080, 8085, 8086, 8088, ...
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23 votes
8 answers
4k views

Why user-assembled kits?

Many early computers were sold as self-assembly kits (you get a box of parts and an instruction leaflet and have to solder them together yourself). For example, the Altair was priced at $439 kit, $621 ...
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4 votes
2 answers
299 views

What was the first vector supercomputer?

I am trying to understand the trade-offs between scalar and vector machines, the threshold of complexity/transistor count/performance at which vector machines started to make sense. As data points, ...
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32 votes
5 answers
4k views

Did IBM originally plan to use the 68000 in the PC?

One of the big turning points in the history of the industry was IBM choosing the Intel 8088 over the Motorola 68000. Given that most people outside IBM considered the 68000 preferable, there has been ...
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24 votes
8 answers
5k views

Why did 8-bit Basic use 40-bit floating point?

Nowadays floating point is usually either 32 or 64 bits, sometimes 16, occasionally 128. But of course, the Basic interpreters on the 8-bit machines, having to implement floating point in software ...
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13 votes
1 answer
1k views

When did the Altair move ROM to the top of memory?

The 8080 starts running code at location 0 on reset. The natural layout of memory on a computer using that CPU is therefore ROM at the bottom of the memory map and RAM at the top. CP/M demands the ...
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32 votes
2 answers
3k views

What did Pete Stewart think he knew about efficient implementation of floating point denormals?

The most controversial part of the IEEE 754 floating-point standard is gradual denormals. Typically they trap to software rather than being implemented in hardware. In the common case where a workload ...
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2 votes
2 answers
239 views

Why did the SWTPC 6800 Computer System not take off? [closed]

In 1974, a major semiconductor company released its first 8-bit CPU that was good enough to build a serious computer around. In 1975, a smaller company built a computer around it, a horizontal box ...
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1 vote
1 answer
235 views

Why was the SWTPC 6800 Computer System cheaper than the Altair?

In 1974, Intel released the 8080, which basically was the first microprocessor good enough to build a serious computer around. That led to the Altair 8800 the following year, which was the beginning ...
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39 votes
2 answers
4k views

Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

Reading on the AGP spec, the little bits I've found on sites like https://old.pinouts.ru/Slots/agp_pinout.shtml, say: The Accelerated Graphics Port (also called Advanced Graphics Port) is a high-...
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8 votes
1 answer
649 views

Why did the Altair use 100-pin edge connectors?

The Altair 8800 was based on what came in later years (much to the displeasure of MITS) to be known as the S-100 bus, because it had 100 lines, because MITS found 100-pin edge connectors were ...
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11 votes
2 answers
1k views

Was natural convection ever a consideration in orienting expansion cards?

Many computers have followed the design pattern of a backplane with expansion cards, including arguably the three most influential microcomputers ever built: the Altair 8800, the Apple II and the IBM ...
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5 votes
1 answer
539 views

Was Steve Jobs really Atari employee number 40?

To be clear, I am not questioning that Steve Jobs spent a while working for Atari; that much is indubitably historical fact. Apparently he joined the company in 1974. Atari was founded in the summer ...
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15 votes
2 answers
2k views

Who owned the rights to the TIA chip?

The two most important chips in a game console are the CPU and GPU. In the Atari 2600, the CPU was a cut down version of the 6502, a very common low-cost microprocessor. The GPU was the TIA, which was ...
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8 votes
1 answer
321 views

How did a UNIVAC predict the results of the 1952 U.S. Presidential election?

The first computer prediction of a U.S. Presidential election was by a UNIVAC I computer used by CBS News on election night 1952. At 9:15 pm, with only 3.4 million of the eventual 61.8 million ...
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2 votes
3 answers
274 views

When/where was datum and limit relocation invented?

I recently "attended" a meeting of the UK Computer Conservation Society on the subject of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office; Lyons was a bakery and cafeteria business that found itself designing ...
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2 votes
0 answers
120 views

Who did what exactly for the original Shadowgate (1987) Macintosh video game? [closed]

I primarily know Shadowgate from the wonderful NES port, which was ported by some Japanese company and whose Japanese musician composed the beautiful, iconic music which I frankly thought was there ...
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9 votes
0 answers
490 views

What was the specific function of the relay which captured Grace Hopper's famous "bug"?

Computer pioneer Grace Hopper often recounted the story of her team finding the first physical computer bug: While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947, her associates ...
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4 votes
1 answer
341 views

Whatever happened to the Refal language?

Refal is a language from the 1960s that is based on the concept of pattern-matching with many features that could be considered advanced even today- it is functional, garbage collected, and supported ...
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3 votes
2 answers
465 views

How did the NSA use vector supercomputers?

In the 80s, the NSA was a major customer of supercomputers. https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/cryptologic-quarterly/NSA_and_the_Supercomputer.pdf discusses ...
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6 votes
2 answers
1k views

What specific factor(s) made Thomas Watson, Jr. (of IBM) so enthusiastic about early electronics?

One of my favourite computer history books is Stan Augarten's "Bit by Bit", which has an author-approved scanned copy at http://ds-wordpress.haverford.edu/bitbybit/ In it, the author makes ...
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