Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Look Back at the IBM PC

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Rich Schinnell is a dedicated PC enthusiast. If his Maryland license plate
featuring the letters “IBM PC” doesn’t convince you, the fact he beat out 27
other people in the Build-Your-Own-PC Race for Charity competition at Comdex
1998 by assembling a PC in less than seven minutes should seal the deal.

Schinnell is one of the founders of Capital PC User Group, the
third-largest PC-based user group in the United States. And he
was the first person on his block to drop
$6,000 for a 64KB, two-floppy drive PC with a video adapter for a television.

He credits IBM’s PC for making the PC as ubiquitous as
it is today.

“We wouldn’t have the proliferation of PCs today if it hadn’t been for IBM in
1981,” he said. “Nowadays, you’ve got to remember PCs are just like
toasters; you buy them at the local grocery store, you know?

“You can buy things so cheap,” he continued. “It used to be, the cutting
point in all PCs was $5,000. In order to get a good, powerful PC, it was
$5,000. Whether that was in 1981 or 1987 or 1990, they were all about the

Although it wasn’t the first, the 1981 IBM PC sparked the personal computing
revolution in the early 1980s. One of its first projects
was the Special Computer, APL Machine Portable (SCAMP)
in 1973. A number of products followed before the company eventually launched the IBM
5150, or IBM PC.

The IBM 5150 was a departure from the normal design process at IBM, which
was looking for a way to rebound from the IBM 5100’s poor showing against
the Apple II, according to the Wikipedia. A special team was formed to get
a successor out to the market soon, bypassing the company’s red tape, and
the work was dubbed Project Chess.

Officials estimated the company
would sell 241,683 IBM PCs in five years; they met that figure in a single

According to IBM officials, the IBM PC was the first to use off-the-shelf
components, which came back to haunt the company when the first IBM
PC clones started appearing on the market.

By the mid-80s, PC clones would start eating into the market share that IBM’s
early machines enjoyed. Because the IBM PCs used readily available
components, it was easy for competing PC builders to make their own machines
and reverse-engineer the BIOS . Compaq came out with the first
IBM PC clone in 1983 and it was an immediate hit.

“They probably wish they had made it more proprietary, like Apple,” Schinnell said.
“There were some people at IBM that were pushing for some more proprietary
hardware so they couldn’t be copied, but once IBM’s lawyers couldn’t do
anything to fight Compaq, it opened the door for all kinds of people with
their clones.”

Now, 23 years later, IBM is selling
its venerable PC business to China’s Lenovo Group for $1.75 billion. It’s too soon
to tell how this move will affect the PC market. Regardless, there is no questioning what IBM
has done for the PC. Here’s a look back at some moments in IBM PC history.

IBM officials demonstrate a prototype of the Special Computer, APL Machine
Portable (SCAMP), pre-cursor to the IBM 5100.

IBM announces the IBM 5100 Portable Computer in September, with a cost
between $8,975 – $19,975, using magnetic tape cartridges in a pre-floppy
disk world and weighing a svelte 50 pounds. The system was designed
primarily for engineers, analysts, statisticians for computational needs.

The first Apple II computers went on sale June 5, featuring a 1 MHz
processor and 4 KB of RAM.

The launch of the IBM 5110 in January expanded on the IBM 5100, allowing
businesses to analyze sales figures, schedule resources and automate the
general ledger and other financial requirements. Main memory varied between
16 KB and 64 KB and sported a 1,024-character display screen.

The IBM Displaywriter was released in June, a “low-cost” desktop text
processing system at $7,895. The system contained a display, keyboard,
printer and device that stored 100 pages of text, though users could upgrade
to a three-display, high-speed printer with a paper handler system for

Microsoft, in a matter that’s controversial to this day, licenses the MS-DOS
operating system to IBM for use with its upcoming PC.

One month before the launch of the IBM 5150 PC, the company introduces the
System/23 Datamaster, a combination word- and data-processing machine (for
an extra charge). With 4.4MB of diskette storage, this $9,830 system was
targeted at small businesses and the enterprise.

IBM PC Original PC5150 Color a
The IBM 5150

IBM introduces what has come to be known as the first IBM PC for the company
on Aug. 12, despite previous incarnations. The $3,000 IBM 5150 ran on a 4.77 MHz
8088 Intel processor, had 16KB of RAM (upgradeable to 256KB) and came
bundled with Microsoft’s BASIC and with what was quickly termed the “killer
app” for the PC, the 27KB-sized VisiCalc electronic spreadsheet (though
VisiCalc v1.37 had been around since October 1979).

Compaq introduces the first IBM PC clone.

IBM’s first foray into the home, the PC Jr., is launched, based on the 8088
Intel chip. At a cost of $669, it was twice as expensive as the Commodore
64 and Atari PCs.

One of the first RISC-based workstations is introduced, the PC/RT. It
features 1MB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive.

IBM PC Convertible 1986
The IBM PC Convertible

IBM releases the IBM PC Convertible in April, its first laptop and the
forerunner to the ThinkPad. It replaced the suitcase-sized IBM Portable,
which was launched in February 1984.

IBM announces the PS/2 personal computer in conjunction with the OS/2
operating system.

The IBM Personal Computer Company is formed as a separate operating unit to
work exclusively on PC products.

Thinkpad700c 1992
The IBM Thinkpad 700c

The ThinkPad 700C debuts in October, a notebook packing a 25 MHz Intel 486
processor, 4MB of RAM (upgradeable to 12MB) and 80MB hard drive.

Deep Blue, IBM’s 32-node supercomputer, defeats Garry Kasparov, world chess
champion, in a game of chess in May.

ThinkPad sales reach 20 million in November.

IBM sells its PC division to China’s Lenovo Group.

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