More Near-Greatest PCs (1984-1989)
Apple Macintosh (1984): Some people may wonder why the first Mac--the extraordinarily influential system whose development is superbly chronicled at Folklore.org--is on our list of also-rans rather than at the top of our list of the greatest PCs. Blame its placement on its skimpy 128KB RAM, which made it almost unusable. Apple quickly addressed that shortcoming with a 512KB model (the "Fat Mac"), and 1986's Mac Plus (number 4 on our list of the greatest) made the Mac truly usable.
Hewlett-Packard HP 110 (1984): HP's first laptop, this 9-pound portable had a flip-up screen, Lotus 1-2-3 and other productivity software stored in read-only-memory, and a whopping (for the time) 272KB of nonvolatile CMOS RAM.
Atari 520ST (1985): Nicknamed the "Jackintosh" after Atari CEO (and Commodore founder) Jack Tramiel, Atari's first 16-bit PC provided lots of computing power at a low price; its built-in MIDI capabilities made it popular with musicians for years.
Apple Macintosh II (1987): A Mac that draws inspiration from the IBM PC-compatible world? Yep--the II, aimed at business users, was the first Mac in a PC-like case with internal expansion slots, and the first to come with a full-size PC-like keyboard. And it was the first color Mac.
IBM PS/2 Series (1987): Though the PS/2 line was entirely software-compatible with previous AT-Architecture PC models, most PS/2s used Big Blue's proprietary Micro Channel Architecture. The new architecture was incompatible with AT add-in cards--a big stumbling block for widespread industry and buyer acceptance. But the list of innovations for the MCA PS/2s is impressive: They were the first 32-bit personal computers, they had a plug-and-play BIOS, and they introduced the PS/2 keyboard and mouse interface still in use today. They also introduced the VGA graphics standard (a huge step up over its EGA predecessor) and the familiar VGA connector port, which remains the standard plug for most CRT and other analog monitors. Unfortunately, all that new technology kept prices high, and IBM's tight licensing policies kept clone makers from helping to create a new standard.
Atari Portfolio (1989): The first palmtop computer to run MS-DOS, this reasonably priced gadget was about the size of a VHS tape. Atari, foundering at the time, didn't do much with it, but it made a cameo in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
NeXT Cube (1989): Steve Jobs's second computer startup after Apple may have failed, but its forward-thinking machine boasted optical storage, a megapixel display, and incredible industrial design--and its operating system evolved into Mac OS X. There's still a market for used Cubes; Black Hole has them starting at $299.