Computers are an integral part of daily life today, but they wouldn’t be where they are without several amazing computers from history.
Computers have changed drastically over the past several decades, in fact. These nine computers changed the world forever, laying the foundation for ultra-thin laptops, smartphones, and AI supercomputers.
The ENIAC was the world’s first programmable, electronic, general-purpose computer. It was programmed in 1946 by a team of six women for the U.S. Army. The enormous computer required an entire room and took three years to build.
In its operational lifetime, the ENIAC is believed to have performed more calculations than all of humanity had prior to its invention. While the ENIAC was basically a giant calculator, it was a huge step forward in computing, leaving behind the mechanical computers of previous generations.
The IBM 650 was the size of a couple of refrigerators lumped together, but it has an important place in the history of computers. The 650 was the first mass-produced computer. Unlike the business mainframes of the time, the IBM 650 didn’t take up an entire room. The 650 was still designed for industrial and business purposes, though.
Shockingly, the IBM 650 sold 2,000 units over its lifetime, which was a lot in the 1950s. This computer paved the way for the mass-produced, widespread computer use that would come in the second half of the 20th century.
The IBM System/360, or S/360, changed the way people thought of computer programmes and compatibility. In the 1960s, computer programmes could only run on one specific computer. You couldn’t create an application on one computer and run it on another. The IBM S/360 changed that forever.
While it was still a massive mainframe computer, not a PC, the S/360 revolutionised compatibility. There were different versions of the S/360 customers could buy, all of which were compatible with one another, including their applications. The success of this compatibility made it a key feature in future computers.
The Xerox Alto did not sell well due to its lofty price tag, but it broke new ground in computer design, particularly for personal computers. When it was released in 1973, the Alto cost $12,000, which would be over $70,000 today.
However, it was the first computer designed from the start with a mouse interface, which is standard in computers today. It also pioneered the graphical user interface, or GUI, which is also standard today. Plus, Altos were designed to be able to interface with one another, giving rise to a technology called Ethernet, which is still used widely.
The Apple 1 was the beginning of one of the most famed businesses in the history of computers. Designed by Steve Wozniak, the Apple 1 began as an open-source project anyone could build. Wozniak built it by hand out of affordable, off-the-shelf parts, resulting in a single circuit board that could be connected to a screen and a keyboard. You could even type in simple commands to programme the computer, rather than using less-intuitive methods like punch cards.
It was Wozniak’s friend Steve Jobs who suggested selling the computer as a ready-made printed circuit board. Wozniak liked the idea and thus Apple Inc. was born. Users had to add their own case, keyboard, and screen, but the Apple 1 was much more affordable than other personal computers at the time.
The Apple 1 walked so the Apple 2 could run. The Apple 2 remains one of the longest-running models in the history of computers. It didn’t go out of production until 1993. The Apple 2 took Wozniak’s simplified approach to computer engineering and combined it with Jobs’ sleek design vision.
The result was a PC that was approachable, easy to use, and designed for ordinary people, not tech enthusiasts or businesses. It even supported a colour display! By 1984, 2 million Apple 2 computers had been sold. It got numerous upgrades over the years and vaulted Apple to the forefront of the PC market. Without the Apple 2, Apple probably would not exist today.
Many will know the BBC Micro from its popularity in British schools in the 1980s. Acorn Computers built the Micro for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Computer Literacy Project. The Micro was at the heart of an initiative to teach more people about computers, especially students.
Over 1.5 million BBC Micro computers were sold. They were affordable and accessible, making them a great entry-level computer that took the UK PC market by storm. It wasn’t as powerful as other PCs at the time, such as the Commodore 64, but it cost only £299 at the time, making it one of the most affordable computers available.
The Commodore 64 is the Guinness World Record holder for the best-selling computer model of all time. Between 1982 and 1993, 30 million C64 computers were sold. It had a much lower price tag than other PCs at the time – it sold for about $600 in the US, which would be about $1,250 today.
Not only was it cheaper than the competition, but the Commodore 64 was also much more powerful. It was a 16-bit computer, designed for gaming as well as working. The powerful chip that ran the C64 broke new ground in computer chip design at the time. Commodore 64 programmes were so popular that tech enthusiasts still keep many of them alive today with emulators of favourite C64 games.
The Apple Macintosh remains an icon of retro technology. While it was not the first PC with a graphical user interface, it did spark the popularity of GUIs. It shipped as an all-in-one PC made for everyday people to use, complete with a mouse and built-in screen. There was no command line in the Macintosh at all, which was revolutionary in the 1980s.
The lack of a command line sparked a new generation of computer applications designed for a GUI. The ability to click on icons and interact with windows in the GUI made the Macintosh much easier to use than other PCs at the time. The Macintosh was able to offer a lot while still remaining affordable and simple to use. Without the success of the Macintosh, the GUI and mouse might not have caught on.
Apple went on to revolutionise the mobile technology industry as well, with the launch of the iPod in 2001. Thanks to the Macintosh and the iPod, Apple has earned its place as one of the most influential technology companies in history.
The history of computers is filled with thousands of different models, most of them unbelievably bulky and underpowered compared to what we have today. Several computers stand out over the decades, though. These computers have altered the course of technology and history over the years, changing the way we work, learn, and play. Without the nine computers on this list, we wouldn’t have laptops, tablets, and smartphones.