The 25 Near-Greatest PCs of All Time (1971-1983)
As we whittled down our picks for The 25 Greatest PCs of All Time, we realized that some machines that didn't make the cut were still worthy of celebration. Some were breakthroughs hobbled by drawbacks, some were obscure pioneers, some were intriguing one-trick ponies--but all are worth remembering. Here they are, in chronological order.
Kenbak-1 (1971): Arguably the first personal computer--it was sold for $750 via a tiny ad in Scientific American magazine--this hobbyist kit was so ahead of its time that it had to use TTL (Transistor-Transistor Logic) components, instead of the newly invented microprocessor, to crunch binary code.
R2E Micral N (1973): Developed in France, this system was the first fully assembled, general-purpose computer built around a microprocessor, Intel's 8-bit 8008 chip. And it featured software written by Philippe Kahn, later founder of the Borland software empire.
Commodore PET 2001 (1977): Along with the Apple II and TRS-80 Model 1, this was one of 1977's pioneering trio of PCs aimed at the masses, but its weird calculator-like keyboard and kludgy all-in-one case made it the crudest of the group. PET stood for Personal Electronic Transactor; rumor had it that the name was also a nod to the Pet Rock craze of the 1970s.
Heathkit H-89 (1979): When do-it-yourselfers wanted to build gadgets in the 1970s, they turned to Heathkit, and this $1800 computer kit made assembling your own color TV pass
Epson HX-20 (1981): The forgotten first laptop, Epson's HX-20 even included a tiny printer in a case that was the same size as the similar, far more popular TRS-80 Model 100.
Osborne 1 (1981): In 1981 the first "luggable" computer was appealingly portable--all 26 pounds of it--and its array of bundled software made it a bargain. Osborne Computer crumbled when it preannounced a new model and customers stopped buying its old ones--a classic business blunder that's known as "The Osborne Effect" to this day.
Commodore 64 (1982): In 1982 64KB was a heck of a lot of memory for a home PC, and the C64 had it. That advantage helped make it the most popular system of its era--maybe any era--with about 30 million units sold over its 11-year production run.
Apple Lisa (1983): Call it the proto-Mac: The Lisa sported radical innovations such as a graphical user interface complete with bitmapped fonts, and a mouse. At $10,000 it was more mainstream than the Xerox Star but still too pricey. This model was one of the most important flops ever.
Compaq Portable (1983): A hugely popular luggable PC, this workhorse put a startup called Compaq on the map--and was the first 100-percent IBM compatible clone.
IBM PC XT 5160 (1983): IBM's follow-up to the PC was another hit. With its Intel 8086 CPU, it was the first 16-bit personal computer. Unlike the original IBM Personal Computer 5150, which used an 8088 processor for its 16-bit processing and an 8-bit data bus to keep costs down, the XT was 16-bit all the way. And its hard drive, all 10MB of it, helped mass storage go mainstream.