Byte, January 1983: The Heath HERO-1
'microcomputer-controlled robot' shared
a cover with Compaq's loveable luggable
and Epson's QX-10 Valdocs System
(click to enlarge)
Byte, January 1983: 'Using Concurrent
CP/M, you can run several programs
simultaneously, switching instantly
from one program to another'
(click to enlarge)
Byte, January 1983: In the early days of
personal computing, everyone got into
the act – even Epson, which bought an
eight-page, thick 'n' glossy–stock ad
to flog its QX-10 CP/M-or-DOS PC
(click to enlarge)
Byte, January 1983: 'Most people do run
out of memory with only 18K VisiCalc
workspace. But you can expand your
Apple II to 177K VisiCalc Memory!'
(click to enlarge)
Byte, January 1983: Tecmar thought
that the low, low price of $1,795
for its 5MB SyQuest–cartridge drive
was something worth shouting about
(click to enlarge)
Byte, January 1983: Thirty-two 150ns
16Kb SRAM chips add up to a capacious
64KB 'state of the art' S-100 board
that costs a mere $629 ($1,470 today)
(click to enlarge)
In Byte, the discussion was deeper – much deeper
While Time was a mass-market glossy that reported on the personal computing phenomenon only after said phenom had bubbled to the surface of the American consciousness, Byte: the small systems journal, on the other hand, was a phenomenon of its own, a deep-geek rag that had been published since September 1975, first appearing only eight months after Popular Electronics' January issue that had introduced the world to the Altair.
Before Time's adulatory PC article appeared, Byte – which focused on machines known in the argot of the day as microcomputers (or, to the French, micro-ordinateurs) – was the must-read rag for the personal computer geekerati. Not only did it carry the latest news of the latest products, it also published – unimaginable now in a broadly-selling publication – page after page of code and circuit diagrams.
And it was larded with advertising. Byte's January 1983 issue – the same month that Time proclaimed the personal computer as The Machine of the Year – was an astonishing 544 pages thick. By comparison, the next time you find yourself at a newsstand that still stocks one of the few remaining computer magazines, pick one up and check out its page count. Sad, isn't it?
Blame back-of-the-book ads, catalogs, the internet, and other factors – but more on that later.
A look at Byte's January 1983 issue – $2.95 in the US, £1.85 in the UK – illuminates how different the world of micro-ordinateurs is, here in the future, than it was in the pioneer past:
Byte, January 1983 "Review: The Compaq Computer" by Mark Dahmke: The Compaq computer is designed to be portable, and although it weighs 28 pounds, it achieves that goal.
The Compaq's floppy-disk drives have major advantages, including 320KB of storage capacity each.
An IBM PC with one double-sided drive (320K bytes), both the monochrome and color-graphics boards, a parallel-printer port, a monochrome monitor, and 128K bytes of RAM would cost approximately $3,735. All of these features are standard on the Compaq for $2,995.
The Compaq, by the way, was powered by a 16-bit Intel 8088, had a socket ready for the "future addition of Intel 8087 coprocessor," and 128KB of RAM expandable to 256KB. If you wanted to upgrade to a two-floppy system, that would run to $3,590, which in today's dollars would equal about $8,350.
In his editorial in that January 1983 issue, Byte's editor in chief Chris Morgan was ebullient about the personal-computer market that his mag had been following since its infancy. "The industry's new product fever rages on," he wrote, "spurred by record growth in sales and profits."
Morgan also demonstrated his optimism is an article about a then little-known – and, after that, still little-known – computer, the IBM 9000, powered by a Motorola 68000 microprocessor:
Byte, January 1983 "IBM's 'Secret Computer: The 9000" by Chris Morgan: The best-kept secret of 1982 may have been that IBM makes a 68000 computer. If that surprises you, you're not alone. The unit, called IBM Instrument Computer System, is IBM's second major microcomputer product – the first, of course, is the IBM Personal Computer.
The IBM 9000 is ideally suited to the laboratory. But it strikes me that the 9000's processor board could become the heart of a general-purpose microcomputer for the business market. As I said earlier, IBM is not commenting on this speculation.
I think the 9000 is, in its quiet way, one of the most exciting new arrivals on today's microcomputer scene. I predict it will start showing up in all sorts of unexpected places. In one gesture IBM has legitimized a microprocessor that deserves more attention: the Motorola 68000.
Morgan was right about the Motorola 68000 chip. The IBM 9000? Not so much.
Byte also spent seven pages ruminating on where processors might go in the future, fantasizing about new instruction sets and then-unheard of transistor counts:
Byte, January 1983 "The Next Generation of Microprocessor: A proposed inexpensive microprocessor that can directly execute a high-level language" by Timothy Stryker: It will not be long before integrated-circuit manufacturers begin to come out with single-chip processors that can directly execute high-level-language instructions. When that happens, the resulting explosion in the availability of high-speed, high-quality software could make the current stage of the computer revolution look like a halfhearted warm-up exercise by comparison.
...it is amusing to note that Electronics magazine once ran as part of a "New Year's Wish List" the fervent hope that Intel Corporation's Gordon Moore be granted "inspiration on what to do with a chip holding 1 million transistors." That wish may be granted yet.
In the same issue, Byte delved into a subject that was relatively new at the time in a 10-page article by an author whose name makes one wonder about his security-conscious desire for anonymity:
Byte, January 1983 "Public Key Cryptography: An introduction to a powerful cryptographic system for use on microcomputers" by John Smith: New kinds of cryptographic systems are emerging that have incredible properties, which appear to eliminate completely some problems that have plagued cryptography users for centuries. One of these systems is public key cryptography.
And when was the last time that a computer magazine spent 17 pages comparing coding prime-number discovery routines using the Sieve of Eratosthenes algorithm?
Byte, January 1983 "Eratosthenes Revisited: Once More through the Sieve: A closer look at a benchmark prime-number program and various Pascal and C compilers" by Jim Gilbreath and Gary Gilbreath: We're not knocking Pascal; its place in the world as a versatile and safe language is quite secure. But C was more fun to work with.
I rest my case: both computing and computing magazines were quite different 30 years ago, which leads us to the following January, when things started to change in a big, big way – something Byte prophesied in a February 1983 review of Apple's Lisa.
Byte, January 1983 Review: ... the Lisa is the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily beating IBM's introduction of the Personal Computer in August, 1981.
Apple knows that this machine is expensive and is also not unaware that most people would be incredibly interested in a similar but less expensive machine. We'll see what happens...
Well, with hindsight being 20/20 and after 30 years of history, we all know what did happen.
Next Page: The Mac Moves In
Interesting, but it would have been good to cover the British mags instead... I don't remember any of these hitting our shores!
I was quite an avid fan of mags like Amstrad Action, Amiga Format and PC rags like Computer Shopper...
It was a bad day when BYTE hit the dust, that tending to me a more in depth and computer science-y magazine than almost everything else. The American PC World wasn't bad either. I was sad to see Personal Computer World just stop publishing though - they should have gone out with a great retro finale edition, but they just stopped :(
I still have a big pile of 1980s and 1990s BYTEs and PCWs stuffed in a box upstairs. Especially in the early 1980s, they came with really beautiful cover artwork, especially BYTE.
>Three words: "IS UNIX DEAD?!??!" (extra punctuation added by me)
Linux was still a newborn at that time, and The BSDs had just overcome a huge legal battle. The commercial UNIXes were all proprietary and considerably expensive. It wasn't out of the question at the time that MS was going to kill UNIX as it was (and it did). BYTE at the time followed MS since that's where the money was. Even back then they realized that IBM/OS2 wasn't going to dominate the market. Between 86 and 97 Apple management turned gold in to poo.
In hindsight Microsoft did kill UNIX at the time, with lower hardware costs, cheaper licensing, and letting a large amount of piracy occur. They didn't win by making more reliable software, that's for sure. It wasn't Linux became popular that Microsoft considered any of the Unixlike operating systems a serious threat.
the one I used from 1972 on
Each time I see a history of the personal computer I find that almost no one knows how it really began.
In 1972 both HP and Wang developed and sold a PC fully capable of programming in Basic and operating fully on the desktop. The HP unit even offered a letter quality printer (converted Facit typewriter), a high speed thermal printer (250 lpm and silent) plus an IO bus capable of addressing up to 15 IO devices including plotters, card readers and more. Even a modem.
It also offered a hard disc using a controller that would support two hard disc drives and four desktop units.
All from HP. Fully supported by HP.
Now you can get picky and claim it was not a microprocessor. And it was not. But, if you could program in Basic you could have it do just about anything you needed on the desktop. I did. Financial analysis. Word processing. You name it. It was a personal computer to the full extent of the meaning.
Yet, history is lost. Actually not quiet. See the HP museum web site. Look for the HP 9830A unit. Never even had a floppy disc because the technology was not yet developed and reliable enough. But, it did have a hard disc available.
I programmed one and had it fully operational in a law office by 1974.
Sorry for going all the way back. But, it was fun and commercial.
No mention of the C64/Amiga
A bit ridiculous really. The C64 knocked the socks off the Apple crap, and as for the Amiga... Well it was the most mind blowing computer ever but unfortunately we all know how that ended up. But as they say, it's always the victors that write the history.. :/
Also... define 'PC' in the 80s please. I mean we're not necessarily talking IBM clones here.