13 Computers That Hold A Special Place In Computer Revolution

Yes number 13 again. I once wrote a post about 13 technologies to watch out for. This time it is about 13 computers that  revolutionzed the world of computing. Without further introduction here goes the list:-

1. Babbage’s Analytical Engine (1837)

Analytical Engine

A Prototype In London Museum

This list cannot be started without the mention of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

But it was the Difference Engine which is referred to as the world’s first computer and not Analytical Engine.  The Difference Engine was basically a calculator. It led Babbage drawing up plans for the Analytical Engine- a machine with expandable memory, a central processing unit, punch-card programming and a rudimentary printer.

A complete and working Analytical Engine has never been built. Modern builders would be hampered by its size; it was made of brass and powered by steam.

It certainly deserves a place in our list as the first computer capable of being programmed to carry out different tasks and incorporating functions.


2. Colossus (1944)


Reconstructed Colossus


Yes, I know, Charles Babbage had envisaged a programmable computer 100 years earlier; but it was in 1944 that the first fully programmable and electronic digital computer was realized in the shape of the aptly named Colossus.

Using vacuum tubes to perform Boolean operations, and requiring the physical manipulation of telephone jack plugs, cords and switches to change wiring in order to program it for new tasks, Colossus was designed by Tommy Flowers and influenced by Alan Turing’s crypto-analysis probability theories.

In all, there were ten Colossus computers built, each occupying a large room and consisting of eight racks more than 2.3m in height arranged in two bays that were 5.5m in length. A fully functional replica was completed in 2007 and can now be seen at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.



3. Magnavox Odyssey (1972)

Magnavox Odyssey

When you think of video game consoles, the names that come to mind are- Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Sony and last but not the least Microsoft. But these were not responsible for starting the home video-gaming revolution. That milestone belongs to the Magnavox Odyssey, which was developed by Ralph Baer, who later designed the Simon game and released in 1972. The Magnavox Odyssey sold over 300000 units before it was discontinued in 1975.

It was designed to use it with a TV and the games took the form of cartridges and required a plastic overlay to be taped to the screen. Tennis, football, hockey were all played by manipulating light using rudimentary controllers. A shooting gallery game introduced the world’s first gun controller in the form of a full-sized, pump-action shotgun, which detected light as a target.

I really think without the Odyssey we wouldn’t play likes Call Of Duty or GTA. A Big Salute!


4. Xerox Alto (1973)

Xerox Alto

Most computer historians would agree that the Xerox Alto was the first to combine a desktop Graphical User Interface (GUI) and Douglas Engelbart’s mouse input device in a meaningful way. Xerox Alto was developed at Xerox PARC. It was not commercially released, although thousands were built for use within Xerox facilities and by universities.

It included a monochrome bit-mapped VDU, and came with a three-button mouse, a visual UI and 2.5 MB of removable data storage.

The Alto was the first to enable true WYSIWYG printing, and was designed to work with the laser printer which Xerox was developing at the time.

The Alto changed the way users interacted with the computer and influenced the design of personal computing hardware, such as the Apple Macintosh, that followed.


5. Mits Altair 8800 (1975)

Altair 8800

The Altair was the one of the first affordable home computer kits to hit the market and it also inspired future computing engineers and designers who went on to change the face of computing, as we all know it.

Altair 8800 was available for less than $400 at the time, which it was offered as a kit based on an eight-bit Intel 8080 CPU and a 256-byte memory. The display was nothing more than front panel LEDs, and there was no keyboard either; input was via a collection of toggle switches.

And here is the thing, the device programming language was Altair BASIC, which was developed by none other than Paul Allen and Bill Gates, who as we all know went on to form Microsoft.


6. Apple 1 (1976)

Apple I Computer

Yes, the first Apple computer. Apple 1 was designed and hand built by company co-founder Steve Wozniak with Steve Jobs creating a business through which to sell them. Only 200 units were made and was sold at the cost of $667 each. Apple’s bad habit of charging high profit margin started from here. Which in simple words mean- Apple 1 was the start of the Apple revolution.

Despite the high cost, Apple 1 wasn’t sold in kit form similar to other hobby computers of the time. The fully assembled circuit board still had to be connected to a power supply and display, and take resistance in a case of some description in order to work.

The success of Apple 1 led to the Apple 2, which went on to sell more than five million units. Quite impressive.


7. Commodore Pet (1977)

Commodore Pet

The Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) was the first fully integrated, plug-and-play home computer.

In the 1970s, Commodore’s business was calculators, but when the price of the Texas Instruments chips at the heart of those calculators rose, it resulted in the chip costing more than the entire calculator. The company went looking for a new chipset. It found one being used to power a computer kit called the KIM-1.

Jack Tramiel,  being the Commodore head turned down the opportunity to buy the too expensive Apple 2 prototype and set about building a cheaper alternative, and the resulting PET came with a 6502 processor controlling a built-in screen, keyboard and cassette tape inputs.

The Commodore PET had all the things a computer should have, it was housed in a metal case with a built-in “datasette” for data tape storage, expansion ports for more memory, tape drives, parallel port and a modem.


8. Sinclair ZX80 (1980)

Sinclair ZX80

Even though Altair 8800 had been sold as an affordable kit in 1975, it was only in 1980, you could get real value for money in the form of Sinclair ZX80, which bought hobby computing to the masses. It featured 3.25MHz Z80 CPU, 1 KB of RAM, 4 KB of ROM and the Sinclair BASIC programing language and editor alongside the OS.

Sinclair ZX80 made sales of roughly 50000 units.


9. IBM PC (1981)


My favorite, because IBM PC of 1981 started the PC revolution as we all know it. The PC is said to being sold every minute of the working day within the first year of its launch.

IBM model number 5150 entered a microcomputer market already dominated by the likes of Commodore PET and the Apple 2. IBM managed to bridge the gap between hobbyists and business user with a single, small and reasonably priced computer.

Two years later, IBM PC XT was introduced. It was the first computer to be supplied with an internal hard drive (only 10MB).


10. Osborne 1 (1981)

Osborne 1

Physically it may not look like a laptop as we see today, but Osborne 1 was certainly the grandfather of the mobile computer.

It was around 10.7 Kg and the size of sewing machine. Hell, it wasn’t ultra portable and nor wasn’t cheap, costing around $1500. It was a fully featured computer with a suite of business applications. It ran the CP/M OS, the Osborne 1 came with a  software advertised as being of the same value as the hardware itself.

But the display wasn’t impressive, it was only 5 inches and the single-sided floppy disk drives made data storage a problem.

Being portable, it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t expandable and it wasn’t the most practical computer but it sold around 10000 units a month.


11. The C64 (1982)

The C64

Most people haven’t heard of C64, but it is the best-selling computer of all time. Selling more than 22 million units during its lifetime, it made a sales of $ 1 billion, according to Guinness World Records.

It was a 8-bit home computing machine, costing less than the IBM. It was expandable, it featured ports integrated into the motherboard for interfacing with peripherals and an external ROM cartridge port for bus expansion.

The name C64 came from the amount of RAM it had, 64KB. The C64 was also became one of the most popular gaming computer of its time.


12. Next Cube (1990)

NeXT Cube

The Next Cube wasn’t a big step in computer hardware. It was developed by the company Steve Jobs created in 1985 after he resigned as Apple CEO.

The Next Cube was a high-end workstation, running a proprietary NeXTStep OS and costing more than $7500. It wasn’t a commercial success, it sold for only a three-year period between 1990 and 1993.


13. Compaq Concerto (1993)

Compaq Concerto

The Compaq Concerto shipped with Microsoft Windows 3.1 for pen computing, which allowed hand writing recognition direct to the screen via a stylus.

Here’s another thing, the keyboard was detachable and therefore you could use the touch screen in tablet mode with the stylus. Yep, the form factor to enable a laptop to use as a laptop or tablet started from the release of Compaq Concerto. This is the inspiration.

But, unfortunately, it was around 2Kg which made it hard to carry around and Pen Windows wasn’t a success either. But still, it surely was an early vision of today’s mode of computing.

One thought on “13 Computers That Hold A Special Place In Computer Revolution

  1. Pingback: IBM history | Zynxb

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