Altair 8800

Definition of Altair 8800

The Altair 8800 is an early personal computer developed by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) and launched in 1975. It is widely regarded as the device that sparked the microcomputer revolution, primarily due to its successful use of Intel’s 8080 microprocessor. With its unique, expandable modular design and affordable price, the Altair 8800 attracted hobbyists, eventually leading to the creation of software and hardware companies, such as Microsoft and Apple.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Altair 8800” is:al-TAYR AYT-ee-AYT, tuh-znd

Key Takeaways

  1. The Altair 8800 was one of the first successful personal computers, launched in 1975 by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS).
  2. It was based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor and had a unique front panel with switches and LED lights that allowed users to interact with the computer directly.
  3. The Altair 8800 played a significant role in the development of the microcomputer industry, inspiring early hobbyists and leading to the establishment of companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

Importance of Altair 8800

The Altair 8800 is widely considered to be the first personal computer, making it a significant milestone in technology history.

Released in 1975 by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), this groundbreaking computer revolutionized the accessibility and use of computers for the general public.

Its affordable price and do-it-yourself kit were major factors that enabled the rapid adoption and expansion of the personal computer industry.

Furthermore, the Altair 8800’s success led directly to the founding of Microsoft by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who created their first software product, Altair BASIC, for this machine—a development that ultimately shaped the future of computing and technology as we know it today.


The Altair 8800, introduced in 1975, holds a significant place in the history of computing as one of the earliest personal computers available to consumers. Its purpose was to bring affordable computing power into homes, businesses, and hobbyist markets, allowing users to learn, experiment, and develop their programming skills.

The Altair 8800 was responsible for sparking interest in personal computing and subsequently paved the way for the development of the modern computer industry. The Altair 8800’s design was based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor, and it was primarily used for educational, experimental, and electronics hobbyist purposes.

Users programmed the Altair 8800 using assembly language and input data through a front panel, complete with rows of switches and indicator lights. This early personal computer also gave birth to the first computer programming language, BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) which allowed users to write software for the Altair.

Although the Altair 8800 may seem rudimentary by today’s computer standards, its impact on the world of technology cannot be overstated, as it spurred the growth and innovation in the personal computer market that laid the groundwork for the advanced technology we use today.

Examples of Altair 8800

The Altair 8800 was an influential microcomputer designed by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) inThis early personal computer had a profound impact on the development of computer technology and the growth of the computer industry. Here are three real-world examples of its impact:

Birth of Microsoft:When the Altair 8800 was launched, it required programming using switches and binary language, making it difficult for many users to operate. Two young programmers, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, developed a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair 8800, known as Altair BASIC. They soon founded Microsoft, initially to distribute their new software, which eventually grew into the technology giant we know today.Homebrew Computer Club:The Homebrew Computer Club was an early computer enthusiast group famously known for their passion for the Altair 8800 and other personal computers. The club, which included members like Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, met regularly to share ideas and learn about computer technology. The Altair 8800 played a central role in fostering the growth of technology enthusiasts and the development of future personal computers, such as the Apple I.

Popular Electronics Magazine:The Altair 8800 featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in JanuaryAs a result, the interest in the microcomputer sky-rocketed, leading to thousands of orders from electronics enthusiasts. Featuring the Altair 8800 in such a high-profile publication helped establish the microcomputer as a viable product for hobbyists and educators, paving the way for the personal computer revolution.

Altair 8800 FAQ

What is the Altair 8800?

The Altair 8800 is an early personal computer designed by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) in 1974. It is considered one of the first successful personal computers that marked the beginning of the microcomputer revolution.

What is the significance of the Altair 8800 in computer history?

Altair 8800’s significance lies in its impact on the personal computer industry. The computer’s release inspired hobbyists and computer enthusiasts, leading to the formation of various computer clubs, newsletters, and software. It also inspired many companies like Microsoft and Apple to start their own ventures in the personal computer business.

What was the cost of the Altair 8800 when it first came out?

The Altair 8800 was initially sold as a kit for $439, while the assembled version was priced at $621. Though these prices might seem modest by today’s standards, they were considered affordable for a personal computer in 1974.

What were the specifications of the Altair 8800?

The Altair 8800 was equipped with an Intel 8080 microprocessor, had 256 bytes of memory (expandable up to 64 KB), and used toggle switches and LED lights for input/output. The machine was programmed in machine language using binary code, entered through the toggle switches on the front panel.

What operating systems and software were available for the Altair 8800?

The initial version of the Altair 8800 did not have an operating system, but in 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed the Altair BASIC programming language. It led to the founding of Microsoft when they licensed the software to MITS. Later, different versions of BASIC, FORTRAN, and other programming languages were developed for the Altair 8800.

Related Technology Terms

  • Microcomputer
  • MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems)
  • Intel 8080 CPU
  • S-100 bus
  • Altair BASIC

Sources for More Information

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