25 years ago: IBM Corporation announced its smallest, lowest-priced computer system -- the IBM Personal Computer

August 12, 1981 announcement press release

The following is the text of an IBM Information Systems Division press release headlined "Personal Computer Announced By IBM" and distributed on August 12, 1981.

Designed for business, school and home, the easy-to-use system sells for as little as $1,565. It offers many advanced features and, with optional software, may use hundreds of popular application programs.

The IBM Personal Computer will be sold through participating ComputerLand dealers and Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s new business machine stores beginning this fall. It will also be sold through IBM Product Centers and a special sales unit in the company's Data Processing Division.

"This is the computer for just about everyone who has ever wanted a personal system at the office, on the university campus or at home," said C. B. Rogers, Jr., IBM vice president and group executive, General Business Group. "We believe its performance, reliability and ease of use make it the most advanced, affordable personal computer in the marketplace."

IBM has designed its Personal Computer for the first-time or advanced user, whether a businessperson in need of accounting help or a student preparing a term paper.

An enhanced version of the popular Microsoft BASIC programming language and easily understood operation manuals are included with every system. They make it possible to begin using the computer within hours and to develop personalized programs quite easily.

Among the new system's highlights are:

Features: Available with the system are an 83-key adjustable keyboard, up to 262,144 characters of user memory (16,384 standard), a printer that can print in two directions at 80 characters per second, self-testing capabilities that automatically check the system components and a high-speed, 16-bit microprocessor.

Performance: Operating at speeds measured in millionths of a second, the IBM Personal Computer can generate and display charts, graphs, text and numerical information. Business applications -- including accounts receivable and word processing -- can be run on the same system with applications covering personal finance and home entertainment.

Service: The IBM Personal Computer will be serviced by IBM and by a nationwide network of authorized IBM Personal Computer dealers designed to provide the high standards of service associated with all IBM products.

Color/Graphics: The capabilities provide users with a text system capable of displaying 256 characters in any of 16 foreground and 8 background colors. It is also capable of displaying graphics in four colors.

Compact Size: The main processor or system unit -- about the size of a portable typewriter -- contains expandable memory and a built-in speaker for audio and music applications.

Expandability: A starter system consisting of a keyboard and system unit can be connected to a home television set with a frequency modulator. It can then be expanded to a system with its own display, printer and auxiliary storage cassettes or diskettes. The computer can be used with color or black-and-white television sets. Information from centralized data banks such as Dow Jones News/Retrieval Service* and THE SOURCE* can be accessed and displayed.

The system's keyboard comes with a six-foot, coiled cable for flexibility. It can be used in the lap or positioned across a desk top without moving the computer itself. The 83 keys make it easy to write and edit text, enter data ranging from stock analysis to cooking recipes, figure business accounts, or play video games.

The optional IBM display and printer are attachable units. The display has an anti-glare screen, green phosphor characters for reading comfort and controls for brightness and contrast. Automatic flashing and underlining can be used to call attention to especially important information on the screen.

The printer provides 12 type styles. Both printer and system unit can run self-diagnostic checks so users can verify that components are functioning properly.

Software for Business and Home

"We intend the IBM Personal Computer to be the most useful system of its kind," Mr. Rogers said. "Besides making it easy to set up and operate, we are offering a program library that we expect will grow with the creativity of the Personal Computer users."

Mr. Rogers said IBM has established a new Personal Computer Software Publishing Department for the system. It will publish programs written by IBM employees working on their own time and those accepted from independent software companies and outside authors.

Program packages available for the IBM Personal Computer cover popular business and home applications. For example, EasyWriter* will store letters, manuscripts and other text for editing or rapid reproduction on the printer. Businesses can use General Ledger, Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable by Peachtree Software, Inc. to generate balance sheets, track accounts and automatically print checks.

VisiCalc* is available for applications ranging from financial analysis to budget planning. Microsoft Adventure brings players into a fantasy world of caves and treasures.

Advanced Operating Systems

IBM, in conjunction with Microsoft, Inc., has adapted an advanced disk operating system to support IBM Personal Computer programs and software development. It has also contracted with Digital Research, Inc. and SofTech Microsystems, Inc. to adapt the popular CP/M-86* and UCSD p-System* to the Personal Computer. These two systems should provide users with the opportunity to transfer hundreds of widely used applications to the IBM Personal Computer with minimal modifications.

The IBM Personal Computer can be tailored to fit the user's needs. A basic system for home use attached to an audio tape cassette player and a television set would sell for approximately $1,565, in IBM Product Centers, while a more typical system for home or school with a memory of 64,000 bytes, a single diskette drive and its own display would be priced around $3,005. An expanded system for business with color graphics, two diskette drives and a printer would cost about $4,500.

The IBM Personal Computer was developed at the Information Systems Division's Boca Raton, Fla, facility and first deliveries will be scheduled for October.

Comments from August 12, 2006

When the IBM Personal Computer (IBM 5150) was introduced to the world 25 years ago, it was dramatically clear to most observers that IBM had done something very new and different. Here you had a large company, steeped in tradition, that had been willing and able to set aside its "business as usual" methods to produce in volume a highly competitive, tiny computer of top quality, intended for both consumers and businesses. And IBM was able to do all that and roll out its first PC in just one year.

It wasn't that long before the August 1981 debut of the IBM PC that an IBM computer often cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and 60 people to run and keep it loaded with instructions.

The IBM PC changed all that. It was a very small machine that could not only process information faster than those ponderous mainframes of the 1960s but also hook up to the home TV set, process text and store more words than a huge cookbook -- all for a price tag of less than $1,600.

Though personal computers of various types had been spawned by and built for hobbyists, IBM's new offering was also a business tool with advanced features to immediately make it a very attractive offering for a variety of users. The announcement of the IBM Personal Computer signaled the company's determination to compete in the emerging and growing segment of the information processing industry in which PCs were soon to become general business machines.

In short, the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer a quarter-century ago set a worldwide personal computing standard and helped to establish a multibillion-dollar industry.

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