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The History of Personal Computers

Nowadays it is impossible to underestimate the value of personal computers in modern life. Now, having passed the boundary of the new century and millennium, the mankind has come very close to its cherished dream – to have faithful and clever mechanical helpers on any case of life. For work, for relax and entertainments, for education the personal computer became irreplaceable – the greatest toy of mankind, exchanged on possibility of space expansion and development of cosmonautics.

There can hardly be found a sphere of human activity, where computers would not be used: from medicine to scientific researches, from traffic control to watching videos in a cozy home atmosphere, from powerful calculations to relaxing entertainment. In the enormous park of operated on the present day computer systems, personal computers play special role. In offices, houses, hotel apartments there are far heirs of those first, constructed in garages and semi-basements, computers of Apple, Altair and IMSAI. It is hard to imagine, but some thirty years ago there would hardly be found a prophet, who could state that by the end of the twentieth century clumsy computers from fantastic novels would migrate in our everyday life, would greatly decrease in size and strongly rise in possibilities.

The volume of this work unfortunately does not imply acquaintance with the history of development of computer engineering from the very beginning, so there are left aside the legendary MARK I and ENIAC, the principles of John von Neumann, which were put in a basis of all the present computer equipment, and many other, not less interesting sides of development of personal computers. First of all it is necessary to mention those, who inverted the computer world – it is Bob Noyce, the man who has thought up how to place several transistors on one substrate and created the first integral chip. It happened in 1959, when Gordon Moore, who founded an Intel company together with Noyce, began to develop bipolar static random access memory. It brought a small income, but hardly Intel could become what it is today, if there haven’t happened one important event. The Japanese company Busicom appealed to the head of Intel. It was oriented on production of calculators and offered an order for twelve different chipsets. For that moment Intel was not able to conduct development of such amount of products at once. It could have ended not having begun, if not one of the engineers of the company, called Ted Hoff, who offered elegant solution: “if we cannot develop twelve microcircuits at once, why not to develop one unique universal chip which will be able to replace all the twelve” (Allan 412). A decision to finance that promising development was accepted, and, under the direction of Federico Faggin, all the work over realization of the idea into life was conducted.

All the rights on the invention ransomed from the firm-customer (Busicom) for 60 thousand dollars (Busicom went bankrupt soon) and the first microprocessor of Intel 4004 with a clock rate of 108 KHz appeared in the open market in 1971. At that moment there had to be done another big step from the microprocessor to the computer and the basis of the first personal computer has become another processor of Intel – 8080, developed in 1974. Unlike the first 4004, this processor had a clock rate of 2 MHz and could address 64 KB of memory (4004 – only 640 bytes).

The situation in the market of electronic components, favored the appearance of the first personal computer, and the question was – “who will be the first to unite different components in a single block?” The first was the company MITS. On the cover of magazine “Popular Electronics” of the January issue 1975, there appeared an image of the first microcomputer of Altair 8800, made on the base of the newest microprocessor 8080 by Intel – so the history of the personal computer began; however, we would hardly call that Altair 8800 personal computer. What did buyers get for $397 (the price of Altair 8800)? It may sound strange, but almost nothing. A complete set consisted of the heap of details and box for a corps. Users had to plumb and test the collected knots independently and, if assembling was completed successfully, they became programmers and created the programs for their Altair in machine language, using zeros and ones. There was no keyboard, no display, no long-duration memory in the computer, all RAM was only 256 bytes. The programs were entered by switching tumblers on the front panel, and results were read out from light-emitting-diode indicators. Nevertheless, people loved the Altair, because it was the real personal computer.

Almost simultaneously with the Altair, later for a few months only, there appeared a computer of IMS Associates Inc production. The system of IMSAI 8080 became the second step of the personal computers towards the conquest of the world. In September of that year on the cover of the first issue of BYTE magazine there was a slogan: “Computer is the greatest toy of the world” (Casilli 2). The technical characteristics of IMSAI 8080 almost did not differ from the MITS Altair 8800. There were the same processor Intel 8080, the same RAM with 256 bytes, the same iron box-corps with tumblers. After the first companies, the new producers of the personal computer appeared and by the end of the seventies there were several dozens of companies in the world, offering personal computers and accessories to them.

By the beginning of the 80-ies the leaders of IBM Company worried with the appearing drop of demand for the big computers of the company. However, for the board of directors the personal computer at that time seemed to be a toy without great future prospects. Therefore, forced to be abreast with time, IBM began developing the first model of the personal computer. The most important foundation, which influenced the entire computer history, was never and nowhere used until then new conception – the principle of opened architecture. What was it focused on? IBM engineers decided they had few facilities for development of the entire necessary periphery, so they let others, third-party companies, develop it for them. The users were able to choose the accessories they needed and to buy them in addition when necessary. That way opened architecture came into the world.

IBM Computer, model 5150, called IBM PC, wasn’t much better than many of its competitors of that time. In the sphere of work with graphics it yielded to the products of Apple. The power of processor Intel 8088 was enough to work with the developed for a computer operating system MS-DOS, but hardly enough to handle the game programs. That computer would remain one of many, if not the revolutionary principle of the opened architecture. Users understood all charm of possibility to acquire essential parts when necessary, but not all at once, and the developers of devices estimated the innovation. After a short time the great number of devices and accessories for IBM PC was offered on the market already, developed by both IBM and third-party manufacturers.

The cons of its innovation IBM felt very soon. Small firms engaged in the development of hardware for PC, didn’t need to waste as much, as giant IBM, in addition, they spent less time for development and realization. After a while IBM appeared to be one of great number of companies, elaborative and selling computers, consonant with PC. However, the corporation occupied leading position for a few years, having time to produce modernized PC – model 5160, equipped with the same processor 8088 and with the same RAM, but foreseeing possibility of setting of hard disk of 10 or 20 Mb. It happened in 1983, and one year later IBM produced next model, called PC AT (Advanced Technology). The main innovation of computer became the use of new Intel processor – 80286. The company’s leadership has ended at that point, and the first “IBM-compatible” computer on the base of next processor – Intel 80386 was produced already not by IBM. The company appeared to be one of great number of players in the market of personal computers, and an attempt to correct mistakes of the past with releasing a new model of IBM PC/2, architecture of which was patented, failed (Ceruzzi 45).

Personal computers entered our life same quietly and gradually, as the car, radio and television in their time. At first it was just a toy, the inheritance of the few enthusiasts, then more and more habitual thing, and, finally, a familiar sign of everyday life. By the early 1980s, personal computers already seemed to come out from the category of obscure toys, but had not yet appeared in the category of compulsory element of any office. Moreover, far not in every house you could find a personal computer. It could seem, the prospects were still uncertain, it was not known if there would be a future for PC, and the steps to make investments in the computer industry were to be prudent and cautious. Fortunately, progress moved forward and in 1981 one of the first “portable” PC – Osborne 1 appeared. It was just an iron box, weighing more than 10 kg just for the sake of dubious pleasure to see at the tiny screen the results of the computer based on the processor Zilog Z80 with a clock frequency of 4 MHz, and equipped with 64 Kb of RAM. Today ‘s spoiled user would have called that iron monster only a mockery of the word “portable”, but… in the early 1980s trees were still big, but random access memory small. Possibility of work with the computer “in the field” was needed, as the air, so after the Osborne 1 there appeared Kaypro II (despite the name, this was the first model of the Kaypro), released in 1982, which had a 9 inches screen; The IBM Portable – Model 5155, weighing thirteen and a half kilogram, and many, many others, transformed over time into what we used to call the with the words “notebook” or “laptop” (Agar 870).

However, the “portability is not enough” and in the late 1980s there began to appear the forerunner of today’s “pocket pc”, “personal organizers”, “palmtops” and so on. One of such “super portable” pioneers became the Atari Portfolio, developed by the DIP Company. That PC weighing just 450 grams, though not completely, compatible with IBM PC, with which gained considerable popularity. Even today Portfolio is a matter of respect. Built on the basis of processor Intel 80C88 with a clock frequency of approx. 5 MHz and equipped with 128 Kb of RAM, it had the whole set of normal personal organizer: ROM samples cut DOS 2.1, text and table editors, communication program, calendar and “reminder ” – perhaps, a suitable set for the present day. Good contrast screen of Portfolio allowed working with the computer comfortable enough with the sufficient light. Osborne 1 and The IBM Portable, Kaypro II and Atari Portfolio were one of the first, and those people, who played role in their development, are respect-worthy.

It is necessary to remind, that in august 1981, the new computer called “IBM PC” was officially presented to the public. To the surprise of many, including the company “IBM”, people were actively buyong computers – for small businesses and large corporations. PCs were sold so quickly that “IBM” could not simply produce the required amount. In one – two years the computer “IBM PC” has taken a leading place in the market, having superseded models of 8-bit computers. Actually the “IBM PC” has become a standard personal computer. Now such computers (“compatible with the IBM PC”) constitute about 90% of all personal computers produced in the world (Casilli 18).

PCs became very successful and powerful computers of that time. The logical and practical developments, used in machine, set the standard for the young industry. Dozens of manufacturers, ranging from individuals to large corporations with multi- billion turnover, created their own versions of the PC, trying to make their product as compatible with the original “IBM” as possible. Since the invention of the first computer there passed very little time – a little bit more than 20 years, and computer industry was developed and became one of the main economical branches in many countries. It is impossible to imagine modern life without a computer. It is used for a variety of purposes, ranging from education and training of children and to the control over the most important military objects. It is hard to overestimate the role of computers in our life. Computer studies are being conducted up to this day, and there constantly appear new products that allow improving the electronic brain.

 

Works Cited:

Agar, Jon. What Difference Did Computers Make? Social Studies of Science. Volume 36, Number 6. December 2006: 869-907. Print.
Allan, Roy A. A history of the personal computer: the people and the technology. 2001. p. 412. Print.
Casilli, Antonio A. A History of Virulence: The Body and Computer Culture in the 1980s. Body & Society. Volume 16, Number 4. December 2010: 1-31. Print.
Ceruzzi, Paul E. A history of modern computing. 2003. p. 45. Print.