The "father of the personal computer" has died aged 68.

Dr Henry Edward Roberts was the inventor of the Altair 8800, the machine that is widely recognized as the start of the home computing era and the same computer that excited Paul Allen and Bill Gates to start Microsoft.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and early mentor, Ed Roberts, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family," Bill Gates and Paul Allen said in a statement on hearing the news. "Ed was willing to take a chance on us – two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace."

Ed Roberts was the founder of MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry System) and inventor of the Altair 8800, widely credited as the world’s first personal computer, a machine operated by switches and with no display. Users could buy it for $395 or pay and put it together themselves or pay an extra $100 and have it assembled for them.

It was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics in 1975, when Paul Allen and Bill Gates contacted Roberts and offered to write software for the machine.

"Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn’t always get the recognition he deserved." The statement continues. "The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed in Albuquerque, in the MITS office right on Route 66 – where so many exciting things happened that none of us could have imagined back then."

Gates and Allen worked with MITS in Albuquerque, NM, and started Micro-Soft. In 1977, Roberts sold MITS and retired to Georgia where he studied medicine and became a small-town doctor.

He died in hospital on 1 April after a long bout of pneumonia.