Apple Lisa

apple-lisaThe Lisa was built by Apple Computer and development originally began in the late 1970s. It was their first attempt at designing a personal computer with a graphical user interface. First introduced in January 1983, it was the first PC with a GUI and mouse. It used a 5mhz Motorola chip, 1MB RAM and sported two 5.25 inch floppy drives. The operating system had memory management and was capable of multitasking.

The machine turned out to be a complete failure for Apple, however. The high price tag had consumers balking, who prefered the more cost effective IBM PC instead.  The $9,995 price was mostly due to the whopping 96kb of RAM the system used. At the time, it was an extravagant amount of memory. The introduction of the similar but less expensive Macintosh also wound up pre-empting the Lisa, which saw two later models before being discontinued in 1986.

Commodore 64

c64The Commodore 64 was unveiled to the public in August, 1982 by Commodore Business Machines. It offered previously never seen graphics and sound performance for $595, which amazed even their competitors at the time. The  graphics and sound chips were originally intended for a next generation game console, but the company’s president Jack Tramiel cancelled it in favor of using them for a new computer with 64k of ram, which was Double the amount of comparative machines in the 80s.A large amount of software was made for the system. It was the best selling computer model of all time, having sold 17-25 million units before it’s production ended.

The design team was given two months to have a prototype running for the 1982 Consumer Electronics Show. They managed to meet the deadline, and the model left industry competitors from other companies sitting at the booth marveling at the price and features themselves. The cost for Commodore to build the computer was significantly less due to having their own integrated circuit subsidiary, MOS Technology, and it allowed the Commodore 64 to literally outclass it’s competitors.

The system came with an MOS Technology 6510 or 8500 microprocessor which ran at around 1.023mhz, and 64kb of ram, an extravagant amount for the time. It also used MOS’s own video technology capable of 16 colors at 320×200. It also boasted their proprietary sound technology as well which had 3 channels, an advancement for it’s time because of the ability to use several different waveforms, ring modulation, and filter capabilities. The system also led Commdore to build the first full color portable computer, the SX-64. The Commodore 64 was discontinued in 1993, but was resurrected later as a 64-bit desktop computer.


dn100Apollo Computer unveiled the first work station, its DN100, offering more power than some minicomputers at a fraction of the price. Apollo Computer and Sun Microsystems, another early entrant in the work station market, optimized their machines to run the computer-intensive graphics programs common in engineering.


osborne1Introduced at the West Coast Computer Faire in 1981, the Osborne-1 was the brain child of Adam Osborne, a computer columnist, writer, and engineer. It was co-developed with Lee Felsenstein, and Lee designed it. The goal was a truly integrated computer that could go wherever the user want to. The machine was shipped as a full package including all the hardware and software a user could need including: 64K RAM, Z-80 CPU, 5″ CRT, two floppy drives, keyboard, serial ports, CP/M operating system, WordStar, SuperCalc, and two versions of BASIC: CBASIC and MBASIC. The machine also had the ability to connect with scientific equipment via a built-in IEEE-488 interface, and could run an optional external monitor via the built-in port. Not only was the machine complete, it was cheap – $1795.

The Osborne weighed a hefty 24lbs. altogether. Try lugging that around an airport!


ibmpcThe first IBM PC ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor. The PC came equipped with 16 kilobytes of memory, expandable to 256k. The PC came with one or two 160k floppy disk drives and an optional color monitor. The price tag started at $1,565, which would be nearly $4,000 today. What really made the IBM PC different from previous IBM computers was that it was the first one built from off the shelf parts (called open architecture) and marketed by outside distributors (Sears & Roebucks and Computerland). The Intel chip was chosen because IBM had already obtained the rights to manufacture the Intel chips. IBM had used the Intel 8086 for use in its Displaywriter Intelligent Typewriter in exchange for giving Intel the rights to IBM’s bubble memory technology.

Commodore VIC-20

vic-20A few years after the PET, Commodore released the VIC-20 in June, 1980. The system was the result of their efforts to build a computer that sold for less than $300. The machine was reportedly born mostly from an oversupply of parts. Aiming to compete with game consoles and intended as a lower-end model in comparision to the PET, which was sold through authorized dealers, the VIC was put in discount and toy stores. They launched a massive marketing campaign to support the product, including using William Shatner from Star Trek as a spokesperson, who asked audiences “Why buy just a video game?”.

The VIC came with 5kb RAM, a PET Datassette, a serial bus that supported various devices including an Atari joystick, and was compatible with hundreds of programs on the market. It’s ease of use and easily programmable BASIC language along with affordable modems gave it a library of share/freeware, which was posted on BBS’s and online services. The system was discontinued in 1985.

The VIC was the first computer to sell over a million units, and at it’s peak 9,000 a day were being produced. 2.5 million total were sold before production ended.

IBM System/38

system38The IBM System/38 was part of the Future Systems Project at IBM,  and was developed by Dr.Frank Soltis under the codename “Pacific”.  It was released to the public in August, 1979 and featured one of the first relational database management systems using SQL, System R, also developed by the company.

Using a unique 48-bit addressing system,  it used the CPF (Control Program Facility) operating system. It was also one of the first mainframe systems to include user based security. It supported RPG II, COBOLBASIC,  and PL/I.  It was also capable of storing data anywhere on the disk.  It was later replaced by the AS/400.

Commodore PET

petIn 1975, Commodore acquired it’s microprocessor subsidiary MOS Technology, who brought with them designs for a computer kit based on their 6502 microprocessor. Deciding not to focus on building calculators, Commodore president Jack Tramiel ordered the design of a machine around the kit at the urging of designer Chuck Peddle. Commodore’s first full featured computer, the PET (Personal Electronic Transactor), was born.

The first model was the 2001, introduced in September 1977. It included either 4k or 8k of RAM. It was essentially the computer kit based around the MOS display chip, which supported a built in monochrome monitor. It also had a Datassette in the front of the case for storage. After being backordered for months, the 4k model was discontinued to ease the burden. It was very successful but many complained about the small keyboard, which had space sacrficed for the other parts of the machine which was all built into one unit. Later models made the Datassette external and included larger keyboards. Unfortunately the line was beaten by competitors such as the Tandy TRS-80 and Apple II, which offered color graphics.

The total cost of producing the PET, including shipping, was 1/70 of it’s price. The company also noticed users were buying the later model’s cheaper 4k versions and upgrading the RAM, so they punched out the extra slots in motherboards.

Tandy TRS-80

trs80The TRS-80 was a series of models sold by Tandy through Radio Shack stores in the 70s and 80s. Announced in August of 1977, it was intended to compete with the Commodore PET and the Apple II. The original production was limited to 3,000 machines, just in case the market didn’t do well. Exceeding expectations, they sold 10,000 the first month. By the time it was discontinued in January 1981, 250,000 units of the Model I had been sold.

TRS-80 machines were all powered by the Zilog Z-80 microprocessor. They supported up to four floppy drives, and hard disks were available (though expensive) for them as well. While it’s true that the original machine, the Model 1, was a little flaky and probably deserved the nickname “Trash-80” at times, the rest of the product line was pretty solid. And even the Model 1 could be “fixed”. The basic system sold with 4k of RAM, which was increased to 16k in later systems but was exapandable to 48k. Thier most familiar feature was the cassette drive on which data was stored. It orginally shipped with a black on white display, but later models were produced with color. It also included two versions of BASIC. The Model II came later and was aimed at business, with an 8″ floppy and 64k of memory.

Priced at $599, the TRS-80 was the most expensive single item Radio Shack had ever sold. They had originally intended to use it in the chain’s stores if it didn’t do well.

Mashable has a fascinating look at a 1981 Radio Shack catalog, naturally packed with all things TRS-80;

Apple II

apple-ii-4After Wozniak had completed design on the Apple-1, he already had in mind enhancements that would make his computer faster and more functional. He wanted to make it display in color. He worked to combine the terminal and memory functions of the Apple-1 by moving the display into main memory, allowing instant screen changes. None of these modifications were made specifically to make it a better product, or to make it more attractive for a customer to purchase.

Built in 1977, the Apple II was based on Wozniak’s Apple I design, but with several additions. The first was the design of a plastic case–a rarity at the time–which was painted beige. The second was the ability to display color graphics–a holy grail in the industry. The Apple II also included a larger ROM, more expandable RAM (4K to start), and 8 expansion slots. It had integer BASIC hard-coded on the ROM for easier programming, and included two game paddles and a demo cassette for $1,298. In early 1978 Apple also released a disk drive for the machine, one of the most inexpensive available. The Apple II remained on the Apple product list until 1980. It was also repackaged in a black case and sold to educational markets by Bell & Howell.