In 1957, IBM made a computer called the 610 Auto-Point. They said that it was the ‘first personal computer’. But it was not like the computers that millions people have in their homes today. It was large and expensive (55,000 dollars). It was called a personal computer, or PC, because it only needed one person to work it. The first real PCs were not made until seventeen years later.
The first computers (like Colossus) were too big, heavy and expensive to have in your home. But in the 1960s, technicians found a way to make computer chips with thousands of very small transistors on them. In 1971, Intel made a computer chip called the 4004, which had 2,250 transistors. Three years later, they made the 8080, a better and faster chip with 5,000 transistors. An American inventor called Ed Roberts used the Intel 8080 chip to make one of the first PCs. He called his PC the Altair 8800. (The name comes from the television programme Star Trek.) When you bought an Altair 8800, you got a box of parts that you put together at home to make your PC. It cost less than 400 dollars, and Ed Roberts sold 2,000 in the first year. The personal computer was on its way.
In 1976, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started the Apple Computer Company. In 1977, their second computer, the Apple 2, appeared. It was popular, and the company made 700,000 dollars that year. The next year, the company made 7 million dollars! Personal computers were here to stay. IBM made their first home computer in 1981. And the Time magazine ‘person of the year’ for 1982 was not a person at all – it was the PC.
In the 1980s, the market for home computers grew very quickly. There were many different computer companies, and each company used its own operating system. The C64, made by Commodore Computers, was the most successful – and in fact, the C64 is still the best-selling home computer in history. Other successful companies were Atari, Amiga, Amstrad, and Acorn. Some companies, like Dell and Compaq, did not use their own operating system; they made ‘ IBM compatible’ computers. This meant that they used the same operating system and the same software as an IBM PC. IBM compatible computers were more successful than the other kinds of PC, and today nearly all PCs are IBM compatible.
Apple is the only famous computer company which still uses its own operating system. In 1998, it started selling the iMac, a computer that looked very different from other PCs at that time. People chose the iMac because they thought it looked good in their homes. Since 1998, the company has made other new computers that have changed people’s ideas about PCs.
Since Intel made the 4004 chip in 1971 with 2,250 transistors, computer chips have become much faster. In fact, the computer technician Gordon Moore made this prediction in 1965: ‘The number of transistors on computers will double every eighteen months.’ This prediction is often called ‘Moore’s Law’ and it seems to be almost true.
The Intel Pentium 4 chip, made in the year 2000, had 42 million transistors. Two years later, the first Intel Itanium 2 chip had 220 million, and the latest Itanium 2 chips have more than a billion!
As computer chips became smaller and faster during the 1980s, companies began to make laptops – small computers that you could carry around with you. these were very popular with business people because, when they travelled, they could take information with them. With a laptop, they could work at home, in hotel rooms and on aeroplanes.
Because today’s computers chips are so fast, modern PCs can do wonderful things. They can copy and keep music, films, and a lot of information, and they can even understand spoken language. A modern laptop is much faster than the very large and expensive computers from the 1970s.