The fourth through to the current generation of the modern computer includes those that
microprocessors in their designs. Of course, part of this fourth generation of computers is the personal computer, which itself was made possible by the
of low-cost microprocessors and memory.
In 1973, some of the first microcomputer kits based on the 8008 chip were developed. These kits were little more than demonstration tools and didn't do much except blink lights. In April 1974, Intel introduced the 8080 microprocessor, which was 10 times faster than the earlier 8008 chip and addressed 64KB of memory. This was the
the personal computer industry had been waiting for.
A company called MITS introduced the Altair kit in a cover story in the January 1975 issue of
. The Altair kit,
the first personal computer, included an 8080 processor, a power supply, a front panel with a large number of lights, and 256 bytes (not kilobytes) of memory. The kit sold for $395 and had to be
. Assembly back then
you got out your soldering iron to actually finish the circuit
, not like today where you can assemble a system of
with nothing more than a screwdriver.
The Altair included an open architecture system bus called the S-100 bus because it had 100 pins per slot. The
architecture meant that anybody could develop boards to fit in these slots and interface to the system. This prompted various add-ons and peripherals from
aftermarket companies. The new processor inspired software companies to write programs, including the CP/M (control program for microprocessors) operating system and the first version of the Microsoft BASIC (
all-purpose symbolic instruction code) programming language.
IBM introduced what can be called its first personal computer in 1975. The Model 5100 had 16KB of memory, a built-in 16-lineby64-character display, a built-in BASIC language interpreter, and a builtin DC-300 cartridge tape drive for storage. The system's $9,000 price placed it out of the mainstream personal computer
, which was dominated by experimenters (affectionately referred to as
) who built low-cost kits ($500 or so) as a hobby. Obviously, the IBM system was not in competition for this low-cost market and did not sell as well by comparison.
The Model 5100 was succeeded by the 5110 and 5120 before IBM introduced what we know as the IBM Personal Computer (Model 5150). Although the 5100 series preceded the IBM PC, the older systems and the 5150 IBM PC had nothing in common. The PC that IBM turned out was more closely
to the IBM System/23 DataMaster, an office computer system introduced in 1980. In fact, many of the
who developed the IBM PC had originally worked on the DataMaster.
In 1976, a new company called Apple Computer introduced the Apple I, which originally sold for $666.66. The selling price was an arbitrary number selected by one of Apple's cofounders, Steve Jobs. This system consisted of a main circuit board screwed to a piece of plywood; a case and power supply were not included. Only a few of these computers were made, and they reportedly have sold to collectors for more than $20,000. The Apple II, introduced in 1977, helped set the standard for nearly all the important microcomputers to follow, including the IBM PC.
The microcomputer world was dominated in 1980 by two types of computer systems. One type, the Apple II, claimed a large following of loyal users and a gigantic software base that was growing at a fantastic rate. The other type, CP/M systems, consisted not of a single system but of all the many systems that evolved from the original MITS Altair. These systems were compatible with one another and were distinguished by their use of the CP/M operating system and expansion slots, which followed the S-100 standard. All these systems were built by a variety of companies and sold under various
. For the most part, however, these systems used the same software and plug-in hardware. It is interesting to note that none of these systems was PC compatible or Macintosh compatible, the two primary standards in place today.
A new competitor looming on the horizon was able to see that to be successful, a personal computer needed to have an open architecture, slots for expansion, a modular design, and
support from both hardware and software companies other than the original manufacturer of the system. This competitor turned out to be IBM, which was quite surprising at the time because IBM was not known for systems with these open-architecture attributes! IBM, in essence, became more like the early Apple, and Apple itself became like everybody expected IBM to be. The open architecture of the forthcoming IBM PC and the closed architecture of the forthcoming Macintosh caused a complete
in the industry.
The IBM Personal Computer
At the end of 1980, IBM decided to truly
growing low-cost personal computer market. The company established the Entry Systems Division, located in Boca Raton, Florida, to develop the new system. The division was located intentionally far away from IBM's main headquarters in New York, or any other IBM facilities, so that this new division would be able to
independently as a separate unit. This small
consisted of 12 engineers and designers under the direction of Don Estridge and was charged with developing IBM's first real PC. (IBM considered the previous 5100 system, developed in 1975, to be an
programmable terminal rather than a
computer, even though it truly was a computer.) Nearly all these engineers had come to the new division from the System/23 DataMaster project, which was a small office computer system introduced in 1980 and was the direct predecessor of the IBM PC.
Much of the PC's design was influenced by the DataMaster design. In the DataMaster's single-piece design, the display and keyboard were integrated into the unit. Because these features were limiting, they became external units on the PC, although the PC keyboard layout and electrical designs were
from the DataMaster.
of the IBM PC system also were copied from the DataMaster, including the expansion bus (or input/output slots), which included not only the same physical 62-pin connector, but also almost identical pin specifications. This copying of the bus design was possible because the PC used the same interrupt controller as the DataMaster and a similar direct memory access (DMA) controller. Also, expansion cards already designed for the DataMaster could easily be redesigned to function in the PC.
The DataMaster used an Intel 8085 CPU, which had a 64KB address limit and an 8-bit internal and external data bus. This arrangement prompted the PC design team to use the Intel 8088 CPU, which
a much larger (1MB) memory address limit and an internal 16-bit data bus, but only an 8-bit external data bus. The 8-bit external data bus and similar instruction set enabled the 8088 to be easily
into the earlier DataMaster designs.
IBM brought its system from idea to delivery of functioning systems in one year by using existing designs and purchasing as many components as possible from outside
. The Entry Systems Division was granted autonomy from IBM's other divisions and could tap resources outside the company, rather than go through the bureaucratic procedures that required exclusive use of IBM resources. IBM contracted out the PC's languages and operating system to a small company named Microsoft. That decision was the major factor in establishing Microsoft as the dominant force in PC software today.
It is interesting to note that IBM had originally contacted Digital Research (the company that created CP/M, then the most popular personal computer operating system) to have it develop an operating system for the new IBM PC. However, Digital was leery of working with IBM and
balked at the
agreement IBM wanted Digital to sign. Microsoft jumped on the opportunity left open by Digital Research and, consequently, has become one of the largest software companies in the world. IBM's use of outside vendors in developing the PC was an open
for the aftermarket to jump in and support the systemand it did.
On August 12, 1981, a new standard was established in the microcomputer industry with the debut of the IBM PC. Since then, hundreds of millions of PC-compatible systems have been sold, as the original PC has grown into an
family of computers and peripherals. More software has been written for this computer family than for any other system on the market.
The PC Industry More Than 20
In the more than 20 years since the original IBM PC was introduced, many changes have occurred. The IBM-compatible computer, for example, advanced from a 4.77MHz 8088-based system to 3GHz or faster Pentium 4based systemsabout 20,000 times faster than the original IBM PC (in actual processing speed, not just clock speed). The original PC had only one or two single-sided floppy
that stored 160KB each using DOS 1.0, whereas modern systems easily can have 200GB (200 billion bytes) or more of hard disk storage.
A rule of thumb in the computer industry (called Moore's Law, originally set forth by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore) is that available processor performance and disk-storage capacity doubles every one and a half to two years, give or take.
Since the beginning of the PC industry, this pattern has held steady and, if anything, seems to be accelerating.
In 1965, Gordon Moore was preparing a speech about the growth trends in computer memory and made an interesting observation. When he
to graph the data, he realized a striking trend existed. Each new chip contained
twice as much capacity as its predecessor, and each chip was released within 1824 months of the previous chip. If this trend
, he reasoned, computing power would rise exponentially over relatively brief periods of time.
Moore's observation, now known as Moore's Law, described a trend that has continued to this day and is still remarkably accurate. It was found to not only describe memory chips, but also accurately describe the growth of processor power and disk drive storage capacity. It has become the basis for many industry performance forecasts. As an example, in 30 years the number of transistors on a processor chip increased more than 18,000 times, from 2,300 transistors on the 4004 processor in 1971 to more than 140 million transistors on the Pentium III Xeon processor in May 2000. By 2007, Intel expects to release server processors with one billion
In addition to performance and storage capacity, another major change since the original IBM PC was introduced is that IBM is not the only manufacturer of PC-compatible systems. IBM originated the PC-compatible standard, of course, but today it no longer sets the standards for the system it originated. More often than not, new standards in the PC industry are developed by companies and organizations other than IBM.
Today, it is Intel, Microsoft, and to an extent AMD who are primarily responsible for developing and extending the PC hardware and software standards. Some have even taken to calling PCs "Wintel" systems, owing to the
of the first two companies. Although AMD originally produced Intel processors under license and later produced low-cost, pin-compatible counterparts to Intel's 486 and Pentium processors (AMD 486, K5/K6), starting with the Athlon, AMD has created completely unique processors that have been worthy rivals to Intel's Pentium II, III, and 4 models.
In more recent years, Intel, Microsoft, and AMD have carried the evolution of the PC forward. The introduction of hardware standards such as the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus, Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) bus, ATX and BTX motherboard form factors, processor socket and slot interfaces, and numerous others show that Intel is really pushing PC hardware design these days. Intel is also responsible for the motherboard chipsets used to support these features, enabling its newest processors to be immediately available in systems. AMD has on occasion made chipsets for its own processors, but the few AMD chipsets that have been produced have acted primarily as reference designs for other vendors to improve upon. Consequently, AMD-based systems often offer much more
customization features than Intel-based systems at a lower cost. In a similar fashion, Microsoft is pushing the software side of things with the continual evolution of the Windows operating system as well as applications such as the Office suite. Both Intel and Microsoft continue to capitalize on the widespread popularity of the Internet, multimedia, and other types of rich media. Such uses as gaming, DVD editing, broadband Internet access, and photo-quality printing are giving more and more people important reasons to use a PC. Even though recent sales have leveled off from the explosive growth of the mid-to-late 1990s, the reality is that most people who want to use a PC for a business or
task have one. Today, literally hundreds of system manufacturers follow the collective PC standard and produce computers that are fully PC compatible. In addition, thousands of peripheral manufacturers produce components that expand and enhance PC-compatible systems.
PC-compatible systems have thrived not only because compatible hardware can be assembled easily, but also because the primary operating system was available not from IBM but from a third party (Microsoft). The
of the system software is the basic input/output system (BIOS), and this was also available from third-party companies, such as AMI, Phoenix, and others. This situation enabled other manufacturers to license the operating system and BIOS software and sell their own compatible systems. The fact that DOS borrowed the functionality and
interface from both CP/M and Unix probably had a lot to do with the amount of software that became available. Later, with the success of Windows, even more reasons would exist for software developers to write programs for PC-compatible systems.
One reason Apple Macintosh systems have never enjoyed the extreme success of PC systems is that Apple controls all the primary systems software (BIOS and OS) and, with one short-lived exception, has
to license it to other companies for use in compatible systems. This has
relegated Apple to a 3%5% market share in personal computers, with the rest of the market being PCs.
After years of declining market share, Apple seemed to recognize that refusing to license its operating system was a flawed stance and in the mid-1990s licensed its software to third-party manufacturers such as Power Computing. After a short time, though, Apple
its licensing agreements with other manufacturers. Because Apple remains
a closed system, other companies cannot develop compatible machines, meaning Apple-compatible systems are available from only one source: Apple. Although the development of low-cost models such as the iMac and Apple's continued popularity with educators and
have helped Apple maintain and modestly increase its market share, Apple will never effectively compete with the PC-compatible
because of its closed-system approach. It is fortunate for the computing public as a whole that IBM created a more open and extendible standard, which today finds systems being offered by hundreds of companies in thousands of configurations. This type of competition among manufacturers and vendors of PC-compatible systems is the reason such systems offer so much performance and so many capabilities for the money.
One fortunate development for Apple Mac
is the shift to Intel x86 processors, which will greatly improve the performance of the Mac systems, as well as make them more compatible with PCs. Time will tell, but I believe that this is without a doubt the
move Apple has made in years.
In the meantime, the PC continues to thrive and
, and new technology continues to be integrated into these systems, enabling them to grow with the times. These systems offer a high value for the money and have plenty of software available to run on them. It's a safe bet that PC-compatible systems will dominate the personal computer marketplace for the