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The Datapoint 2200: Precursor of the Personal Computer and the Microprocessor

1969 to 1971

In 1971 Phil Ray and Gus Roche of Computer Terminal Corporation of San Antonio, Texas, later known as Datapoint Corporation, began shipping the Datapoint 2200, a mass-produced programmable terminal, which could be used as a simple stand-alone personal computer. Priced at $7800 in 1971 it was, however, never intended to be a product affordable for the general public.

"It was intended by its designers simply to be a versatile, cost-efficient terminal for connecting to a wide variety of mainframes by loading various terminal emulations from tape rather than being hardwired as most terminals were. However, enterprising users in the business sector (including Pillsbury Foods) realized that this so-called 'programmable terminal' was equipped to perform any task a simple computer could, and exploited this fact by using their 2200s as standalone computer systems. Equally significant is the fact that the terminal's multi-chip CPU (processor) became the embryo of the x86 architecture upon which the original IBM PC and its descendants are based.

"Aside from being one of the first personal computers, the Datapoint 2200 has another connection to computer history. Its original design called for a single-chip 8-bit microprocessor for the CPU, rather than a conventional processor built from discrete TTL modules. In 1969, CTC contracted two companies, Intel and Texas Instruments, to make the chip. TI was unable to make a reliable part and dropped out. Intel was unable to make CTC's deadline. Intel and CTC renegotiated their contract, ending up with CTC keeping its money and Intel keeping the eventually completed processor.

"CTC released the Datapoint 2200 using about 100 discrete TTL components (SSI/MSI chips) instead of a microprocessor, while Intel's single-chip design, eventually designated the Intel 8008, was finally released in April 1972. The 8008's seminal importance lies in its becoming the ancestor of Intel's other 8-bit CPUs, which were followed by their assembly language compatible 16-bit CPU's—the first members of the x86-family, as the instruction set was later to be known. Thus, CTC's engineers may be said to have fathered the world's most commonly used and emulated instruction set architecture from the mid-1980s to date" (Wikipedia article on Datapoint 2200, accessed 09-12-2012).

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