From 60’s Programma 101 to 90’s Dell Dimension – A brief history of desktops

Mini Computer

Ken Olsen founder of Minicomputer Company DEC famously said “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”

1965’s first programmable desktop computer, Programma 101, would’ve set you back approximately $23,000 in today’s money. A team of four engineers at Olivetti pioneered the 35kg machine that featured a memory module the size of one of today’s motherboards and storage via a card with two magnetic strips that could contain two programs at best in a chassis the size of a typewriter. NASA used Programma 101’s to plan the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Fast-forward to the 70’s and you’ll find a Commodore PET 2001. Now a rare and valuable collector’s item, the PET was Commodores’ first full featured PC boasting a built-in monitor, keyboard and tape drive. Powerful in it’s day with 4 to 8 KB of RAM, 1MHz 6502 CPU, 18KB ROM, two MOS 6520 PIA ports and BASIC 1.0 OS. The first model of BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was purchased from Bill Gates’ little known company Microsoft.

In the 80’s the computer market exploded. IBM PC 5150 set the specs for all PC’s. Debuted in 81 and selling for a very affordable $1,565 ($3,900 today). Only two decades earlier a computer would’ve set you back 9million dollars and need to be housed in a ¼ acre temperature controlled room. The IBM PC 5150 could connect to your TV, play games and process text. It had a colour graphics capable display, a printer, built-in speaker, two diskette drives, a game adapter and application packages. Specs were a massive 40K of ROM and 16K user memory expandable to 256K. The 4.77MHz intel 8088 CPU sold 65,000 units in four months and 100,000 by Christmas. 5150 enjoyed a two-year market monopoly where it was selling up to 2 million units per year before the first Apple Macintosh was introduced. We’ll save the Mac history for another article.

The 90’s saw staggering advances in PC technology. The age of PC Gaming had arrived. Doom, Ultima 7, Wing Commander, to name a few. Window’s 3 was released and PC clones were selling 37 million units per year. Firsts included the CD-ROM, Mosaic graphical web browser, Office was released, Hotmail was launched, MP3 file format was first published, internet becomes mainstream, Commercial Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) were born, the first 64 bit microprocessors were introduced. Remember Encarta ’95? IMB’s Deep Blue was the first computer to beat a reigning chess champion in a full chess match.

In the early 90’s Michael Dell became the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. They reported sales of over $2 billion dollars in 1992. In 1996 Dell began selling computers via it’s website. In 1999 Dell surpassed Compaq to become the largest PC manufacturer.

1994’s Dell Dimension XPS P90 Intel 90MHz Pentium processor minitower configuration was priced at $3,499. The super computer of 94 featured 8MB RAM 54MB hard disk, double speed CD-ROM drive, sound blaster 16 multimedia audio card, DOS 6.21 and Windows 3.1, 5.25-inch floppy drive and 2MB of video RAM.

We all remember with great nostalgia our first PC, as much so as our first car. The evolution of personal computers has been astounding and will continue to impress as long as there are zeros and ones.

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