1976 IMSAI 8080 the Computer Hacking Culture

1976 IMSAI 8080 Computer

Here’s a picture from my home workbench. This is one of my personal favorite computers, which I purchased almost 20 years ago. Some of you might recognize the IMSAI 8080 from it’s “co-starring role” in the 1983 movie War Games along with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. “David Lightman, a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student and hacker, uses his IMSAI 8080 computer to access the school district’s computer system and change his grades. He does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack.” Later David used his IMSAI to hack into a US military installation computer called WOPR, which David mistook for a computer game software company’s computer. If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say a kid like me immediately wanted to learn how I too could hack my school grades and explore the phone system with a computer. Computer hacking culture went mainstream with WarGames.

What’s interesting about the movie, at least to me, is the fact that the choice of computer for David Lightman (played by Broderick)’s bedroom was a 1976 IMSAI 8080, and not an IBM XT or Apple IIe or some other system that would have been available in stores in 1983 when the movie was in theaters. I am thinking that either the director felt that it would be most realistic for David to have a hand-me-down system or the producers didn’t want to give kids ideas about using their Commodore 64 for hacking government installations. In 1983 computers were very expensive and the only computer a highschool kid would expect to have would be something old and obsolete like a 1976 IMSAI. I suppose it did not hurt to have blinky lights and switches to make the computer look mysterious or odd.

So, 20 years after the movie came out, I finally got my own IMSAI 8080. 20 years after that, it’s still up and running. Although there are few remaining modem/dial up BBS systems in operation for an IMSAI to call in 2022, it’s still rewarding to tinker with the hardware and experiment. The IMSAI 8080 is the first S-100 “clone” computer that ran with the Intel 8080 microprocessor and they maxed out at about 64K RAM.

It takes a little work, but if you power them up regularly and use them, that’s the best way to keep old hardware like this going, that and a good soldering iron.

Kennett Classic also has a nicer-looking IMSAI 8080 in the museum’s “8-bit” room, along with a dual 8″ disk drive that goes with it. When you visit, please remember to check out all of our S-100 computer systems including the IMSAI 8080, Altair 8800, SWPTc 6800, Polymorphic 88, Northstar Horizon, Processor Technologies SOL-20, Cromemco System One and many more.

I received the following after publishing this post:

Walter Peterson writes: “..The producers of the movie War Games were guest speakers at a tech conference I attended back in late 1983 (Apple Independent Developers conference). They explained why they choose the IMSAI. Simply, because the company was defunct. No worries about getting sued. …”

May be an image of 6 people, people sitting, people standing and indoor
Apple Independent Developers conference (1983)