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Top Holiday Tech Buys... of 1983 (Gallery)

Join me for the "first" computer Christmas season: when PCs cost thousands of dollars, hard-drives boasted of having megabytes of storage, and connecting to the Internet happened at 1,200 bits per second.
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An IBM PC! With a hard drive!!

Back in 1983 in Compute magazine, my friend Kathy Yakal wrote, that 1983 "might be the Christmas of the computer." It would be the first holiday season when "the home computer [was] well within the budgets of many American consumers." So, what computing toys did you have to choose from in 1983? Brace yourself: there wasn't  a smartphone or tablet to be seen.

You may be too young for this, but one of IBM's best ad campaigns ever featured Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. And, he was touting IBM's newest PC stars: the IBM PC and the IBM PC XT. The XT came with 4.77MHz 8088 processor, a 10 MB hard drive, 128KB RAM and a 360KB floppy drive. For this top-of-the-line business machine, you only had to pay $5,000.

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2 of 12 Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

Apple Lisa: Mac's failed predecessor.

What's that? You don't want a PC? You want an Apple? Well, lucky you, Apple was ready to sell you a Lisa -- complete with Motorola 5MHz 68000, 5MB hard drive, "huge" 1 MB of RAM, and Apple's first graphical operating system, Lisa Operating System. And, you could have all this for "only" $10,000. Yeah, there's a reason why only hard-core Apple fans remember this one. The Mac, introduced in 1984 for $2,500, proved far more popular.

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The once, and future, Commodore 64

Apple and IBM too pricey for you? Commodore, with its Commodore 64, a computer inside of a keyboard that required a spare TV for the interface, had the machine for you at $299. It wasn't much of a PC -- 64K of memory was small even by 1983 standards -- but it proved amazingly popular. Indeed, Commodore recently released a 21st century Commodore 64 running Linux.

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4 of 12 Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

KayPro: One of the first "portable" computers.

You also could have bought one of the last PCs running the CP/M-80 operating system: the "portable" KayPro II for only $995. 

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Big-time TRS-80 PCs with even bigger prices.

Another choice for someone wanting a small office/home office computer under the Christmas tree was the TRS-80 Model 16 PCs with eye-watering price-tags starting at $6,893. But, hey, you got a 12MB hard drive with that! What a deal! 

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12MB hard-drives for "only" $3,495

That 12MB hard drive, by itself, would run you $3,495. I don't believe that, other than some antique hardware, I have anything in my house with less than 1GB of storage on it. 

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If you couldn't afford a hard drive, there was always cassette tape

Too rich for your blood? Well you could always use a cassette-tape recorder for your programs and data—except on the XT. It didn't come with a cassette-tape interface. Darn it! 

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Linux is 8 years away, but you could still run Unix on PCs

You might not have been able to run Linux in 1983, but thanks to a pair of companies named SCO and Microsoft (you might have heard of them) you could run Unix on 1983's PCs.

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Need a "laptop" with an Internet connection? No problem!

Need a laptop? No problem, we've got your "laptop" right here complete with build-in phone coupler modem and thermal paper interface. Better still, it's only a grand! What a deal! Back in the day, I actually used a relative of this, the TI Silent 700, for IBM mainframe management.  And, I liked it! No, really I did. 

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You want speeds faster than 300 BPS? Hayes had you covered

What? You want something faster than 300 bits per second (BPS)? No worries! Just add a Hayes 1200 baud SmartModem to your set-up and you could reach the dizzying heights of 1,200 BPS speeds for just over $600!

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Didn't need the Internet? Then there was always this calcula... ah, computer

Of course if you didn't need "network" connectivity on your "laptop" you could always use computers like the TRS-80 Pocket Computer. Why, yes, it does look like a calculator doesn't it?

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Finally, we had such great games to play on our computers back then!

It wouldn't be the holidays with computer games. As you can see, though, we were a long, long way from Guild Wars 2, Angry Birds, and Farmville.

Believe it or not, at the time we loved these devices just as much as we love our Nexus 7, iPads, and Samsung S3 today. Comparatively, they were far more expensive than today's highest price gear, but we were willing to pay the price. So it was that I owned a KayPro, XT PC, Commodore 64, Hayes SmartModem, and Xenix and I would have loved to have had a Lisa to call my own. For their day, these were all wonderful devices.

Besides, just think, in 2043, every tech toy you have and love now will look just as out of date and "quaint" as these devices and progams look to you today. 

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