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I was watching a program about Clive Sinclair and they used to advertise a computer and then design and build it within 3-6 months.

So 8-bit computers must have been fairly simple to design and build.

But were they? Or were the engineers pretty much geniuses?

Were people like Wosniac and Clive Sinclairs engineers amazingly talented or were 8-bit computers just really easy to make?

From watching documentaries, the actual computer seems not to difficult to make. You just need a processor, some ram, and a video output (all these things pre-made) and just need to design a printed circuit board to join them all together. I imagine many people with a degree in electronics could have done it??

The challenging bit seems like the operating system (usually a version of BASIC). And writing the documentation.

I read once that Bill Gates programmed a version of BASIC in under a week.

So, in terms of hardness, could most electronics students create an 8-bit computer or is it actually quite hard to do?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You write, "Were people like Wosniac and Clive Sinclairs engineers amazingly talented or were 8-bit computers just really easy to make?" That's not the dilemma. They were, instead, incredibly lucky and very motivated. And no, 8-bit computers weren't "just really easy to make." I lived through that period, building one computer out of 7400 parts before buying an Altair 8800 (and later, two 4k dynamic RAM cards that were fundamentally designed wrong and forced me to suffer for over six weeks trying to find the problems I was ill-equipped to deal with at the time.) None of this was easy then. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Nov 9, 2019 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question might get better responses at Retrocomputing. Or they might ask you to be more specific about what you're asking. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Photon
    Nov 9, 2019 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zooby There are partial ALU parts in the 7400 line and plenty of support chips. Yes, I wire-wrapped like a demon back then. Still have my tools from that time. And I was able to find good books on computer design, back then. So there must have been plenty of good folks, even then. Since, the world population has tripled. So I'd guess there are more today than then. But it was, then, and eclectic group -- those of us still teenagers and making computers, doing rocketry, making telescopes, turning typewriters into printers, assembling our own terminals (ADM3A in my case), designing modems, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Nov 9, 2019 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zooby I think you need to understand (and you do?) something that, sadly, too many who "make it" fail to realize. They often imagine that it is their smarts or their hard work that made them who they are. But it was, in almost every case, their luck. I make more than most people I know. But I also know that it was on the backs of those who went before I did, those who made and paid for the libraries and schools, those who created so much I depended upon. I was mostly lucky. And yet, as a child, I had to work the fields as a common laborer just to survive, too. But mostly, I was lucky. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Nov 9, 2019 at 2:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zooby So, while hard work and smarts and motivation are all very important in helping to take advantage of opportunity and luck when it happens, none of that makes any of us special. There are many more people who are smarter, work harder, and are more motivated. And they weren't so lucky. So I'm glad to see you write "luck." It's the most important factor in one's life. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Nov 9, 2019 at 2:37

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The 8-bit computers that were practical as products were made around 8-bit microprocessors. "Real" computer professionals used them in embedded systems but looked down on a computer made from them as toys which left it to the younger more brave people who were not yet in the profession. To get inexpensive subsystems for display and storage did take a lot of ingenuity (Wozniak). A wire wrapped TTL medium scale integrated IC, ALU based computer was not going to become a practical product.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I read that Wozniak did 50 5-0 paper designs before finalizing the Apple 1. I imagine each was carefully (pencil) drawn on a 16 x 24 sheet of vellum paper. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2019 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @analogsystemsrf And Seymour Cray toggled in the bootstrap loader for the 1st CDC computer on the console toggles switches from memory and ... . Those were the days. :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon
    Nov 9, 2019 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. So it was really quite a bit of ingenuity in getting things to do they weren't really designed for. \$\endgroup\$
    – zooby
    Nov 9, 2019 at 18:22

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