In which I get teary over an archive of Byte magazine covers


I came across this archive of all the Byte magazine covers which some energetic soul has scanned. They go all the way back to the first issue in January 1977.

Major flashback!

Here’s the first one I bought at McGills Technical Books in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne:

I’m pretty sure it cost me $4.50 – about $18 or more in current dollars. I was a poor student and I agonised over spending that much.

In a world where computers are everywhere, it’s hard to imagine how exciting it was to get your hands on a real computer in 1977. Byte was the go-to magazine back then for enthusiasts exploring the idea of owning a “personal” computer.

There was a thriving market in development boards for the different microprocessors, but you had to assemble them from scratch by soldering components to a board. If you were really cashed up you could get a fully assembled board like this one from an obscure company in California:

I pored over the ads in Byte and vacuumed up the articles on assembly language, threaded interpretive languages and wire wrapping. Eventually I conned my wife into diverting much-needed funds from our house savings for a Z80 Starter System from SD Systems.

1024 bytes of RAM (expandable to 2048 bytes!), a 2K EPROM programmer, a cassette interface to store programs and the all-important S100 bus expansion so I would never have to buy another computer again.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it eventually had:

  • Sargon chess
  • Space Invaders
  • A 3D graphical maze
  • A voice synthesizer using the Votrax SSI-263AP
  • An AY-3-8910 as a 3-voice programmable sound generator
  • A floppy disk interface for a 720K 3.5″ drive

I still have the S100 cards pinned to my wall for nostalgia.

Here is the wire wrap board with all the specialty chips crammed up one end to maximise the board usage:

… and here’s the rat’s nest of wire-wrap on the back:


I need to go off for a quiet sob now, or maybe get inspired to get off my arse and build something.

Ian Slinger @ianjs