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

During an era when the standard “small pc” with accessories may want to without problems fill half of a room and value tens of hundreds of greenbacks, an engineer named Ed Roberts (at his company MITS) designed a laptop microprocessor-based totally computer known as the Altair 8800, which hobbyists could build themselves for numerous hundred greenbacks. It created the first de facto personal computer popular, though few communicate about it nowadays.

The Altair 8800 debuted on the duvet of the January 1975 problem of Popular Electronics, which reached a huge audience of engineers and professional electronics hobbyists. Other businesses quickly commenced imitating the Altair right all the way down to its 100-pin growth bus, which let users plug in unique peripheral cards to make bigger or alter the pics abilities.

This bus, later dubbed S-100 (for neutrality’s sake), have become the idea of the primary non-public laptop hardware trendy—one which regularly used Zilog Z80 CPUs and ran Digital Research’s CP/M operating machine. With a common structure amongst machines, more than one corporations started providing plug-in CPU, memory, video, disk controller, and different peripheral cards for several S-a hundred-based systems.

The PC market grew hastily, and within some years, the industry moved far away from hobbyist kits and into complete systems. Lower-price budget and home private computer systems such as the TRS-eighty and Commodore PET entered the market, pushing S-100 companies into the higher give up of the PC marketplace wherein earnings had been relaxed, and in which business clients seemed enough customization options of S-a hundred machines to be an advantage.

Eventually, the S-one hundred bus gave manner to the IBM PC juggernaut (released in 1981), which itself created its personal popular primarily based on x86 CPUs and the ISA bus. Some S-one hundred machines held on for some time in government and business markets, however, the era of the Altair bus had correctly ended.

With that in mind, let’s check a handful of pioneering (and actually interesting S-a hundred bus computer systems) from the respect days of S-a hundred. Keep in mind this will not be an exhaustive record of the S-one hundred wellknown—there is a long way too many machines to consist of them all here—however, we will go to some highlights and early pioneers.

During an era while the typical “small computer” with add-ons could without difficulty fill 1/2 a room and cost tens of thousands of dollars, an engineer named Ed Roberts (at his firm MITS) designed a laptop microprocessor-based totally laptop known as the Altair 8800, which hobbyists ought to construct themselves for numerous hundred dollars. It created the primary de facto personal pc popular, although few speak about it today.

The Altair 8800 debuted on the quilt of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, which reached a huge target audience of engineers and skilled electronics hobbyists. Other businesses quickly started to mimic the Altair right all the way down to it’s a hundred-pin enlargement bus, which permits customers to plug indistinct peripheral cards to make bigger or alter the PC’s capabilities.

This bus, later dubbed S-100 (for neutrality’s sake), have become the idea of the primary non-public pc hardware trendy—one which regularly used Zilog Z80 CPUs and ran Digital Research’s CP/M running device. With a not unusual structure amongst machines, a couple of companies commenced providing plug-in CPU, memory, video, disk controller, and different peripheral cards for numerous S-one hundred-based systems.

The PC marketplace grew swiftly, and within a few years, the enterprise moved far away from hobbyist kits and into whole systems. Lower-value budget and home non-public computers including the TRS-eighty and Commodore PET entered the marketplace, pushing S-100 companies into the higher give up of the PC market where profits have been comfortable, and where enterprise clients appeared the adequate customization alternatives of S-one hundred machines to be an advantage.

Eventually, the S-one hundred bus gave way to the IBM PC juggernaut (launched in 1981), which itself created its personal standard primarily based on x86 CPUs and the ISA bus. Some S-one hundred machines hung on for a while in authorities and enterprise markets, but the technology of the Altair bus had efficiently ended.

With that during mind, allow’s test a handful of pioneering (and truly interesting S-100 bus computers) from the honor days of S-a hundred. Keep in thoughts this cannot be an exhaustive history of the S-a hundred widespread—there are ways too many machines to consist of them all right here—however, we will visit some highlights and early pioneers.

During an generation when the typical “small pc” with accessories may want to without difficulty fill half a room and cost tens of thousands of dollars, an engineer named Ed Roberts (at his firm MITS) designed a computing device microprocessor-based totally pc referred to as the Altair 8800, which hobbyists may want to build themselves for numerous hundred dollars. It created the first de facto non-public laptop widespread, although few communicate about it nowadays.

The Altair 8800 debuted on the cover of the January 1975 difficulty of Popular Electronics, which reached a wide audience of engineers and skilled electronics hobbyists. Other companies soon began to mimic the Altair right all the way down to it’s a hundred-pin growth bus, which allows customers to plug in unique peripheral cards to expand or adjust the laptop’s skills.

This bus, later dubbed S-a hundred (for neutrality’s sake), became the idea of the first personal pc hardware standard—one that regularly used Zilog Z80 CPUs and ran Digital Research’s CP/M operating machine. With a common architecture among machines, a couple of agencies started providing plug-in CPU, memory, video, disk controller, and other peripheral playing cards for several S-a hundred-primarily based systems.

The PC marketplace grew hastily, and within some years, the industry moved far away from hobbyist kits and into complete structures. Lower-price finances and domestic personal computers which include the TRS-eighty and Commodore PET entered the marketplace, pushing S-100 vendors into the higher end of the PC marketplace wherein earnings had been relaxed, and in which enterprise customers regarded enough customization alternatives of S-a hundred machines to be a bonus.

Eventually, the S-a hundred bus gave manner to the IBM PC juggernaut (launched in 1981), which itself created its personal widespread primarily based on x86 CPUs and the ISA bus. Some S-100 machines held on for some time in government and business markets, however, the technology of the Altair bus had effectively ended.

With that in thoughts, permit’s check a handful of pioneering (and actually thrilling S-a hundred bus computers) from the distinction days of S-one hundred. Keep in thoughts this can now not be an exhaustive record of the S-100 widespread—there are a long way too many machines to encompass them all here—but we will visit a few highlights and early pioneers.

Cromemco Z-1 (1976)
In 1976, Cromemco entered the S-a hundred bus world with the Z-1, which featured the identical chassis because the IMSAI 8080 however covered a Zilog Z80 CPU instead of an Intel 8080. Despite the visible similarities, the Z-1 became a landmark product, and it released Cromemco right into a decade-lengthy achievement as an influential structures applications vendor with customers inclusive of the USA Air Force and the New York Stock Exchange. At the heart of it all? The S-100 bus.

Vector Graphic Vector 1 (1977)
The founders of California-primarily based Vector Graphic (first rate for along with ladies) took pleasure in creating an “easy” S-one hundred bus laptop that would activate and boot up with the contact of 1 button on its easy, simple the front panel. Whereas in advance machines often needed to get bootstrapped via keying in device language codes into front panel switches, the Vector 1 stored its boot exercises in a ROM chip. And in an unusual nod to aesthetics, the Vector 1 shipped in two case shade alternatives: inexperienced or “rust,” which turned into Vector’s call for orange.

If you are inquisitive about learning more, I wrote an in-intensity function about the history of Vector Graphic numerous years ago that you may experience.

NorthStar Horizon (1977)
Launched in 1977, the stylish NorthStar Horizon remains exceptional for likely being the primary personal pc with a built-in floppy disk drive and for being one of the few PCs launched with an actual timber case. Otherwise, the gadget held pretty regular specs: Z80 CPU, S-one hundred bus, upgradeable memory boards.

PolyMorphic System 8813 (1977)
Speaking of elegant computer systems, test out the PolyMorphic System 8813, launched in 1977. It upped the ante on the Horizon through which includes no longer but 3 inner disk drives and additionally a wood case. It used an Altair-loyal Intel 8080A as its CPU, and—of course—an S-100 gadget bus. Unlike in advance S-100 machines, the 8813 generally protected a video card that allowed the use of a composite video display rather than a serial terminal for output.

Zenith Z-100 (1982)
The Zenith/Heathkit Z-one hundred was an abnormal beast: This twin-CPU gadget blended a few factors of the IBM PC, along with an 8088 CPU and use of a custom model of MS-DOS, with functions of an S-one hundred based system, which includes an 8085 CPU (part of the 8080 families utilized by the Altair) and CP/M. And at the heart of it all lay the S-100 bus in an atypical “half-height” configuration that couldn’t in shape traditional complete-sized S-100 playing cards. As an end result, it becomes heavy, cumbersome, and supplied little to trap customers far away from the less complicated IBM PC clones that soon flooded the market.

Several other corporations released in addition ordinary PC/Z80 crossover machines within the early 1980s, but it changed into serious about naught: The IBM PC well-known quickly ate up all of them. Still, the S-one hundred widespread played an essential role in the early PC enterprise that should never be forgotten.

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