Very Early Altair 8800

Altair 8800 #220081K

This is an unusual early Altair 8800 that is remarkable in several ways. The first things that a collector will notice are the tell-tale external signs of a very early Altair: The straight line on the front panel’s Sense Switch indicator, the open fan grille and the sharp corners of the connecter cutouts on the back, and of course its low serial number.

When the cover is removed, two things are immediately apparent. First, this is a completely unmodified, unexpanded Altair, with just the components that came with the original kit. Second, whoever assembled this one did an exceptionally careful job down to the finest details.

Looking closer, you start to see indications that this might have been one of the earliest Altair kits: The card guides are off-white, the color of natural nylon, rather than the normal blue color. The case is not quite the same as other Altairs – the cabinet feet are screwed into PEM nuts on the case bottom – PEM nuts that were pressed in before the cabinet was painted. The top cover is especially peculiar, the inside looks like it’s corrugated, with grooves apparently machined across its top inner surface, again before it had been painted.

Looking closely at the boards, you can see the careful assembly of all of the PC boards. You’ll also see that the date codes on the ICs are all from 1974 or earlier, and all components of the same type have matching date codes, indicating that they are all from the original Altair kit. And then there’s the 8080 CPU chip. Only the earliest Altairs shipped with Intel 8080’s – MITS quickly switched to the 8080A’s once they were available. This 8080 is a very early one, made sometime in November of 1974.

For more information, see the full collection of hi-res images here and a more detailed article about this computer here.


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Mike Douglas


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