A Brief History of Computing
- Products noteable for their technical achievement or popularity

© Copyright 1996-2005, Stephen White

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1935 International Business Machines introduces the "IBM 601", a punch card machine with an arithmetic unit based on relays and capable of doing a multiplication in 1 second. The machine becomes important both in scientific and commercial computation, and about 1500 of them are eventually made.
1957 First Dot Matrix printer marketed by IBM.
1964 Launch of IBM 360 - the first series of compatible computers.
1964 DEC PDP-8 Mini Computer. The First Minicomputer, built by Digital EquipmentCost (DEC) it cost $16,000 to buy.
1965 The first supercomputer, the Control Data CD6600, was developed.
1970 First RAM chip introduced by Intel. It was called to 1103 and had a capacity of 1 K-bit, 1024 bits.
1970 - June Steve Geller, Ray Holt and a team from AiResearch and American Microsystems completed development of a flight data processor for the US Navy's F14A `TomCat' fighter jet. This processor used LSI chips to produce a fast and powerfull programmable computer that fitted into the very tight space restrictions of the aircraft.
1971 - November 15 First microprocessor, the 4004, developed by Marcian E. Hoff for Intel, was released. It contains the equivalent of 2300 transistors and was a 4 bit processor. It is capable of around 60,000 Interactions per second (0.06 MIPs), running at a clock rate of 108KHz.
1972 First Handheld scientific calculator released by Hewlett-Packard, the engineer's slide rule is at last obsolete.
1974 CLIP-4, the first computer with a parallel architecture.
1974 - December MITS Altair 8800, the first personal computer to be available commercially released, by Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems. In December 1974 an article in 'Popular Electronics' inviting people to order kits for the computer, based on the Intel 8080 they cost just $397 each and despite the limited memory (256 bytes) and limited processing power around 200 were ordered on the first day.
1975 IBM 5100 released.
1976 Apple Computer, Inc. founded, to Market Apple I computer. Designed by Stephen Wozniak and Stephen Jobs.
1976 First laser printer introduced by IBM - the IBM 3800. The first colour versions came onto the market in 1988.

Cray 1, the first commercially developed Supercomputer, it contained 200,000 integrated circuits and was freon-cooled. It could perform 150 million floating point operations per second - it is now the basis of an informal measurement of the power Supercomputers, by the mid-1990s these had reached the 1000-'cray' mark! Supercomputers are also measured by the number of floating point operations they can do in a second, but this figure can be misleading as the definition of a floating point operation is open to some debate - but these operations are far more complicated than integer operations normally handled by Microcomputers. In 1992 the fastest Computer was the Cray-2, which can do around 250 million floating point operations per seconds. Cray have continued to develop even more powerful computers, such as the Cray Y-MP/832.

Such Supercomputers are used for weather forecasting, complex maths and physics problems, and animation in modern films.

1977 - May Apple II computer introduced.
1978 - June 8

Introduction of 8086 by Intel, the first commercially successful 16 bit processor. It was too expensive to implement in early computers, so an 8 bit version was developed (the 8088), which was chosen by IBM for the first IBM PC. This ensured the success of the x86 family of processors that succeeded the 8086 since they and their clones are used in every IBM PC compatible computer.

The available clock frequencies are 4.77, 8 and 10 MHz. It has an instruction set of about 300 operations. At introduction the fastest processor was the 8 MHz version which achieved 0.8 MIPs and contained 29,000 transistors.

1979 Commodore PET released. Based on a 1 MHz 6502 processor it displayed monochrome text on a 9" monitor and had just 8 Kb of RAM. Programs were loaded from audio cassette. Priced 569. For 776 you could purchase a version with 16 Kb of RAM, while for 914 you could get a 32 Kb of RAM.
1979 IBM saw its computer market dominance being eaten into by the new personal computers, such as the Apple and the Commodore PET. IBM therefore started work on their own P.C. This computer had to be a state-of-the-art machine in order to compete, but had to be produced very quickly due to the amazing growth of competitors. It was therefore decided to use many third party parts to reduce development time, and Microsoft were commissioned to write the Operating System (see October 1980). When finished this computer was released as the IBM PC. on 12 August 1981
1980 - Early Sinclair ZX80 was released for under 100.
1981 - April

The Xerox 8010 ('Star') System, the first commerical system to use a WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing Devices) graphic user interface - from which all modern WIMP and Windowing systems have evolved. Apple used these concepts when designing the interface for the Apple Macintosh (see January 1984), and later alleged that Microsoft copied their 'look and feel' when designing Microsoft Windows.

The Xerox 'Star' was the commercialisation of the 'Alto', which had available internally inside Xerox PARC since 1973. Sales of the 'Star' were terrible and the system rapidly fell into obscurity.

1981 Sinclair ZX81 was released, for a similar price to the ZX80 (see 1980).
1981 - August 12 IBM Announced PC, the standard model was sold for $2880. This had 64Kb of RAM, a mono display and the cassette drive was an optional extra. Two 160Kb single sided floppy drives could be added. The machines success was largely due to the openness of its specification, anyone could produce new and improved parts or models of the computer - the original IBM PC usually had an INTEL processor, Tandon disk drives and an operating system from Microsoft. 100,000 orders were taken by Christmas. The first one sold in the U.K. cost 2080. An option of operating systems was actually available, but IBM/Microsoft's PC-DOS was by far the cheapest at $39.95.
1981 - August 12 MDA (Mono Display Adapter, text only) introduced with IBM PC.
1982 Introduction of BBC Micro. Based on the 6502 processor it was a very popular computer for British schools up to the development of the Acorn Archimedes (in 1987). In 1984 the government offered to pay half the cost of such computers in an attempt to promote their use in secondary education.
1982 - January Commodore 64 released, costing just $595.
1982 Compaq released their IBM PC compatible Compaq Portable.
1982 - April The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was announced, released later in the year. It is based on the Z80 chip from Zilog, it ran at 3.5 MHz and had an 8 colour graphics display. You could by a 16 Kb version for 125 or a 48 Kb version for 175 - remarkable prices when compared to the 1000+ IBM PC.
1982 - May IBM launch the double-sided 320K floppy disk drives.
1983 - January IBM PC gets European launch at Which Computer Show.
1983 - January Apple announced their 'LISA' computer in January, to be released in June. The LISA was one of the first computers to be sold with a GUI (graphical user interface), however it did not sell well. The main problems were the 10 thousand dollar price tag and the slow interface - the GUI based operating system struggled on the 5 MHz CPU. The GUI was based on ideas gained by Steve Jobs who saw the Alto while visting Xerox PARC.
1983 - Spring IBM XT released, it was fitted with the 8086 (which could be replaced with an NEC V20 or V30) and had room for an 8087 maths co-processor to be installed. It also had a 10Mb hard disk, 128K of RAM, one floppy drive, mono monitor and a printer, all for $5000.
1983 - October IBM released PC Junior in an attempt to get further into the home market, it cost just $699. Cheaper alternatives from other companies were more preferable to the home buyer, but businesses continued to buy IBM. However this meant that the PC Jr. was not a great sucess.
1984 Hewlett-Packard release the immensely popular Laserjet printer, by 1993 they had sold over 10 million Laserjet printers and over 20 million printers overall. HP were also pioneering inkjet technology.
1984 - January Apple Macintosh Released. Based on the 8 MHz version of the Motorola 68000 processor. The 68000 can address 16 Mb of RAM, a noticeable improvement over Intel's 8088/8086 family. The Apple achieved 0.7 MIPs and originally came with just 128Kb of RAM. It was fitted with a monochrome video adapter.
1984 IBM AT released. This incorporates a larger (16-bit) bus for expansion slots. Unfortunately it wasn't well specified, the ISA standard was eventually made (in 1991) to cope with this - but not until some ATs had been produced with buses that run far quicker the 8.33 MHz laid down in the ISA standard. Some AT compatible systems designed before the standard was introduced ran the bus at 12.5 MHz which causes some expansion cards to run hot, therefore becoming less efficient and slower therefore eventually 'tripping over' and violently crashing the computer.
1984 - September Apple released a 512KB version of the Macintosh - but there were no other major enhancements over the original (see Jan. 1984).
1984 - October Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ released. Similar specifications to the 48 Kb version of the original ZX (see April 1982) it cost 179.
1985 EGA released.
1985 - May Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 announced, released in February 1986. See Feb. 1986.
1985 - July 23

The Commodore Amiga (later known as the Amiga 1000) was announced, although it was not released until September. Amiga had a turbulent history, with no real revenue stream to support their development. After a period of legal wranglings with Atari, Amiga were bought by Commodore. Their product was finally completed and brought to market under the 'Commodore Amiga' name. The system cost 1500, a high price at the time (comparable to the pricey Apple Macintosh). You got what you paid for though, it was an impressive machine for the era. It featured a colour graphical user interface, a 16 bit processor, TV output and 256K of RAM. It also included a 'bit-blitter' for moving graphical data without tieing up the main CPU.

In 1987 the Amiga 1000 was followed with the higher specification A2000, and the cheaper A500. It was the A500 which really pushed the Amiga brand forwards, spurred on by the development of various games for the platform (and to the detriment of the Atari ST which, until the A500, was the popular choice among gamers).

1985 - October 17

80386 DX released. It supports clock frequencies of up to 33 MHz and can address up to 4 GB of memory and virtual memory of up to 64 TERABYTES! It also includes a bigger instruction set than the 80286.

At the date of release the fastest version ran at 20 MHz and achieved 6.0 MIPs. It contained 275,000 transistors.

1986 - January Apple released another enhanced version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh Plus) - this one could cope with 4 Mb of RAM and had a SCSI adapter.
1986 - February Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 released. It had 128 Kb of RAM, but little other improvement over the original ZX (except improved sound capabilities). Later models were produced by Amstrad - but they showed no major advances in technology.
1986 - April Apple released another version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh 512Ke) which was basically the same as the 512K of Sept. 1984.
1986 - September Amstrad Announced Amstrad PC 1512, a cheap and powerful PC. Cost was just under 1000, it included a slightly enhanced CGA graphics adapter, 512Kb RAM (upgradable to 640Kb), 8086 processor (upgradable to NEC V30) and a 20Mb harddisk (optional). Amstrad had previous success with the PCW. To ensure the computer was accessible they made sure the manuals could be read by everyone, and also included DR's GEM desktop (a WIMP system) and a mouse to try to make to machine more user friendly. It was sold in many high street shops and was a complete success, being bought by Business and Home users alike. N.B. This was the author's family's first Home computer, with a Monochrome monitor and harddisk it cost just under 1000.
1987? Introduction of Acorn Archimedes.
1987 Connection Machine, an interesting supercomputer which instead of integration of circuits operates up to 64,000 fairly ordinary microprocessors - using parallel architecture - at the same time, in its most powerful form it can do somewhere in the region of 2 billion operations per second.
1987 - March 2

Macintosh II & Macintosh SE released. The SE was still based on the 68000, but could cope with 4 Mb of RAM and had a SCSI adapter, similar specifications to the Macintosh Plus of Jan. 1986.

The Macintosh II was based on the newer Motorola 68020, that ran at 16 MHz and achieved a much more respectable 2.6 MIPs (comparable to an 80286). It too had a SCSI adapter but was also fitted with a colour video adapter.

1987 - April 2 PS/2 Systems introduced by IBM. The first models were released on this date. The PS/2 Model 30 based on an 8086 processor and an old XT bus, Models 50 and 60 based on the 80286 processor and the Model 80 based on the 80386 processor. These used the 3 1/2" 'microfloppies', storing 1.44Mb on each (although the Model 30 could only use the low 720Kb density). These systems (except the Model 30) included a completely new bus, the MCA (Micro Channel Architecture) bus, which did not catch on as it did not provide support for old-style 16-Bit AT bus expansion cards. The MCA bus did show many improvements in design and speed over the ISA bus most PCs used, and IBM (if no-one else) still use it in some of their machines. The PS/2 series were very successful - selling well over 2 million machines in less than 2 years.
1987 VGA released (designed for the PS/2) by IBM.
1987 MCGA released (only for low end PS/2s, i.e. the Model 30) by IBM.
1987 The 8514/A introduced by IBM. This was a graphics card that included its own processor to speed up the drawing of common objects, to take the load othe main CPU.
1987 - August

AD-LIB soundcard released. Not widely supported until a software company, Taito, released several games fully supporting AD-LIB - the word then spread how much the special sound effects and music enhanced the games.

Adlib, a Canadian Company, had a virtual monopoly until 1989 when the SoundBlaster card was released.

1988 WORM (Write Once Read Many times) - disks marketed for first time by IBM.
1988 - September IBM PS/2 Model 30 286 released, based on an 80286 processor and the old AT bus - IBM abandoned the MCA bus, released less than 18 months earlier! Other IBM machines continued to use the MCA bus.
1988 - October Macintosh IIx released. It was based on a new processor, the Motorola 68030. It still ran at 16 MHz but now achieved 3.9 MIPs. It could now cope with 128 MB of RAM.
1989 CD-I released by Phillips and Sony.
1989 - January Macintosh SE/30 released. Like the SE of March 1987 it only had a monochrome display adapter but was fitted with the newer 68030 processor.
1989 - March The Macintosh IIcx released, with the same basic capabilities of the IIx.
1989 - September Macintosh IIci released based on a faster version of the 68030 - now running at 25 MHz, and achieved 6.3 MIPs. Macintosh also released the portable - which went back to the original 68000 processor (but now ran it at 16 MHz to achieve 1.3 MIPs). It had a monochrome display.
1989 - November Release of Sound Blaster Card, by Creative Labs, its success was ensured by maintaining compatibility with the widely supported AD-LIB soundcard of 1987.
1990 - March Macintosh IIfx released. Based on a 40 MHz version of the 68030 it achieved 10 MIPs. It also featured a faster SCSI adapter, which could transfer 3.0 Mb/sec.
1990 - October Macintosh Classic released, an identical replacement to the Macintosh Plus of January 1986. Also came the Macintosh IIsi which ran a 68030 processor at 20 MHz to achieve 5.0 MIPs, and also a 256 colour video adapter.
1990 - November Macintosh LC released. This ran a 68020 processor at 16 MHz to achieve 2.6 MIPs, it had a slightly improved SCSI adapter and a 256 colour video adapter.
1991 - May Introduction of Sound Blaster Pro.
1992 Introduction of CD-I launched by Phillips.
1992 - June Sound Blaster 16 ASP Introduced.
1999 - Aug 31 Apple release the PowerMac G4. Its powered by the PowerPC G4 chip from Apple, Motorola and IBM. Available in 400MHz, 450MHz and 500MHz versions its claimed to be the first personal computer to be capable of over one billion floating-point operations per second.

© Copyright 1996-2004, Stephen White My homepage - email:swhite@ox.compsoc.net