1IBM Personal Computer
Although IBM’s launch of the Personal Computer (IBM 5150) in 1981 set the industry standard for personal computing, IBM had introduced a variety of small computers for individual users several years earlier. While now is certainly an appropriate moment to salute the legendary IBM PC on its 30th birthday, it’s also a good time to take a brief look back at some of the pioneering IBM products that immediately preceded it.
2IBM 5100 Portable Computer
Weighing about 50 pounds and slightly larger than an IBM typewriter, the 5100 Portable Computer was announced by the company’s General Systems Division in September 1975. The Portable Computer was intended to put computer capabilities at the fingertips of engineers, analysts, statisticians and other problem solvers. Available in 12 models providing 16K, 32K, 48K or 64K of main storage, the 5100 sold for $8,975 to $19,975. The 5100 was available with either APL or BASIC—or both—programming languages.
3IBM 5100 Cartridges
IBM offered three Problem-Solver Libraries, contained in magnetic tape cartridges (shown here), with the IBM 5100 to provide more than 100 interactive routines applicable to mathematical problems, statistical techniques and financial analyses. The cartridge had a 204,000-character capacity on 300 feet of 1/4-inch tape. The 5100 Portable Computer was withdrawn from marketing in March 1982.
The next “personal computer” out of the gate was the IBM 5110 Computing System, announced by GSD in January 1978. Unlike the 5100—which met the needs of professional and scientific problem-solvers—the 5110 was offered as a full-function computer to virtually all businesses and industries. With a new system and programs, a business could use the 5110 to automate such applications as general ledger and accounts payable. In addition, the 5110 system could be programmed to provide various reports to help management analyze sales, schedule resources, reduce inventory cost and plan future growth.
On Nov. 1, 1979, IBM debuted a new system designed to increase office productivity by combining advanced text processing and electronic document distribution. The 5520 Administrative System helped users create, store, retrieve and edit documents, ranging from single-page memos to multi-page manuals. Business correspondence could be created efficiently on the 5520 and then delivered instantly to other users over communications lines.
Two years after launching the 5110, IBM introduced its 5120 Computer System in February 1980 as the lowest-priced IBM computer to date. A representative configuration—which included a main storage capacity of 32,768 characters of information, a 120-character-per-second printer and the BASIC programming language—could be bought for less than $13,500. Overall system prices ranged from $9,340 to $23,990.
7IBM 5120 Apps
IBM’s Office Products Division announced the Displaywriter in June 1980 as an easy-to-use, low-cost desktop text-processing system. The Displaywriter System enabled operators to produce high-quality documents while keying at rough draft speed. Users could automatically indent text, justify right margins, center and underscore. They could also store a document and recall it, and could check the spelling of about 50,000 words. While these features are taken for granted now, they were novel at a time when most documents were created, formatted and revised on manual or electric typewriters.
9IBM System/23 Datamaster
Announced by GSD in July 1981—one month before the IBM Personal Computer—the System/23 Datamaster was another demonstration of IBM’s efforts to shrink the size and cost of computing. The new system combined word processing and data processing in a machine to give small businesses the big benefits of information processing.