Shashwat Pradhan Shashwat Pradhan

Cream soda – The first computer

[Interview with Steve Wozniak]

In the last few years we have been getting exposed to a great deal of tech news. New apps, improved hardware, evolved software; but many of us don’t get to see the point from where it all began. 1971 was the iconic year, Steve Wozniak came out with the World’s First computer with his friend Bill Fernandez. It was called the ‘Cream Soda’ computer since they were consuming the Cragmont Cream Soda beverage while working on it. The cream soda computer was built using parts which a Tenet executive provided Woz, only 20 chips in total.

 

The Cream Soda computer didn’t have a screen or a keyboard, programs were entered by punched cards (piece of stiff paper that contained digital information represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions) and results had to be read by a sequence of lights.

Woz (Steve Wozniak) was kind enough to share some information on the specifics on the cream soda computer and how he moved ahead with Apple computers.

You are taking me way back. The cream soda computer was before useful microprocessors so I created the processor itself out of TTL chips. This was an era where shift registers, counters, ALU’s were around in 4-bit flavors. In the end, I added chips to play with this simple 8-bit processor, just like the Altair, although I had no expansion bus that I can remember. The start was to create an instruction set. I used two common 4-bit ALU chips, I think. The minimal processor of this sort needed some arithmetic commands and at least one branch-on-condition. I created instructions that were either arithmetic between the one register and memory, and at least one branch or zero or branch on overflow instruction. Not much more as I recall. I was able to enter a program which took a 4-bit number in the lower 4 switches and multiply it by a 4-bit number in the higher 4 switches and display the result in 8 LED’s. But inputting code bit by bit wasn’t super useful. Still, it did work and was a good prelude to my thinking 5 years later with the Apple I and Apple ][ computers. You always move forward and the world of hobby computing was being born around devices not much more than my cream soda computer. Oh, and my computer had 256 bytes of static RAM in 8 chips I got from Intersil.

Although the Cream Soda computer blew out after a reporter from the Peninsula Times stepped on the power supply cable, the story ran and the computer was an extraordinary milestone. It was as advance as all the computer kits that other companies came out with 5 years later. Apart from this, the cream soda computer also lead to Woz’s first meet with Steve Jobs. It was indeed an important milestone in the history of the computer.

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