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Home Computers Circa 1981

In the year 2007, it is easy to forget what the field of personal computers looked like back in the early days of home computing (assuming that you were even alive and a computer user then). My first PC (circa 1983) was a Sinclair ZX-80 model that had a membrane keypad, used a cassette tape deck for storage, and connected to a television display via a video converter.

My first program beyond the obligatory "Hello World!" variety was one that plotted a sine wave and cosine wave on the screen. From there, I moved on to a VIC-20, and finally to my first "real" PC, an ATT 6300 (in 1987, while at the University of Vermont, working on my BSEE). The ATT6300 came with two, 5-1/4" floppy disk drives and no hard drive. It was a real step up when I installed a whopping 10 MByte internal HDD, and then even added an 8087 math processor to assist the 8086 processor. Its green monochrome monitor had a really weird resolution that almost NO software was designed for, so it could cause display problems. UVM required all engineering students to buy one from them, at around $3,000, as well as an HP dot  matrix printer that cost around $450. It was common up until about 1990 for colleges to mandate computer models because of the large incompatibility between designs. We love to hate Windows, but Win 95 sure did fix a lot of the incompatibility problems.

While working as an electronics technician at Westinghouse, in Annapolis MD, I did some HP Basic programming on an HP machine whose model number I cannot recall. With it, I wrote programs to control an impedance meter via the HPIB, and that really psyched me up for programming. The rest, as they say, is history.

The table below was made from information that appeared in a 1981 edition of Mechanix Illustrated. You can find information and photos of most of them simply by doing a Google search.

CPU Keyboard Video
Imagination Machine $399 6800 Typewriter TV-8 colors Yes 9k/17k 14k Built-in
Apple II Plus
$1,380 6502 Typewriter TV-16 colors Applesoft 16k/64k 16k Not incl.
$898 Z80 Typewriter TV-256 colors Yes 32k/64k 24k Not incl.
$540 6502 Plastic touch Typewriter TV-16 colors Atari BASIC 8k/16k 10k Not incl./Opt.
$1,080 650 Plastic touch Typewriter TV-16 colors Atari BASIC 8k/48k 10k Incl./Opt.
$1,195 Z80 Calculator Built-in B&W Yes 4k/32k 12k Not incl.
$299 6502 Typewriter TV-16 colors PETBASIC 4k/32k 27k Not incl.
Exidy Systems
Sorcerer II
$2500 Z80 Typewriter B&W monitor Microsoft BASIC 32k/48k 16k/48k Not incl.
$350 8080A Switches TV-B&W HBASIC 8k/32k 8k Not incl.
$1,695 2/Z80 Typewriter B&W monitor HBASIC 8k/64/i 8k Not avail.
Intelligent Systems
Intecolor 3651
$2995 8080A Typewriter Color monitor Microsoft BASIC 16k/32k 16k/24k Not avail.
$1,000 16-bit Typewriter TV-color To come 16k 16k Built-in
Mego International
Video Voice
$219 n/a Calculator TV-color To come 4k/32k 4k/16k Not incl.
Challenger C1P
Series 2
$529 6502 Typewriter TV-B&W Microsoft BASIC 8k/32k 10k Not incl.
Osborne 1
$1,795 Z80A Typewriter Built-in B&W CBASIC, Microsoft BASIC, CP/M 64k 16k Not avail.
Pers. Micro Comp.
$645 Z80 Typewriter TV-B&W TRS-80 BASIC 16k/48k 12k Not incl.
Radio Shack
$399 6809E Calculator TV-9 colors TRS-80 BASIC 4k/16k 8k/16k Not incl.
Radio Shack
Model III
$699 Z80 Calculator TV-9 colors TRS-80 BASIC 4k/48k 8k Not incl.
$610 6502 Typewriter LED display Yes 1k/48k 16k Not incl.
$199 ZX80 Plastic touch TV-B&W Yes 1k/16k 4k/16k Not incl.
Texas Instruments
$649 9900 Calculator TV-16 colors TI and Extended BASICs 16k/32k 26k/56k Not incl.
CyberVision 2001 $329 1802 Plastic touch TV-8 colors No 2k/32k 1k Built-in

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