Greatest PCs: 10-8
10. Apple PowerBook 100 (1991)
If your first portable computer doesn't succeed, try, try again. That's the lesson of the PowerBook 100, Apple's splendid successor to the famously awful Mac Portable, a machine we named to our list of the 25 worst tech products of all time.
Along with the higher-end PowerBook 140 and 170, the $2500 100 sported two features that the rest of the industry quickly cribbed. First, the company pushed the keyboard back toward the screen hinge, freeing up space for a wrist-rest area that made typing more comfortable. And in the center of that wrist rest sat a nice, large trackball, the best mobile pointing device of its era. (At the time, folks who ran Windows on portable computers were still futzing with unwieldy clip-on trackballs.) Those were just two of the more striking innovations in a slick laptop design that, according to Jim Carlton's book Apple, took the company from last place to first in laptop sales.
The PowerBook 100--which was, by the way, manufactured by Sony--was discontinued in 1992. But the PowerBook line went on and on, coming to an end just this year, when the final 12-inch PowerBook was replaced by the MacBook.
9. Columbia Data Products MPC 1600-1 (1982)
When IBM created its first PC, it used an Intel 8088 CPU, off-the-shelf parts, and Microsoft's DOS--which meant that other manufacturers could build machines that were at least reasonably compatible with it. They did, and the very first to ship one was Columbia Data Systems.
The $2995 MPC, whose name was short for "Multi Personal Computer," had double the typical IBM PC's RAM, more expansion slots and ports, and two floppy drives rather than one. At the time, Columbia's Fred Conte told InfoWorld that he didn't see the system going head-to-head with Big Blue. "It is a multibillion dollar marketplace, and if we can pick up a small percentage--say, 2 to 3 percent--it will be a luxury," he said.
Columbia's PC soon had lots of company. At the COMDEX show in November 1982, a flurry of what were then called "IBM look-alikes" were announced--so many that the show also saw the announcement of the first magazine specifically "For Second-Generation IBM PCs and Compatibles." Its name? PC World.
By the mid-1980s, Columbia foundered, and though the company still exists, it hasn't built a PC in a long time. But by producing the clone that other clones cloned, the company helped to define the Intel-and-Microsoft platform that dominates to this day.
8. Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 (1983)
Though not quite the first notebook computer--Epson's forgotten HX-20 preceded it--Tandy's Model 100 was the first that caught on. (One thing that didn't catch on: Tandy's desire that the machine be known as a MEWS, for Micro Executive Work Station.)
In a day when most "portable computers" were 25-pound behemoths, the 3.4-pound Model 100 was indeed the size of a notebook, which meant it could go places that computers had never gone before. Yet it packed a 2-by-7.5-inch screen that could display 40 characters across and eight lines of text; a full-size keyboard that's still impressive today; built-in software such as a word processor and spreadsheet; and a 300-bps modem that let you connect to services such as CompuServe.
Variants of the Model 100 included 1984's Model 200, which introduced the clamshell case that almost every portable computer would eventually adopt. Well into the 1990s, some journalists were still toting these Radio Shack systems--and sites such as Club 100 continue to help people use them.