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MITS completes the first prototype Altair 8800 microcomputer

August 1974
MITS completes the first prototype Altair 8800 microcomputer

The typical MITS product had a generic name like "Model 1600 Digital Voltmeter". Ed Roberts was busy finishing the design and left the naming of the computer to the editors of Popular Electronics. At the first Altair Computer Convention (March 1976), editor Les Solomon told the audience that the name was inspired by his 12-year-old daughter, Lauren. "She said why don't you call it Altair - that's where the Enterprise is going tonight." The Star Trek episode is probably Amok Time, as this is the only one from The Original Series which takes the Enterprise crew to Altair (Six).

A more probable version is that the Altair was originally going to be named the PE-8 (Popular Electronics 8-bit), but Les Solomon thought this name to be rather dull, so Les, Alexander Burawa (associate editor), and John McVeigh (technical editor) decided that: "It's a stellar event, so let's name it after a star." McVeigh suggested "Altair", the twelfth brightest star in the sky.

Ed Roberts and Bill Yates finished the first prototype in October 1974 and shipped it to Popular Electronics in New York via the Railway Express Agency. However, it never arrived due to a strike by the shipping company. The first example of this groundbreaking machine is thus lost to history. Solomon already had a number of pictures of the machine and the article was based on them. Roberts got to work on building a replacement. The computer on the magazine cover is an empty box with just switches and LEDs on the front panel. The finished Altair computer had a completely different circuit board layout than the prototype shown in the magazine. The January 1975 issues appeared on newsstands a week before Christmas of 1974 and the kit was officially (if not yet practically) available for sale.

As far as is known following the loss of the first Altair 8800, the second - serial 0002 is in the hands of a private collector in California but the third unit - serial number 0003 can be seen at The Centre For Computing History in Cambridge, UK.





MITS completes the first prototype Altair 8800 microcomputer

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