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Weird and Wonderful PCs: Your Stories Part 2

IBM Throttles Memorex, Friend Gets Cheap "PC"

From: Chris Barker

The PC I am writing to you about is the oldest PC I know of, and maybe the first (but probably not). I am using the definition of PC as "belonging exclusively to one person, and therefore personal." Why the need of this definition? This PC, of 1973 vintage, was a small minicomputer, though it was based on small components, for example the actual CPU.

It happened this way: IBM was king of computer sales and their products were expensive, especially peripherals. One successful computer was the System-3. Memorex started making lower-cost IBM-compatible peripherals. In response, IBM jacked up prices on their CPUs and lowered prices on their peripherals. Memorex responded by building a System-3 compatible mini, the Memorex 30. IBM then successfully sued Memorex for patent infringement and the latter was forced to dispose of quite a few useless Memorex 30s.

I friend of mine purchased one from American Used Computer Corp. for approximately $2,000 New Zealand dollars. That's about $1,400 at current exchange rates. It cost him about $3,000 more to ship it to New Zealand and get it through customs. He now had a CPU with no microcode, some documentation, but no support at all. I forget what it weighed, but it was about eight feet long, 2 1/2 feet wide and six feet high.

For a while, it lived in his garage. Eventually the head of the computer science department at Victoria University (he was a student there) allowed him to put it in one of their rooms. Somehow he acquired some peripherals: tape readers, a printer and maybe other stuff that I forget-some of these were nearly as large as the CPU. And he began to work at writing microcode for it, so that he could eventually write an operating system for his Memorex 30.

I have no idea how far he got, but this is certainly the most bizarre PC I have ever seen or heard of.