Some Web publications are touting tomorrow, Aug. 12, as the 25th anniversary of the PC. Depending on how you define PC, you may disagree that the IBM Personal Computer Model 5150 was the first.
However, it's certainly fair to say that the system revolutionized the computer market and to give the 5150 some credit for the PC being name Time Magazine's 1982 "Man of the Year."
On Aug. 12, 1981, International Business Machines announced at a press conference in New York the forthcoming IBM 5150, which would ship that fall. (It would come running an OS called MS-DOS, by some outfit called Microsoft. I understand the company has done fairly well since.)
Depending on your generation, the system's specs are likely to elicit guffaws or reminiscent sighs -- or perhaps both.
Processor: 4.7MHz Intel 8088
Co-Processor: Optional 8087 math coprocessor
RAM: 16K - 640K
OS: MS-DOS 1.0, CP/M-86
Standard storage device: Cassette tape
Floppy drive: Optional
I/O ports: Five internal 8-bit ISA slots, monitor, Centronics, cassette
Peripherals: 5, 10, and 20MB hard disks
Base price: Around $1,565 (around $3,500 in 2006 figures)
Now as I noted, other systems deemed "personal computers" came out before the IBM 5150. The Xerox Alto, for example, came out in 1973. There was also the ever-popular Apple II, introduced in April, 1977. Even IBM had several microcomputers before the 5150.
There were key differences, though, which helped the IBM PC 5150 earn a special place in PC history. First, it was more affordable than its predeces-sors. Second, it was more utilitarian than its older brethren. The 5100, for example, was geared toward engineers, analysts, statisticians, and other problem-solvers. The 5520 Administrative System was ideal for creating, storing, and retrieving documents. The 5150 offered those capabilities in one tidy package, thus broadening its appeal and spawning a new generation of clones.
The IDG News Service has an in-depth look at the impact of the 5150 on the PC market, as well as a look at what the future holds.
Personal Computer World got an exclusive look at the machine when it came out. Here's an abridged version of the magazine's review.
For some images and personal accounts about experience with the IBM 5150, check out Eric Klein's Vintage Computers.