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How far we’ve come…

Happy 34th birthday, IBM PC!

While I didn't own the original, our family did get one of the follow-on models. But that tweet really got me thinking about just how far we've come in 34 years. And while the original PC did start at $1,565, that price didn't get you much of a usable machine, as noted by

A basic system for home use attaches to an audio tape cassette player and a television set (that means no floppy drives or video monitor) sold for approximately $1,565. PC-DOS, the operating system, was not available on cassette, so this basic system is only capable of running the Microsoft BASIC programming language, which is built-in and included with every PC.

If you really wanted a usable IBM PC, you were looking at a much higher cost (from the same site):

A more typical system for home or school with a memory of 64K bytes, a single diskette drive and its own display, was priced around $3,000. An expanded system for business with color graphics, two diskette drives, and a printer cost about $4,500.

Keep in mind this is 1981 money. Adjusted for inflation, those costs are dramatically different in 2015 dollars:

  • $1,565 (Basic IBM PC) --> $4,109
  • $3,000 (Home IBM PC) --> $7,876
  • $4,500 (Business IBM PC) --> $11,814

Doesn't seem quite so cheap now, does it? But what's really amazing is what you can do with that same amount of money today. I'll use the Home IBM PC as a comparison, so I've got $7,876 to spend. Here's what you can get for that in 2015…

27" Retina iMac [3.3GHz CPU/16GB RAM/1TB disk]$2,199
13" Retina MacBook Pro [2.7GHz CPU/8GB RAM/256GB disk]$1,499
12" Retina MacBook [1.1GHz CPU/512GB disk]$1,599
iPad Air 2 [128GB + cellular]$829
iPhone 6 Plus [128GB / unlocked]$949
Apple Watch [42mm / Milanese loop]$699
HP Envy 5660 printer$100
Grand Total$7,874

For $2 less than you would have spent for a computer, printer, disk drive and monitor in 1981, today you can get three computers, a fully-loaded iPad Air 2, a fully-loaded iPhone 6 Plus (without contract), a mid-range Apple Watch…and oh yea, the printer.


1 thought on “How far we’ve come…”

  1. It's true that the PC was expensive even compared to other PCs of the day (apple, radio shack, etc), but the whole home computer market was much more entrepreneurial then and it was possible to save a lot of money by not buying from IBM. Our first PC was barebones but we bought 3rd party memory, 3rd party double-sided floppy drives (IBM were only single sided), and there were other graphics solutions like hercules card which offered monochrome+(non-color) graphics on one card. We even had a 3rd party "crystal" with speed settings to overclock the CPU.

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