When PC Magazine was founded in 1982, microprocessors were transitioning from an 8-bit to a 16-bit architecture, and computers were becoming less of a novelty for consumers and more of a need for businesses. To celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, we couldn’t help but take a look back at the PCs that had the biggest influence, and to be quite honest, it was no easy task to reduce the list to just 20.
Yes, we are aware that the IBM PC, which was launched in August 1981, predates our debut issue (February/March 1982), making the first entry on this list a lie. The MITS Altair 8800 kit was available to amateurs in 1975, and the Apple II narrowly beat the Radio Shack TRS-80 to market in 1977. As far as we are aware, the IBM PC was neither the first personal computer nor the first computer magazine. Because 8-bit platforms weren’t covered by PC Magazine, the Commodore 64 is also absent from this list.
Nevertheless, it is only fitting that we begin with that first IBM PC as it is responsible for our very existence. Continue reading to commemorate our shared past and discover what else made the cut.
Which PC in your history had the most impact? Comment below with your thoughts and let us know.
IBM PC MODEL 5150 in 1981 Because IBM doesn’t produce low-profit-margin commodities, it sold its PC division to Lenovo in 2005 after losing almost a billion dollars on it over the previous four years. But in 1981, personal computers weren’t commonplace; purchasers of the Model 5150 paid $1,565 for a machine with 16K of RAM, no display (instead, a TV set was connected), and no disk drives (it used TRS-80-style cassette tape storage). Costs around $3,000 for a fully-loaded system with 64K of memory, one floppy drive, and a monochrome monitor.
The Intel 8088 CPU of the 5150 had 16-bit registers, but an 8-bit external data bus allowed for less expensive support and peripheral chips. This was just one tradeoff in the design of the 5150. However, it had five expansion slots for cards like as sound, modem, networking, parallel and serial ports, floppy disk controller, graphics, and other devices. An 8087 coprocessor was installed in a second socket to improve floating-point performance. It still has the legendary springy, clicky keyboard from the 95-pound System/23 Datamaster all-in-one word and data processing station.
Big Blue’s choice to make the system bus, memory map, and expansion slot specifications public led to the development of a robust ecosystem of complementary goods. Within a few months, both PC Magazine and the PC became unstoppable forces. The 5150 became popular in corporate offices because to the IBM name and a version of the 1979 Apple II spreadsheet VisiCalc, which was eventually replaced by Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983. Big Blue’s choice to make the system bus, memory map, and expansion slot specifications public led to the development of a robust ecosystem of complementary goods. Within a few months, both PC Magazine and the PC became unstoppable forces.
Grid Compass, 1982 a black magnesium alloy clamshell laptop with a keyboard? Although the 10-pound GRiD Compass, created by British industrial designer Bill Moggridge, was released in April 1982, the ThinkPad was still ten years away. The Epson HX-20, a 3.5-pound keyboard with a tiny LCD and microcassette recorder and with the phrases “laptop” and “notebook” in its patent, was on exhibit at the Comdex (Opens in a new window) trade show the year before but didn’t arrive until July.
The majority of Compass buyers were the U.S. government and military, with prices starting at $8,150. (it made several trips on the space shuttle). The keyboard and the 6-inch, 320-by-240-pixel electroluminescent gas plasma display were accessible by opening only the upper front half of the device rather than the entire lid, as is the case with modern clamshells. It had a 256K RAM and Intel 8086 processor, but it didn’t have a hard drive or a floppy disk; instead, it had 340K of nonvolatile magnetic bubble memory. Access to GRiD Central, a dial-up online service with 50K of cloud storage, required a 1,200bps modem as standard.
The GRiD Compass didn’t run on batteries; instead, it hooked into AC power and used a proprietary operating system and application suite (MS-DOS compatibility came later). However, modern laptops like the MacBook, XPS, and slimlines may only wish they were the same prestige symbols as the original.
COMPAQ PORTABLE PC, 1983 The first portable computer wasn’t the 28-pound suitcase that three Texas Instruments escapees memorably drew on a paper placemat at a Houston pie shop. The 55-pound IBM 5100 Portable Computer made its debut back in 1975, while the Osborne 1, which cost just $1,795 and came with the CP/M operating system, SuperCalc, and WordStar, was a major success in 1981.
However, compared to those bruisers’ 5-inch screens, the original Compaq Portable offered more advantages than just a 9-inch CRT. The IBM Model 5150’s 4.77MHz Intel 8088 chip was present, along with a lawfully reverse-engineered copy of the BIOS (basic input/output system) firmware. It is frequently referred to as the first software-compatible PC clone, while some historians disagree and place the Columbia Data Products MPC 1600 in 1982 as the true pioneer.
The Compaq ROM was a $1 million experiment in “black boxing,” in which engineers fed the BIOS every conceivable input and recorded its results. The Compaq ROM was a $1 million experiment in “black boxing,” in which engineers fed the BIOS every conceivable input and recorded its results. Although they created Compaq’s BASIC, programmers who had seen IBM’s code were forbidden from working on the BIOS.
The Compaq, which cost $3,590 and came with two 320K floppy drives, 128K of memory, and was a spectacular success, setting an American company record with $111 million in first-year revenue. The initial concept that Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto had after leaving TI was to launch a network of Mexican eateries. It’s a good thing they chose their second.
: IBM PC/XT, 1983 In spite of the fact that IBM only gave its second personal computer the initials XT, some newspapers assumed they stood for “extended” or “extended technology.” Evidently, “incremental” did not have a shorthand.
The PC/XT had eight expansion slots instead of five, more conventional memory (128K), and a smaller casing than the original PC. As a result, two of the new slots couldn’t accommodate full-length cards and certain extra-wide cards wouldn’t fit. Additionally, PC-DOS 2.0 offered a 9-sector floppy disk format rather than an 8-sector one, allowing 360K rather than 320K to fit onto a double-sided 5.25-inch disk (called a “diskette” back then, aww).
The XT, however, introduced a major new storage feature: a hard drive with a massive 10 megabytes of storage space was included as standard. The hard drive was created by IBM in 1956 (the Model 350 could store 3.75MB in the area of two refrigerators) and was improved with “Winchester” technology in 1973, which allowed the heads to rest on a secure portion of the disk surface while the device was turned off.
Hard drives were still uncommon external peripherals in the early 1980s (Macs didn’t acquire internal hard drives until the Macintosh II and SE in 1987). However, having 10MB inside the computer itself was a major thing. IBM offered one in the 5161 Expansion Unit, a chassis the same size as the PC with a cable and card that fit into one of the latter’s expansion slots. Naturally, we advise laptop buyers nowadays to look for at least 25,000 times as much storage. Time moves forward.
Apple Macintosh in 1984 Yes, Xerox PARC was the first to do it, followed by the $9,995 Apple Lisa in 1983. The 1986 Macintosh Plus and 512K “Fat Mac” were far more capable computers, while the initial 128K model was just a MacPaint and MacWrite demo. A small, all-in-one desktop with a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse was introduced to the mass market with the Macintosh on January 24, two days after the infamous “1984” Super Bowl ad.
Never mind that cooperative multitasking and color graphics weren’t available for another three years. Just as picking text with a mouse scroll was fundamentally different from bracketing it with Control-KB and Control-KK, pointing and clicking on icons for files, folders, and a trash can was.
Apple sold roughly three times as many Macintoshes as IBM sold PCs in their respective first years of manufacturing, despite having access to a smaller software selection. The Mac (although it continued to go by the lengthier moniker until 1988) received its game-changing desktop publishing software, Aldus PageMaker, in 1985, along with the Apple LaserWriter printer.
PC suppliers were placed in a bind. Microsoft Windows 1.0, a bare-bones MS-DOS shell with tiled windows for Calculator, Notepad, and Reversi, was released in November 1985 but had little impact until Windows 3.0 introduced a more dynamic data flow between applications and a more three-dimensional-looking GUI in 1990. In 1988, Apple filed a lawsuit alleging that Windows and HP NewWave were imitators. The dispute, which was eventually dropped by Xerox when it accused Apple of stealing the Alto, dragged on for years. The Big Brother telescreen, however, through which the sprinting woman threw the sledgehammer, would never be repaired.
Just as picking text with a mouse scroll was fundamentally different from bracketing it with Control-KB and Control-KK, pointing and clicking on icons for files, folders, and a trash can was. Chief editor Bill Machrone