It’s acclaimed as the world’s first commercially successful microcomputer. And while it might not look anything like the computers we know today, it brought what had essentially required a room and corporate dollars into the home for $621. Back in 1975, the year Microsoft was born, computing was still in its infancy but the Altair 8800 was powered a 2MHz 8080A processor from a then-little-known chip company called ‘Intel’ and came with 64KB of RAM. Programs could be loaded by cassette or – if you had money – floppy disk.
Buying a second-hand 8800 today will set you back around $4000, so computer enthusiast Mike Douglas thought he cut the bottom out of the market by creating his own Altair 8800 clone – using 21st century parts.
Douglas managed to replicate the Altair 8800 experience inside Microchip’s 16-bit PIC24FJ128 microcontroller (it’s very likely you could do it with many other similar and newer microcontrollers – Douglas just chose this one). He went as far as replicating the chassis, switches, LEDs and ports from the original so that any program that would run on the original 8800 will run on this clone. But more importantly, it would look and feel like the original – well, maybe not quite so heavy.
The price? In homage to the original 1976 sale price, you can pick up an Altair 8800 Clone for $621 from the Altair 8800 Clone website. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can also buy it as a kit and put it together yourself. However, due to the use of ‘now’ technology, it won’t be quite as daunting as putting the original kit would have been back in 1976.
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