Vintage computer replicas


This Web page last updated Oct 18 2011.

Introduction

This Web page discusses hardware "replicas" of vintage computers of the 1970's. Some are exact copies of boards or systems; some are updated or reduced-scale revisions; and some are modern redesigns using vintage chip sets (microprocessors and support chips). Most are done by individuals or garage companies of one or two individuals, often funding from their own pockets, often selling at costs. This page does NOT discuss software emulators of vintage computers, a well-established area of development by many individuals and groups.

Here's some considerations about this page, and about money. Items discussed here must have been produced and provided to several other people. Projects which did not produce more than a prototype or a few boards are not what I have in mind here. Prototypes and one-off's are a reasonable personal activity however; I discuss them on other pages. Ask about what is current and available, especially before sending anyone money to anyone Look for a wiki or a discussion group, review history and current activity BY DATE. "Now" may be two years ago. Developers generally welcome a show of interest, and most are careful about other people's money. Discussion on this page is not a recommendation, guarantee, or endorsement of any sort.

This page is one of a series of Web pages which have a home page at this link. That page and linked Web pages collectively describe repairing, restoring or displaying computer hardware of the 1970's and earlier. They support why people should bother to do that. I suggest it's a valuable activity, and I discuss and show how restoration can be learned, organized and supported. All physical locations listed are in the United States unless noted.

Of course my "retrotechnology.com" Web site provides general support for the use of old technology, such as the technologies I've mentioned here.

Over time, I'll consider these points and this page may change. I welcome comments and contacts from organizations with these interests. - Herb Johnson

Revisions of vintage computers

Previous work

Here's some notes from year 2007, which I looked over again in 2011.

There is often talk about building replicas of the MITS Altair 8800. Until recently it's been mostly talk. With the rise of the Internet in the 90's and 21st century, original Altairs are still available. (Incidently, most people only know of "the Altair" or "the 8800" as the 8800a model, although there was a "b" and a "turnkey" model; and a 6800-based MITS 680 that sold poorly.)

In year 2006, one can buy an original MITS Altair 8800a or other models from on-line auction sites. Parts like boards sell for tens or a few hundred dollars or two; systems in various condition sell for on the order of a thousand or two thousand dollars. I do not endorse any Web auction sites in particular. There may also be private sales or dealer sales via the Web. (Prices have gone up but not a lot as of 2011.)

Examples from 2007 (with 2011 remarks in parenthesis)

Rich Cini of Altair32.com has worked on and offered a software emulator for the Altair for a number of years, previously developed by Glaus Giloi. Apparently in 2004 or so, Rich decided to work on a hardware front-panel replica with 8080 emulation. By 2006 he had a working prototype. It's a stand-alone front panel cosmetically identical to the 8800a front panel. An 8051 microcontroller and other hardware make it a USB 2.0 slave device which Rich supports on his altair32 emulator under Windows. That emulator also runs two RS-232 ports on the front panel. Other connection options are described on the Web site. As of November 2006, Rich is working to complete another design run of this product; units were not available for sale at that time. No updates to the project's status as of Feb 2007.

Vince Briel of Briel Computers is developing a product called AltairPC. This device is an 8800a front panel replica attached to a PC ATX-class case and power supply. The case can hold a Pentium 4 motherboard to run an emulator. The front panel replica hardware runs 8080 code in 256 BYTES of memory as emulated by a AVR microcontroller. The replica has a USB connector which is connected to the PC/Windows system. The replica's AVR processor can be reprogrammed via an in-circuit programmer to the AVR device. You can also toggle in 8080 programs and run them directly on the front panel. As of Sept 2006 the Web page says "no emulator has been modified to work with the front panel" and asks for help. As of Feb 2007, the AltairPC is not yet available according to the Web site. An associated discussion forum is only about the Apple I replica sold by Briel.

(In 2009, Vince produced the "microKIM" a 1/2 scale working model of the MOS Technology KIM. A nice product in my opinion, I have one myself. Apparently in 2010, Vince produced an "Altair 8800micro", and in 2011 is working on related products. Check his Web site for details.)

Late in 2006, Grant Stockly announced he would make available several kits which are duplicates of the original MITS Altair 8800. Some kits were sold on eBay; the first was delivered Dec 7th 2006 to Howard Harte. As of Feb 2007, at least several kits were sold. This kit included boards, case, front panel, 4-slot motherboard; the switching power supply is an improvement from the original. Many MITS items were duplicated down to original board layouts and logos; they are for the most part different only in PC board material or apparent age, or minor cosmetic features like chips with post-70's date codes. It is a significant achievement that he successfully replicated an early Altair 8800. Stockly himself says one of his goals is to give others the "Altair experience" of building the kit from that era. He reported one system ran for over 50 days continuously, before he turned it off. For more information, check his Stockly.com discussion Web site; or his Altair Kit Web site. A Web search may find other owners of these kits. A photo of one of these was in an early 2007 issue of "Make" magazine.

(As of 2011, Grant had re-produced a number of early computer kits, in runs of a few dozen or so, over the course of a few years time devoted to each model. Check his Web site at the links above for current activities. He may have additional Web pages for those kits, by brand/model name.)

Current work and Web links as of 2011

microKIM and Apple I of Vince Briel
Les Bird's H8 boards
BTS6120 replica of PDP-8 by Bob Armstrong, offered through his Spare Time Gizmos company.
Armstrong's and STG's ELF 2000 version of the RCA 1802 COSMAC ELF microcomputer
A modern version of the 1802 Cosmac ELF by Lee Hart

Redesigns in the vintage computing tradition

Here's a Web page on new Z80-class microcomputer kits, offered by individuals. It is part of my S-100 Web page of CP/m and S-100 Web pointers


Contact information:
Herb Johnson
New Jersey, USA
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Copyright © 2011 Herb Johnson