Had you been reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics you could not have failed to notice the front cover. Featuring a picture of a strange box with many light and switches, this was the first ever showing of the Altair 8800. A now legendary machine amongst collectors and computer historians, it is where the entire microcomputer industry as we know it today started.
Thanks to the Altair we had two young guys named William and Paul from Traf-O-Data who programmed a BASIC interpreter for the system (whatever happened to them I wonder).Apple can also trace a big part of its eventual founding to be a direct result of his system. As a consequence, trying to get hold of an original Altair today is a costly exercise. There have been recreations of the 8800 in the past which admittedly are amazing but they are not cheap, over $600 in some cases for a bare bones system. You can, of course, emulate the Altair easily but it’s not really the same as having to use the switches on the front to bootstrap the system before programming it.
Now there is another much cheaper option for anyone who would like to see how microcomputer started and get their hands on a “full” system, the Altairduino. Created by Chris Davis and based on the original cloning work by David Hansel, the Altairduino kit is an almost exact replica of the front panel of the Altair 8800 including all of the switches. It is powered by an ARM based Arduino Due board and includes the ability to read software from an SD card.
Even an expert would be hard pushed to notice any real differences between the front panel in the kit and a real one.Looking at them side by side you would see the recreated one is slightly smaller but other than that you can use it as though it were the real thing. This is a kit, so some familiarity with soldering is an advantage, but with patience and the excellent instructions provided you should be up and running in no time. Should you not want to solder the kit yourself, you can always opt for a pre-assembled kit.
Prices start at a very reasonable $149.95 for the kit rising to $249.95. For more information head over to the official Altairduino site https://www.altairduino.com/