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An IT Legacy Paper
February 2015
The Univac 8008 Micro
Was it the First 8-Bit Computer?
Craig Solomonson - Cambridge, Minnesota
The “8-Bit Micro Computer System” shown
at the right was constructed in Plant #2 (St.
Paul, MN) during 1972. Was it the first
functional 8-bit microcomputer built?
INTRODUCTION
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I was
part of a small group trying to start a
computer museum in Minnesota. As a
computer-programming instructor and a
collector by nature, it seemed like the thing
to do! So, I collected lots of computer
artifacts.
In the summer of 1980, I bought an oddlooking microcomputer at an electronics swap
meet at the State Fair Grounds. After many
years of research to find out who built it and
when, I made contact with the person I
bought it from—Dale Hossler. Dale was an
engineer in the Memory Semiconductors
group in Plant #2 and a member of the Univac
Computer Club. When Sperry dismantled the
Light Electrical Laboratory about 1977, much
of the equipment stored there was being
disposed of and he picked up this particular
computer to tinker with until he finally sold it
at the swap meet in 1980.
Dale started at Univac in 1975 and did not
know any of the history of this computer.
Therefore, I contacted Lowell Benson through
the VIP Club and he connected me with Hal
Rogers, who was aware of the computer but
(c)2015, Craig Solomonson for the VIP Club
did not work on it. Eventually, he put me in
touch with Steve Newcomer who worked on
the project involving the design and build of
this computer. I had a chance to sit down and
visit with him and he shared what he could
remember of the project with me. Recently
he found a copy of the final report on the
project and shared with me.
UNIVAC PROJECT(S)
I had always suspected that assembly of this
computer was very early on in the
development of microcomputers. The chips
used and date codes on various electrical
components pointed toward a period of very
early 1972 and before. Considering that, Intel
announced their 8008 microprocessor in April
of 1972 and did not ship until late May of
1972, which seemed to indicate that this
might be one of the first.
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An IT Legacy Paper
February 2015
The development of this computer was part
When the Intel announced the MCS-8 in
of the “Complex Arrays” project during FY 73,
April, it was most likely ordered. Delivery
a subtask under the Solid State Technologies
started in late May and there is a good chance
IR&D Program1 (#4YF71X). In a report dated
that UNIVAC constructed the 8-Bit system
March 30, 1973, it summarizes the devices
during the summer of '72. It consisted of the
studied. They include building an Intel MCS-4
Intel SIM8-01 CPU board and the Intel MP7(4-Bit Micro System), an Intel MCS-8 (8-Bit
03 PROM Programming board as illustrated
Micro System), and a Magnetic Tape Cartridge
below. To burn in Programmable Read Only
Memory chips, they were plugged into the
Controller (using an 8008 microprocessor).
burner's green socket shown below.
Another part of the project was to monitor
ongoing developments by various chip
manufacturers such as Intel.
Steve recalled programming the MCS-4
computer when he returned to Univac in
March of 1972 following his 14 months of
active military duty. That computer was built
around an Intel SIM4-01 CPU board and the
Intel MP7-03 PROM Programming board and
packaged in a red translucent plastic case like
the ones pictured below.
However, the interface circuitry to put these
boards together into a complete system with
I/O capabilities was not available from Intel
until late November of 1972. Therefore, the
Univac crew designed their own interface to
control the PROM Programmer and to hook
the processor board to a Teletype as the
man/machine interface. Hence, we had a
complete working microcomputer as shown
on top of the next page!
1
Dave Kirkwood was the Supervising engineer of
this research project.
(c)2015, Craig Solomonson for the VIP Club
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An IT Legacy Paper
February 2015
PROM Burner, Microcomputer, and TTY keyboard-printer.
Steve thinks that he was programming this
unit in the fall of 1972. Like the rest of us
retired folks, you know how our memory
works—or doesn’t work! He recalls that the
programs written were fairly simple. The
computer would ask a person their name and
they input it through the Teletype and then a
response was given using their name. Dave
Kirkwood told me that these demonstrations
were given to internal Univac groups and also
to a few military organizations.
Following the construction of the 8-Bit micro,
the construction of the Magnetic Tape
Cartridge Controller using the Intel 8008
started. This phase went into early 1973 to
research
an
actual
application
of
microprocessor technology. The final report
dated March 30, 1973 summarizes the
findings from all these phases.
(c)2015, Craig Solomonson for the VIP Club
OTHER PROJECTS
If this UNIVAC Computer was completed in
the late summer or early fall of 1972, it is in
the running for being one of the very first
operational 8-bit microcomputer systems.
There are records of only three other systems
under development during 1972. The one
generally credited with being first is the Sac
State 8008 Computer, designed and built by
Bill Pentz. His project started in the summer
of 1972 and was working in 1972 but not fully
completed until sometime in 1973.
Another computer in development during
1972 was the Micral-N being built in France. It
used the 8008 and a functional unit was
shown in January of 1973 then actual
computers were being sold later in 1973. The
Micral-N is recognized as the first
commercially available 8-bit computer.
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An IT Legacy Paper
February 2015
The third system was the MCM/70 developed
EPILOGUE
by Micro Computer Machines in Canada. The
I think it is safe to say that the Univac 8008
designer, Mers Kutt, was a personal friend of
was “one of the first” 8-bit computer system
Robert Noyce and was even considering using
built and demonstrated. Saying it was
the Intel SIM8-01 board as the main board in
absolutely the first one would take a lot more
his computer. He arranged with Noyce to get
research and documentation from multiple
one of the first SIM8-01 boards available and
companies. I spent a morning at the Charles
received it May 23, 1972. That board is now
Babbage Institute going through boxes of
on display at the York University Computer
archived engineering logbooks and reports
Museum in Toronto. I made arrangements
from Univac engineers, but had no luck. If
with that museum to compare the circuitry
someone reading this article has any
and chip dates with the SIM8-01 board in the
recollections as to specific dates in 1972 on
Univac 8008. They are nearly identical and
the development of this computer or details
neither board is serial numbered like most of
about it, that would be helpful.
the ones sold by Intel. This leads me to
believe that Intel also shipped one of the first
Craig Solomonson Cambridge, MN
boards to Univac.
Email: [email protected]
[email protected][email protected]hanks to Craig for submitting this IT Legacy article as a summary of his research. Mr. Solomonson
attended Southwest Minnesota State and did his master’s work at University of Minnesota. He is a
former teacher (1975 – 1982) and was an educational software designer at MECC (1982 – 1999).
Later Craig did consulting for Plato Learning and [email protected] (Real Experiences at Life).
Comments by Lowell A. Benson:
This was the first UNIVAC/Sperry/UNISYS/LMCO foray into the application of Commercial off the
Shelf (COTS) microprocessor devices. We went on embed COTS microprocessors into the AN/USQ69 display unit, CP-2044 replacement for the CP-901, and the AN/USQ-70 as the primary processing
device. We also used microprocessor chips for an embedded maintenance processor function in the
AN/UYK-43, AN/UYK-44, and the Memory Processor computers.
This article was formatted and edited for the web by Lowell A. Benson
Retired Engineering Manager, UNIVAC 1960=>UNISYS 1994
BEE, 1966 - U of MN
(c)2015, Craig Solomonson for the VIP Club
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