PC, XT, and me

Wikipedia’s main page today among the “today in history” events the introduction of the IBM personal computer on August 12, 1981. It wasn’t the first, and it probably wasn’t the best, but its open architecture and rapid adoption by business changed the way people thought about harnessing technology.

I specially like that this photo, from a PC World article, shows the ubiquitous manuals in their tidy slipcases.

I never used the original PC (which, as you can see from the picture, didn’t come with a hard disk — only two floppy drives). In late 1983, though, as I started a new job, I received a then-new IBM PC XT.

This technological powerhouse had:

  • A monochrome screen incapable of displaying graphics (other than the ASCII character set).
  • 256 kilobytes of memory (which my boss and I upgraded to 640 thanks to the AST Six Pack.
  • A 10 megabyte hard drive (upgraded after a few years to a whopping 30 megabytes).
  • An external 1200 baud Hayes modem.
  • One of the ubiquous Okidate dot-matrix printers.

All that for something like $3,500, which would be close to $8,000 (using the Consumer Price Index to calculate the effect of inflation).  You’d be hard-pressed to spend eight grand on a computer today; for that kind of money the Three Bears could each get a MacBook Pro — and if they didn’t go for top of the line, the could probably afford a MacBook Air for Goldilocks.

At the risk of sounding like my great-uncle Rory, talking about hauling wood for railroad ties at a salary of 25 cents per day, it’s astonishing to consider the scale of changes since then.

I’m writing this post on a laptop I bought new for around $1,200. It’s got 2 gigabytes of memory, or 8,000 times the memory of the XT. (Heck, the cache in my processor has more capacity than the XT did, and I’m ignoring the power of the processor.) And the 120 gigabyte hard drive is 12,000 times larger.

Granted, today’s applications need a lot more memory and a lot more storage. But today’s applications offer a lot more potential than Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar did, back then at the dawn of time.

3 thoughts on “PC, XT, and me

  1. Well… there ya go, comparing an orginal PC/XT to a current computer. But at the time… well then, it was a great system. Still have my PC/XT, it was the second computer I purchased. The first was a Osborne 1.

    Anyways, there has been a bit of advancement since the day of the XT, but I bet you that my XT will still be running long after your $1200 notebook has given up the ghost.

  2. I wasn’t saying the XT was bad, Mr C; comparison isn’t necessarily criticism. I’m sure lots of people have XTs, and Apple IIes, and other machines working.

    I’d be hard pressed to do anything useful for a client on an XT, though. Even with QEMM, I never got available memory about 615K os so, which probably wouldn’t be enough for the Firefox install routine.

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