On August 12, 1981, IBM introduced its first personal computer known as the IBM PC. The PC wasn’t the first personal computer. It was preceded by computers including the Apple II and Commodore PET. There were also several PC makers in the business end of the market with machines that ran the CP/M operating system. But the combination of IBM’s reach with Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system is widely seen as marking the start of popular computing.
When IBM joined in that businesses, consumers started taking personal computing seriously. Up until that time, personal computers were mostly for hobbyists and those willing to live on the “bleeding edge” of technology. The IBM PC, also known as the Model 5150, made a significant impact on the culture. Today, for instance, we call our desktops and laptops PCs, not microcomputers.
Before the IBM PC, business computers were mainframes or minis, large and expensive investments that weren’t intended for a single person’s use. The first PC came standard with 16 kilobytes (KB) of memory at a bare-bones price of $1,265 without a monitor or a diskette drive. A full-blown system with 64K of memory, two floppy drives, a display/printer adapter card and a monochrome screen cost $3,735 in 1981 dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that’s $9,275 today. IBM’s dot matrix printer and its required cable added another $610 to the price tag for a grand total of $4,345.
To put the power of that PC into perspective with today’s technology consider that a modern but modest PC with 4 gigabytes of memory and a 160 GB hard drive has more than 65,000 times the memory and a million times the storage of that first PC. Even today’s smartphones have far more memory, storage and processing power than IBM’s entry into the market.
Foreseeing the decline of the PC business, IBM sold its personal computer division to China-based Lenovo in 2004. Lenovo is now one of the leading makers of laptop PCs with its popular ThinkPad line.