S-100 bus

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The S-100 bus or Altair bus, IEEE696-1983 (withdrawn), was an early computer bus designed in 1974 as a part of the Altair 8800, generally considered today to be the first personal computer (or at least the first "microcomputer", insofar as it was designed for hobbyists rather than the general public). The S-100 bus was the first industry standard bus for the microcomputer industry. S-100 computers, consisting of processor and peripheral cards, were produced by a number of manufacturers. The S-100 bus formed the basis for homebrew computers whose builders (e.g., the Homebrew Computer Club) implemented drivers for CP/M and MP/M. These S-100 microcomputers ran the gamut from hobbyist toy to small business workstation and were the zenith of the microcomputer world until the advent of the IBM PC (which some of them outperformed).



The S-100 bus essentially consisted of the pins of the Intel 8080 run out onto the backplane. One early, unanticipated shortcoming was various power lines of differing voltages being located next to each other, resulting in easy shorting. This was addressed in later systems. The system included two unidirectional 8-bit data buses, but only a single bidirectional 16-bit address bus. Power supplies on the bus were unregulated +8 V and ±18 V, designed to be regulated on the cards to +5 V (used by TTL) and ±12 V (typically used on RS-232 lines or disk drive motors).


During the design of the Altair, the hardware required to make a usable machine was not available in time for the January 1975 launch date. The designer, Ed Roberts, also had the problem of the backplane taking up too much room. Attempting to avoid these problems, he placed the existing components in a case with additional "slots", so that the missing components could be plugged in later when they became available. The backplane was split into four separate cards, with the CPU on a fifth. He then looked for a cheap source of connectors, and he came across a supply of 100-pin edge connectors.

A burgeoning industry of "clone" machines followed the introduction of the Altair in 1975. Most of these used the same bus layout as the Altair, creating a new industry standard. These companies were forced to refer to the system as the "Altair bus", and wanted another name in order to avoid naming their competitor when describing their own system. Although the exact details are unclear, some time in 1976 the "S-100 bus" name was agreed on by the major third-party vendors, apparently for "Standard-100 bus".[1]

Another designer who did a great deal to push the S-100 technology forward was George Morrow, with his company Morrow Designs. Morrow was the first chairman of the S-100 Bus Standards Committee, which later became IEEE-696.[2] Other innovators were companies such as IMS Associates, Inc., Cromemco, Godbout Electronics (later CompuPro), and Ithaca Intersystems. The standards committee introduced the 16-bit data bus to the S-100, which had up to then transferred only 8 bits at a time, by using the two separate uni-directional data buses as a single bi-directional bus.

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