World's first microcomputer is up for auction right now

World's first microcomputer is up for auction right now
By: New Atlas Posted On: May 24, 2024 View: 9

The Q1 desktop microcomputer, the world's first microcomputer that was uncovered in storage boxes by accident by cleaners at Kingston University in London, is going on the auction block at Heritage Auctions, along with a later version and a printer.

From time to time, serendipity comes along and gives us a happy surprise, like a vintage Citroen being found in a barn loft or a copy of a lost BBC sci-fi series turning up at a local television station in Canada. Sometimes it's a nerdy version of the Holy Grail, like when three incredibly rare pieces of computer history appear in a university storeroom during a clean out.

Exactly what counts as the first microcomputer depends on how it's defined, but the Q1 has a very solid claim to being the world's first complete, standalone microcomputer with its built-in screen and keyboard. Constructed by the Q1 Corporation of New York. The Q1 was designed around an Intel 8008 processor instead of bulkier TTL logic circuits based on wired transistors. This microprocessor-based architecture allowed the Q1 to boast capabilities usually reserved for larger systems.

The Q1 Lite was a streamlined version of the Q1
The Q1 Lite was a streamlined version of the Q1

Heritage Auctions

The Q1 wasn't a commercial success. Its largest customer was NASA and very few were exported. The ones found at Kingston University were probably part of a failed attempt by the company to establish a toehold in Britain in the late 1970s.

The units up for auction include the Q1 desktop microcomputer dating from 1972, which has a built-in keyboard, screen and printer; a Q1 Lite from1976, which is a streamlined version without a printer and a numeric keypad added; and a Q1 desktop computer printer designed to work with the Q1 Lite. Being made of metal, the printer is much heavier than modern ones.

They aren't in bad shape either, at least in terms of outer appearance, for having been stuffed in boxes for decades. There is some wear and discoloration, but they aren't missing keys and they are generally sturdy, though scuffed and dusty. However, they have not been powered up or otherwise tested, so they are all being sold in "as is" condition.

The Q1 collection is currently going through online bidding with a live auction scheduled for May 24, 2024.

Source: Heritage Auctions

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