The $4 Retro Computer

The Kenbak-1 apparently predates the Altair and is the earliest “personal” microcomputer in existence. To use it you flipped a bunch of switches and watched the lights. A PS3 this definitely wasn’t.

A tinkerer named Mark Wilson recently rebuilt a mini version of the Kenbak using an Arduino board, timing chip, and some memory, allowing him to add realtime clock functions and storage to what amounts to a very smart Lite-Brite.

Not long after discovering the Arduino it seemed to me it could be a fun project to re-create an early computer, one with just LEDs and switches. I looked at things like the Altair 8800 (1975) but it has 30+ LEDs and 20+ switches and seemed like too much work. Then I stumbled on the KENBAK-1 (1971). Perfect! Only a dozen LEDs and 17 switches.

The wee computer looks almost like the original but is considerably smaller and costs much less than the 1970 price – $4 for parts as compared to about $750 in disco dollars. The handsome case and front panel probably cost a bit more to manufacture but look accurate. However the Arduino guts are most definitely more complex than the original machine and have essentially been dumbed-down to emulate the old Kenbak.

via Retrothing