The IBM Personal Computer

IBM introduced its Personal Computer to much fanfare on August 12th, 1981. The PC was developed in an astoundingly short time (under 1 year) by a "skunkworks" project at IBM's Boca Raton Florida facility.

One significant reason for the rapid development cycle was the use of "off the shelf" parts for things like disk drives, processors, memory and the like.

Another "off the shelf" component used on the PC was IBM's Operating System software - PC DOS. This product was licensed from Microsoft after the IBM development team were unable to secure a license for CP/M. The use of Microsoft's product on this machine helped catapult an already successful company into its current dominant position.

The PC pictured here is one of two in my collection. This is an original PC variant with a 64K motherboard (as opposed to the later 256K motherboards) and version 1.0 ROMs. It normally has a color graphics adaptor (CGA) and an IBM 5153 Color Monitor as well as a multi-function card and some other accessories although the Monochrome monitor (IBM 5151) and IBM Monochrome/Printer Adapter card are probably more correct for the machine. The system has a full suite of original IBM documentation including the 1.0 versions of DOS, BASIC and the IBM PC Guide to Operations.

Microsoft Adventure

I have lots of original software from IBM and other sources including CP/M-86, VisiCalc, PFS:Write and much of the original IBM library of games and educational software including the BASIC Primer, Typing Tutor, Adventure and the "Microsoft Decathlon."

Lots of Microsoft Docs

I also have the IBM PC Technical Reference and IBM PC Maintenance and Service manuals.

The other PC in my collection is a later model with a Monochrome card and an IBM 5151 Monochrome monitor.

IBM PC manuals

Both of my PCs have all of their original manuals, as shown here. The three manuals to the right are all 1.0 versions, including DOS 1.0 with the original DOS disk.

IBM PC Keyboard

The IBM PC Keyboard was a very sturdy, well designed 83 key model that had far better key placement and a better feel than any other low-cost computer of its day. IBM did everything they could to sell the ideas of "professional" and "sturdy" with their machines and they succeeded without question. Even the function keys were a hit!

IBM 5.25 inch floppy drive

IBM made the PC with as many off-the-shelf parts as possible. That didn't stop them from stamping them with their name and logo, though. This is a standard Tandon 5.25" disk drive except for that IBM logo.

The reciept for my first computer, purchased by my Dad

IBM sold the original PCs for around $1,600, but that was just an advertising price for the 16K system unit with a keyboard. Once you added a video adapter, some RAM and a disk drive or two you could easily climb to double that price. My first PC was purchased by my father and cost nearly $2,800. It had a single disk drive and 64K of RAM with a CGA card to be hooked into my TV set. I eventually got a black and white composite monitor so I could see 80 columns and a Quadram Quadboard that allowed me to expand the PC to nearer its 544K limit.

Front of the IBM Fact Sheet
Back of the IBM Fact Sheet

IBM did an all-out media blitz with the introduction of the PC. The card above is one of several I collected from local computer stores while waiting for my PC and it is one of the few advertising items that didn't feature Charlie Chaplin whose visage IBM licensed to represent their machine.

DOS 1.0 disk label

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this original IBM PC is the fact that I still have my DOS 1.0 manual and disk with it.

DOS 1.0 Running

DOS 1 was such a crude and simple operating system as compared to later versions or even CP/M. It was, however, easy to learn and starting from 1.0 meant that I only needed to learn a bit of new stuff with each iteration.

DOS 1.0 did have a nasty math bug, though, that was fixed by a patch - version 1.05. I've got a copy of that as well. IBM never officially released that version, however. It was just a bridge version until 1.10 could be shipped with the fix and some new features.

DOS 1.0 Booting close up

On boot DOS would ask for the date and then drop you to an A> prompt. There was no colon and there was no C> because the original PC wouldn't support hard drives or sub directories.

The PC also didn't have any sort of BIOS configuration utility. The system was configured by setting up a couple of sets of dip switches on the motherboard. One switch indicated whether you had a monochrome or color card installed. The one next to it indicated the default video mode (40 or 80 column.) Others set memory size.

As compared to today's multi-gigahertz, multi-gigabyte machines the original PC is crude and primitive.

But with its introduction in August of 1981 the world of personal computers was forever changed. The PC effectively killed CP/M and the S-100 bus and many of the companies that supported them, although those technologies clearly lived on for quite a while past 1981. Microsoft's shrewd decisions with regards to the DOS licensing agreement allowed them to sell DOS to other companies who produced PC clones. With every PC went DOS and with every copy of DOS Microsoft's dominance grew.

With the PC Intel went from being just another player competing with Zilog and Motorola to being the undisputed king of PC processors for two decades and probably more. In fact, much of the technology from the original PC lives on today as legacy support in the latest Microsoft operating systems.

Even when that's no longer the case the PC will still stand in the PC hall of fame next to other influential and landscape-altering machines such as the MITS Altair 8800 and Apple Macintosh.