The Latest Technology…

…is of little use to you? Do you long for the days of your youth when computers were new, and exciting (and perhaps useful only to those with the “know how”?) Or maybe the early days of computers were before you were even born, and you simply want to know what the big deal was? Or maybe you’re like me, a mere child when you first heard the notion that people could actually have a computer in their very own home!

I was a child of 9 years old when the Altair 8800 was announced on the pages of Popular Electronics magazine in January of 1975. It captured my imagination – and I knew that someday I would build and own my own computer. I never did get an Altair 8800 – the computer revolution was started and it moved FAST. The heyday of the Altair lasted only a short while. The first computer I built was 7 years later when I built the Timex ZX81 kit (yes, you can still buy them!)

Well imagine my surprise 42 years later when David Hansel of Brookline, MA published his Ardunio-based Altair 8800 emulator project on hackster.io! I knew this was my chance to finally build an Altair 8800! Sure, there are other Altair 8800 clones out there, but all seemed out of reach for a simple working-man hobbyist. There’s Mike Douglas’s excellent altairclone.com which is a dead-ringer look-alike for the Altair 8800, but it’s over $600, there’s also the very ambitious altairkit.com in which Grant Stockly painstakingly recreated every board and component of a original Altair.

Once I saw David’s code and design, I knew I could improve on it and make an affordable, easy-to-build kit. My first “beta-testers” were my 12 and 14 year old sons! Yes, you can still follow David’s original plan if you wish. If you want a ready-to-go kit, look no further!

Original Altair 8800
Dimensions: 17″ x 7″ x 18″
Weight: depends on cards loaded, but generally around 65 lbs.
RAM: 64KB maximum

Altair-Duino
Dimensions: 15″ x 6″ x 2″
Weight: 2.5 lbs with bamboo case.
RAM: 512KB (64KB maximum for Altair emulation, the rest used as storage for Altair programs and utilities.)

I also have to say “thank you” to Oscar Vermeulen of Obsolescence Guaranteed for his recreation of the PDP-8, which got me on this quest to recreate historic computers.  What’s next?  I really have me eye on an Arduino-based Apollo Guidance Computer, or possibly a Kenbak-1…

 

The Kit

This is a kit you can probably put together in a Saturday afternoon. Here’s what’s included:

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PC Board

You’ll receive a professionally made printed circuit board with all components, ready for you to assemble.


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Arduino Due

Arduino’s first ARM development board, based on a powerful 32bit CortexM3 ARM microcontroller.


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Fully Loaded

Because of the capacity of the Due, it comes pre-loaded with useful and entertaining Altair software.


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Take it Further

The source code for the Altair simulator is published under GPLv3, meaning you can experiment and modify the code.

The Shoulders of Giants

Issac Newton once said “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Please know that what I’ve done here is no monumental step, but rather I borrowed the hard work of David Hansel, who borrowed and continued the work of Mike Douglas, who borrowed and continued the work of Ed Roberts, Forrest M. Mims III, Bill Yates, Paul Allan, Bill Gates and others. It is not my intention to infringe on anyone’s copyright (which I’m sure some portions of this project may) but rather to further understanding and knowledge, and to keep alive the birth of the computer revolution. Guys, I thank you and love you all!

New Firmware
If you purchased your Altair-Duino kit prior to October 1st, you may want to update the software on your Arduino.

On September 30th, David Hansel released a major update to the simulator’s firmware that adds hard disk (88-HDSK) emulation.

Follow the procedure on this page, and also update the “disks” on your SD card, then check out David’s new documentation to use a hard disk on your Altair – it’s really cool!