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The Greatest PCs of All Time

apple macintosh 1984

On Sundays I enjoy blogging about the history of technology. As my 9th entry, here is a brief discussion of the greatest PCs of all time.


While doing some research I stumbled upon this interesting article titled The 25 Greatest PCs of All Time. I thought it would be fun to go through the list from that and give my thoughts on each choice. At the bottom I will list my own personal top 5.

  1. 1977 Apple II – The Apple II was a genius product of engineering created almost exclusively by Steve Wozniak. The software development community generally likes to talk about 10x’ers – software developers that are as productive as 10 average developers. I think Wozniak an incredible 100x’er in this case, developing both the hardware and the software that was not only years ahead of the competition but also fairly inexpensive thanks to smart design which lead to less components and thus a lower price. I remember briefly using some later version of the Apple II at my elementary school and local library in the 1980s.
  2. 1986 Compaq Deskpro 386 – Compaq was the first company to legally backwards engineer and then clone the IBM PC standard
  3. 1981 Xerox 8010 Information System – The first PC with a bitmapped display, windows style GUI, ethernet and other amazing innovations. This was Xerox’s attempt to capitalize on these amazing innovations but because of its high price and intended use to be part of a network of computers it never gained significant market share. Apple and then in turn Microsoft famously incorporated these ideas for their own hardware and software products.
  4. 1986 Apple Macintosh Plus – The original Macintosh famously launched in 1984 but this is the third versions launched two years later. Because of the original’s hardware limitations, high price and limited software this model was probably chosen for this list because it finally hit the right value proposition and had a more mature software lineup. My first computer was one of the mid 80s Apple Macintosh computers with the 9″ black and white built in monitor so I have fond memories. I remember writing papers and making simple bitmap images back in first grade on my Macintosh.
  5. 1992 IBM ThinkPad 700C – The IBM ThinkPad was the professional business laptop of the 1990s
  6. 1981 IBM Personal Computer, Model 5150 – The original line of IBM PCs was famously designed in about a year based on off-the-shelf parts, a modified version of CP/M / QDOS soon to be known as MS-DOS. This computer wasn’t very impressive at the time but because of its IBM brand and the soon to be widespread ecosystem of clones, it became the standard for the entire industry (besides Apple of course).
  7. 1985 Commodore Amiga 1000 – Commodore computers were huge sellers throughout Europe in the 1980s. The Amiga line was known as a very powerful gaming platform.
  8. Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 - The Tandy brand in the US is known as the Radio Shack brand of computers that were popular in the 1980s. They were not exactly known for their quality but this model was particularly popular, having sold more than 6 million units.
  9. 1982 Columbia Data Products MPC 1600-1 – One of the early IBM clones
  10. 1991 Apple PowerBook 100 – A successful early 90s laptop from Apple. Perhaps the last truly successful Apple product before Steve Jobs’s return and the launch of the iMac much later in the decade?
  11. 1998 Sony VAIO 505GX – A popular ultraportable laptop
  12. 1975 MITS Altair 8800 – The true first PC. It had no keyboard, no mouse and no monitor but it kicked off the entire PC industry so it deserves its place in history.
  13. 1984 IBM Personal Computer/AT Model 5170 – The second generation of IBM branded PCs
  14. 1979 Atari 800 – Atari, primarily known for its arcade games and home video game consoles, also produced a line of PCs. This was one of the original models.
  15. 2001 Shuttle SV24 Barebone System – Chinese manufactured small form factor PC
  16. 1977 Tandy TRS-80 Model I – See #8 above
  17. 1987 Toshiba T1000 – Semi-portable computer that had a laptop style form factor and battery powered option
  18. 1993 Hewlett-Packard OmniBook 300 – “Superportable” laptop
  19. 2002 Apple iMac, second generation – Even though my first computer was an Apple Macintosh, once I received my first PC in 1995 I never considered Apple a serious computing platform for a long time.  I remember the writing department of my University had a line of iMacs in the early 2000′s and I thought they looked stupid and plain sucked. Looking back, I still think the early iMacs sucked but they saved the company so there’s that.
  20. 1996 Gateway 2000 Destination – Gateway was a popular discount PC manufacturer that came in tacky cow print boxes. My first PC was a Packard Bell so I can’t trash Gateway too much.
  21. 1998 Alienware Area-51 – Alienware (now owned by Dell) is a gaming centered line of PCs. The mid to late 90s was an amazing time of growth for 3D accelerator cards and awesome PC games.
  22. 1993 Hewlett-Packard 100LX – Tiny black and white computer. I’m sure it had it’s fans at the time but it hardly seems useful even by 1993 standards.
  23. 1997 Apple eMate 300 – Low cost laptop that ran the Newton operating system. It was thankfully discontinued a year later.
  24. 2006 Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV650 – Large high end laptop
  25. 1982 Non-Linear Systems Kaypro II – CP/M based computer that got swept away when the IBM PC standard was introduced

OK so here’s my personal top 5 PCs list:

  1. Apple II (1977) – the first mass market PC
  2. MITS Altair (1975) – the beginning of the PC market
  3. Apple Macintosh (1984) – the first mass market GUI based PC
  4. Compaq Portable (1983) – first 100% compatible IBM PC clone and was also somewhat portable to boot
  5. Macbook Pro (2006) – an odd choice considering the others, but for the last decade these have been the development platform of choice for software developers. This dominance should not be overlooked as one of the primary drivers that have helped Apple become the most profitable company in the world.