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Before the iPod, the Macintosh, or even the formation of Apple Computer Company on April Fool’s Day 1976, there was the Apple I. Designed by Steve “Woz” Wozniak, then an engineer at Hewlett-Packard, it was less a personal computer than the bare essentials of one: the circuit board you see in the image at left is the Apple I (buyers had to hook up their own keyboards, displays, and power supplies). This computer, the very first Apple I made, was first used in a math class at Windsor Junior High School in Windsor, CA, in 1976 and donated to the LO*OP Center, a nonprofit educational organization run by Liza Loop. In total, only about 200 of the Apple I mother­boards were made. In 1977, Apple introduced the groundbreaking Apple II–which could be bought simply as a motherboard or assembled with case, keyboard, and power supply.

Low Cost as a Design Priority

“Woz liked the challenge of doing more with less,” says Damer. Wozniak pored over ­integrated-­circuit specifications and engineered the Apple I so that different processes could share the same chips, reducing the overall part count. This, plus the use of cheaper items such as a $20 MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor rather than the more common $175 Motorola 6800, enabled him and Steve Jobs to offer the Apple I for the somewhat affordable price of $666.66 (“Woz liked repeating numbers,” says Damer), about $2,400 in today’s dollars. According to Damer, “Woz was a total idealist–he wanted everyone to have access to computers.” Loop, who is also the director of the History of Computing in Learning and Education Project, agrees: “Woz wanted this simple, low-cost design so that the Apple would be affordable for students and teachers.”

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Single-Board Design

Most microcomputers at the time used multiple circuit boards: one for the CPU, one for the video interface, one for the memory, and so on. “Woz took all the constituent parts of a microcomputer and put them all on one board,” says Sellam Ismail, the proprietor of VintageTech, which maintains an archive of computer artifacts and history. Not only did this make construction cheaper and reduce power consumption, but it allowed users to build compact, all-in-one enclosures for the Apple I, leading to the unified design of the Apple II and the original Mac.

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Credit: Peter Belanger

Tagged: Computing, Apple

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