Photos: From the first PCs to the ThinkPad – classic IBM machines

Photos: From the first PCs to the ThinkPad – classic IBM machines

Summary: A walkthrough some of IBM's best known creations: from the Selectric typewriter to the IBM PC to the ThinkPad.

TOPICS: Hardware

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  • The Displaywriter System, announced in June 1980, introduced some of the convenience of PC word processing software at a time when documents were generally created on typewriters.

    The machine could store and recall documents so they could be revised and could check the spelling of 50,000 commonly-used words.

    The system was designed to allow users to produce high quality documents at "rough draft speed".

    Displaywriter featured an Intel 8086 processor with 160KB, 192KB or 224KB of RAM and was available with a single or double diskette unit.

    A basic system included a display with a typewriter-like keyboard, a printer and a device to read and write to diskettes, which was capable of storing more than 100 pages of text.

    Two printers were available with the machine, initially the 5215, a Selectric-based printer similar to the magnetic card Selectric typewriters and later an IBM 'Daisywheel' printer.

  • The System/23 Datamaster was announced by IBM's General Systems Division in July 1981, only one month before the IBM PC.

    The Datamaster is an all-in-one computer with a built-in text mode CRT display, keyboard and two 8-inch floppy disk drives.

    The machine was powered by an 8-bit 8085 and had 256KB of memory. A BASIC interpreter was also built into the computer.

    The intention of Datamaster was to provide a computer that could be operated without specialists and the machine was designed to be operated by novice users.

    The machine came with a choice of two printers and accounting and word processing software. A full function data processing installation, with a single computer and an 80 character-per-second printer cost $9,830, which according to IBM was its "cheapest solution at that time".

  • In 1981 IBM decided to move beyond the mainframes it had been building for decades and launch its first mass market personal computer, the IBM 5150.

    The PC was a success for IBM — particularly in the office market — shipping more than 800,000 units in the two years after it went on sale. What helped drive the machine’s popularity was both the familiarity of the IBM name and the broad range of peripherals and software available for the computer.

    The machine spawned a market in IBM-PC clones, known as IBM PC compatibles, made possible by the fact that the machines were built using off the shelf non-IBM hardware and that Microsoft was free to licence DOS for use on third-party machines. The spread of IBM PC compatible machines created a common standard for PCs, simplifying the process of buying a PC by ensuring that any IBM compatible PC would run the same software, no matter which company made it.

    The machine's starting price was $1,565, it ran on a 4.77Mhz Intel 8088 microprocessor, came with a keyboard, ran Microsoft DOS, supported up to 256KB of RAM and a colour display, came with an optional 160K floppy disc drive and an optional colour monitor.

    This machine is attached to an IBM PC monochrome display and an IBM dot-matrix printer.

Topic: Hardware


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • I remember...

    I remember going to computer camp one summer and learning basic programming techniques on the 5110 (or something very similar). A few months earlier my mother had bought me a Sinclair ZX81, and thus began my long, thrilling journey into the world of computers.
    • OMG.

      I had one of those Sinclair computers. I can't believe I actually loaded and saved my programs to and from cassette tape. How far we have come....
      • I still have one in my basement somewhere

        along with TRS-80 and an IBM PC Jr. Beat the heck out of the punch cards I had to work with by day.
  • I've never seen that Butterfly keyboard system

    but it does sound as though it's likely a nice piece of mechanical engineering.

  • IBM Selectric Typewriter

    I remember that from a high school typing class. Back then, typing was still extremely gender specific. A friend and I signed up for the class because we knew we would be the only males. Who knew how important learning "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" would be!
  • Selectric Typewriter

    Many writers focus on the ball as the innovation of the Selectric. The key to the typewriter is the Paper did not move. In all previous typewriters (and printers) the type stayed stationary and the paper moved. No printers today use the old method, all move the type head and leave the paper stationary.
    • Teletype had the idea first.

      Teletype printing devices, many years before the IBM Selectric, used a small cylinder attached to a vertical shaft that could be rotated up to 180 degrees in either direction, then return to its home position, and lifted up or down as needed, before swinging the shaft, with the proper character facing the paper, at the ribbon and paper. IBM engineers basically changed the cylinder to a sphere, the lifting axis of motion to a tilt, and made the ball removable, whether because they wanted to make the mechanism more reliable and durable, or to avoid violating Teletype patents, I am not sure. Incidentally, I have seen the lift-and-rotate cylinder mechanism both on the very old (pre-WWII) 5-level Teletype printers capable of printing a 52-character set (very popular for ham radio once they hit the surplus market), and on the 1960s 8-level ASCII coded Teletype printers used as operator/user consoles by almost all non-IBM minicomputers in the 1960s (larger character set was possible but not always implemented).

      The big advantages of the Selectric over the Teletype were more attractive styling for use in an office, and the ability of the operator to change the typeball in mid-page, or even in mid-line, to substitute a different font, or even a special-purpose character set (foreign language or math symbols, for example).

      The big advantage of BOTH the Teletype and the Selectric over the "classic" typewriter was that the desk space footprint did not have to allow for both extremes of position of the platen (not to mention the vibration when the Return function was performed by an ELECTRIC interface or a very angry or hurried typist!). This meant that more Teletype printers could be installed side by side in a newsroom, and secretaries had more space for necessary supplies on each side of the typewriter (or pictures of the family, or the boss could issue a narrower desk and put more TYPISTS side by side).
  • I'm caught in a time warp

    I still have:
    6 5150 PC Classic
    6 5160 PC XT (first hard drive and color monitor)
    2 5140 PC Convertible (first LCD screen and battery power)
    2 5155 Portable PC
    2 Pro Printers
    Everything works. I have every version of DOS, many add-on boards and a lot of software such as Lotus 123 and Visicalc. I also have all the manuals including the Tech Reference and repair manuals. When I develop programs in C I first use a PC-XT running Borland Turbo-C, when I am satisfied with the code I transfer it to a newer computer and a more modern C compiler. I have a newer PC dual booting Windows XP and DOS. I use it to transfer programs and data back and forth to my IBM PC's using a serial cable and a gender-mender. I also use it to find PC software on the internet. I first acquired all this when I lived near Boca Raton Florida, where the IBM PC was invented and manufactured. I now live in the California mountains and can't part with all this stuff.
  • Missing is the Magnetic Card Selectric

    In the army in 1970 I was a PFC fresh from training assigned to work as a clerk in G-3 Intelligence at Ft. Hood, TX. The office had IBM Selectrics at every desk, but also a new Magnetic Card Selectric that allowed recording a typed page on a hard card, about 3" X 7", that inserted into a slot in the machine. I think we could put a page on each side of the card, but memory is fuzzy on those details. It allowed us to make corrections and print letter-perfect documents. A lengthy staff report would need a stack of cards to record.
  • Displaywriter was a defensive release.

    "The Displaywriter System, announced in June 1980, introduced some of the convenience of PC word processing software at a time when documents were generally created on typewriters."

    Actually Wang Labs WP was kicking out 1000s of Selectrics of all stripes for the previous 5 or 6 years. All it took was a demo for an hour or so and the customers were sold. At least those that didn't have IBM mainframes in house with IT directing purchases. Wang owned the market for law firms back then.

    By later 70s Wang WP had multiple display stations sharing a common document store CPU system and printers. All networked.

    But they, Wang, didn't really understand the importance of standards and by the end of the 80s were dying. That with a total foul up of the "Good Dr" putting his son in charge for cultural reasons.
    • Wang vs.IBM Word Processors

      Actually the Displaywriter was IBM's LAST dedicated word processing machine.

      IBM's first Selectric based WP product was the Magnetic Tape Selectric typewriter (MT/ST), introduced in 1964. Wang's first Selectric based WP product did not arrive until years later.
  • Great Stuff

    Well,Well we have come a long way since then.
    Mick Grundy
  • Memories

    My, my. Such good memories. I was in college and professional school when the middle part of this revolution was taking place. What amazes me the most is remembering how all of that technology wowed us at the time and what we have now.(I'm typing this an android tablet). What does the future hold?
  • Great article! -- Sorry, but I won't look at it!!!

    Twenty-seven, count 'em, 27 excruciating page loads! Sorry, I won't look at them or the ads. Oh well, on to other things.......
  • PS/2 95

    My first Windows 95 PC was a PS/2 95. 486DX2/66 with 16MB of RAM. I thought I was in hog heaven. Ran that puppy with an external CDRom drive for a couple of years. I wish I still had it.
  • PCjr

    What, no picture of an IBM PCjr? I owned one, warts and all! It really wasn't as bad as the publicity made it...after they replaced the "Chiclet" keyboard with a real one. Kept it two years and got a compatible. Never looked back!