by Michael Goldberg

Celebrating the First PC

Dec 01, 20032 mins
Data Center

The Altair 8800 Starts a PC Wave

1974 The Altair 8800, the first PC (or microcomputer as it was known then), is available for sale on Dec. 19, from MITS, a company based in Ed Roberts’ Albuquerque, N.M., garage. The expandable machine, which uses an Intel 8080 CPU and sports switches and lights (but no keyboard), costs about $400 unassembled. Assembled, it runs $498?but you have to wait weeks to receive it.

The Altair 8800 would become a sensation among computer enthusiasts after a January 1975 article in Popular Electronics magazine, which spurred thousands of orders in that first month. After reading about the computer, two Harvard students named Bill Gates and Paul Allen use a PDP-10 computer to create a version of the Basic programming language for the Altair and interest Roberts in selling it. Gates and Allen would move to New Mexico and set up a company they called Micro-Soft.

Back to the Altair. Popular Electronics had been looking to publish an article about building a home computer when Roberts came along with a design that worked. According to legend, the computer’s name came from a Star Trek episode. The crew of the Enterprise was headed in the direction of the Altair star when Les Solomon, technical editor at Popular Mechanics, asked his 12-year-old daughter what to call the MITS computer. “Why don’t you call it Altair? That’s where they’re going this week,” she said. Beats the other alternative?the PE-8, which is what Roberts had in mind.

SOURCES: Wikipedia,,