I still have my copy of the 1975 issue of Popular Electronics with the Altair on the cover.
H. Edward Roberts died this week at age 68. If you don’t know the story of how Roberts helped launch the personal computing revolution, let us fill you in.
Even with $250,000 in debt and a collapsing business, Ed. Roberts didn’t waver from his commitment to personal computing. He persevered building the prototype of the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, named unofficially after a planet visited in the Star Trek episode Amok Time.
The Altair 8800 saved the company. Ed. Roberts had brokered a deal with Intel to buy Intel 8080 chips in bulk for $75/chip (normally they were $360/chip). The cheap CPUs allowed the Altair 8800 to retail for $439 ($621 assembled) at the time when Intel’s Intellec-8 Microprocessor Development System, another Intel 8080 based system, sold for $10,000.
The cheap Altair 8800 not only proved a mild commercial hit, but it helped launch the world’s biggest electronics company today, Microsoft. In 1975 Bill Gates and Paul Allen, students at Harvard at the time read about the Altair. They contacted Ed. Roberts telling him they were developing a programming language interpreter and asking if he was interested in purchasing in it.