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Mechanical To Modern

Computer History 101: The Development Of The PC

Many discoveries and inventions have directly and indirectly contributed to the development of the PC and other personal computers as we know them today. Examining a few important developmental landmarks can help bring the entire picture into focus.

The Timeline Of Computer Advancements:

The following is a timeline of significant events in computer history. It is not meant to be complete, just a representation of some of the major landmarks in computer development:

Pre-1900s: Mechanical Computers

1617:       John Napier creates “Napier’s Bones,” wooden or ivory rods used for ­calculating.

1642:       Blaise Pascal introduces the Pascaline digital adding machine.

1822:       Charles Babbage introduces the Difference Engine and later the Analytical Engine, a true general-purpose computing machine.

The Early 1900s: The Vacuum Tube Era

1906:       Lee De Forest patents the vacuum tube triode, used as an electronic switch in the first electronic computers.

1936:       Alan Turing publishes “On Computable Numbers,” a paper in which he conceives an imaginary computer called the Turing Machine, considered one of the foundations of modern computing. Turing later worked on breaking the German Enigma code.

1936:       Konrad Zuse begins work on a series of computers that will culminate in 1941 when he finishes work on the Z3. These are considered the first working electric binary computers, using electromechanical switches and relays.

1937:       John V. Atanasoff begins work on the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), which would later be officially credited as the first electronic computer. Note that an electronic computer uses tubes, transistors, or other solid-state switching devices, whereas an electric computer uses electric motors, solenoids, or relays (electromechanical switches).

1943:       Thomas (Tommy) Flowers develops the Colossus, a secret British code-breaking computer designed to decode teleprinter messages encrypted by the German army.

1945:       John von Neumann writes “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC,” in which he outlines the architecture of the modern stored-program computer.

1946:       ENIAC is introduced, an electronic computing machine built by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert.

1947:       On December 23, William Shockley, Walter Brattain, and John Bardeen successfully test the point-contact transistor, setting off the semiconductor revolution.

1949:       Maurice Wilkes assembles the EDSAC, the first practical stored-program computer, at Cambridge University.

1950:       Engineering Research Associates of Minneapolis builds the ERA 1101, one of the first commercially produced ­computers.

1952:       The UNIVAC I delivered to the U.S. Census Bureau is the first commercial computer to attract widespread public attention.

1953:       IBM ships its first electronic computer, the 701.

1954:       A silicon-based junction transistor, perfected by Gordon Teal of Texas Instruments, Inc., brings a tremendous reduction in costs.

1954:       The IBM 650 magnetic drum calculator establishes itself as the first mass-produced computer, with the company selling 450 in one year.

1955-1981: From Transistors In Labs, To Integrated Circuits In The Home

1955:       Bell Laboratories announces the first fully transistorized computer, TRADIC.

1956:       MIT researchers build the TX-0, the first general-purpose, programmable computer built with transistors.

1956:       The era of magnetic disk storage dawns with IBM’s shipment of a 305 RAMAC to Zellerbach Paper in San Francisco.

1958:       Jack Kilby creates the first integrated circuit at Texas Instruments to prove that resistors and capacitors can exist on the same piece of semiconductor material.

1959:       IBM’s 7000 series mainframes are the company’s first transistorized computers.

1959:       Robert Noyce’s practical integrated circuit, invented at Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., allows printing of conducting channels directly on the silicon surface.

1960:       Bell Labs designs its Dataphone, the first commercial modem, specifically for converting digital computer data to analog signals for transmission across its long-distance network.

1961:       According to Datamation magazine, IBM has an 81.2% share of the computer market in 1961, the year in which it introduces the 1400 series.

1964:       IBM announces System/360, a family of six mutually compatible computers and 40 peripherals that can work together.

1964:       Online transaction processing makes its debut in IBM’s SABRE reservation system, set up for American Airlines.

1965:       Digital Equipment Corp. introduces the PDP-8, the first commercially successful minicomputer.

1969:       The root of what is to become the Internet begins when the Department of Defense establishes four nodes on the ARPAnet: two at University of California campuses (one at Santa Barbara and one at Los Angeles) and one each at Stanford Research Institute and the University of Utah.

1971:       A team at IBM’s San Jose Laboratories invents the 8-inch floppy disk drive.

1971:       The first advertisement for a microprocessor, the Intel 4004, appears in Electronic News.

1971:       The Kenbak-1, one of the first personal computers, is advertised for $750 in Scientific American.

1972:       Intel’s 8008 microprocessor makes its debut.

1973:       Robert Metcalfe devises the Ethernet method of network connection at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

1973:       The Micral is the earliest commercial, nonkit personal computer based on a microprocessor, the Intel 8008.

1973:       The TV Typewriter, designed by Don Lancaster, provides the first display of alphanumeric information on an ordinary television set.

1974:       Researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center design the Alto, the first workstation with a built-in mouse for input.

1974:       Scelbi advertises its 8H computer, the first commercially advertised U.S. computer based on a microprocessor, Intel’s 8008.

1975:       Telenet, the first commercial packet-switching network and civilian equivalent of ARPAnet, is born.

1975:       The January edition of Popular Electronics features the Altair 8800, which is based on Intel’s 8080 microprocessor, on its cover.

1976:       Steve Wozniak designs the Apple I, a ­single-board computer.

1976:       The 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drive is introduced by Shugart Associates.

1977:       Tandy RadioShack introduces the TRS-80.

1977:       Apple Computer introduces the Apple II.

1977:       Commodore introduces the PET (Personal Electronic Transactor).

1979:       Motorola introduces the 68000 microprocessor.

1980:       Seagate Technology creates the first hard disk drive for microcomputers, the ST-506.

1981-1995: The PC-Compatible Standard Is Entrenched

1981:       Xerox introduces the Star, the first personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI).

1981:       Adam Osborne completes the first portable computer, the Osborne I, which weighs 24 pounds and costs $1795.

1981:       IBM introduces its PC, igniting a fast growth of the personal computer market. The IBM PC is the grandfather of all ­modern PCs.

1981:       Sony introduces and ships the first 3 1/2-inch floppy disk drive.

1981:       Philips and Sony introduce the CD-DA (compact disc digital audio) format.

1983:       Apple introduces its Lisa, which incorporates a GUI that’s similar to the one introduced on the Xerox Star.

1983:       Compaq Computer Corp. introduces its first PC clone that uses the same software as the IBM PC.

1984:       Apple Computer launches the Macintosh, the first successful mouse-driven computer with a GUI, with a single $1.5 million commercial during the 1984 Super Bowl.

1984:       IBM releases the PC-AT (PC Advanced Technology), three times faster than original PCs and based on the Intel 286 chip. The AT introduces the 16-bit ISA bus and is the computer on which all modern PCs are based.

1985:       Philips introduces the first CD-ROM drive.

1986:       Compaq announces the Deskpro 386, the first computer on the market to use Intel’s 32-bit 386 chip.

1987:       IBM introduces its PS/2 machines, which make the 3 1/2-inch floppy disk drive and VGA video standard for PCs. The PS/2 also introduces the MicroChannel Architecture (MCA) bus, the first plug-and-play bus for PCs.

1988:       Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, who left Apple to form his own company, unveils the NeXT Computer.

1988:       Compaq and other PC-clone makers develop Enhanced Industry Standard Architecture (EISA), which unlike MicroChannel retains backward compatibility with the existing ISA bus.

1988       Robert Morris’s worm floods the ARPAnet. The 23-year-old Morris, the son of a computer security expert for the National Security Agency, sends a nondestructive worm through the Internet, causing problems for about 6,000 of the 60,000 hosts linked to the network.

1989       Intel releases the 486 (P4) microprocessor, which contains more than one million transistors. Intel also introduces 486 motherboard chipsets.

1990       The World Wide Web (WWW) is born when Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN—the high-energy physics laboratory in Geneva—develops Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

1993-2005: Windows 95 to XP, Pentiums, And Athlons

1993       Intel releases the Pentium (P5) processor. Intel shifts from numbers to names for its chips after the company learns it’s impossible to trademark a number. Intel also releases motherboard chipsets and, for the first time, complete motherboards.

1995:       Intel releases the Pentium Pro processor, the first in the P6 processor family.

1995:       Microsoft releases Windows 95 in a huge rollout.

1997:       Intel releases the Pentium II processor, essentially a Pentium Pro with MMX instructions added.

1997:       AMD introduces the K6, which is compatible with the Intel P5 (Pentium).

1998:       Microsoft releases Windows 98.

1998:       Intel releases the Celeron, a low-cost version of the Pentium II processor. Initial versions have no cache, but within a few months Intel introduces versions with a smaller but faster L2 cache.

1999:       Intel releases the Pentium III, essentially a Pentium II with SSE (Streaming SIMD Extensions) added.

1999:       AMD introduces the Athlon.

1999:       The IEEE officially approves the 5 GHz band 802.11a 54 Mb/s and 2.4 GHz band 802.11b 11 Mb/s wireless networking standards. The Wi-Fi Alliance is formed to certify 802.11b products, ensuring interoperability.

2000:       The first 802.11b Wi-Fi-certified products are introduced, and wireless networking rapidly builds momentum.

2000:       Microsoft releases Windows Me (Millennium Edition) and Windows 2000.

2000:       Both Intel and AMD introduce processors running at 1GHz.

2000:       AMD introduces the Duron, a low-cost Athlon with reduced L2 cache.

2000:       Intel introduces the Pentium 4, the latest processor in the Intel Architecture 32-bit (IA-32) family.

2001:       The industry celebrates the 20th anniversary of the release of the original IBM PC.

2001:       Intel introduces the first 2 GHz processor, a version of the Pentium 4. It takes the industry 28 1/2 years to go from 108 KHz to 1 GHz but only 18 months to go from 1 GHz to 2 GHz.

2001:       Microsoft releases Windows XP, the first mainstream 32-bit operating system (OS), merging the consumer and business OS lines under the same code base (NT 5.1).

2001:       Atheros introduces the first 802.11a 54 Mb/s high-speed wireless chips, allowing 802.11a products to finally reach the market.

2002:       Intel releases the first 3 GHz-class processor, a 3.06 GHz version of the Pentium 4. This processor also introduces Intel’s Hyper-Threading (HT) technology, appearing as two processors to the OS.

2003-Present: Multiple CPU Cores And 64-bits

2003:       Intel releases the Pentium M, a processor designed specifically for mobile systems, offering extremely low power consumption that results in dramatically increased battery life while still offering relatively high performance.

2003:       AMD releases the Athlon 64, the first x86-64 (64-bit) processor for PCs, which also includes integrated memory controllers.

2003:       The IEEE officially approves the 802.11g 54 Mb/s high-speed wireless networking standard.

2004:       Intel introduces a version of the Pentium 4 codenamed Prescott, the first PC processor built on 90-nanometer technology.

2004:       Intel introduces EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology), which is a 64-bit extension to Intel’s IA-32 architecture based on (and virtually identical to) the x86-64 (AMD64) technology first released by AMD.

2005:       Microsoft releases Windows XP x64 Edition, which supports processors with 64-bit AMD64 and EM64T extensions.

2005:       The era of multicore PC processors begins as Intel introduces the Pentium D 8xx and Pentium Extreme Edition 8xx dual-core processors. AMD soon follows with the dual-core Athlon 64 X2.

2006:       Apple introduces the first Macintosh systems based on PC architecture, stating they are four times faster than previous non-PC-based Macs.

2006:       Intel introduces the Core 2 Extreme, the first quad-core processor for PCs.

2006:       Microsoft releases the long-awaited Windows Vista to business users. The PC OEM and consumer market releases would follow in early 2007:

2007:       Intel releases the 3x series chipsets with support for DDR3 memory and PCI Express 2.0, which doubles the available bandwidth.

2007:       AMD releases the Phenom processors, the first quad-core processors for PCs with all four cores on a single die.

2008:       Intel releases the Core i-series (Nehalem) processors, which are dual- or quad-core chips with optional Hyper-Threading (appearing as four or eight cores to the OS) that include an integrated memory controller.

2008:       Intel releases the 4x and 5x-series chipsets, the latter of which supports Core i-series processors with integrated memory ­controllers.

2009:       Microsoft releases Windows 7, a highly anticipated successor to Vista.

2009:       AMD releases the Phenom II processors in 2-, 3-, and 4-core versions.

2010:       Intel releases six-core versions of the Core i-series processor (Gulftown) and a dual-core version with integrated graphics (Clarkdale). The Gulftown is the first PC processor with more than 1 billion ­transistors.

2010:       AMD releases six-core versions of the Phenom II processor.

2011:       Intel releases the second-generation Core i-series processors along with new 6-series motherboard chipsets. The chipsets and motherboards are quickly recalled due to a bug in the SATA host adapter. The recall costs Intel nearly a billion dollars and results in a several month delay in the processors and chipsets reaching the ­market.

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Top Comments
  • 24 Hide
    Pyree , August 24, 2011 6:08 AM
    The article contains no post-PC era nonsense! Just the way it should be.
  • 11 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , August 24, 2011 8:10 AM
    2006: Microsoft releases the long-awaited Windows Vista to business users. The PC OEM and consumer market releases would follow in early 2007:

    It should really read.

    2006: Microsoft releases the long-awaited Windows Vista to business users. The PC OEM and consumer market releases would follow in early 2007 and the vast majority of people quickly downgraded back to Windows XP:

  • 10 Hide
    grooveboss , August 24, 2011 5:50 AM
    ^ dweeb alert
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    grooveboss , August 24, 2011 5:50 AM
    ^ dweeb alert
  • 24 Hide
    Pyree , August 24, 2011 6:08 AM
    The article contains no post-PC era nonsense! Just the way it should be.
  • 6 Hide
    dogman_1234 , August 24, 2011 6:18 AM
    I liked it. Love history; and the history of computerized technology. Can't wait to see the next 50 years.
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , August 24, 2011 7:12 AM
    mayankleoboy1just one question: why this article? in the whole wide range of PC, why this?you could have done the second part to the Antiliasing article.

    That's still on its way. It's very data-intensive and Don has been plugging away at it.
  • 4 Hide
    Chewie , August 24, 2011 8:07 AM
    No mention of the Commodore in any of its forms? :( 
  • 11 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , August 24, 2011 8:10 AM
    2006: Microsoft releases the long-awaited Windows Vista to business users. The PC OEM and consumer market releases would follow in early 2007:

    It should really read.

    2006: Microsoft releases the long-awaited Windows Vista to business users. The PC OEM and consumer market releases would follow in early 2007 and the vast majority of people quickly downgraded back to Windows XP:

  • 2 Hide
    madsbs , August 24, 2011 8:51 AM
    Pics or it didn't happen!

    Where are the illustrations for this rather interesting piece?
  • 0 Hide
    jj463rd , August 24, 2011 9:43 AM
    One thing that I disliked about the Timeline of Computer Advancements was leaving out Douglas Englebart and the Mother of All Demos in 1968(if you don't know about him you know very little about computer history )and giving accolades instead to Xerox.
  • 0 Hide
    Firehead2k , August 24, 2011 10:17 AM
    I also missed the Commodore line of pcs
  • -2 Hide
    Mark Heath , August 24, 2011 11:02 AM
    Nice read, reminded me to read up a bit more history on Apple, I knew jobs left for a while, but only found out today that he's apparently taken LSD and went Hindu after a trip to India. Yes, *apparently*, go look it up :) 
  • 3 Hide
    molo9000 , August 24, 2011 1:14 PM
    he system’s $8975 price placed it out of the mainstream personal computer marketplace

    That's a mild understatement. In 1975 you could buy a brand new V8 powered Ford Mustang for $4000.

    The move to a PC-based architecture is without a doubt the smartest move Apple has made in years—besides reducing Apple’s component costs, it allows Macs to finally perform on par with PCs.

    Eh? Apple had to move to Intel because PowerPC was going downhill in 2006, but a there was a time when PowerPC chips were faster than Intel chips.

    I would say it is a safe bet that PC-compatible systems will continue to dominate the personal computer marketplace for the foreseeable future.

    That's a bold statement considering that the next version of Windows is going to be ARM compatible.
    The personal computer isn't going anywhere, but we might see the end of x86 dominance soon.
  • 3 Hide
    Krnt , August 24, 2011 1:34 PM
    No Fusion and no ARM? WTF?!
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , August 24, 2011 1:58 PM
    Where is Xerox and their contributions? They made the GUI and the mouse as well ethernet networking so it isn't like they were vaporware.
  • -5 Hide
    leandrodafontoura , August 24, 2011 2:19 PM
    This article is misleading a little bit. Apple computers, before the change to Intel processors, used IBM processors, wich were significantly superior to Intel best solution
  • 0 Hide
    kilo_17 , August 24, 2011 2:40 PM
    So does this mean without IBM, the PC would be way different than what it is today?
  • 1 Hide
    ta152h , August 24, 2011 2:40 PM
    Quite a few mistakes, but the most glaring is the overstatement with regards to the Apple II. What standard did it set? Expansion slots were on other machines, although IBM certainly saw this on the Apple. Of course, you didn't have the problems where certain card wouldn't work in certain slots (except in VERY rare cases), whereas Apple was much more rigid. The weird video where you couldn't put certain colors next to other colors were certainly never copied. The 6502 was a dead end, and Apple's next computer went to the 68K. The design where the keyboard was part of the computer was not copied by IBM,and in any case had been predated.

    Also, it was NOT a huge standard. The TRS-80 was at least as important in 1977 and the next few years, and was the best selling computer before the IBM PC came out. Also, don't forget Atari, which was also out there with the Atari 400 and Atari 800, and had very powerful video acceleration technology.

    It's not the Apple II wasn't selling, but it wasn't a predominate standard as stated, and had very strong competition. It was basically overpriced junk, with a slow, very annoying processor (which is the basis for ARM's instruction set), annoying video modes, weird floppy disk technology, and a price excessive for what the machine was.

    Also, the Pentium II was not basically a Pentium Pro with MMX. It had much more important changes (in retrospect, since MMX didn't matter much). For one, the Pentium Pro ran 16-bit code very poorly, and it was obscenely expensive because of the L2 cache on the processor package. They slowed down the L2 cache with external chips (for the Klamath, Deschutes, and Katmai), but doubled the L1 cache. This cut costs dramatically. Also, the Pentium II was able to run 16-bit code better than the Pentium for the first time.
  • 3 Hide
    jc5427 , August 24, 2011 2:49 PM
    No mention of Unix/Linux?
  • 0 Hide
    jcknouse , August 24, 2011 3:21 PM
    They still make that book?

    I think I have the 2nd Ed of that book at home, with ISA ports listed in it.

    A free copy would mean I have one that's up-to-date. lolz
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