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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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8
votes
1answer
257 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
votes
2answers
842 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
votes
1answer
357 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
votes
2answers
383 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
votes
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
votes
9answers
902 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, ...
17
votes
5answers
2k views

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
votes
3answers
733 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
votes
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
votes
1answer
795 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
votes
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
votes
2answers
394 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 ...
19
votes
1answer
776 views

Which computers had features added purely for tax reasons?

I was recently reading about the Amstrad CPC 472, which was a CPC 464 with an extra, unusable 8KB of RAM added to avoid Spanish import fees on computers with 64KB or less. Did any other computers have ...
3
votes
0answers
215 views

How many CP/M machines ever shipped? [closed]

How many machines for which CP/M was the primary operating system (so not counting the Commodore 128) ever shipped? I would also be interested in knowing how many S-100 machines ever shipped. I get ...
12
votes
1answer
570 views

What was the first dedicated core router?

From 1969 up through the early 80s, the Internet used general-purpose Honeywell minicomputers for its core routers. At some point after that, purpose-built machines started being used. What was the ...
31
votes
4answers
5k views

What was the IBM PC cost saving for using the 8088 vs 8086?

The decision to use the 8088, a version of the 8086 with the data bus restricted to 8 bits, in the original IBM PC, seems strange on the face of it, certainly hurt performance and intuitively shouldn'...
11
votes
2answers
292 views

How did the early UPC barcode readers work?

According to the history of barcodes, the idea of consumer product barcodes appeared before the microprocessor era. What was the implementation plan then? Would each store need a mini-computer in a ...
4
votes
1answer
485 views

How much did different kinds of ports cost to add to a 1980's home computer? [closed]

These days it's mostly converged on USB, but in the old days computers tended to have lots of different kinds of ports. In particular, I'm interested in: 9-pin serial 25-pin serial parallel printer ...
13
votes
3answers
2k views

How much did the 6502 and Z80 cost?

It is said that the 6502 was cheaper than the Z80. As of 1978, what were the actual prices of the two chips, in wholesale quantity?
9
votes
1answer
407 views

When were the various frequency Z80 CPUs introduced?

The Z80 was introduced, as I understand it, at a clock speed of 2 MHz. Later, Z80-based computers at 3.5 MHz started showing up. In what year did this faster clock speed become available? (In ...
6
votes
2answers
190 views

Is the terminal number fixed?

Let's say that we have a PDP-11 computer with Unix installed on it and we have three terminals connected to it: A terminal can use the tty Unix command to get the terminal number. Now my question is:...
30
votes
5answers
4k views

Could you see what you are typing in a Teletype?

I have read that the early terminals were Teletypes, for example: So you send your input to the (large) computer, and then you receive the result which gets printed on paper I suppose. But could you ...
11
votes
2answers
1k views

What is the version of Unix and the name of the computer it run on in this 1982 video?

I am learning about the history of computers, and based on what I know so far, Unix was run on a large computer, and in order to use it, you have to use a computer terminal. Does anybody knows what ...
0
votes
1answer
356 views

Is this story true about Digital and Altavista [closed]

I read or heard a long time ago that when Altavista was the market leader of internet search, the decision-makers at Digital Corporation didn't know what it was and didn't realize that they were the ...
20
votes
5answers
1k views

What other computers used this floating-point format?

I have discovered that the DEC PDP-10 used a floating-point format that differed from IEEE-754 in an interesting way. IEEE-754 is like sign-magnitude representation. The only difference between a ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

What was the first CPU with exposed pipeline?

Quoting from Programming for Performance exercise: early versions of the MIPS processor had an "exposed pipeline" (that is, the assembly language programmer needed to know the latencies of ...
19
votes
1answer
640 views

When was the relocatable object module invented?

During the time when programming was done in machine codes, there was no need for object modules; it just wouldn't make sense. People would write the whole program they needed to run in "zeroes and ...
18
votes
2answers
1k views

First computer emulator in Windows

I released my ZX Spectrum emulation Wspecem, and GPL sources first time publicly in the Internet at large, the 15th May 1996, for Windows 95. I am quite sure it was the first ZX Spectrum emulation ...
19
votes
5answers
2k views

What was the first computer to support Arabic writing?

Looking at early microcomputers, all of them have support for something resembling ASCII, occasionally a few letters with accents and things were included also. And occasionally another alphabet such ...
10
votes
4answers
1k views

What was the first mass-market, 16-bit microcomputer system?

To qualify what I mean by "16-bit microcomputer system", I am talking about a system that has not only a 16-bit (or 32-bit) microprocessor CPU, but also a 16-bit wide external data bus connected to ...
9
votes
2answers
2k views

Was it Microsoft that started the war between Application and OS vendors?

I think there is a long history of application vendors going to great lengths to complain or litigate against Operating System vendors to compete fairly. Specifically, I am talking about "fairness" ...
21
votes
4answers
4k views

What was the first piece of software to be called an engine?

Nowadays I hear a lot about graphics engines, game engines, physics engines etc. but don't remember the term being used much, if at all, back in the 80s and the 8-bit era. I'm not including Charles ...
9
votes
3answers
711 views

What is the first computer architecture that knew code from data?

The CPU being able to tell code and data apart to prevent inadvertent or malicious execution of data as instructions by trapping (even if the bit pattern of the data can be interpreted as a valid ...
7
votes
5answers
592 views

How did a punchcard-based test-taking system work?

A punchcard (in 3 fragments) has been found in a copy of Computer Programming: A Mixed Language Approach by Marvin L. Stein and William D. Munro (1965). If my guess is right, a test-taker would write ...
8
votes
1answer
401 views

Selling computers via dealers and the mass market

As discussed in Origin of dealer networks, the two main ways to sell computers are, and particularly were in the old days, Three digit price tag sold to individuals => mass market, department stores ...
27
votes
10answers
2k views

Limiting factor on early color palettes

Early color computers typically had a limit of X colors used simultaneously from a palette of Y, a classic example being the Commodore 64 which could do 320x200 monochrome or 160x200 four colors, ...
7
votes
4answers
466 views

Cost of expansion slots

Among other early computers, the Apple II and IBM PC made the consequential decision to provide internal expansion slots. How much did this add to manufacturing cost? Intuitively, it seems like it ...
8
votes
3answers
431 views

Origin of dealer networks

Roughly speaking, the two main ways to sell computers are, and particularly were in the old days, Three digit price tag sold to individuals => mass market, department stores and suchlike. Four digit ...
11
votes
1answer
1k views

Did all NES “Black Box” games come in carts with five screws?

When the NES was released, there were a list of original titles from Nintendo such as Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid. These titles came in a distinctive box that was mostly black. Plus, the ...
9
votes
2answers
363 views

S-100 bus and device drivers

It is said that the S-100 bus provided a standard hardware format for expansion cards across many models of computers, including ones using different system software and even different CPUs. Having ...
50
votes
12answers
11k views

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 ...
12
votes
1answer
1k views

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/...
13
votes
2answers
807 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 ...
7
votes
4answers
863 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,...
12
votes
3answers
569 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
355 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 ...
8
votes
4answers
1k views

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 ...
20
votes
11answers
3k views

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 ...
13
votes
2answers
484 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 ...
19
votes
2answers
1k views

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?