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1972, America, history, Personal Computer

The Birth of the PC

Histories have traced the lineage of the PC’s x86, the first PC, back to 1972, with Intel Corp.‘s introduction of the 8008 chip, the 8-bit follow-on to the 4-bit 4004, itself introduced in 1971 and remembered as the world’s first microprocessor.

According to “Forgotten PC history: The true origins of the personal computer,” written by Lamont Wood and appearing in ComputerWorld, the x86 was originally conceived by an all-but-forgotten engineer, Austin O. “Gus” Roche, who in 1968 began his obsession with making a personal computer and would become part of the initial team that set out to build the world’s first PC.

The 4004 — the predecessor to the 8008 chip that made the first PC possible — was put in the Intel catalog in November 1971, becoming history’s first commercial microprocessor. The 1201, renamed the 8008, was offered in April 1972, for $120. Unlike the 4004, the 8008 could use standard RAM (which had become available) and ROM memory, making it popular with embedded applications. Since no one was using the chip initially to compete against the mainstream computer vendors, there was no backlash from them, and the nervousness of Intel’s management eventually eased over the prospectives of introducing such a radical chip design that was capable of processing information in a way that the 4004 was impossible to achieve

Also in 1972, design Patent 224,415 was issued to Roche, former NASA engineer Phil Ray and industrial designer John “Jack” Frassanito, head of John Frassanito & Associates Inc., a NASA contractor in Houston, for the appearance of the Datapoint 2200, which some have suggested was the birth of the personal computer; the patent allowed them to say they held the patent for the first PC. (Other parties claimed utility patents for the microprocessor, and the precedence of these other patents was in litigation for decades.)

In 1974, Intel brought out the 8080 chip based on the same architecture as the 8008, using suggestions from engineers from Computer Terminal Corp. derived from developing the Datapoint 2200 II. Its use of a recently developed 40-pin package meant that fewer support chips were required to multiplex the output. Its descendants formed the x86 dynasty, especially after the 8088 was used in the first IBM PC in 1981.

Therefore, any PC in use today can trace its ancestry to the Datapoint 2200 of 1972.

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About markwalston

Writer, historian, creative director, poet, playwright, author of nine books and nearly 200 essays and articles exploring a broad range of American social, cultural and historical topics.

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