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History of the Personal Computer, Part 2: Intel & Motorola's virtual duopoly comes to an abrupt end

By Jos ยท 16 replies
Sep 24, 2014
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  1. history personal computer part intel apple cpu nostalgia apple ii

    Initial development of the 8080 didn't start until mid-1972, some six months after Federico Faggin began lobbying Intel's management for its development. By this time, the potential microprocessor markets had started to present themselves. Computers were still seen as an expensive business and research tool, and the markets for a new generation of relatively inexpensive personal machines and industrial controllers didn't exist.

    While initial development had been delayed, Intel's primary competitor, Motorola's 6800, also had its share of issues. Intel had a new market mostly to itself. The remaining parts of the puzzle, an operating system and consumer-friendly packaging, were also taking their first steps.

    This is the second installment in a five part series, where we look at the history of the microprocessor and personal computing, from the invention of the transistor to modern day chips powering our connected devices.

    Read the complete article.

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2015
  2. Thank you for another well written article, looking forward to part 3, 4 & 5.
    Julio Franco likes this.
  3. This history is leaving out the NMOS microprocessor development and products by Hewlett Packard. By the mid-1970's, HP had in production a 16bit processor which was sold in desktop workstations and mini computers running Basic and Fortran. These computers were sold in volume and led the way to the development of a 32 bit processor put into production in the early 1980's.
  4. Great article... people need to know this! Also: the venerable 6502 went into: Vic-20, C-64 (as the 6510), and a billion other variants in different CBM machines... MANY soundboards of arcade games (mainboard powered by a Z-80A), and a modified one in the NES (then the 65816 in the SNES).
    dividebyzero likes this.
  5. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,262

    I think you'll find that the reason the 16-bit HP 5061 was left aside is mainly due to this being a history of personal computing, and not a history of workstations and minicomputers. Where the latter two are highlighted it is done so in context with the development of consumer electronics in mind.
    Any historical articles need to limit the scope to retain focus.
    Jos and ikesmasher like this.
  6. Love the history of computers and your story so far! But I'm disappointed that once again Commodore get written out of history for the great behemoth (not) of the time Apple. You would have thought Apple dominated this era but were just one of many players - even your numbers show more sales from Commodore but a third of the story revolves around Apple.

    Chuck Peddles' contribution is also reduced to a minor paragraph when he and his teams development of the 6502 revolutionised the personal computing industry.

    Saying that - looking forward to the rest of the story.
    Jos and Julio Franco like this.
  7. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,262

    The series is basically a story of how personal computing went from inception to where we are now- and where we are now- for better or worse, is dominated by Intel (x86), Apple, Microsoft, and ARM, so their stories have been highlighted a little more than others. Commodore's VIC 20,64, and PET were great milestones in the industry (but they also stifled development of a 16-bit successor to the 6502 once they'd acquired MOS Tech) and certainly introduced many people to computing. The same can be said for Atari's 400 - 800 series and Tandy's Trash-80. It would be nice not to have space constraints, and to cover everything in depth (the efforts of PARC could easily cover its own series), but the need to keep the mainstream/casual reader engaged means the story needs to be fairly linear to a degree.
    I purposely steered clear of a lot Chuck Peddles work and the development of the 6502, because a lot of it is fairly anecdotal, and there is a lot of crossover with the previous Motorola 6800. The fact that Chuck never seemed to dissuade anyone publicly of the notion that he was largely responsible for development of the 6800, or the fact that Bill Mensch tends to get minor billing with the 6502 tends to muddy the waters. Both of these facets stem from the fact that some companies didn't keep much of a record of their developments, research, or have any systematic in-house review system in place to document their history - and here say / recollections tend to be more generalized or biographical in nature ( Please see Pg 25-27 or so of the CHM's Oral History of the Development and Promotion of Motorola's 6800 with Thomas Bennett, Jeff LaVell, William Lattin, and John Erkiss as an example - its a PDF)
    Glad you can stick around, and hope you enjoy the rest of the series.
    Phr3d and Julio Franco like this.
  8. Good article, Thank you! But: What is with Commodore? Not a word about the system at all?!
    Am slightly disapointed. :(
  9. I loved programming the 6510, it was so easy to do machine language on it on my C64.
  10. I'm never satisfied with articles that make Apple look better than it was, which is nearly all of them. Their computer was inferior, yet exorbitantly overpriced, and it's lack-lustre sales proved it. This article focuses on profit instead of sales, which is a better indicator of which systems were considered superior by the consumer because people would only pay for the more expensive systems if the features made it worth the extra money. Obviously the Apple II wasn't. Apple wasn't interested in bringing computers to the average person as they claimed. If they were, they would have priced it reasonably. All Steve Jobs cared about was making the pig's lipstick look good and making as much profit as possible.

    Most of the reason Apple gets such great press is because it is written by U.S. journalists who lived in the country which bought the most Apple II's, making it appear to be quite successful in the U.S. bubble. If they took at look at global sales, they would see that Apple wasn't very popular outside of the U.S. Apple sold 5 million Apple II's between 1977 and 1994. Commodore sold 13 million C64's between 1982 and 1994. This works out the C64 selling 3.4 units per Apple II sold per year. It would be interesting to know how many of each system were sold in the U.S. Were they neck and neck, or did one outsell the other? I suspect the C64 outsold the Apple II, even in the U.S.

    I read through the profiles of the people running this website. It doesn't appear any of them were in the computer industry before the early 90's. I guess we can't expect accurate information from people who weren't there when it happened and are getting their information from the victors who have re-written history to their advantage.
  11. Carsten Elton

    Carsten Elton TS Rookie

    There's a slight factual error in the closing paragraph - the 8088 processor is the 8/16-bit processor, as it runs 16 internally but has an 8 bit databus externally. The 8088 was released after the 8086 (which is a pure 16 bit processor with a 16 bit external databus) as a cheaper (and slower) alternative.
    dividebyzero likes this.
  12. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,262

    Thanks for the alert, looks like I transposed the model names - hopefully our edit fixes that right up.

    Editor's note: Updated. Thank you @Carsten Elton
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,425   +112

    I have still have my TRS-80 Radio Shack Tandy Computer and it still works. Even have the box for it too. I did order a VoiceBox $300 bucks for it. It could talk back to me. But you had to program it to do that. I use to Manage the Tandy Computer / Super Tech Store (RS) back in the late 80's -pre-90's. A lot of things have changed since then. Tech wise. I use to have customers come in with TRS-80 and the newer one all-in-one type but those were too huge and no place to put them. Prior to this in the late 70's there was the Heath Computer used yellow roll paper to print on then there was the IBM Punch Cards use to program in COBOL. Yeah those where the days back then.

    One Quick mention is the Colceo Adam Family Computer System 16KB with the Coleco Game System and 144KB if you got the full system. Used dual active cassette storage drives max data was 250KB each. Dual drives spin quick read and write fast. I still have both models here. Daisy Wheel printer was the PSU also. Huge printer too. The mouse was a Colceo Game System Controller. Anyway that system was up gradable using modules.
    Phr3d and dividebyzero like this.
  14. "Apple sold 5 million Apple II's between 1977 and 1994. Commodore sold 13 million C64's between 1982 and 1994."
    I was actually thought Commodore may be sold anywhere between 17 and 22 million c64s.

    Thanks for your reply above to my questions - guess it is hard to cover such a wide subject in a short space! I see your reasons for the coverage now and I guess this will play out across the remainder of the story (as we have yet to see!). As noted by others Commodore now-a-days whilst a footnote in history was massive growing up in that era and where my start in computers happened (Vic20, c16, c64, Amiga) - guess my bias shows but Apple get more coverage than they probably deserve (Wozniak excepted though as one of the pioneers) really for the time. Certainly they have showed the ways since the return of Jobs on the 90s and 2k though.
    Looking forward to the remainder of the story.
    dividebyzero likes this.
  15. Carsten Elton

    Carsten Elton TS Rookie

    By applying some mathematics to the pool of known serial numbers, it can be shown that the number of sold C64's was in the region of 12.5 million. See http://www.pagetable.com/?p=547 for an in-depth discussion.
  16. I assume the part focusing on 16 bit computers will similarly gloss over the fact that the Commodore Amiga was the first personal computer to have a multitasking, graphical OS?

    Intel systems may have come out on top, but during the 80s they were just a bit player, no more important to the average home user than any of the other competing computer models. With CGA graphics and only the speaker for sound, DOS systems were decidedly inferior to the other computers of the time for use as game machines.
  17. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,262

    The series isn't meant to be a list of "firsts", it's a history of personal computer evolution. If it were about who got there first regardless of what lasting impact it actually had on the generations that followed, I could also wax lyrical about RCA's George Heilmeier basically inventing the LCD display in the mid 1950's (that RCA quashed at the time), and Hewlett-Packards HP-150 touchscreen computer of 1983.
    Intel powered machines tended towards business computers at the time because of Intel's pricing. Commodore and Atari catered to a different market using the much cheaper 6502/6502A so had a greater market penetration with home users. It could also be argued that Zilog's Z-80/Z-80A found it's way into many more models (and into many more markets) than the 6502 and all of Intel's processors combined.

    Having said that, I'd reiterate that this is- first and foremost, a story about how we got to where we are today. There are many companies that greatly influenced the computing landscape, but they aren't with us today, and however much they played their part (DEC's MIPS architecture became the model for the internal structure for nearly all x86 processors as an example) their influence was eventually marginalized or extinguished altogether.
    Phr3d likes this.

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