Microchip Prototype Up for Auction: Has Monumental Historical Significance

May 28, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s hard to imagine a more significant artifact of the computer age than the prototype of the first microchip that’s up for auction on June 19. Got an extra $1 million to $2 million lying around? That’s auction house Christie’s estimate of what the chip will sell for.

The germanium-based prototype was made by Tom Yeargan at Texas Instruments for its inventor Jack Kilby. Included with the original prototype is another silicon-based prototype from 1964, also made by Yeargan in 1958. The sale comes with documentation from Yeargan on its authenticity. And by the way, the sale of the prototypes overshadows the Apple I computer that’s also listed for the auction with an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.

It would be a shame for these items to end up in a private collection, but that’s probably what will happen. Very few science or computer museums have the resources for a purchase this large, unless Paul Allen ponies up for his Living Computer Museum. Historically speaking, the Yeargan/Kilby prototype is like any other invention that rocked the world: Fulton’s steam engine, Bell’s telephone, the first Benz gasoline automobile, or the Wright brothers’ airplane. These prototypes need to be where the public can see them.

 

 

Categories: Auction Report Tags:

Auction Result Show Strong Interest in Early Office Technology

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Auction Team Breker’s online auction of Office Antiques, Science & Technology, Fine Toys, and Automata that concluded on May 24 featured some rarely seen office technology from the 19th and 20th century. It also offered several iconic microcomputers including an Apple Lisa and a MITS Altair 8800. The results show that interest in early technology, not to mention the computers, is strong.

I’ve always been fascinated by early office technology, and this auction featured a wide variety of items from mechanical calculators to cipher machines to typewriters. Results for some of the more interesting items follow. Breker is a European auction house, so I’ve converted the original sale prices from euros to dollars. You can see the full results for yourself at LiveAuction, but you will need to register and log in to see the final prices.

Swiss “Conto” Model C Calculating Machine, $1,090: This brass and leather device is an 11-digit adding machine from 1912.

Mercedes-Euklid Model 1, $477: Built in 1905, this calculating machine from Germany has lots of levers and buttons. The manufacturer has no relation to the maker of Mercedes cars.

Loga Calculator, $218: About 30,000 of these cylindrical slide rules were made by the Swiss manufacturer Heinrich Daemon-Schmid between 1900 and 1935. The Smithsonian has one in its collection.

Addo Calculator Poster, $1,226: Old tech ephemera has value to collectors if the subject matter and visuals are good. Still, the selling price of this poster surprised me. I’m guessing there was some crossover interest here from poster collectors.

Arithmomètre de Thomas de Colmar (case only), $12,258: Yes, the winning bidder paid more than $12K just for the case of the world’s first calculating machine produced in series around 1850. When you consider that the actual calculator sold for more than $318K at auction last year, this could be a bargain.

Casio AL-1000 Nixie Tube Calculator, $409: This early programmable calculator from 1967 appears to be in working condition.

Nema T-D Cipher Machine, $3,816: According to Breker, this is a successor the the German WWII enigma machines and was built for the Swiss army. Only 640 were made, and this one is described as in mint condition.

Hagelin-Crypto CD-57 Cipher Machine, $3,816: The Swiss must have had a thing for cipher machines. This example is a “pocket cryptographer” built in 1957.

MITS Altair 8800, $3,952: Although described as in good working order, the auction description says it has the MITS CPU board and 4K RAM. If those really are the only boards in the system, then the price seems on the high side.

Apple Lisa 2/5, $3,543: This working example includes the Apple Profile external hard drive and the Lisa Office System disk set. A Lisa 1 was also part of the auction, but did not sell. Breker had estimated its selling price at between $25,000 and $34,000.

NeXT Cube, $3,543: Another system in good working order, and its selling price suggests that these first-generation NeXT systems are becoming more in demand.

Discret, $8,995: This odd device from 1899 is described as a “world typewriter.” It appears to be some kind of cipher writing machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Wayne Green

September 20, 2013 1 comment

Wayne letterheadWayne Green, who founded or co-founded many early computer magazines including BYTE, 80 Micro, Kilobaud Microcomputing, Run, and InCider, passed away earlier this month at age 91. Wayne was a polarizing figure in the early days of the microcomputer; he had strong, often unpopular opinions and was not afraid to express them.

I saw this first hand when I started working for 80 Micro in early 1981. Being the new guy, I was given the “honor” of editing Wayne’s editorials. I worked on those first few editorials with a feeling of dread. How could I, the most junior editorial person, tell the owner of the company that our readers might find his writing offensive or, in the worst cases, libelous?

Once I gathered the courage to challenge him, Wayne proved to be quite reasonable. This was the first lesson I learned from Wayne: If you believe you’re right, don’t be afraid to speak up. It also provided my first insight into who Wayne really was. I believe Wayne knew some of the drafts he submitted were unpublishable. It was his way of testing us.

Another lesson I learned is that sometimes doing is better than thinking, even if in the end you fail. If Wayne thought a new magazine or business idea was worth trying, we launched it with little debate and no real research. Wayne failed more times than he succeeded, but I doubt he would have had all his successes if he hadn’t gone with his gut and taken a more conservative approach.

When I heard of Wayne’s death, I rummaged through my files to see what I had from my days at Wayne Green Inc. What I found was a thick folder of Wayne’s editorials, all original drafts with editing mark-ups. (In the early 80s, we still used typewriters and edited on paper. Our production staff would re-key articles into our typesetting system.)

What was most interesting about the drafts is the paper he used to type them on. Wayne was notoriously frugal, and nearly every sheet he used for his editorials was the backside of old letterhead, press releases, and promotional material. Together, they reveal some of the history of Wayne’s ventures.

For example, I had forgotten that Wayne produced a computer show, Computermania, which was held in Boston. This is ironic, since one of his editorials talks about how all computer shows are worthless. The scan below shows the list of exhibitors, including IBM, IMSAI, Wang, Northstar, and Ohio Scientific. I think this show took place in 1980.

1980- computermania exhibitors

At one time, Wayne was one of the largest sellers of microcomputer software. The page below shows just a few of the items sold through the Instant Software catalog.

1978 instant software lunar lander mortgage weight control spac

He was also a major publisher of books for hams and computerists:

1978- 73 inc how to order books form

What this all shows is that Wayne provided many channels for early microcomputer pioneers to reach customers and establish themselves. Love him or hate him, Wayne was instrumental in building the commercial ecosystem that allowed the early microcomputer industry to grow into what it is today.

Company Profile: Byturbo International Corp. (Boston, MA)

August 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Byturbo sold rebranded Hyundai PC clones. In fact, the company referred to its PC family as “Byturbo by Hyundai.”  The Byturbo came in five models, the Model I through Model V, based on configuration.

Byturbo PC by Hyundai

Byturbo PC

Byturbo PC (1986?, desktop PC)
Original Retail Price: $895
Base Configuration: 8MHz 8088-II CPU, 256K RAM (640K max), 5.25-inch floppy drive, 6 expansion slots, parallel and serial ports, 84-key PC-AT type keyboard, 135W power supply, MS-DOS 3.2, Electric Desk
Important Options: 8087 FPU, 30MB hard drive, second 5.25-inch floppy drive, 10MB tape drive, monochrome  monitor

 

Categories: Company Profile Tags: , ,

Company Profile: Burroughs Corp.

January 15, 2012 2 comments

During the mainframe era, Burroughs was one of the “seven dwarfs,” a term applied to the seven major mainframe vendors that were not IBM. Like fellow dwarfs Honeywell, Sperry/UNIVAC, and NCR, Burroughs entered the microcomputer market in the early 1980s after IBM introduced the PC. The company merged with Sperry in 1986 and became Unisys, which is still in business today.

The Burroughs microcomputer was the B20 series, introduced in 1982. It was a multi-user system that used BTOS, an operating system licensed from Convergent Technologies. Burroughs referred to it as a “distributed intelligence system.” There were two models in the B20 series: the B21 and the B22. The B21 had an unusual form factor where the monitor and CPU unit sat side-by-side on a shared base. The CPU unit was similar in shape and size to the monitor. The B22 added a tower unit that housed storage.

The B21 came in four configurations: B21-1, B21-3, B21-4, and B21-5. (I have no idea why there is no B21-2.) Only the latter two configurations could function as standalone systems; the other two served only as terminals for a multi-user setup.

Burroughs B21

Burroughs B21

Burroughs B21 (1982, multi-user system)
Base Configuration: 5MHz 8086 CPU, 256K RAM (512K max), 5MB hard drive, 5.25-inch floppy drive, parallel and 3 serial  ports, monochrome monitor, BTOS
Video: 80 characters x 28 lines
Users Supported: up to 16
Size and Weight: 13.75h x 30w x 12d inches
Important Options: 8.4MB hard drive

Burroughs B22

Burroughs B22

Burroughs B22 (1982, multi-user system)
Base Configuration: 5MHz 8086 CPU, 256K RAM (640K max), 10MB hard drive, 5.25-inch floppy drive, parallel and 3 serial  ports, 2 Multibus slots, 15-inch monochrome monitor, BTOS
Video: 80 characters x 28 lines
Users Supported: up to 16
Size and Weight: 13.75h x 30w x 12d inches (base workstation), 50 lbs.; 26h x 8.46w x 20.87d inches, 85 lbs.
Important Options: 20MB hard drive

Categories: Company Profile Tags:

Company Profile: Blue Chip Electronics (Chandler, Ariz.)

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Founded in 1982 by Commodore’s former European sales manager John Rossi, Blue Chip started as an export manufacturer of peripherals, mainly for Commodore systems. The company entered the PC market in 1986 with the Blue Chip Personal Computer, which was made by Hyundai.

In 1987, the company began selling the PC Popular, a relabeled Hyundai PC XT clone sold as the Super-16 under the Hyundai brand. The PC Popular was a low-cost system that came bundled with software designed “to allow the new PC owner to be instantly productive.”

Blue Chip Electronics Personal Computer

Blue Chip Electronics Personal Computer

Blue Chip Personal Computer (1986, desktop PC)
Original Retail Price: $699
Base Configuration: 4.77MHz 8088 CPU, 512K RAM (640K max), 5.25-inch floppy drive, 6 expansion slots, serial and parallel ports, keyboard, MS-DOS 2.1
Video: 720 x 350 pixels
Important Options: 8087 FPU, monochrome or color monitor

 

 

 

Blue Chip Electronics PC Popular

Blue Chip Electronics PC Popular

Blue Chip Electronics PC Popular (1987, desktop PC)
Original Retail Price: $549
Base Configuration: 4.88/8MHz 8088-2 CPU, 512K RAM (640K max), 5.25-inch floppy drive, parallel and serial ports, 2 expansion slots, AT-style keyboard, mouse, MS-DOS 3.2
Video: CGA, Hercules
Important Options: second floppy drive, monochrome or color monitor, modem, multifunction card

Company Profile: Billings Computer Corp. (Independence, Missouri)

January 8, 2012 3 comments

Billings made high-end microcomputers for business based on the Z80 processor. There were three main series: the BC-12FD at the low end, the System 500 at the mid-range, and the 6000 Series at the high end. The company saw some success abroad, claiming it made one of every four computers sold in Norway for 1981.

The company also sold a suite of business applications and a line of peripherals under its own brand. For the 6000 series, the optional tape drive, floppy drives, hard drive, and modem came in cases similar to the one that housed the CPU. They were meant to be stacked, so a fully optioned system would be about 4 feet high.

Billings BC-12FD

Billings BC-12FD

Billings BC-12FD (microcomputer)
Base Configuration: Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, 2 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, built in monochrome monitor, integrated 94-key keyboard
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: P-110, P-510, and P-710 printers

Billings System 500 CPU (microcomputer)
Base Configuration: Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, keyboard, monochrome monitor
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: P-110, P-510, and P-710 printers

Billings System 500 CPU-I (microcomputer)
Base Configuration: Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, 5.25-inch floppy drive, keyboard, monochrome monitor
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: P-110, P-510, and P-710 printers

Billings System 500 CPU-II (microcomputer)
Base Configuration: Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, 2 5.25-inch floppy drives, keyboard, monochrome monitor
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: P-110, P-510, and P-710 printers

Fully optioned Billings 6000 Series

Fully optioned Billings 6000 Series

Billings 6000 CPU (1983, microcomputer)
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, 64K RAM, 8 expansion slots, keyboard
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: monochrome or color monitor; 6000 Flexible Disk expansion unit; 6000 Tape expansion unit; 30MB or 61MB 6000 Winchester expansion unit; 6000 Modem expansion unit; P-110, P-510, and P-710; printers
 

Billings 6000 CPU-I (1983, microcomputer)
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, 64K RAM, 5.25-inch floppy drive, 8 expansion slots, keyboard
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: monochrome or color monitor; 6000 Flexible Disk expansion unit; 6000 Tape expansion unit; 30MB or 61MB 6000 Winchester expansion unit; 6000 Modem expansion unit; P-110, P-510, and P-710; printers

Billings 6000 CPU-II (1983, microcomputer)
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, 64K RAM, 2 5.25-inch floppy drives, 8 expansion slots, keyboard
Video: 80 characters x 24 lines
Important Options: monochrome or color monitor; 6000 Flexible Disk expansion unit; 6000 Tape expansion unit; 30MB or 61MB 6000 Winchester expansion unit; 6000 Modem expansion unit; P-110, P-510, and P-710; printers

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 677 other followers