The Launch of the IBM PC

On August 12, 1981, at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York City, the IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC 5150) was announced with a price tag of $1,565. Just two decades earlier, an IBM mainframe computer cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and a staff of 60 people! And yet the new IBM microcomputer could not only process information faster than those earlier machines, but it could also hook up to the home TV set and play games!

The IBM PC was the first one to be built from off-the-shelf parts (called open architecture) and marketed by outside distributors (Sears and Computerland). The $1,565 price bought a system unit, an 83-key keyboard connected to the unit by a six-foot coiled cable, and a color/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter, and software application packages – including VisiCorp’s VisiCalc and one for word processing.

The IBM PC was the size of a portable typewriter and contained 40K of read-only memory and 16K of user memory, as well as a built-in speaker for generating music. The Disk Operating System (MS-DOS 1.0) was designed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates. The system unit was powered by an Intel 8088 microprocessor operating at speeds measured in millionths of a second. Its five expansion slots could be used to connect such features as expanded memory, display and printing units, and game “paddles.”

The development team referred to their creation as a mini-compact computer at a mini-price, with IBM engineering under the hood. The response to this new product was overwhelming. By the end of 1982, qualified retail outfits were signing on to sell the new machine at the rate of one-a-day, as sales actually hit a system-a-minute every business day. The IBM PC set the industry standard, and thousands of clone PC manufacturers rushed to follow IBM’s lead. It was this machine that was responsible for popularizing the term “PC.”

Read more about the history of the PC: – The birth of the IBM PC – Ancestors of the IBM Personal Computer – DigiBarn Computer Museum – Computer History Timeline

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