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The first IBM PC came out 30 years ago today

Looking back at the Personal Computer Model 5150
Fri Aug 12 2011, 12:37

THE YEAR WAS 1981, the US defeat in Vietnam was already six years in the past, while many people had only hazy memories of most of the 1970s with its drugs, bellbottom pants and disco craze. Ronald Reagan was US President and it was "Morning in America" once again. And that year IBM introduced its IBM PC model 5150 on 12 August, 30 years ago today.

IBM PC 5150

The first IBM PC wasn't much by today's standards. It had an Intel 8088 processor that ran at the blazing speed of 4.77MHz. The base memory configuration was all of 16kB expandable all the way up to 256kB, and it had two 5-1/4in, 160kB capacity floppy disk drives but no hard drive. 

A keyboard and 12in monochrome monitor were included, with a colour monitor optional. The 5150 ran IBM BASIC in ROM and came with a PC-DOS boot diskette put out by a previously unknown startup software company based out of Seattle named Microsoft.

IBM priced its initial IBM PC at $1,565, and that was a relatively steep price in those days, worth about $5,000 today, give or take a few hundred dollars. In the US in 1981 that was about the cost of a decent used car.

Because the IBM PC was meant to be sold to the general public but IBM didn't have any retail stores, the company sold it through US catalogue retailer Sears & Roebuck stores.


Subsequently IBM released follow-on models through 1986 including the PC/XT, the first with an internal hard drive; the PC/AT with an 80286 chip running at 6MHz then 8MHz; the 6MHz XT/286 with zero wait-state memory that was actually faster than the 8MHz PC/AT and (not very) Portable and Convertible models; as well as the ill-fated XT/370, AT/370, 3270 PC and 3270/AT mainframe terminal emulators, plus the unsuccessful PC Jr.

In 1983 Compaq Computer reverse engineered the IBM PC BIOS, beginning the era of IBM compatible PCs with its Compaq Portable suitcase PC.

IBM attempted to keep the PC market for itself by introducing its Micro-Channel Architecture, but the buying public rejected it. Soon other vendors joined the PC hardware market, applications software like Visicalc and the Lotus 123 spreadsheet programs and the Wordperfect word processing application appeared, and the IBM PC based personal computing industry took off and never looked back.

But today, after 30 years of development and untold billions of dollars in hardware and software sales, we can remember this date. µ


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