News & Information

Sac State computer missed fame by a bit

07-12-2010


Sacramento State developed one of the world's first microcomputers in 1972. Had it been widely known, it might have changed today's computer landscape.
 

Michael A. Ward

It is quite possible the world's first microcomputer was developed at Sacramento State, according to a writer at CNET, an on-line media company specializing in technology reviews.

Earlier this year, CNET senior writer Daniel Terdiman wrote an article detailing a microcomputer built on campus in 1972 by former Sacramento State researcher Bill Pentz.

The computer (later unofficially dubbed the Sacramento State 8008) was built to handle thousands of patients' medical records. It had a disk operating system, a series of programmable read-only memory chips; eight kilobytes of RAM; IBM's Basic Assembly Language (BAL); a hard drive; a color display; and a printer output.

Heady stuff for its day, but here is where it gets interesting. Sacramento State's computer was developed three years before the Altair 8800, which many computer enthusiasts consider to be one of the first microcomputers ever built. While Sacramento State's computer remained fairly anonymous, the Altair "was featured on the cover of a 1975 issue of Popular Mechanics and inspired legions of hobbyists, including Bill Gates and Paul Allen," Terdiman says.

The rest is history, though the article suggests the computer landscape might look very different today had Sacramento State's computer made the magazine cover.

A few years ago, a former University employee found the computer pieces in his basement, and Pentz donated them to the Digibarn Computer Museum.

To view the entire CNET story, visit http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10429544-52.html. For more on the Digibarn Computer Museum, visit www.digibarn.com.