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Advertisement for the Kenbak-1 computer kit, c. 1971
Credit: Scientific American

Personal Computers

In the mid-1970s, the increased availability of inexpensive microprocessors led to the development of “personal computers”– affordable computers intended for a single user. Typically, the first systems were available only as kits and required technical knowledge to build and operate. Clubs, newsletters, and magazines arose to facilitate an exchange of information between enthusiasts. By 1977, Commodore, Tandy Radio Shack and Apple were producing personal computers in large numbers.

Most corporate managers hesitated to embrace the concept until IBM validated the market with its entry in 1981. The IBM Personal Computer (PC) caused an explosion of IBM-compatible hardware and software and sparked a new industry based on Intel microprocessors and Microsoft operating systems.

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Kenbak-1
Gift of John V. Blankenbaker, X703.86
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John Blackenbaker, Kenbak-1 designer
1971
Credit: Computer History Museum

Kenbak-1
1971
Kenbak Corporation, United States

In 1971, Scientific American magazine advertised the Kenbak-1 computer. Designed by John V. Blankenbaker, the machine featured standard small- to medium-scale integrated circuits, relied on switches and lights for input/output, and included a 256-byte memory. Kenbak Corporation closed its doors in 1973 after selling only forty computers to schools and hobbyists. The Kenbak won The Computer Museum’s “Earliest PC Contest” in 1986.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:2,500 Add/s
Memory Size:256 bytesCost:$750.00
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Micral (in blue) with tape drive, monitor and keyboard
c. 1973
Credit: Thi T. Truong

Micral Microcomputer
1973
R2E, France

Not only was the Micral probably the first commercially available, fully assembled computer to include a microprocessor, but it was also the first machine referred to as a "microcomputer" in print. Incorporating the new Intel 8008 processor, the Micral was available in 1973, 18 months before the Altair 8800 kit appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine. R2E (Réalisations Etudes Electroniques) originally designed the Micral for use by the French National Institute for Agronomic Research(INRA).

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:0.2 MHz
Memory Size:256 bytesCost:$1,950
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Altair 8800 Microcomputer System
Gift of Craig Payne, 1026211982
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Altair 8800 featured on the cover of Popular Electronics
January 1975
Credit: Popular Electronics

Altair 8800 Microcomputer System
1975
MITS, United States

The cover story of the January 1975 edition of Popular Electronics magazine featured the Altair 8800 microcomputer kit. Using a new 8-bit Intel 8080 CPU and a price tag just under $500, the Altair became the most popular "homebrew" computer to date. It inspired Harvard University student William Gates to write a BASIC interpreter so that users would not be forced to use assembly language to program the machine. He called his new company "Micro-Soft."

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:1 MHz
Memory Size:256 bytesCost:$397 (Kit)
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Xerox Notetaker
Gift of David Pirogowicz, X748.86
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Alan Kay
c. 1990
Credit: Alan Kay

Xerox Notetaker
c. 1976
PARC, United States

Xerox Palo Alto Research (PARC) researcher Alan Kay intended the Notetaker to be a portable universal learning appliance. Built by Doug Fairbairn, the computer, weighing 48 pounds, featured an internal monitor and floppy disk drive as well as a mouse. Like the Xerox Alto, the Notetaker used a version of the Smalltalk-78 operating environment.

The Notetaker’s design set the trend for many later “luggable” computers such as the Osborne 1 and the Compaq Portable. Xerox built about ten Notetaker prototypes and never offered the machine for sale as a product.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:1 MHz
Memory Size:128KCost:$50,000
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Apple-1
Gift of Dysan Corporation, X210.83A
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Steve Jobs (left) and Steve Wozniak with Apple-1
April, 1976
Credit: Joe Melena

Apple I
1976
Apple Computer, United States

Steve Wozniak first showed the prototype Apple-1 to his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club in April 1976. For $666.66 buyers received a blank printed circuit board, a kit of parts, and a 16-page assembly manual. In order to make a useful computer, one had to add a power supply, keyboard, and display. Wozniak and his high-school friend Steve Jobs went into small-scale production when The Byte Shop in Mountain View ordered fifty assembled boards.

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Apple II
102626726
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Original Apple II manual cover
1977
Credit: Apple Computer Inc.

Apple II
1977
Apple Computer Inc., United States

Inspired by the success of the Apple-1 and guided by friend co-founder Steve Jobs' vision of an expandable user-friendly personal computer, Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II in 1977. The self-contained unit housed all electronics, a keyboard, a power supply, and the BASIC language stored in the machine's permanent memory. A standard television could serve as the display.

With the introduction of the floppy disk drive in 1978 and the spreadsheet program VisiCalc in 1979, the Apple II became a blockbuster product with a devoted following. Production of the Apple II family finally ended in 1993.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:1 MHz
Memory Size:48KCost:$1,298
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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TRS-80 Model 1
102626722
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TRS-80 in school setting, c. 1982
Credit: Tandy Radio Shack Corporation

TRS-80 Model 1
1977
Tandy Radio Shack, United States

Until 1977, most home computers were available only as kits or required signficant technical ability to use. The TRS-80 belonged to a new generation of inexpensive personal computers designed for the mass market. It arrived completely assembled and included a monitor, keyboard and pre-installed BASIC software. Also, the machine could store data and programs using a standard audiocassette recorder.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:1.77 MHz
Memory Size:4KCost:$599.95
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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IBM Personal Computer
Gift of William Wachenfeld, X1261.96
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Personal Computer featured in Time magazine
January 1983
Credit: Time, Inc.

IBM Personal Computer
1981
IBM Corporation, United States

Although IBM’s first personal computer arrived nearly ten years after others were available, the IBM Personal Computer (PC) instantly legitimized and expanded the market. Unlike most other contemporary IBM products, the PC incorporated both hardware (the Intel 8088 microprocessor) and software made by other companies. IBM published design details in their manuals that encouraged others to make copies or “clones” of the original machine, often with improved functionality. The IBM PC architecture quickly became an industry standard.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:4.77 MHz
Memory Size:16KCost:$1,565
Memory Width: (8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Osborne 1
102626721
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Adverstisement for the Osborne 1
1981
Credit: Osborne Computer Corporation

Osborne 1 Portable Computer
1981
Osborne Computer, United States

In 1981, Osborne advertised the first commercial portable computer. The Osborne 1 weighed 24 pounds and became its own carrying case by attaching the keyboard to the front of the unit. It was a success not only because of its size and low price, but because it also included an extensive software library worth more than the price of the computer itself. Designed by Lee Felsentein, the machine used a Zilog Z80 processor, and ran the CP/M operating system.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:4 MHz
Memory Size:64KCost:$1,795
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

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Commodore 64 Home Computer
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2418.2002A

Commodore 64 Home Computer
1982
CBM, United States

With powerful audio visual capabilities, Commodore Business Machines originally developed the 64 as a programmable engine to support arcade games. Following the project’s abrupt cancellation, Commodore attempted to recoup its investment by remarketing the machine as a home computer. The 64 was less expensive than comparable computers and Commodore eventually sold more than 30 million units.

Memory Type:SemiSpeed:1 MHz
Memory Size:64KCost:$595
Memory Width:(8-bit)Click to see technical notes

Others
Click to see bigger picture 8008 Homebrew Microcomputer
US
1974
On Loan from Steve Roberts, L2002.4.1
Click to see bigger picture SOL Terminal
US
c. 1978
102626727
Click to see bigger picture Apricot Portable
England
c. 1985
Gift of Adam Ettinger, X1317.97
Click to see bigger picture Commodore SuperPET
US
c. 1981
Gift of Vladimir Steffel, X2494.2003
Click to see bigger picture Mattel Aquarius
US
1982
102626750
Click to see bigger picture Sony HB-75AS Hit Bit
Japan
1984
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2432.2002
Click to see bigger picture Bel-Air Technologies Vista
US
1993
Gift of Ken Sumrall, X1504.98
Click to see bigger picture Gandalf (IMSAI 8800)
US
c. 1974
102626678
Click to see bigger picture Olympian-S
USSR
1995
Gift of Warren Yogi, 102630036
Click to see bigger picture Radio Shack TRS-80 64K Color Computer 2
US
c. 1985
Gift of Richard Walters, 102630979
Click to see bigger picture MASTER Personal Computer
USSR
1993
Gift of Serguei Nikolaev, 102630947
Click to see bigger picture NEC 8201
Japan
1983
102626762
Click to see bigger picture Sony OA-S1100 Typecorder
Japan
1980
Gift of Paul Saffo, X1594.99
Click to see bigger picture Apple III
US
c. 1981
102626738
Click to see bigger picture Robotron K 8981
East Germany
1988
102626735
Click to see bigger picture Stoppani Electric Smaky 6
Switzerland
1978
Gift of J. D. Nicoud, X2309.2002B
Click to see bigger picture Hewlett-Packard Integral PC
US
1985
Gift of Peter Gulotta, X2369.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Kaypro 2000 and docking station
US
1985
Gift of Richard Walters, 102630025
Click to see bigger picture Apple II
Apple Computer Inc.
United States
1977
102626726
Click to see bigger picture Commodore PET
US
1977
102626724
Click to see bigger picture Stoppani Electric Smaky 4
Switzerland
c. 1975
Gift of Richard M. Merrill, 102626683
Click to see bigger picture Apple PowerBook 170
US
c. 1994
Gift of John Sculley, X1137.93
Click to see bigger picture Apple Macintosh
1984
US
Gift of Richard Walters, 102630037
Click to see bigger picture Apple Lisa
US
1983
Gift of Apple Computer, 102626732
Click to see bigger picture Atari 800
US
1979
Gift of David Dellinger, X1258.96
Click to see bigger picture TRS-80 Model 100
US
1983
Gift of Charles Zraket, X1233.96
Click to see bigger picture Apple IIc Plus
US
1988
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2433.2002A-B
Click to see bigger picture Commodore SX-64 Executive
US
c. 1984
Gift of Stephen M. Cabrinety, 102626607
Click to see bigger picture Compaq Portable
US
1984
Gift of Laura Bradeen, X1227.96
Click to see bigger picture Be Bebox
US
1996
Gift of Jean-Louis Gassée, Be, Inc., X1480.97
Click to see bigger picture Apple Power Mac G4 Cube
US
2000
Gift of Robert Garner, 102626664
Click to see bigger picture Apple Macintosh 20th Anniversary Edition
US
1997
Gift of Apple Computer, Inc., X1536.98
Click to see bigger picture Apple PowerBook Duo Dock
US
c. 1994
Gift of Richard Walters, 102630982
Click to see bigger picture Toshiba T1000
Japan
c. 1987
Gift of Mitchell Kapor, X1128.93
Click to see bigger picture Tadpole SPARCbook-2
England
1993
Gift of Bill McKie, 102632012
Click to see bigger picture NeXT Cube
US
1988
102626734
Click to see bigger picture Metaphor Workstation
US
c. 1984
Gift of Charles Irby, 102630079
Click to see bigger picture Tandy 1400 FD
US
c. 1989
Gift of Mark Gilkey, 102630993
Click to see bigger picture HP Portable Vectra CS
US
c. 1985
102620296
Click to see bigger picture Commodore 64 Home Computer
CBM
United States
1982
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2418.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Commodore plus/4
US
1984
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2416.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Apple Macintosh TV
US
1994
102626675
Click to see bigger picture AT&T UNIX PC
US
1986
Gift of Alex Bochannek, X1529.98A-C
Click to see bigger picture Heath Heathkit H-89
US
c. 1980
102626743
Click to see bigger picture TRS-80 Model III
US
1981
Gift of Robert Zeidman, 102632028
Click to see bigger picture IBM PC Junior
US
1983
Gift of Thomas Burchill, 102621910-11, 102626740, X1259.96B
Click to see bigger picture Compaq Portable III
US
1987
Gift of Len Shustek, 102626676
Click to see bigger picture Telic Alcatel Minitel
France
1981
Gift of Gerard Thery, X1509.98
Click to see bigger picture GriDLite Plus Model 1040
US
1986
102626681
Click to see bigger picture Tandy Radio Shack Model 200
US
1984
Gift of Richard Walters, 102630976
Click to see bigger picture IBM RT PC
US
1986
Gift of Anonymous Donor, X1548.98
Click to see bigger picture NeXT, Inc., NeXTstation
US
1990
102626688
Click to see bigger picture Atari 1200XL
US
c. 1982
Gift of Stephen M. Cabrinety, 102626685
Click to see bigger picture Commodore Amiga 1000
US
1985
Gift of Rachel Rawlings, X1533.98
Click to see bigger picture Canon Cat V777 Work Processor
Japan
c. 1987
Gift of Paul Cubbage, 102630991
Click to see bigger picture Mindset Corporation MINDSET PC System
US
1983
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2408.2002
Click to see bigger picture Coleco Adam
US
1981
102626756
Click to see bigger picture Osborne Vixen
US
1984
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2403.2002
Click to see bigger picture TI-99/4A
US
1981
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2421.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Gavilan Mobile Computer
US
1983
Gift of Angelina Jimenez, 102626760
Click to see bigger picture MCM/70
Canada
1974
102626679
Click to see bigger picture Interact Home Computer
US
1979
Gift of Lawrence Ching, X2239.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Sinclair ZX Spectrum
England
1982
102626684
Click to see bigger picture Sinclair ZX81
England
1982
102626686
Click to see bigger picture Commodore CBM Model 8032
US
1979
Gift of Stephen M. Cabrinety, 102626677
Click to see bigger picture Sinclair QL
England
1984
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2429.2002A
Click to see bigger picture Commodore 16
US
1984
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2417.2002
Click to see bigger picture iXO Telecomputer
US
1982
102626751
Prototypes and Single Boards
Click to see bigger picture LCD Dauphin Development System
Switzerland
1977
Gift of J.D. Nicoud, X2304.2002
Click to see bigger picture TV Typewriter
US
1973
Gift of Don Lancaster, X689.86
Click to see bigger picture EPA MICRO 68
US
1975
X694.Gift of Victor Wintriss, X694.86
Click to see bigger picture LAMI-EPFL Dauphin 85 Logic Trainer
Switzerland
1977
Gift of J.D. Nicoud, X2305.2002
Click to see bigger picture SCELBI-8B
US
1975
Gift of Michael Rossman, X714.86
Click to see bigger picture Ohio Scientific Model 600 Computer
US
1978
102626763
Click to see bigger picture SWTPC 6800
US
1976
102626767
Click to see bigger picture Netronics COSMAC ELF
US
1976
Gift of Bill Buzbee, 102631015
Click to see bigger picture RCA COSMAC VIP
US
1977
Gift of Robert F. Casey, X686.86
Click to see bigger picture EA EDUC-8 MICROCOMPUTER
Austrailia
1975
Gift of John Whitehouse, 102626766
Click to see bigger picture 8008 Homebrew Microcomputer
US
1974
On Loan from Steve Roberts, L2002.4.1
Click to see bigger picture Rockwell AIM 65
US
1977
Gift of Bob Bynum, 102626764
Click to see bigger picture Apple LISA I Prototype
US
1983
Gift of Michael Plitkins, X2436.2002A
Click to see bigger picture E & L Instruments MMD Logic Trainer
US
1976
Gift of Phil Keller, 102630977