Computing and home computers really took off in 1980s with many companies competing against each other for a slice of the pie. New models were released year after year, but only a few became hugely successful. 80s was the time when affordable home computers were introduced to the masses and allowed millions to experience computing for the first time.
This post covers the five most successful home computers of the 80s that changed the course of computing and information technology. The immense popularity of today’s different tech-laced laptop brands can be attributed to the PC revolution in that era that has been benefiting almost every sector be it homes, workplaces, schools, or industries.
The Early Perception
The general public in the 70s thought of computers as machines for enterprises, government organizations and scientists to process data. Even some large companies only had one computer and most people never imagined computers being an integral part of their lives.
Not only were early computers very expensive, they were also gigantic and consumed a lot of electricity. Miniaturized electronics and transistors changed everything and made it possible to squeeze millions of transistors inside a small chip. Tech companies soon caught up with the advancements in technology and started launching ready-to-use personal computers.
From a Home Appliance to Personal Computer
Initially known as appliance computers, personal computers began to take shape in 1980s when we started seeing ads of affordable personal computers such as the Sinclair ZX80. Personal or home computers were advertised as the technology that could transform our world and the way we do things.
Although laughably primitive by modern standards, home computers in 80s were like a piece of science fiction and something from the space age. Early adopters started doing all sorts of things on their computers, including cataloging their record collections, doing home accounting, storing recipes and other domestic chores.
The Mid 80s Boom
It wasn’t until mid-80s when the Amstrad word processor was launched with a printer and people started realizing the utility of home computers. It sparked interest and provided people with solid reasons to buy one such as swapping their type writers with the convenience a work processor and printer offers.
80s computers were not just about work as video gaming on computers also started gaining popularity. Bedroom coders started making games, placing ads in local magazines and delivering cassette tapes through mail. Gaming had a deep effect on the popularity of home computers and even undermined the original pretensions (educational and work related).
Kids started gaming on computers instead of focusing on learning, which frustrated parents. Things got back to normal after sometime in the mid-80s after the cheap home computers market crashed. More capable computers took over and things only got better with the passage of time.
Best Home Computers of the 1980s
IBM PC 5150 (Launched in 1981)
Dubbed as the daddy of home computers, the IBM PC 5150 was arguably the computer that fueled the home computer boom in 1980s. It laid the foundation for PC-compatible market, which would dominate the home computers market for the following decades. Boasting a 4.77Mhz CPU (Intel 8088) and up to 256K RAM, 5150 set a new benchmark for PCs.
Its price started from $1,565, which is not cheap by any definition. But the PC was built like a tank and featured an open-architecture design, allowing other companies to manufacture IBM-compatible hardware. However, other companies started reverse-engineering the BIOS and IBM hardware and made their own computers. Some might call it cloning, but the customers benefited from this as other companies made computers that were not only cheaper, but also technically superior.
The landscape of the PC market might not have been the same had IBM not decided to stick with an open-architecture. It allowed other companies to build their own ‘compatible’ PCs, which ultimately jacked up the competition, reduced prices and ultimately benefited consumers.
Commodore 64 (Launched in 1982)
Being one of the best-selling home computers of 80s, Commodore 64 sold in millions and had around 40% of the market share for quite some time. It was initially priced at $595, which later dropped to $200. A 1 MHz processor and 64K RAM along with decent audio and BASIC built right into the ROM were the main reasons behind its popularity, which is reflected by the fact that it remained on sale for twelve years.
Apple Macintosh 128K (Launched in 1984)
The Macintosh aka Macintosh 128K (7.8 MHz Motorola 68000 CPU and 128KB RAM) was the first (successful) home computer to feature a Graphical User Interface and came with a built-in screen (9-inch) and mouse. However, in a market dominated by Commodore 64 users and ‘cloned’ PCs, it was expensive (around $2,500).
Macintosh 128K (nicknamed thin Mac) was followed by Macintosh 512K (nicknamed fat Mac), which was technically a different computer that allowed users to run more powerful applications. After the launch of Macintosh 512K, Macintosh 128K was rebranded as an enter-level home computer, while 512K was marketed as a mid-level computer. The Macintosh was among home computers that redefined how we interact with them and ushered a new era of modern computing.
Commodore Amiga 1000 (Launched in 1985)
The Amiga used the Motorola 68000 7Mhz CPU and bumped up the RAM up to 512K, which was expandable to 8MB. High-color graphics, good audio and 3.5-inch 880K floppy drive made it a complete package and a multimedia computer. It costed around $1,600 in total ($1,295 base price + monitor) and despite being ahead of its time, it was not as successful as its predecessor.
Amstrad CPC 464 (Launched in 1984)
CPC (Color Personal Computer) 64 was Amstrad’s first home computer and launched at a price tag of £299 with a color monitor (with green monitor it costed £199). More than 2 million units were sold in Europe, making it the best-selling microcomputers of its time. Featuring a 4MHz Zilog Z80 CPU and 64K RAM, CPC 464 ran AmsDOS and became popular for a variety of reasons. It was a one-plug unit and allowed even inexperienced users to easily set it up and use.