Altair Owners ...

From: James Willing <>
Date: Thu Jan 4 23:49:26 2001

At 08:37 PM 1/4/01 -0700, Dick wrote:

>As I've often heard, Altair had the reputation that nothing they ever
>shipped worked as shipped, often either requiring one pay for a service of
>modifying it at the plant before it was shipped, or to fix it or have it
>fixed once it had arrived. From a historical perspective, an Altair that
>actually works is an anomaly. That explains why they're all different.

I tend to think that these reports are somewhat overblown, as I had (and
still have) an early Altair as well as most of the other major Altair
models in the collection, and built a number of others in my jobs in the
early days and never had the types of problems that I seem to keep seeing
recounted. And all of my machines still run quite happily. Heck, I had
the 'B' unit running MITS Timeshared BASIC at VCF 3.0

>Nevertheless, after the passage of some time and the addition of a number of
>vendors to the S-100 market which grew out of the Altair, it was possible to
>purchase, from MITS, a complete Altair computer system that was packaged in
>a sort of half-desk, with a rackmount pedestal at one end in which the
>computer hardware lived.

The MITS/Pertec "Business System"

>I remember asking about this system here on the
>list about three years back, and found that someone actually had a pretty
>good picture of it on their website.

Well, I have a picture on my web site although not the greatest shot.

>It apparently used a CDC Hawk drive

Ummm... no. It used a Pertec 5mb cartridge hard drive.

However, if you want to talk stories... I did have CDC 'Hawk' drives
running on S-100 boxed running CP/M via an AM-500 controller. Then at the
flip of a switch and change of a cartridge you could boot up AMOS on the
Alpha-Micro AM-100 CPU that lived along side of the Z-80 CPU board in the box.

>interfaced via this Altair Hard Disk Controller, the box for which is what
>I'm messing with, and it used an 8800B, and the Altair Floppy Disk Drive I
>once owned. It's the functional philosophy of the finished and complete
>Altair system that I'm interested in preserving, if that's warranted, and
>I'm beginning to believe it's a waste of effort. It's apparent from what
>I've gotten from this thread so far, that attention to detail such as that,
>and providing self-installing drivers for CP/M would be a waste of time, and
>would not increase the practical or economic value of this hardware one
>iota. Perhaps making it all work would simply reduce its appeal.

One point of view... From my side, I prefer running systems. B^}

>It's likely everyone in this forum is aware that the 1975 Altair was totally

(donning the flame retardant suit) It's "likely" that this view would
represent those who came into the 'personal computer' realm after 1980 when
most of the hard work had already been done. I found my 1976 Altair *far*
from useless, even though it had no I/O beyond the front panel switches and
lights, and a total of 4k of memory. It was an invaluable learning tool.

>It had no I/O, no software, no nothing that held out any hope of
>making it useful. The only thing it did have is potential. The miracle
>that Ed Roberts pulled off, ultimately involving Bill Gates, among others,
>is in recognizing that there were so many people out there who'd buy light
>blinkers and buzzers, etc, just to be playing with electronics. There were
>already computers. Some of them were pretty expensive, and the Altair was
>no cheapie either, particularly since it really didn't work, even after you
>fixed it, since work was an undefined quantity for a CPU with no I/O.

So, from this statement I take it anything that was not 'ready to fly' was
worthless? Seems like one heck of an industry grew from a pile of
'useless' stuff. Altairs, AIM-65's, Scelbi's, the Mark-8, etc... All of
which started with limited resources and little to no I/O.

>The real miracle, however, was in turning the potential into something real,
>namely software. The I/O wasn't the real problem. The absence of software
>was the problem and we all know who fixed that.

Yes... The early hobbiests and tinkerers who saw the potential. Gates and
Co. did nothing revolutionary.

>Once that problem was addressed, the rest was pretty automatic, as the
>demand pressed the missing pieces in to existence.

And created the painful commodity item that the masses are stuck with
today. (sigh)

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Received on Thu Jan 04 2001 - 23:49:26 GMT

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