How-To Geek

Arduino-Powered Build Recreates World’s First Commercial Microcomputer

If you’re looking for an interesting electronics project that combines something old and something new, this clever build combines a new Arduino chip to re-create a 1970s era microcomputer.

Long before there were GUIs and human friendly interfaces, hardcore computer enthusiasts were dabbling with expensive microcomputers. Mark Wilson set out to build a replica of the first commercial microcomputer. He writes:

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. As a bonus it was the 40th anniversary of it’s introduction.

Hit up the link below to check out his photo set and build guide.

KENBAK-uino [Flickr via Retrothing]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/11/11

Comments (3)

  1. Dataman

    Great project!
    Hope to build one soon!

  2. esam

    arduino is very interesting ,i ordered one already !!

  3. Brushman

    Great project. Reminds me of the Cosmac ELF project in Popular Electronics in the late 70’s. I built one-it had 256 Bytes of memory, slide switch input and LED or speaker (tones) output. It was based on the RCA 1802 processor with 16 registers and had a limited instruction set. But, I did learn about machine code and how registers work. There was a short flurry of interest for memory add-ons, keypad entry, etc., but more advanced processors did it in.

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