Recently I purchased a Kenbak-1 replica. The front panel is scaled 1:1 size-wise and it functions just like the original, but I need/want to add the metal top/bottom chassis covers to make it look like an original for the museum display.
Which was the first modern personal home computer, the KENBAK-1 or the NRI 832?
Despite the fact that the (1970?) 1971 NRI 832 predates the Kenbak-1, one can’t fight popular consensus and the belief that the Kenbak-1 was the “first” personal computer because that’s what the Computer History Museum in Boston declared as the result of a contest back in the 1990s. Not sure what defines one vs the other to deserve “first” or more importantly WHY it matters… BUT, because the Kenbak-1 was anointed as the first, and because people love “firsts” someone was motivated to build the Kenbak-1 prototype that otherwise would never have been done. And for this I am thankful to have one.
The first ads for the 832 pre-date the Kenbak so *assuming* they’re both personal computers the 832 came first. It then becomes the case where the Computer History Museum has to finagle a definition of personal computer that invalidates the NRI machine vs. the Kenbak. It’s hard if you go by their function and actual use to say one is and the other is not given they’re very similar machines. Neither are really personal computers in today’s sense. They both don’t have a microprocessor and both have a simple instruction set that you program using the panel to output lights as the result. What does the NRI do/not do compared with the Kenbak? Calling anything “first” is subjective anyway. I believe the museum jumped the gun in declaring the Kenbak “first”, or they’re totally basing their judgement on the advertisements. The NRI was marketed as a home computer. Does the advertisement define personal computer? It seems like it’s fair for me to say the NRI cannot be proven to NOT be the first personal computer any more so than the Kenbak, with the added weight of its ads pre-dating it.
I suppose my only beef is the disproportional attention the Kenbak gets, but it’s clear that the NRI was advertised as the kind of computer a student of electronics might buy, there is no doubt that was the target market. But at the time, who other that this type of person would want such a device? I plan to do a comparative demo of the Kenbak vs the NRI 832 to let others decide for themselves. Stay tuned.