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Dinosaur Sightings: Computers from the 1970s

During the disco days of the 1970s, personal computers moved out of the electronic hobbyist's garage or basement and into the office, classroom, and family den. This gallery showcases several 1970-era machines from Steven Stengel's vintage computer collection. Steven has graciously allowed us to republish his photos and descriptions. You can find a much more detailed description of each machine and additional photos of Steven's collection on his Web site oldcomputers.net.
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1 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

MSAI 8080

MSAI 8080

Built by IMS Associates, Inc. of San Leandro, California, the IMSAI 8080 is one of the first consumer computers available.

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2 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

IBM 5100 Portable PC

IBM 5100 Portable PC

The Model 5100 is IBM's first microcomputer, i.e. not a mainframe, and is also considered the world's first portable computer. Although at 55-pounds, it might best be described as "self-contained" rather than "portable".

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3 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

MOS KIM-1

MOS KIM-1

The KIM-1 (Keyboard Input Monitor) microcomputer is the grand-daddy of all 6502 microprocessors systems. It was originally created by MOS Technology, the inventor of the 6502 microprocessor, as a way to demonstrate the power of the 6502 to the industrial community.

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4 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (1 of 3)

Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (1 of 3)

Named for "The wisdom of Solomon", or possibly Popular Electronics magazine editor Les Solomon, since the Sol-20 made its first appearance on the cover of that magazine.

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Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (2 of 3)

Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (2 of 3)

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Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (3 of 3)

Processor Technology Sol-20 Terminal Computer (3 of 3)

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Rockwell AIM 65 (1 of 2)

Rockwell AIM 65 (1 of 2)

Numerous different cases were available for the AIM 65, two of which are shown here. The black case seen here is a two piece, inexpensive plastic molded case.

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8 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Rockwell AIM 65 (2 of 2)

Rockwell AIM 65 (2 of 2)

The tan case to the left is all metal with a built-in power supply.

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9 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Apple II

Apple II

The Apple II, or Apple ][, became one of the most popular computers ever. Although it is a vast improvement over the Apple I, it contains the same processor and runs at the same speed.

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10 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Vector Graphic: Vector 1

Vector Graphic: Vector 1

In 1976, Vector Graphic designed and sold static RAM and other expansion cards for S-100 computers. The company was run by two women - Lore Harp (founder and chairman) and Carole Ely. Bob Harp, Lore's husband, was the design engineer. Eventually they released an entire computer based on their technology - the Vector 1.

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11 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Commodore PET

Commodore PET

This is the first Commodore computer, the PET, or the Personal Electronic Transactor. It appears that they just made up that description, though, as the name "PET" was apparently chosen to capitalize on the pet rock fad going on at the time.

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12 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I

As one of the first home computers ever, the TRS-80 was a great success. Tandy wasn't expecting many sales, but this, their first computer, sold 10,000 units in the first month alone. It includes everything you need to have a real computer of your very own - the computer, monitor and cassette deck for loading and saving data.

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13 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

NorthStar Horizon (1 fo 2)

NorthStar Horizon (1 fo 2)

Starting out in 1976 as a computer stored called "Kentucky Fried Computers", they had to change their name due to impending litigation from Kentucky Fried Chicken! Their first product was a Floating Point Math Board for S-100 computers. After this, they developed an inexpensive floppy disk system for existing computers, which quickly led to possibly the first computer with built-in floppy drives - the NorthStar Horizon.

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14 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

NorthStar Horizon (2 fo 2)

NorthStar Horizon (2 fo 2)

With the top removed as seen above, you can see the heavy-duty linear power supply on the right side, as well as the two floppy drives. On the left is space for 12 S-100 cards to be installed. This particular system is packed with memory - seven 64K RAM cards for a total of 448K RAM!

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Heathkit H8 (1 of 2)

Heathkit H8 (1 of 2)

The H8 was the first computer available from Heathkit, released in late 1977.

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Heathkit H8 (2 of 2)

Heathkit H8 (2 of 2)

The Heathkit-designed H8 hardware was not compatible with any other computer system, which was not unusual for the day. While some systems used the common S-100 bus scheme, Heathkit designed their own "Benton Harbor" 50-pin expansion bus, with ten expansion slots available in the H8.

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Exidy Sorcerer Dynasty smart-ALEC (1 of 2)

Exidy Sorcerer Dynasty smart-ALEC (1 of 2)

Before the Sorcerer computer, Exidy Inc. was a leading manufacturer of home and arcade video games. They decided that they had the knowledge and expertise to design and market a home computer.

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18 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Exidy Sorcerer Dynasty smart-ALEC (2 of 2)

Exidy Sorcerer Dynasty smart-ALEC (2 of 2)

The Sorcerer is the first computer to use ROM cartridges for instant program loading and access!

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19 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P

Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P

The Challenger 4P is comprised of the OSI 502 (CPU) and 540 (video) cards. The Challenger 4PMF (mini-floppy) includes the OSI 505 (CPU), 527 (Memory), 540 (video), and A13 (disk connect) cards. Both have the OSI 542 (keyboard) and A15 (I/O panel).

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Synertek SYM Model 1

Synertek SYM Model 1

The SYM-1 is similar to the KIM-1, another single board computer (SBC) which was released by MOS two years earlier, in 1976.

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Interact Model One

Interact Model One

The Interact computer had a very short manufacturing run of less than a year. The Interact Company went bankrupt soon after production started and only a few thousand made it into stores.

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Radio Shack TRS-80 Model II

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model II

The TRS-80 Model II microcomputer system, designed and manufactured by Radio Shack in Fort Worth, TX, was not intended to replace or obsolete the Model I, it was designed to take up where the Model I left off - a machine with increased capacity and speed in every respect, targeted directly at the small-business application market.

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Bell & Howell

Bell & Howell

Founded in the early 1900's, Bell & Howell has always been associated with audio-video equipment - cameras, projectors, and the like. In 1979, they had a computer system which they sold mainly to educational institutions - you couldn't buy one, it wasn't available in your local computer store.

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24 of 28 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

SwTPC S/09

SwTPC S/09

SwTPC was originally an electronics supply company, selling power supplies, inexpensive video displays, and electronics kits to hobbyists. After computer chips became popular, they sold those as well, eventually creating and selling their own line of computers.

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Heathkit H89

Following the success of their Heathkit H8 computer from 1977, Heathkit released the Heathkit H89 "all-in-one" computer in late 1979.

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Atari 400

Atari 400

The Atari 400 and 800 were both announced in December 1978, though they didn't actually start shipping until late in 1979.

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Atari 800

Atari 800

Designed to look like a friendly typewriter, the Atari 800 is an expandable system with two easily accessible cartridge ports under a front cover, and a removable top with four expansion slots inside.

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Texas Instruments TI-99/4

Texas Instruments TI-99/4

For $1,150 you received the TI-99/4 console and one of the largest computer monitors ever released. The console has polished metal trim, giving it a quality appearance. The monitor is really a 13-inch Zenith color TV modified slightly to look and act like a computer monitor.

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