Can you do real work with the 30-year-old IBM 5150?

Our intrepid reporter spends a week trying to write, browse the Web, edit photos, and even tweet on IBM's first PC.

By Benj Edwards, PC World |  Hardware, I'll try it, IBM

When IBM released its first personal computer, the 5150, 30 years ago, it was deliberately drab--black, gray, and low-key. That's because IBM intended the 5150 to be a serious machine for people doing serious work.

When IBM released its first personal computer, the 5150, 30 years ago, it was deliberately drab--black, gray, and low-key. That's because IBM intended the 5150 to be a serious machine for people doing serious work.

[7 days without social media and 7 days using only keyboard shortcuts: No mouse, no trackpad, no problem?]

So how better to celebrate this important anniversary than by using the 5150 for what it was meant to do? Working on a 5150 seems to be a tall task in today's vastly accelerated computing world, however. Could a PC that's as old as I am manage to email, surf the Web, produce documents, edit photos, and even tweet?

I sequestered myself for four days amid boxes of 5.25-inch floppy drives and serial cables to find out. The answer to my question turned out to be both yes and no--but more interesting was all the retro-computing magic I had to perform. In the end, my experiment proved two things:

  • Despite the vast improvements in computing power over the years, the basic job of a PC isn't fundamentally different today from what it was 30 years ago.
  • Early floppy discs were just too darned small!

 

Day 1: Setting Up

I was interested in spending more time with the Model 5150 because it's the foundation of so much modern computing. For the past 30 years, the platform created by the IBM PC has served as the basis for personal computing innovation and progress. Today, most people use PCs that retain some level of compatibility with a computer system released three decades ago.

When I first set out to test the mettle of the 5150, I realized that this special challenge called for a unique test environment. I couldn't pull this off at my house; I would be too tempted to use modern computers as a crutch. I needed a secret bunker, a distant location where I could wrestle with vintage technology unhindered and uninterrupted. (Did I mention that I have a one-year-old at my house?)


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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