An article in Computerworld (August 4, 1980) reported on benchmark performance, where the 5110 was considered a peer amongst the following “$15,000” and up systems…

  • Wang 2200VP [ended 1992] EMULATOR
  • TI FS990/2, FS990/10 [Texas Instrument home computer]
  • HP System 45, HP 250 [HP continues to this day]
  • DEC PDP-11V03 [ended 1998, bought by Compaq] EMULATOR
  • Q1 Lite Microcomputer [defunct]
  • Univac BC/7-610 [ended 1986]
  • Datapoint 1170 [replaced by less expensive 1802 model]
  • Randal 100 [bankruptcy in 1980]

The 5110 used microcode, which meant it was emulating machine code that was derived from earlier systems. For this reason, the BASIC and APL runtime performance was not particularly stellar on the 5100/5110/5120 series of systems. However, the ability to be able to execute that library of available software gave the 5100’s a lot of utility to end-users.

A point here is that multiple high-end vendors had collectively envisioned the concept of a personal computer. That is, not just a device that remotely connected into a mainframe (a terminal type device), but a device that could perform its own computing and store its own data records, giving users far more mobility on when and where that process could be performed. The Wang 2200-series in particular was an excellent (desktop) alternative, with origins also as early as 1973, but still at a high cost that could not be afforded by casual home users.

Some of the first pianos in the 1800s and 1700s were expensive because they were embedded with expensive jewels and handcrafted with fine details. They were rare equipment built for royalty. In a way, the high price of early personal computers was for similar reasons. Not because of exquisite craftmanship and jewels (although the clocks do run on crystals), the cost were moderated by the ability to build these machines: extensive technical detail and difficult to procure components was necessary. Components were difficult to obtain (of a reliable quality), “ROS” (ROM) were difficult to program. Factories to mass-produce these components (integrated circuits) largely did not exist. And the technical talent to mature the software was scarce. But for large companies (with millions or even just thousands of client records), the cost were worth it: a data processing machine could replace a few accountants and be more accurate (i.e. a $10k or even $20k machine could replace $50k to $100k of salary).

Such was the ’72 – ’76 era of personal computing. But then everything changed in 1976 with MOS Technologies, as new processor manufacturing techniques were realized (for the 6502 and demonstrated in the KIM-1). It wasn’t an abrupt change, as there were still quality issues to work out, plus MOS still had their own limited capacity to produce machines. But by ’79 it was clear that low cost home/office personal computers were a viable market. In addition, these machines were multi-purposed with entertainment, education, and simulation/training software (in addition to the traditional applications of accounting, word processing, and data processing).

The home computer market (early Apple, VIC-20, Atari, CollecoVision, IntelliVision) focused a bit too much on gaming in the ’79 to ’82 era (along with a “price war”), leading up to an overall (cartridge) gaming market crash in ’83 (of which was eventually resurrected by Nintendo). However, this distraction gave room for IBM to enter the home/office personal computer market in ’81, as a confident system more focused on business productivity.

A similar 1981 article is here >>here<<

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