1981: The IBM 5150 Is Born

The Modern PC Turns 30


IBM launched the 5150 PC on Aug. 12, 1981.

It wasn't much by today's standards, or even yesterday's. The 5150 featured a 4.77 MHz 8-to-16 bit Intel 8088 processor. It was less powerful than other processors available from Intel and Motorola, but those were thought to be “too powerful” for a PC. IBM also gave the 5150 a full 64 kilobytes of RAM — expandable to whopping 256 kB — one or two floppy drives (your choice) and a monochromatic display.

The 5150 was developed in less than a year by a team of 12 led by Don Estridge. The project was given the codename “Project Chess” -- which we mention only because it sounds so cool -- and built using off-the-shelf components.

Depending on how you configured your 5150, you'd shell out anywhere from $1,565 to $6,000 for one. That comes to $4,000 to $15,000 in today’s dollars. The success of the 5150 made the IBM PC the industry standard, and before long a whole bunch of "IBM compatibles” and clones jumped into the burgeoning PC market.

Comment: I couldn't afford it on a pastor's salary. In June of 1982, I bought a TRS-80 Model 3 and an Epson printer. With software it was $ 2,500.

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