Computers are part of our everyday lives. It is difficult to imagine life without a computer, laptop, tablet or even a smartphone that can all but do the job of a personal computer. Yet computers have not actually being around for that long in the grand scheme of things. “PC” is an initialism for “personal computer” and in its broadest definition it means a computer that can be operated by one person. Using this term, the first persona computer arrived in 1946 and was called the ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer.
It was heralded as a “Great Brain” when it was unveiled to the public in 1946. The ENIAC was designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory, but it never made it into the mainstream because of its $487,000 cost, which is the equivalent to $6,887,000 in today’s money. The LPG-30 was another personal computer that was spoken highly off, yet it was another that saw its costs preventing it being affordable for all but major institutions. Stan Frankel’s machine cost $46,000 or $423,000 today. Another prohibitive feature of the early personal computers were their sheer size. For example, some machines in the late 1960s weighed approximately half a ton and were as large as two desks.
In 1973, Hewlett Packard created a fully BASIC programmable microcomputer that fit onto a single desk and includes peripherals such as a keyboard, printer and a small one-line display. One year later, in 1974, Altair 8800 was unveiled by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) and it is this machine that is often referred to as the first true personal computer. Computer manufacturers were now finding ways to build smaller, lighter and faster computers on a regular basis and in January 1977 the world saw the first mass marketed PC hit the shelves. Demand for the Commodore PET was such that supply could not meet demand and customers had to wait until late in the year to receive their machine.
It was at this time that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple I computer circuit board. PCs came on in leaps and bounds during the 1980s as manufacturers focussed on developing machines for the household. These PCs could be used with a television and users could play basic games on them. Sinclair Research created the ZX Series in 1980 and 1981 and then the ZX Spectrum, which sold eight million units, in 1982.
Commodore responded by launching the Commodore 64 and it was a commercial success with 17 million unites being sold worldwide. The NEC PC-98 was another popular PC, selling 18 million units, before Commodore launched the Amiga 1000 in mid-1985, a computer seen as being revolutionary thanks to its windowing operating system, colour graphics and 256KB or RAM. It did cost $1,295, however. These days, thanks mostly to the huge influence of the IBM PC on the personal computer market there is little distinction between the technical aspects of PCs available to buy. Consumers are now able to purchase a wide variety of technical specifications when they buy a PC and often for under a few hundred dollars. How far we have come in such little time.