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Thirty years ago on the 12th of August, 1981, International Business Machines introduced its IBM Personal Computer, the system that changed the world and history of the mankind. The computer that was designed for business, school and home eventually paved the way for new industries, new opportunities and new quality of life.

"This is a computer for just about everyone who has ever wanted a personal system at the officer, on the university campus or at home. We believe its performance, reliability and ease of use make it the most advanced, affordable personal computer in the marketplace," said C. B. Rogers, IBM vice president and group executive at general business group, who simply could not imagine that very Friday what a revolution he was talking about.

The Birth

When the IBM Personal Computer was introduced to the world 30 years ago, it was dramatically clear to most observers that IBM had done something very new and different. Here you had a large company, steeped in tradition, that had been willing and able to set aside its "business as usual" methods to produce in volume a highly competitive, tiny computer of top quality, intended for both consumers and businesses. And IBM was able to do all that and roll out its first PC in just one year.


IBM PC 5150. Image by IBM

The original IBM PC model number 5150 was not exactly the world's first personal computer. It was preceded by many desktop form-factor systems, such as Apple II, Atari 8-bit family, IBM 5100, Commodore PET, Osborne 1, Tandy TRS-80 and others. But the IBM PC, which was powered by Intel i8088 (4.77MHz) microprocessor, Microsoft Disk Operating System (DOS) and architecture that enabled reductions of manufacturing costs not only managed to become popular back in the early eighties, but it defined the new industries that earn trillions of dollars nowadays.

Jon Peddie from Jon Peddie Research recalls:

Before the IBM PC there were a dozen microcomputers like the Tandy Radio Shack TR100, and PET 2001, or IMSI  and they ran CP/M or a proprietary OS, in 16KB or less. They used Z80, 6502, or 8080 processors and one strange machine used a Motorola 6800. It was chaotic, fun, and everyone contributed to the development of apps and accessories.

IBM, which thought they'd be lucky if they sold 100,000 units in the life time of the machine, introduced the IBM PC in 1981. The company had settled on the Intel 8086, and the CP/M operating system, but in an unprecedented move of arrogance or stupidity, the president of the Digital Research chose the day Microsoft came to sign the deal to go test drive a new car and left the IBM execs cooling their heels in the lobby. Reluctantly the IBM guys went to see Microsoft who had a clone of CP/M and disk operating system (DOS) and they struck a deal. What deal it was.

The pent up demand for a small personal computer was enormous, and with the stabilization and backing of IBM, thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of users felt it was safe to invest in one.

It changed the world.

The main idea behind the IBM PC model 5150 was modularity, which allowed to quickly (for the early eighties) configure systems in accordance with users' demands, something which greatly reduced pricing of such personal computers compared to competitive offerings. Yet another thing that IBM did was allowing third-parties to develop software for IBM PC. The off-the-shelf hardware and software components as well as open architecture enabled other makers of computers to produce IBM PC-compatible clones. The IBM PC became a standard and the personal computer industry  as well as a new age in history were born.

Thirty years ago IBM, Intel, Microsoft and a bunch of other companies placed their bets on technologies that could be made affordable, widely available and easily adjustable for particular needs in order to create new applications and forms as well as to open up new industries, and opportunities. Continuous evolution of those technologies has transformed and continues to redefine the world and lives.

The Rise

IBM managed to sell 200 thousand of IBM PC 5150 in one year after the introduction. Today. over a million of personal computers are sold every day, not counting media tablets and smartphones that are in many cases more powerful than a decade-old PCs.

The relatively short history of the PC market is full of exciting and edifying moments and events. The evolution that the personal computing technologies have gone through is more than impressive, it is unbelievable. Nowadays personal computing technologies are all around us in many forms, it is hard to imagine what will be available in 2041. Thanks to the IBM PC model 5150, we now live in a completely different world than thirty years ago.

Intel was forced to license its x86 technology back in the eighties and it gave birth to many great companies with loads of new ideas. Microsoft's DOS died in 1995 along with the introduction of Windows 95 that, along with the Internet, skyrocketed the popularity of computers. IBM sold its PC business in 2004 as computers became commodity (yet, ThinkPad systems are still considered the best PCs in the world).

... and It Just Goes On

The importance of IBM, Intel and Microsoft on the market of PCs has decreased significantly since the introduction of the IBM PC 5150 with the emergence of many other companies whose technologies and services are inseparable from today's computers.

But while we no longer use the term "IBM PC-compatible", the modular architecture and [partly open] software model that enables almost anyone to develop programs for the PC and its derivatives continue to live and evolve. Moreover, they are now evolving across a range of devices, which could hardly be called computers thirty years ago.

Jon Peddie thinks:

Today the PC is as ubiquitous as TV, telephones, or Starbucks. Everything imaginable is done on a PC; from running the ATM you use to get money for your café latte to processing the data in your 401k to designing the next jumbo jet.

Few devices have been so transformative - the PC is a peer to the printing press, the automobile, the telephone, and the TV.

And on its 30th anniversary some people want to declare it past its prime, and in decline, in favor of less powerful shiny new devices. But the PC is on the Moore's law curve, in fact, the PC is responsible for Moore's law and the benefits semiconductor technology have brought us. Without the volume and demand for performance the PC created, Moore's law would be an interesting esoteric discussion.

No doubt the PC will change in appearance and performance over the next 30 years, and if we get to see it then we might not recognize it or remember its heritage. However, I'm pretty sure I will.

Not a lot of us owned the IBM PC 5150. But all of us owned our very first personal computers. Let's share our memories about our impressions, their specifications and our thoughts in the comments! I will start from myself, so scroll down.

Tags: IBM, Business, Microsoft, Windows, DOS, Intel, ThinkPad, Apple

Discussion

Comments currently: 12
Discussion started: 08/12/11 05:27:30 AM
Latest comment: 05/02/12 01:30:10 PM
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1. 
In fact, the very first PC that I used did not belong to me and even to my family. Back in 1990 my father brought a PC from his organization as he needed to work from home. Personal computers were rare in the USSR (I was born in Estonia, which was a part of the USSR till August, 1991) and PCs at home were something extremely uncommon.

Although the PC was working tool for my father, it naturally quickly became an instrument for entertainment for the 7 years old me. :-) CD-Man and Prince of Persia were my favourite games at first, but eventually I played Death Track and Zeliard with great pleasure. The system featured 80286 processor with 16MHz clock-speed along with EGA display and was used for many-many years.

The first PC, which was actually mine, was the one that I assembled myself in 1999. It featured AMD K6-2 350MHz processor, 64MB of memory, S3 Trio 3D graphics accelerator along with a mediocre monitor. The S3's card was quickly upgraded to 3dfx Voodoo3, which was then switched to PowerVR Kyro II, the K6 resigned and AMD Athlon was plugged in sometimes in early 2001 and the ugly 15" CRT display gave way for a gorgeous Hitachi CM772. In fact the actual system underwent many minor and major upgrades and some of its hardware still can work (SB Live!, for example, which is somewhere here even today).

In many terms, that very PC taught me a lot about the hardware and software, but not only. In fact, what started essentially as a hobby, quickly became a part-time and then a full-time job (no matter whether it was sales, assembly or media job).
5 1 [Posted by: Anton  | Date: 08/12/11 05:27:30 AM]
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Yeah. Same thing happened to me. I received my first PC back in '94 just after I enter highschool. It was a 486 DX 50Mhz beast, with 4MB of SSDRAM (upgraded later to 8), a 250MB HDD, and an Vesa videocard with 1MB VRAM. This was the PC where I learned basic...Basic, Pascal, a little Fox Pro but specially the one that made me loose nights trying to complete levels for Prehistorik 1-2, Prince of Persia 1,2,etc, Wolfenstein, Monkey Island, Day of Tentacle, GTA 1, etc, etc. Later I remember I installed Doom 1and 2, and I was overwhelmed by the superb graphics and stuff. Made me upgrade to 8MB in order to play without booting from floppy or without himem.sys, and stuff like that, hehe. Good times, good times...
1 1 [Posted by: TAViX  | Date: 08/12/11 12:49:41 PM]
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2. 
My first introduction to PCs was back in 1990 when a computer class equipped with DVK (Soviet clone of PDP) was opened in my school. We gathered there on Sundays and studied to programm BASIC for a half time, while playing games like LodeRunner the other hour.

My second vivid recollection is about a PC my parents gifted me when I became 12 (it was in 1995). It was Pentium 100 with 8MB RAM running Windows 95. I quickly overloaded it with lots of software (including initial speech recognition programms) and asked for additional 8MB RAM for Christmas.

Then I went through some years of continuous upgrades while I have been working for PC sales company until I discovered notebooks.

Notebooks are amazing: their architecture limits upgrades freedom, thus saving my time and money. Finally, I can do my job (I am a developer) and focus on software rather then choosing my next graphics adapter. Currently I use IBM T43 since 2005 and have no plans for upgrade at least till the end of this year.
2 0 [Posted by: zahhar@gmail.com  | Date: 08/12/11 05:59:10 AM]
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3. 
As with many former USSR computer enthusiasts my first PC experience began in late 80 early 90ties. My mother used to work for one of the giant soviet companies and as one of her tasks was inventory supervision, top management decided that it would be a good idea to introduce PC accounting in order to help make her work a bit slower (sarcasm, since apart from her department no one had PCs and it was mandatory to make paper copies of virtually everything).

It was a laptop-like mono-block desktop PC with monitor capable of displaying two colors - black and orange. Don't really remember what the actual hardware was apart from 80286 CPU and enormous 5.25 diskettes that needed to be carefully handled in hot, cold, rain and virtually any weather you can imagine. In either way it did not have any games and since none of my friends even knew about PCs at that time I had no other thing to do but to play with some limited text redactor and make graphics demonstration in a brand new QBasic application.

The first PC that I ever bought with my own money was a midi-tower based on AMD K6-2 400MHz in 1999 with pride and joy of the days – Yamaha sound card. It even featured an entry level Intel740 3D accelerator which was the last attempt from Intel to enter the graphics card market (Hello Larrabee).

Since I had to borrow tons of money to get myself a beast like that, I started working as a part time job for a local PC retail shop. Soon just assembling and selling computers wasn't enough and I stated to try myself in web-design, flash animation, Photoshop design, even some casual game programming. By the year 2003, after a lot of tries and errors, extensive x86 architecture day to day abuse, as well as constant minor and major hardware upgrades I have landed with X-bit labs as hardware tester and reviewer. Although nowadays there are a lot of competing architectures out there such as smartphones, game consoles and tablets, the PC is truly in my blood and I am more than grateful for this remarkable technology. Happy birthday PC and thank you!
3 0 [Posted by: Yaroslav  | Date: 08/12/11 06:09:29 AM]
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Thanks for the story, Yaroslav :-)
0 0 [Posted by: BernardP  | Date: 08/12/11 06:13:12 PM]
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4. 
Have a happy... BSoD that is! lol
0 0 [Posted by: DirectXtreme  | Date: 08/12/11 08:36:33 AM]
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5. 
My first pc wasn't an IBM compatible. It was an IBM. And really i'm not sure what was the year. Defenitively i became old :D
0 0 [Posted by: max  | Date: 08/13/11 10:49:31 AM]
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6. 
I built a clone before there was a clone. A company in Dallas made a copy bare motherboard for Lab use and I bought one. I bought a video card board from a place in Boston and it came as a bare board in a brown box with no doc. I bought an IBM PC Technical Book. I assembled it after soldering about 1400 joints and $2,000 in chips, and then an IBM executive showed me the new 5150 replacement, the XT. I looked at the video card and was shocked, as the board was identical to mine, except that an inverted video chip was on my board for NEC monitors. I copied the bios from an IBM portable PC and then I had an IBM PC in almost the most exact way. When I fired up the PC, it died about 200 milliseconds into boot up. It was too short of time for my scope to figure out. There was no one to turn to for help. Three months later, I finally got the Dallas company to help me and they replaced a $40 Intel PIO chip and the computer worked for more than 20 years, running FORTRAN, Quatro Pro, a math co-processor, and even Windows 95. I have built numerous PCs since, but there will never be anything like building the IBM PC. By the way, it was my third build, as I had previously assembled a Digital Group Z-80 and a Heathkit Z-80.
1 0 [Posted by: TexasBen  | Date: 08/14/11 08:32:23 AM]
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7. 
My first home computer - the one that I actually owned - appeared in 1999. It was a Celeron 333 Mendocino for Socket 370 in an Asus mainboard. Of course, it was overclocked It was running at an incredibly high speed of 450 MHz! Wow! Now it seems like nothing, but back then I was a proud owner of a super-fast system.
But the most awesome thing about it was the ability to go online and actually surf the Internet. Back then all we had in homes was dial-up. I had a US Robotics modem, which promised me super-fast 56 Kbit speed, but because our post-soviet phone lines were so crappy it in fact only produced about 33.6 Kbit. I still remember my Dad banging on my door every night yelling that I had to get off the internet, so that they could finally use the phone
It’s truly amazing how greatly things have changed since then! But I am sure that 15 years down the road our today’s technology will already seem totally prehistoric and we will be talking about it exactly the same way as we talk now about the technology of the 90s.
0 0 [Posted by: Anna  | Date: 08/14/11 12:10:03 PM]
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8. 
Walking down the memory lane My first PC wasn’t even mine to begin with. In fact, back in 1989, when I was in high school, I “borrowed” it from one of the soviet technical institutes where we had our school lab practice until the next inventory check. It was an awesome IBM PS/2 Model 80 system with an Intel 80386 processor working at 16 MHz speed! LOL! This system was first introduced back in 1987 and at that time cost almost $11,000!

The system was mostly used for some coding experiments and for racing in Need for Speed. In 1990 using this computer system I even wrote a text editor application that sold pretty well for a little while, bringing me a few extra bucks. I think I should say rubles… Although dollars could actually be nicer, considering that after the collapse of the post-communist Gorbachev era and the financial default in 1991 rubles really lost their value...

At about the same time I was first introduced to BESM-6 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BESM#BESM-6), which impressed my much more than a PC. It was a real large computer with 40 terminals connected to it. It occupied two stories, with one entire story allocated only for cooling. Of course, this BESM was pretty old compared with an IBM PC, because it was first brought in back in the 1970s, but this was the reason why I fell in love with computer technology. All these numerous closets (it was transistor-based and not integrated circuits), spools with magnetic tape, all sorts of levers and lights – all this had a magical effect on me...
0 0 [Posted by: Gavric  | Date: 08/14/11 12:43:50 PM]
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9. 
Memories from another era bring back fond thoughts of my Commodore 64, the year was 1982. The success of the Commodore 64 was soon followed by the Commodore 128, but unfortunately never became popular due to the lack of available software, although there was some saving grace for the Commodore 128, the makers had the foresight to include a switching mode to enable the 128 to be "morphed" into a Commodore 64.
My next personal home computer didn't come until 1990 with the IBM AT 286, speed was around 7 or 8mhz...lol
There were moments I recall when I played strategy games on the Commodore 64 and the cpu was so slow it would take up to 20 minutes for the AI to make its move. Yet somehow despite it's misgivings one could not help but feel entertained by this modern piece of technolgy, indeed, many years of enjoyment were gleaned from that era in home computing for a countless number of people.
I continue to enjoy computing to this day, having built several computers for myself and friends over the past decade or so and I thoroughly enjoy reading the news and reviews on X-Bit labs.
Thank you for this nostalgic trip into an era long since past....
0 0 [Posted by: commodore64  | Date: 08/15/11 09:12:26 PM]
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