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 6 years later when I built the Sinclair ZX81 kit.
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 an original Altair.
Actual (aged) newspaper clipping from 1981. “Local Boy Makes Good: Builds Computer”. What can I say? It was a small town.
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!
This is a cycle-accurate recreation of the original Altair 8800. What does that mean? It means the Intel 8080 CPU is emulated, as is some of the basic I/O (disk drives, serial ports, etc.) but everything else is REAL Altair machine code and CP/M that was created more than 40 years ago!
Original Altair 8800
Dimensions: 17″ x 7″ x 18″
Weight: depends on cards loaded, but generally around 65 lbs.
RAM: 64KB maximum
Altair-Duino (Pro version)
Dimensions: 15″ x 6″ x 6″
Weight: 3 lbs with acrylic 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’m working hard on an Apple-1 kit, a Cosmac Elf, and an Altair 680.