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The Personal Computer Era finally arrived.

Machines called “personal computers” were available as early as the mid-1970s. Of these the IBM (International Business Machines) Model 5100 Portable Computer was an early entry appearing in 1975. It weighed in at about 25 kilos with a tiny amount of storage but was limited in use with no general applications.

It wasn’t until Microsoft introduced its first Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) that hardware manufacturers had a platform to build on, one which offered cross manufacturer compatibility, at this time something that just wasn’t available.

So it was IBM’s first Personal Computer (IBM 5150) was introduced in August 1981 at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York City. It had a price tag of $1,565. Two decades earlier, an IBM computer often cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and a staff of 60 people to keep it fully loaded with instructions. The new IBM PC could not only process information faster than those earlier machines but it could hook up to the home TV set, play games, process text and store more words than a dictionary.

The $1,565 price bought a system unit, a keyboard and a colour/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter and application packages — including one for text processing. The development team referred to their creation as a mini-compact, at a mini-price, with IBM engineering under the hood.

The rest, as they say, is history. No-one then could have foreseen the huge advances in processing power, miniaturisation, and software development that leave us where we are now with computers a million times more powerful that the one that took men to the moon sitting on our desks at home.

The change in lifestyle, both business and personal, has been massive. I never owned an IBM PC but I did buy an early Amstrad. Twin 5.25 floppies and a hard disk of a (then) massive 10 megabytes. It ran WordPerfect, Sage Accounts – complete with invoicing, stock control and sales & purchase order processing, as well as an Adobe graphics package. All with 512kb of RAM and 10mb on the Hard Drive.

Gosh, not one of these programs would even fit on a 10 meg drive today! But it worked! I used to typeset books on that old machine and it ran a complete warehouse system.

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Category: Historic Events

3 Responses to “12th August 1981: The birth of the IBM PC”

  1. James Green says:

    Thanks Danielle. No I’m not quite that old. A good night out on sixpence I can just about remember. Actually I was talking with someone the other day and saying that when I got my first car the big issue surrounding pertrol prices was whether a gallon would break through the 5 shilling (25p) ceiling. I bought mine from a Jet garage which sold a gallon for 4 shillings and eleven and a half pence. Yep, thats right – 5 new pence per litre.

    But of course wages were much lower so you are not comparing like for like. But as it happens 5 shillings in 1968 is the equivalent of £3.13 today. Or to put it another way £1 then is the equivalent of £12.50 today.

    So that gallon was in fact a lot cheaper.

    You can work these sort of values out at the following site:

    http://www.measuringworth.com/index.html

    Thanks for your good wishes.

  2. Danielle says:

    Gosh what’s it like to be soooo old? You’ll be telling us next about going to the cinema having a coke and a bag of crisps and getting change out of a penny.

    Seriously though – your posts are interesting. Keep it up.

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