The IBM PC Turns 35

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the “IBM Personal Computer” back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine’s 30th anniversary.

In fact, I’ve done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.

Features

IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that’s quite a bit of reading if you’re interested in the IBM PC.

[ Retro Scan ] Disemboweled IBM PC 5150

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

IBM PC 5150 Apart Components Inside Advertisement Scan - 1982Is somebody gonna clean this mess up?

Here we have a biggole two-page IBM PC 5150 advertisement spread from 1982 — published not long after the launch of IBM’s first PC in August 1981.

It looks like IBM is trying to play up the bare-metal technical angle for Byte readers, who likely were building their own PCs from kit parts just a few years prior (and some still were doing it then).

The result, quite frankly, is a huge mess (looks like my workbench). And the advertisement didn’t come out too well in the magazine print run, which makes the image dark and muddy. It’s not my fault, I swear!

I particularly like the phrase “the RS232C interface that gives you the world” in the advertising copy. It implies using the serial port for networking — that is, in connecting to remote computers. It’s funny because back then, that statement was a hyperbolic boast that was not meant literally. Online services were limited to a teeny-tiny fraction of the world population and their capabilities were limited. Today, networking does really give you the world.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1982, p.24-25 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever broken a computer while you were taking it apart? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan ] Dogs and Families Love IBM PS/1

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

IBM PS/1 IBM PC Dog Family Smithsonian Advertisement Scan - 1991Now you’ll have more time to spend with your dog

I’ve previously featured a later-model IBM PS/1 that also happened to be my brother’s college computer, circa ’94. But here we see an ad for an early — if not the first — model of the PS/1. This is back when PS/1 systems had the OS and a nifty mouse-based GUI program launcher built into ROM. They also shipped with Prodigy on the hard disk. I’m starting to really want one of these for my collection.

[ From Smithsonian, December 1991, p.20-21 ]

Discussion Topic: Has a pet ever done damage to your computer or game system? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM PS/1 Imagination System

Monday, September 14th, 2015

IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box Scan Photo - 1994IBM and Disney go together like peanut butter and petroleum jelly

Just before my brother left for college in the fall of 1994, my whole family went shopping for a new PC to send off to school with him. We made our way to an IBM PC factory outlet near Durham, NC. Upon walking in to the store, I remember being amazed by rows of 20-foot tall warehouse-style shelves, each one stacked with large boxes for IBM PC systems. A salesman met us at the door and apparently steered my father toward this: the IBM PS/1 Imagination system. I guess it was a good deal.

The machine itself came equipped with a 25 MHz 486-SX CPU, 4 MB of RAM, a 2400 BPS modem, and a Disney Sound Source (a sort of primitive SoundBlaster that plugged into the parallel port). Unlike earlier PS/1 models, this one shipped with MS-DOS 6 and Windows 3.1. It also came with a suite of pre-installed Disney software that my brother promptly deleted.

My dad also bought an unusual IBM-brand external ISA CD-ROM drive that required its own peripheral card. There wasn’t enough room in the PS/1 case for a CD-ROM drive and a 5.25″ floppy.

After college, my brother took this machine to work with him as a programmer, and he used it there until it was long outdated — probably until 1999 or so. It now rests safely in my collection, although the hard drive is now shot, and I think the power supply is fried too. Almost a decade ago, its rubber feet chemically decomposed into the most abysmally black and sticky tar that you can imagine. I need to restore the machine.

Just recently, I found the rather large shipping box for this computer sitting in my mom’s attic. Today, it holds miscellaneous housewares. This “scan” is actually a perspective-corrected photo of the side of that box (here is the original photo).

[ From IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box, ca. 1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What computer did you take with you to college?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM’s Bizarro Alt-Reality PC

Monday, June 29th, 2015

IBM Instruments Computer System advertisement - 1983The IBM Instruments Computer System

What a strange machine. The IBM Instruments Comptuer System was a completely modular 68000-based PC with its own custom OS (CSOS, according to Wikipedia, which stood for “Computer System Operating System” — ???). It also utilized Motorola’s rarely-seen Versabus bus architecture. The ICS was aimed at scientific and engineering use, and it launched in 1982 — the year following the launch of the IBM PC 5150.

Has anyone used or seen one of these? This is an oddity of oddities. Thank goodness the IBM PC didn’t end up like this.

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1983, p.116-117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first IBM brand computer you ever owned (even when collecting)?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Datachem Sexu-Cation

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Datachem Sexu-Cation Sex education software - 1987Outsource your sex educations needs to Datachem

“Mommy, where do babies come from?”

“Well, after a wild night of CTRL-ALT-DELETE, your father hit my CTRL-C then pressed CTRL-V, and nine months later, you came out from LPT1.”

[ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.92]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever played any sex-related computer games? (Or heck, even educational software.)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM Smart Desk

Monday, April 28th, 2014

IBM 3270 PC Smart Desk 1985Multitasking in the early days.

Ah, the IBM 3270 PC. What a strange beast. It was essentially an IBM PC that could also emulate an IBM 3270 terminal, which allowed it to link up to IBM mainframes. In a sense, this was IBM’s version of the AppleLine protocol adapter (featured in a Retro Scan a few weeks ago), albeit one built into an IBM PC.

By the way, look at the keyboard on this machine. Function keys galore. I’ve always wanted one of those.

[ From TIME, May 6 1985, p.B14-B15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer?

[ Newsbits ] April 10, 2014

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

There are too many good links this week. I honestly don’t know what happened. Maybe I’m getting better at this.

Recent News

  • Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 2.0
    The AHCS does it again

    “The Atlanta Historical Computer Society and the Computer Museum of America are pleased to announce the second annual Vintage Computer Festival Southeast. We have selected the dates of the 3rd and 4th of May to make it easy for people to attend both VCF East and VCF Southeast this year.

  • Nintendo Launches Game Boy Advance on Wii U Virtual Console
    Another painfully slow trickle of games from Nintendo, but the emulation is very well done.

    “From April 3 through April 24, select Game Boy Advance titles will launch in the Nintendo eShop on Wii U each week. In addition to off-TV play, these games feature Restore Points that save progress during game play, and Miiverse functionality.

  • Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP
    Spoiler: It’s not really dead

    “Windows XP, Microsoft Corp.’s beloved seventh major operating system and arguably the company’s most successful, was left to perish on Tuesday at its creators’ hands. It was 12 years, seven months old.

  • Fifty Years of IBM System/360
    The most successful computer platform that the least number of people know about

    “50 years ago today, IBM unveiled the System/360 mainframe, a groundbreaking computer that allowed new levels of compatibility between systems and helped NASA send astronauts to the Moon.

  • Gmail 10th Anniversary
    A great piece by Harry McCracken I missed last week

    “If you wanted to pick a single date to mark the beginning of the modern era of the web, you could do a lot worse than choosing Thursday, April 1, 2004, the day Gmail launched.

  • Raspberri Pi Announces New “Compute Module”
    A new variety of this vertsatile, hackable machine

    “The compute module contains the guts of a Raspberry Pi (the BCM2835 processor and 512Mbyte of RAM) as well as a 4Gbyte eMMC Flash device (which is the equivalent of the SD card in the Pi). This is all integrated on to a small 67.6x30mm board which fits into a standard DDR2 SODIMM connector (the same type of connector as used for laptop memory*).

Cool Links

  • Story of the Windows XP Bliss Desktop Image
    Hachman hits it out of the park with this research piece

    “It’s not too far-fetched to believe that a billion people have viewed the “Bliss” image that defines the desktop view of Windows XP, the seminal OS that Microsoft is retiring Tuesday. But you’d barely notice the real-world “Bliss” scene if you stepped out of your car and gazed at it today.

  • A Custom Portable N64 Console
    Kotaku drools all over a Bacman forum post

    “We’ve seen portable retro consoles before, but this N64 mod is beautiful. It uses a 3.5” screen, internal memory and Rumble Pak, an Expansion Pak, a GameCube analog stick and 4 hour battery life.

  • Kevin Mitnick Befriends a Former Foe on Facebook
    …an old hacking target of decades past

    “You gotta love the old friends you meet on Facebook.

  • Looking at the Web with Internet Explorer 6, One Last Time
    Lee Hutchinson explores the modern web with IE 6 in all its splintered glory

    “Windows XP wasn’t the only thing to be shuffled into unsupported purgatory yesterday. Also included in the group of applications to be dumped down the memory hole is the browser that everyone loves to hate: Internet Explorer 6.

  • 1988 Inside Edition Story on Nintendo
    Retroist digs up a vintage scare piece

    “In 1988 parents were still baffled by the spell that video games had cast over their children. This segment from Inside Edition tries to get to to the bottom of it all.

Echo Box

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  • Project: MEGAFOOT
    An indie sci-fi action film seeking funding on IndieGoGo. One of the rewards ($150 level) is a limited edition Megafoot NES cartridge.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with “[Newsbits]” in the subject line.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Simple IBM Instructions

Monday, November 4th, 2013

IBM PS/1 Monitor Instructions - 1994Step 1: Plug the monitor into the computer.

This roughly 7″ x 10″ sheet came packed with my brother’s 486SX 25MHz IBM PS/1 computer, which my dad bought him right before he started college. (Ah, the days when 486 was king.)

We were still installing programs off 5.25″ floppies then, and boy was that an adventure when the PS/1 insisted that its 3.5″ floppy drive was drive A:. Most programs assumed that drive A: in MS-DOS was always a 5.25″ drive (with the 3.5″ drive, if present, being drive B:), which screwed up many install scripts when you had to install off a set of 5.25″ disks.

What the sheet shows is almost mind-numbingly self-explanatory — how to hook the monitor up to the computer. It reminds me of these ridiculous USB plug-in instructions.

By the way, I left the authentic mold stains on the scan because I think they add character. The back of the sheet is blank.

[ From IBM PS/1 pack-in notes, circa 1994 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an IBM brand computer when it was new?

Woman Needs Help with ASCII Banner for Uncle’s Memorial

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Fuzzy MemoryJust today I received an email asking for help in producing an ASCII-art style printed banner for a memorial service that will take place this Saturday, May 11th, 2013. They will be honoring a lifetime IBM veteran who passed away recently at the age of 69.

I have a few ideas on how to do it, but I’m short on time this week, so I’m hoping someone out there can help her. Here is her email (posted with permission):

Hello. My uncle recently passed away quite unexpectedly at the age of 69. We are holding his memorial on Saturday, May 11th. I have been racking my brain on a way to honor him at his memorial. My uncle was a lifetime IBM employee and computer pioneer.

In 1979, when I was 9 years old, he gave me a banner for my birthday. It was from the old dot matrix printers. It had a silhouette of Snoopy on the top of his dog house and it said “Happy Birthday Chimene”. I literally thought it was the coolest thing. This was before home computers and home printers for our family. The letters were made with x or o or maybe dashes. Because my brain had no conceptual framework for the world of computers, I literally wondered if it was created by magic.

I would like to have one of these made for my uncle for his memorial. Do you have any idea how I could go about getting this done? I am not tech savvy so I would love to find someone that can do this for me and do it quickly. I know that there would be no better way for me to honor my uncle and I am desperate to find a way to get this done. Any help you can provide would be so greatly appreciated.

Chimene

Post your suggestions or offers to help in the comments, and Chimene will keep an eye on them. I’ll pass along your email address (leave it in the comment form) if she wants to contact you further.

[Update – I helped Chimene construct a banner using “banner” for *nix systems and an old Snoopy ASCII art drawing. She later sent me a photo of the print-out, which she used at the service. ]