The IMSAI 8080 was arguably the first personal computer clone!
With the large and growing success of the MITS Altair 8800 early in 1975, IMS Associates, Inc. of San Leandro, California was able to capitalize on its success with an improved copy. Like the Altair computer, the IMSAI utilized the S-100 bus, Intel 8080 microprocessor and a front panel with LEDs and switches. You could utilize the switches to read and write to memory locations, single step the CPU, or even stop it. The LEDs would blink according to the values inside the address and data buses. The IMSAI 8080 could run all of the same programming instructions, and later software, when it became available. IMS Associates improved just about every aspect of the Altair’s design, with a higher specification power supply, an anodized aluminum chassis, more S-100 expansion slots and a better front panel with superior paddle switches.
IMS Associates was founded in May 1972 by William Millard as a computer and engineering firm based out of his home. In 1974, IMS was contacted by a General Motors car dealership which wanted to computerize with a “workstation system.” Millard was aware of the new microprocessors being manufactured by Intel, when in late 1974, the Altair article appeared in Popular Electronics magazine.
Millard and his team tried to order a few Altairs, but MITS wanted payment in advance AND they couldn’t deliver for at least 90 days. Since their only other choice would be to buy a much more expensive minicomputer, they decided to build their own computer, or lose a big client. After getting the opportunity to inspect an Altair, IMS Associates decided to correct the obvious defects and build a more rugged, commercial grade microcomputer.
Millard went on to incorporate a franchise business called The Computer Shack, which later changed its name to Computerland. He started stripping IMSAI of its financial resources to put into Computerland and bankruptcy came quickly for IMSAI. Computerland went on to become one of the most important retailers of the IBM PC and Apple. However, after IBM introduced the PS/2 line and the clones began grabbing most of their market share, the franchisers all joined together in a bitter legal battle with Millard, and he lost in the end.
Though many fans may not be aware of it, the IMSAI 8080 was featured in the 1984 movie War Games, and will always be a star along with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.