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PC Pioneers: The Forgotten World of S-100 Bus Computer systems

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The Altair 8800 debuted in 1975, and different corporations quickly started to mimic it, proper right down to its 100-pin enlargement bus. Later dubbed S-100, the bus grew to become the premise of the primary private pc hardware commonplace. Let’s have a look again.

February 1, 2019 6:56AM EST
February 1, 2019

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PC Pioneers: The Forgotten World of S-100 Bus Computers

Throughout an period when the everyday “small pc” with equipment may simply fill half a room and price tens of hundreds of , an engineer named Ed Roberts (at his agency MITS) designed a desktop microprocessor-based pc referred to as the Altair 8800, which hobbyists may construct themselves for a number of hundred bucks. It created the primary de facto private pc commonplace, although few speak about it immediately.

The Altair 8800 debuted on the quilt of the January 1975 situation of Widespread Electronics, which reached a large viewers of engineers and expert electronics hobbyists. Different corporations quickly started to mimic the Altair proper right down to its 100-pin enlargement bus, which let customers plug in several peripheral playing cards to increase or modify the pc’s capabilities.

This bus, later dubbed S-100 (for neutrality’s sake), grew to become the premise of the primary private pc hardware commonplace—one that usually used Zilog Z80 CPUs and ran Digital Analysis’s CP/M working system. With a typical structure amongst machines, a number of corporations started offering plug-in CPU, reminiscence, video, disk controller, and different peripheral playing cards for quite a few S-100-based methods.

The PC market grew quickly, and inside a couple of years, the business moved away from hobbyist kits and into full methods. Decrease-cost finances and residential private computer systems such because the TRS-80 and Commodore PET entered the market, pushing S-100 distributors into the higher finish of the PC market the place income had been snug, and the place enterprise clients regarded the ample customization choices of S-100 machines to be a bonus.

Ultimately, the S-100 bus gave strategy to the IBM PC juggernaut (launched in 1981), which itself created its personal commonplace primarily based on x86 CPUs and the ISA bus. Some S-100 machines held on for some time in authorities and enterprise markets, however the period of the Altair bus had successfully ended.

With that in thoughts, let’s check out a handful of pioneering (and easily attention-grabbing S-100 bus computer systems) from the glory days of S-100. Bear in mind this is not going to be an exhaustive historical past of the S-100 commonplace—there are far too many machines to incorporate all of them right here—however we’ll go to some highlights and early pioneers.


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