IBM Personal Computer

IBM PC printer
The original IBM PC, also known as the 5150, was introduced August 12, 1981.

The IBM Personal Computer was the second computer that I owned. (My first was an Apple II.) – Ed

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.

To learn more about the birth of this product, visit the The IBM PC’s debut reference room.

Product fact sheet

The following is the text of an IBM Information Systems Division fact sheet distributed to the press on August 12, 1981.

IBM Archives: Product fact sheet

System Unit
Size: – Width – 20″, Depth – 16″, Height – 5.5″
Weight: – Without diskette drive – 21 lbs.
– With one – 25 lbs.
– With two drives – 28 lbs.
Electrical: – 120 v. AC
Cycle Time: – Main storage – 410 nanoseconds
– Access – 250 nanoseconds
Memory: – 40K built-in read only memory (ROM)
– 16K to 256K user memory
Standard: – Keyboard for data and text entry
– Cassette player jack for cassette attachment
– Five expansion slots for additional memory and display, printer, communications and game adaptors
– Built-in speaker for musical programming
– Power-on automatic self-test of system components
– BASIC language interpreter, 16K memory
Size: – Width – 20″, Depth – 8″, Height – 2″
Weight: – 6 lbs.
Keys: – 83 full-function for data and text entry: includes 10
for numeric entry and cursor control and 10 special
function for scrolling, editing, etc.

  • Easy access to 256 characters (ASCII and Special)
  • Keyboard: – Adjustable typing angle
  • Detached from system unit and connected by six-foot cable for flexibility
  • All keys automatically repeat

Matrix printer
Size: – Width – 16″, Depth – 15″, Height – 4″
Weight: – 12.5 lbs.
Features: – 80 characters-per-second printing

  • – Continuous feed, multi-part paper
  • – Self-diagnostic checks to assure proper operation
  • – 12 type styles to suit various printing needs
  • – Page spacing and column skip for word processing
  • – Bi-directional printing for increased speed
  • – 40, 66, 80 or 132 characters-per-line formats
  • – Out-of-paper alarm
  • – Replaceable ribbon cartridge and print head

Monochrome Display
Size: – Width – 15″, Depth – 14″, Height – 11″
Weight: – 17 lbs.
Display Functions:- 25 lines of 80 characters on 11.” screen

  • – Underlining, high intensity blinking characters and reverse image for highlighting information
  • – Non-display for security data
  • – Upper and lower case display for word processing

Brightness and contrast controls for reading comfort
Diskette drive
Number of diskettes:
– Up to two 5.” diskette drives
Storage capacity: – 160 kilobytes per diskette

Other options
Communications: Asynchronous communication line with data bases, other computers, laboratory instruments or other products using a standard RS-232C asynchronous adaptor
Games: Permits user-supplied joy sticks and paddles to be connected to the system

System Software

BASIC Interpreter — Based on the popular Microsoft Basic and offered in three versions — cassette, diskette and advanced.

The cassette level is included in the read-only memory of every system and provides input/output instructions needed to enter and retrieve data. It also supports use of the keyboard, display, light pen and printer and provides a full complement of editing and mathematical functions.

The diskette and advanced levels are optional. The diskette extension supports the use of diskettes, while adding date, time of day and communications capabilities to the system. The advanced extension enhances the display graphics to include features such as point, circle and get/put display, while increasing light pen and joy stick support for design work and home entertainment.

Disk Operating System (DOS) — DOS supports one or more diskette drives, allowing the user to write or read from the system’s removable diskettes, display a directory and rename, erase, display or copy files.

Pascal Compiler — This language compiler allows separate compilation program elements for maximum system performance. In addition, it supports several programming features for advanced programming work.
CP/M-86* and UCSD p-System* — IBM has contracted with Digital Research, Inc. and Sof- Tech Microsystems, Inc. to make CP/M-86 and the UCSD p-System available for the IBM Personal Computer. We expect their availability will provide the opportunity for many current applications to be transferred to the IBM Personal Computer with minimal modifications.

Application Software

VisiCalc* is a problem-solving program package for financial or mathematical forecasting and computations. All data is arranged into a grid of up to 63 columns and 254 rows and interrelated so that users may create
“what if” situations that will show the effect of one changed element on the remainder of the data. VisiCalc has vertical or horizontal scrolling, easy cursor movement and the ability to vary formats.

General Ledger by Peachtree Software, Inc. keeps detailed records of financial transactions and generates a balance sheet and income statement, providing timely information on a company’s financial status. It has
“menu” instructions for its programs, password security, departmental income statements, and the ability to compare prior-year budgets.

Accounts Receivable by Peachtree Software, Inc. is a complete invoicing and monthly statement generating package that tracks current and old accounts. A complete record is maintained for each customer and the
current status of each customer account is instantly available. A complete set of “prompts” allows inexperienced operators to make full use of the system with minimal instruction.
Accounts Payable by Peachtree Software, Inc. keeps track of current and old accounts, incorporating programs to maintain a complete record for each vendor and determines vouchers to pay by due date. It also will automatically print payment checks and maintain a check register.

EasyWriter* is a versatile, easy-to-use application that lets users process words and text quickly. EasyWriter functions are highlighted and prompted from menus listing all needed commands. Texts are maintained on diskette files which can be saved, retrieved, deleted, printed, revised, linked and appended. The simple text entry and text editor are combined with the flexibility of formatting to allow users with varied skill levels, from
hobbyist to typist, to be productive quickly.

Microsoft Adventure provides the IBM Personal Computer with a role-playing fantasy game. The game setting is a vast network of caves beneath the earth and the land outside. The fantasy world contains 130 rooms or nodes, 15 treasures, 40 useful objects and 12 problems to solve. The program allows players to store the status of two games on a diskette. It will provide useful hints, instructions and feedback on a player’s

Communications software allows users to access external data like Dow Jones News/Retrieval* and THE SOURCE* for information and to communicate with other computers. To enhance this communication
capability with larger systems, IBM also said it intends to provide a full subset of 3270 emulation capabilities.

VisiCalc — Personal Software, Inc.
EasyWriter — Information Unlimited Software, Inc.
Dow Jones News/Retrieval Service — Dow Jones and Company, Inc.
THE SOURCE — Source Telecomputing Corp.
CP/M-86 — Digital Research, Inc.
UCSD p-System — Regents of the University of California

IBM Archives: Product fact sheet