The IBM PS/2: 25 years of PC history

Here's a fond look back at the Personal System/2 series of PCs, which embarrassed IBM in the 1980s but shaped the modern PC you know today.

By Benj Edwards, PC World |  Hardware, BIOS, compaq

In June 1982, Columbia Data Products did just that, and it introduced the first PC clone, the MPC 1600.
Dynalogic and Compaq followed with PC work-alikes of their own in 1983, and soon, companies such as Phoenix Technologies developed IBM PC-compatible BIOS products that they freely licensed to any company that came calling. The floodgates had opened, and the PC-compatible market was no longer IBM's to own.

At least in the early years, that market did not exist without IBM's influence. IBM's PC XT (1983) and PC AT (1984) both brought with them considerable innovations in PC design that cloners quickly copied.

But that lead would not last forever. A profound shift in market leadership occurred when Compaq released its DeskPro 386, a powerful 1986 PC compatible that beat IBM to market in using Intel's 80386 CPU. It was an embarrassing blow to IBM, and Big Blue knew that it had to do something drastic to solidify its power.

[Related: The Computer Hardware Hall of Fame]

That something was the PS/2. The line launched in April 1987 with a high-powered ad campaign featuring the former cast of the hit MASH TV show, and a new slogan: "PS/2 It!"

Critics, who had seen more-powerful computers at lower prices, weren't particularly impressed, and everyone immediately knew that IBM planned to use the PS/2 to pull the rug out from beneath the PC-compatible industry. But the new PS/2 did have some tricks up its sleeve that would keep cloners busy for another couple of years in an attempt to catch up.

Four Initial Models

IBM announced four PS/2 models during its April 1987 launch: the Model 30, 50, 60, and 80. They ranged dramatically in power and price; on the low end, the Model 30 (roughly equivalent to a PC XT) contained an 8MHz 8086 CPU, 640KB of RAM, and a 20MB hard drive, and retailed for $2295 (about $4642 in 2012 dollars when adjusted for inflation).

The most powerful configuration of the Model 80 came equipped with a 20MHz 386 CPU, 2MB of RAM, and a 115MB hard drive for a total cost of $10,995 (about $22,243 today). Neither configuration included an OS--you had to buy PC-DOS 3.3 for an extra $120 ($242 today).

The following chart from IBM offers a more detailed view of the systems available during the 1987 launch, and illustrates just how complex the variety could be.

Every unit in the line included at least one feature new to IBM's PC offerings--and the market in general. In the following sections, I'll discuss those new features and how they affected the PC industry.

Integrated I/O Functionality, New Memory Standard


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