The 20 most important personal computers in the history of technology

TECHNOLOGY

The path personal computing has traveled over the past four and a half decades is full of ups and downs . Some of the companies whose contributions have brought us here, such as Sinclair Research , Commodore or Amstrad, no longer exist. Others follow their course, but lack the relevance they had at the dawn of personal computing, such as Atari .

And a few now are gigantic multinationals with enormous capacity to exert enormous influence, like IBM, which was already a huge company in the 70s when personal computing was born, or Apple. The trajectory and success of these companies have been uneven, but without their proposals, without their computers, this industry would not have evolved as it has. And it might not be what it is .

Before getting into flour here you have our declaration of intent

The purpose of this article is to pay tribute to those personal teams that, either because of their contributions from a technical point of view, or because of their commercial impact, managed to leave a mark whose legacy still lives on .

There is no doubt that the twenty machines that we have selected deserve to be part of this report , but we suggest that you mention in the comments any other personal computer that is also relevant to you. So we will all get rich.

During the last decades, several personal computers, or families of personal solutions, have reached the market and have acquired a notable relevance . Among them we could keep the ThinkPads , from IBM first and Lenovo later; the Surface of Microsoft, or MacBook Air from Apple, among other options.

We suggest you accept this article as what it is for us: a tribute to unforgettable personal computers

However, in this article we have selected machines whose historical importance has been consolidated by the passage of time . Who knows, if in a few years we prepare another article with a similar approach to this report, maybe some of these teams will appear in it.

Before going to work, one last note. We have thought a lot about the order in which we propose to investigate these teams to try to make the article acquire the spirit of a ranking , but, of course, it is not set in stone .

I honestly believe that the computers that appear in the first five positions deserve to be there, but most of them could occupy a slightly different position and nothing would happen. In any case, we suggest that you accept this article as what it is for us: a tribute to unforgettable machines .

1. IBM PC 5150 (1981)

Ibm Pc Img 7271 Transparent

Our ranking is headed, and we believe it deservedly, by the first PC in history . IBM released its Model 5150 in mid-August 1981 in response to the personal computers that were giving wings to much smaller companies like Commodore, Atari, Apple or Tandy. IBM realized that it could not leave the market for personal computers in the hands of its competitors, so it decided to take part. And boy did he.

That first PC incorporated an Intel 8088 microprocessor running at 4.77 MHz, between 16 and 64 KB of RAM, a Motorola 6845 video address generator, and a monochrome monitor. Its operating system was PC DOS and it had been developed by a still young Microsoft, but IBM’s greatest success was to use an open architecture that could be used by other manufacturers without paying license fees. The success of the platform was enormous from the start. The rest is history .

2. Commodore 64 (1982)

Commodore 64 Computer Fl

The cover letter of this 8-bit microcomputer is impressive: it is the best-selling personal computer in history . The most optimistic estimates defend that throughout its commercial life it sold 17 million units, which led it to dominate the world market during much of the 1980s. IBM, Apple and Atari, which were the main competitors of Commodore at the time, they failed to stop the unyielding drive of this little computer.

Jack Tramiel , the founder of Commodore, did not stitch without thread. A decade before launching this computer, it bought the microprocessor manufacturer MOS Technology, which allowed it to produce most of the C64 components without the need for third parties. Also, the hardware in this 8-bit computer was very capable and priced lower than most of its competitors. Even today it remains one of the most revered classic personal computers.

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3. Apple II (1977)

Apple II Img 4212

This was the computer that laid the foundations for the Apple we all know today. Its predecessor, the Apple I, was a handcrafted personal computer that barely had an impact beyond electronics enthusiasts. The Apple II inherited some of the features of its predecessor, but it had a much more attractive design, a professional finish, and was mass produced .

The hardware that Steve Wozniak , the architect of the first two Apple computers, opted for, had at its heart a 6502 processor from MOS Technology that worked at 1,023 MHz, 4 KB of RAM and allowed to send the video signal to a color monitor or a television using a radio frequency modulator. Sales of this computer and its revisions sustained Apple from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. That’s nothing.

4. Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1982)

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The ZX Spectrum was not the 8-bit computer with the best hardware. It wasn’t the best seller either. And yet it is a machine with enormous historical relevance because its moderate price allowed several million users to access personal computing at a time when its competitors were significantly more expensive.

Its success was uneven, but in some countries, such as Spain or the United Kingdom, it had an exceptional reception, which catapulted its sales to close to five million units if we add the sales of the original model and those of its revisions.

Sir Clive Sinclair , the creator of this long-awaited machine, was determined from the beginning to develop a personal computer that was truly affordable . And to achieve this, he opted for hardware that, although it was not a leading edge, was sufficient. A Zilog Z80A processor and between 16 and 128 KB of RAM depending on the version of the equipment were enough to elevate a little gem of home computing that many of us still yearn for.

5. Commodore Amiga 500 (1987)

Amiga500 System

The Commodore Amiga 500 has acquired the status of a legendary personal computer . And he has earned it hard. Having this 16-bit machine at the end of the 80s was a luxury that not all users could afford, but those who were fortunate enough to get one could enjoy a wide range of software in which many games with graphic quality stood out. and sound similar to that offered by arcade machines.

Jay Miner, the creator of the Amiga, was still working at Atari when he began to design the machine that was to make the most of the brand-new 68000 microprocessor that Motorola had just put on the market. It was 1979, and Atari executives failed to appreciate the enormous potential of what Miner had in hand. Years later Commodore did . Even today there is a huge community of Amiga enthusiasts who continue to enjoy this exceptional personal computer.

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6. MITS Altair 8800 (1975)

Altair 8800 Computer

There is no unanimous agreement that the Altair 8800 was the first personal computer, but experts in the history of technology agree that this was the machine that lit the fuse of personal computing . Curiously, MITS sold this equipment both assembled and in kit form that the users themselves were in charge of assembling.

Its processor was an 8-bit Intel 8080 ; it could be expanded using removable cards, and, as we can see in the photograph, on the front panel it had 25 switches that served to turn it on, off, load binary data into main memory and operate with them. The output of each program was delivered by turning on and off the LEDs on the front, so it did not need a monitor. Of course, using it was very complicated.

7. Atari 800 (1979)

Atari 800 Computer Fl

In the late 1970s, Atari was doing well thanks in large part to the success of the 2600 console , but company executives decided to develop a line of personal computers that would allow them to compete with the also successful Apple II. The 8-bit Atari 800 was released alongside the more modest 400 model, and featured a 1.7 MHz MOS Technology 6502B processor, 16 KB of RAM and the Atari DOS operating system. This was the machine that paved the way for Atari in the personal computer market.

8. Sinclair ZX81 (1981)

Sinclair Zx81

In the early 1980s, personal computers were not popular. They weren’t for their price, which put them out of reach for many people. And not because of their vocation, which only made them attractive in the eyes of enthusiasts. Sir Clive Sinclair tried to break this trend by placing an inexpensive and versatile machine on the market . And this ZX81, the true forerunner of the Spectrum, was his bet.

Its CPU was a Zilog 3.25MHz Z80 chip and had just 1KB of RAM, but it cost a very reasonable £ 70 to assemble (the kit version assembled by the users themselves was £ 20 cheaper). It sold just over a million and a half units .

9. Amstrad CPC 464 (1984)

Amstrad Cpc 464 Img 4849

This was the personal computer with which the British company Amstrad, which until then only manufactured televisions, radios and stereo systems, plunged into the burgeoning market for personal computers. Alan Sugar, its founder, wanted to compete with the Sinclair and Commodore machines, and to a large extent he succeeded, achieving notable success in markets such as the British or Spanish.

The CPC 464 featured an essentially identical 4 MHz Zilog Z80A processor in the Spectrum, 64 KB of RAM, and a cassette player that allowed it, unlike early Sinclair personal computers, to load games and programs without the need for use an external monophonic player. The same thing happens with this machine today as with those of Commodore, Sinclair and the MSX platform: there is a wide community of users that keeps it alive by developing new software for it.

10. NEC PC-8800 (1981)

Nec Pc 8801

This personal computer had a modest impact in the United States and Canada, but in Japan, which was the country in which it was born, it was a runaway success . In fact, we can consider it “the Japanese Spectrum.” And it is that, in addition to sharing a huge commercial success with the Sinclair machine, some models of the PC-8800 family opted for microprocessors compatible with the Zilog Z80 of Sinclair equipment (others opted for chips compatible with 8 and 16 processors bits from Intel). It is still a revered machine in Japan today.

11. Apple Macintosh (1984)

Macintosh 128k Transparency

The first Mac has gone down in history not only because of its very notable commercial success; also for being the first personal computer with a massive reach that proposed to users a graphical interface with which it was possible to interact using a mouse. The Lisa model arrived a year earlier and had it too, but its commercial impact was limited.

Steve Jobs ‘took’ the idea for the graphical interface and mouse from a project being developed at Xerox PARC, and it worked. His first Macintosh was liked a lot for its design, and, above all, for its very attractive capacities that were built on a Motorola 68000 processor at 7.8 MHz, 128 KB of RAM and a 9-inch monochrome integrated monitor in which the interface graphics looked great.

12. Atari ST (1985)

Atari 1040stf

This 16-bit personal computer was Atari’s answer to the Commodore Amiga 1000 (the Amiga 500 arrived two years later). Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore, had left the company he had built through the back door a year earlier, but he did not hesitate to buy Atari’s consumer division from Warner to compete in the personal computer market with the same ferocity with which he had done it at Commodore’s head.

The Atari ST family of computers was remarkably successful during the second half of the 1980s, although it failed to match the sales figures of the Commodore Amiga. Both platforms shared some components, such as the Motorola 68000 processor that the two initially bet on, but the graphics and sound capabilities of the Amiga were superior thanks to their dedicated chips. The Atari STs incorporated Digital Research’s GEM graphics environment and two MIDI ports that made them very popular as music editing tools.

13. Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985)

Friend A1000 Img 4284

The first working Amiga prototype was ready to be unveiled at CES in Chicago in 1984. At the time, Jay Miner, the maker of this machine, and his associates only had a handful of printed circuit boards connected together by a tangle of cables. And yet, his personal computer wowed everyone with its exceptional graphics and audio capabilities .

And it is that Miner, who years before worked for Atari, had managed to get a lot out of the Motorola 68000 processor, which was backed by Agnus, Denise and Paula , three chips that were responsible for freeing the CPU from the effort required by the generation of the graphics and sound. The Amiga 1000 was the first incarnation of a legendary personal computer family that is still very much alive today thanks to a community of enthusiasts who continue to develop software for it.

14. MSX (1983)

Sony Hitbit Hb 10p White Background

This personal computer competed head-to-head with Sinclair, Amstrad and Commodore machines, although in Europe its popularity was less than that of other 8-bit computers. His fief was Japan. There the MSX platform had a huge impact. In fact, brands like Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Sanyo, JVC or Toshiba, among many others, picked up the glove that Microsoft and ASCII, the promoters of the platform , threw at them in mid-’83. Only in Japan it sold more than five million Of units.

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15. Commodore VIC-20 (1980)

Commodore Vic 20 Fl

Although its popularity did not equal that of two years later the Commodore 64 achieved, the VIC-20 was the true precursor of the personal computer that we have risen to the second position of this ranking. It had a 6502 processor from MOS Technology that worked at just over 1 MHz and only 5 KB of RAM (expandable to 32 KB), but it was enough to strengthen the foundations on which the Commodore 64 and the Amiga were built shortly after, which were the greatest successes of this company. Currently we can recreate the experience of using this computer thanks to The VIC 20 that Retro Games launched in October 2020.

16. HP 100LX (1993)

HP 100LX

It looks like a calculator, but it is not. Its predecessor, the 95LX, was the first professionally minded compact personal computer to fit in a jacket pocket, and with the 100LX HP further refined its approach. This last computer had a 7.9 MHz Intel 80C186 processor , 1 MB of RAM and a monochrome screen that allowed its owners to enter commands and run applications using the MS-DOS 5 command interpreter. a small delicacy worth keeping with love.

17. Dragon 32/64 (1982)

Dragon 32 Computer

Although this 8-bit personal computer was overwhelmed by the overwhelming success of the equipment launched during the first half of the 1980s by Sinclair, Commodore, and Amstrad, it was a very popular machine. It sold approximately 200,000 units in the European market, a moderate figure when compared to what, for example, the ZX Spectrum or the Commodore 64 sold, but it was widely used to teach programming in BASIC . Therein lies his legacy and the reason why many of us remember him with nostalgia.

18. Tandy TRS-80 (1977)

Trs 80 Model I Rechnermuseum Cropped

This peculiar personal computer was an unexpected success. Tandy put it on the market in early 1977 to compete with the Apple II, and although it failed to intimidate the Apple firm’s team, it sold more than 250,000 units . In any case, what makes it special, and the reason why it has gone down in history, is that it was the first personal computer to incorporate all electronic logic in the same room where the keyboard resided. Under the keys. Its competitors, like Commodore, Atari or Sinclair, copied the idea and introduced it in the machines that they launched shortly after.

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19. Osborne 1 (1981)

Osborne 1 Open

Despite its 11 kg of weight, this curious personal computer has gone down in history as the first portable computer that was reasonably successful . To set it up, Adam Osborne was inspired by the NoteTaker device developed three years earlier by Xerox PARC (there is a certain consensus that this was the first laptop in history), and equipped it with a Zilog 4 MHz Z80 processor, 64 KB of RAM, and also with a small 5-inch monochrome screen. Why was it so heavy? Simply because the screen used a cathode ray tube.

20. Apple iMac (1998)

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The personal computer that you can see in the photograph is the first iMac launched by Apple in 98. This team kicked off a family of computers that is still very much in force today, although its design has changed a lot. The main hallmark of all iMac is that they do not use a desktop or tower box; They “hide” all their electronic components in the same room where the screen resides.

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