7. Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985)
The Commodore 64 may have been the best-selling computer of its time, but its follow-up, developed by a Silicon Valley start-up that Commodore acquired, was a vastly better computer. Years ahead of its time, the Amiga was the world’s first multimedia, multitasking personal computer (see an early commercial for it on YouTube).
The Amiga came with the same Motorola 68000 CPU used in the Apple Macintosh. But, the most innovative thing about its architecture was its three coprocessors–they helped provide the Amiga’s graphics and sound, which were stunning for the time. Its main video processor (dubbed Denise) helped Amigas accomplish feats like 3D animation, full-motion video and fancy TV processing years before other computers. And the four-voice stereo sound chip (Paula) provided speech synthesis, produced more realistic audio than the Commodore 64’s famous SID chip and helped inspire Soundtracker, the first “tracker-style” music sequencing program.
The original Amiga was rechristened the Amiga 1000 when it was replaced by the Amiga 500 and 2000 in 1987. Later, Amiga-based products included the Amiga 4000T tower and the CD32, a gaming console. Commodore declared bankruptcy in 1994, and the Amiga name and technologies bounced from owner to owner in subsequent years. Modern iterations of NewTek’s Video Toaster and LightWave 3D software continue to be used for major TV and movie productions to this day.
In 1987 I had sort of lost interest in PCs–until I got my first real job, which happened to be in an office next to a computer store called The Memory Location. I walked by its window and saw an Amiga 500 showing off everything it could do. And what it could do was astonishing, given that garden-variety IBM PCs often didn’t do colour at the time. I collected enough paycheques to buy an Amiga and stuck with the platform until the IBM world caught up–which took years.
— Harry McCracken
6. IBM Personal Computer, Model 5150 (1981)
Many key moments in PC history weren’t identifiable as such when they happened. (Was there any reason to pay much attention when a couple of young guys named Steve decided to start a microcomputer company and name it after a type of fruit?). But, when the company that was synonymous with computers announced its first PC on August 12, 1981, everyone knew it was a great milestone in the history of a very young industry.
Technology-wise, the most interesting thing about IBM’s Personal Computer, Model 5150, was its CPU: Intel’s 8088, a powerful 16-bit processor in an era when most popular models still used basic 8-bit CPUs. IBM offered the system with several operating systems, including the then-popular CP/M, something called P-System and a new OS that IBM named PC-DOS, but that most people would remember as MS-DOS for versions marketed by publisher Microsoft. (Legendarily, Microsoft’s OS was based on QDOS, or “Quick and Dirty Operating System”, which it picked up for a song from a small Seattle company).
Within 18 months, IBM’s machine sat at the centre of a booming PC ecology, with a bevy of hardware add-ons, third-party software, clones, books and magazines. Some of IBM’s later machines were hits and some were flops, but all of them, like the vast majority of computers on the planet today, were direct descendants of the IBM Personal Computer. (Read IBM’s take in its own archives).
5. IBM ThinkPad 700C (1992)
Unveiled at Comdex in 1992, IBM’s ThinkPad 700C ushered in a new era for laptop computers: now, the laptop could be both useful and stylish. The first ThinkPad’s distinctive black case and its red TrackPoint pointing device in the middle of the keyboard were striking departures from other notebooks, which tended to be practically interchangeable, chunky, dull grey or beige boxes with trackballs that hung off to the side or sat like a lump below the keyboard.
One of three ThinkPad models at launch, along with the 300 and 500 (the numbering scheme was reportedly inspired by BMW’s car lines) the ThinkPad 700C was IBM’s top-of-the-line system. It came with an eye-catching 256-colour, 10.4-inch TFT VGA colour screen (large by 1992 standards), a removable 120MB hard drive, a 25-MHz 486SLC processor and a comfortable touch-typist-friendly keyboard. Current ThinkPads–now manufactured by Lenovo–may be radically more powerful than the 700C, but they retain the black case, TrackPoint and fine keyboard as major selling points. (See the ThinkPad’s evolution at Lenovo’s archive.)
PC World recognized the ThinkPad’s significance right away: the product won a World Class award in 1993. In 2004, it became the first-and, to date, only–product inducted into the World Class Hall of Fame.
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