The First Desktop Computer, Part One


If you are searching for a cheap desktop computer, you are not alone. Personal computers were made possibly by two major technological innovations in the microelectronics field, and have since become an essential part of both home, and workplace culture and usage. The first major innovation was the integrated circuit, or IC, which allowed for the miniaturization of computer memory circuits, greatly reducing the size of the computer itself, and was developed in 1959. The second, the microprocessor, was developed in 1971, and reduced the size of a computers CPU, or central processing unit, to the size of a single, tiny silicon chip.

Microprocessors were developed by Ted Hof for the Intel Corporation in the Santa Clara Valley just south of San Francisco, California, an area that, in time, would be known as Silicon Valley. Shortly after the advent of the microprocessor, the first desktop computer was made available in 1974 by Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems, and owners of this system were encouraged by the editor of a then current technology magazine to create and sell a mail order kit, which came to be known as Altair. For anyone in the market for a cheap desktop computer, however, the price of the Altair, which retailed for around $400, was out of the price range of most at the time.

Because of the unprecedented command for the Altair kit, however, many small entrepreneurial companies began producing their own computers for this burgeoning market. Radio Shack, then known as the Tandy Corporation, was the first major electronics firm to undertake such a project, introducing its personal computer in 1977. This model caught the attention of two engineer programmers, Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs, who started a new computer manufacturing company of their own, Apple Computers. In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak created a microprocessor computer called the Apple I, and began manufacturing and selling their product locally.

By 1977, Apple Computers had become Apple Computer, Inc, and the Apple II, billed as the worlds first personal computer and complete with keyboard and color graphics capability, retailed for around $1290. These computers had expanded memory, data storage, and disk drive programs, and their popularity helped make Apple Computer, Inc the fastest growing company in US business history.

IBM followed Apples lead in 1981, introducing the IBM PC, which featured a 16-bit microprocessor and the first operating system. The mid 1980s saw the introduction of more powerful 32 bit computers capable of running advanced multi-user operating systems at high speeds, which meant that an office desktop computer could, for the first time, serve all of the needs of a small business and many of the needs of a medium sized business.

 


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