A History of the Early Computer Industry in 300 Adverts

In a private room at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in January 1977, Commodore launched the world's first complete "personal computer" - a microcomputer that for the first time could be taken out of the box, plugged in and used by regular people without a soldering iron. Tandy and Apple joined within months but things ticked along slowly for a few more years until Commodore - again - and Sinclair in the UK ushered in a new wave of affordable home micros at the start of the 1980s which changed everything.

The market exploded from tens of thousands of machines a year to millions, as famous 1970s names like Cromemco, IMSAI, Nascom and MITS were swept away. Micro companies were suddenly worth $1 billion dollars and their employees were millionaires. Hundreds of companies launched hundreds of machines, with 900 mostly-incompatible systems appearing in the 1980 "Guide to Small Business Systems". Price wars were started, old scores were settled and companies were destroyed. 8 bits made way for 16 and 32 in the space of a few years. The video games market surged and then collapsed in on itself, taking out Atari and Coleco. For a while Britain led the world in manufacture and adoption, with 80% of all computers sold in Europe being sold in the UK.

Then the 8-bit market reached saturation and more companies imploded - Sinclair was sold for its name and assets only, Acorn almost didn't make it and a raft of also-rans fell by the wayside - Camputers, Dragon Data, Elan, Oric and Jupiter Cantab to name but a few. Even big names like Texas Instruments were burned. Of the near-200 companies in these adverts, only 17 remain, of which 15 are the BASFs, Sanyos and Yamahas for whom micros were only ever a sideline. None, including Apple, survives as a pure computer company.

Meanwhile, the sleeping giant that was IBM launched its 5150 at the end of 1981 and watched as it slowly but inevitably over the next few years became the standard. Other companies cloned it, copied and improved it and soon the only game in town was the IBM PC. From the latter half of the 1980s, every micro company and its dog was building generic beige boxes. The "wonder years" were over.

This collection of nearly 300 adverts attempts to tell something of that story...

By relationship: Visualise the early micro industry as a "wiring diagram" of the connections between people, companies and products

By year: All | 1962 | 1964 | 1971 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 2015

By company: | | ACT/Apricot | ACT/Computhink | ACT/Victor | Acorn | Acornsoft | Aculab | Advance Memory Systems | Advance/Ferranti | Alpha Micro | Altos | Amstrad | Apple | Atari | BASF | Bendix | Bondwell | British Micro | Bywood | C/WP-Cortex | CAL/Durango | COMX | Cambridge Computer | Camputers | Canon | Casio | Cifer | Climax International | Coleco | Comart | Commodore | Compaq | Compucolor Corporation | Compukit | Compuserve | Computer Facilities | Corvus | Cromemco | DAI | Data General | Dell | Digital | Digital Research | Dragon Data | Dynabyte | EACA/Genie | Elliott | Enterprise/Elan | Epson | Euro-Calc/Plessey | Exidy | Ferranti | Fortronic | Fortune | Franklin | Fujitsu | Gemini Micro | Globe Business Machines | Goldstar | Gulfstream/Bytec | HH | Haywood | Heathkit | Hewlett-Packard | Hitachi | Hotel Microsystems | IBM | ICL | IMSAI | ITT | Intel | Intertec | Iotec | Ithaca | Jupiter Cantab | Kaypro | LSI | Laskys | Luxor/Dataindustruir | MITS | Mattel | Memotech | Micromation | Micronet | Micronix | Microsoft | Midwest Scientific Instruments (MSI) | Miracle Technology | Mitsubishi | Morrow | Multitech Corporation | NCR | NEC | Nascom/Lucas | Newbury/Grundy | North Star Computers | Novation | Ohio Scientific | Olivetti | Olympia | Opus | Orb Micro | Oric | Osborne | Pace | Parasitic | Pearcom | PerSci | Philips | Processor Technology | Psion | Qume | RAIR | Rank Xerox | Research Machines | SWTPC | Sanyo | Seiko | Semi-Tech/Pied Piper | Sharp | Shelton | Shugart | Sinclair | Smoke Signal | Sord/CGL | Spectravideo | TDI/Sage | Tandata | Tandy/Radio Shack | Tangerine | Tatung | Texas Instruments | Torch | Toshiba | Transam | Transtec | Triumph-Adler | Tulip/Compudata | Tycom | Vector Graphic | Victor | Wang | Wren Computers | Xcalibur | Yamaha | Zen | Zenith Data Systems | Zilog | Zorba

By micro or topic: | | 32:16 | 380Z | 5150 | 520ST | 520STM | 600XL | 8001 | ABC80 | ACS8000 | ACT 800 | AMX Mouse | Ace 1200 | Adam | Adler 1630 | Advance 86a | Advantage | Alan Alda | Alpha Micro | Alphatronic | Altair 680 | Altair 8800b | Altos ACS8000 | Amiga 500 | Apple Clones | Apple II | Apple III | Apricot | Apricot F1 | Apricot Portable | Aquarius | Archimedes A3000 | Argus Pro-Personal | Atari 800 | Atmos | Atom | B series | BASF 7120 | BBC Master Compact | BBC Micro | Bendix G-20 | Black Box | Bondwell 12 | C Series | C-128 | C-64 | C3-B | CAL PC | CBM 264 | CBM 700 | CBM Calculators | CDTV | CGL | COMX 35 | CP/M Graphics | CPC 464 | CPC 6128 | CPC 664 | CX-1 | Chessmate | Chieftain | Cifer Series 1 | Climax 60 | Color Computer 2 | Colour Genie | Comart Communicator | Comart PC | Commodore PC | Communicator | Compaq Portable | Compunet | Compuserve | Computer Dystopia | Computer TV | Cortex | Corvus Concept | DAI | DG Enterprise | DM235 | DPS1 | DR GEM | Dash-80 | DecisionMate V | Disk Drives | Dragon 32 | Dragon 64 | Durango 700 | Dynabyte | EG2000 | EG3003 | EUROC | Einstein | Elan | Electron | Elliott 503 | Enterprise | Equinox 100 | F500 | Flan | Fujitsu PC | Galaxy 2 | Globe | Graduate | Grafpad | H10 | H9 | HH Tiger | HP Calculators | HP-41C | HP-75C | HP-85 | HP-86 | HX-20 | Haywood 9000 | Heathkit Kits | Horizon | Hyperion | IBM PC | ICL PC | IMSAI 8080 | IMSAI PCS-80/30 | ITT2020 | ITT3030 | Imp | Intel 8085 | Iona | Japanese Invasion | Jupiter Ace | Kaypro 2 | Laureate | Lisa | Lynx | Lynx 96 | M20 | M21 | M24 | M5 | MBC550 | MK14 | MS-DOS | MSI 6800 | MSX | MTX512 | MZ-80B | MZ-80K | Macintosh | Memopak | Memorite | Memory Boards | Microframe | Micronet 800 | Micronix 80HD | Microprofessor MPF1 | Microtan 65 | Mimi 802 | Minimax | Minstrel | Modems | Multiplan | NCR 390 | Nascom 1 | Nascom 2 | Nascom 3 | NewBrain | ORB | Opus PCII | Organiser | Oric 1 | Osborne 1 | Oscar | PB700 | PC 1512 | PC 2286 | PC Plus | PC-8000 | PC1500 | PC2000 | PCW 8256 | PCjr | PET | PR-40 | Pear II | People | Peugeot 205GT | Pied Piper | Piracy | Plus/4 | Portfolio | Prestel | Project 60 | Proton | QL | QX-10 | Qume QVT | RAIR Business Computer | RAIR Terminals | RC-1000 | Rainbow 100 | Ronnie Barker | SCRUMPI | SV-318 | SV-328 | SWTPC 6800 | SX-64 | Sage II | Sage IV | Samurai | Sig/Net | Sirius 1 | Sol 20 | Sorcerer | SuperBrain | System 1 | System 3 | System M-Three | System/360 | T200 | TI Calculators | TI SR-52 | TI-99/4A | TRS-80 | TRS-80 Model 100/MEWS | TRS-80 Model 4 | TRS-80 Model II | Teletext | Transtec BC2 | Triton | Tuscan | UK101 | Unicorn | VCS/2600 | VIC 20 | Vector 1 | Vector 4 | Vector MZ | Victor 9000 | Victor VPC15 | Video Genie | WH17 | Wang PC | Wiliam Shatner | Wren | XL | Xcalibur | Xerox 820 | Yamaha CX5M | Z-1 | Z-Plus | Z100 | Z88 | ZEP 100 | ZX Interface 2 | ZX Microdrive | ZX Spectrum | ZX Spectrum +2 | ZX Spectrum +3 | ZX Spectrum+ | ZX80 | ZX81 | Zen | Zilog MCZ

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Morrow

October 1982

Decision 1 - the only machine that runs almost everything
The Decision 1 from Morrow Designs appeared to be at something of a crossroads, taking with it the S100 bus and to some extent the 8-bit Z80A process... (more)

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Dell

July 1987

You'd better believe this... or you won't believe our prices
Michael Dell started out at the age of 13 selling mail-order stamps, and by the time he was at High School he was earning some $17,000 a year sell... (more)

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Acorn

December 1985

BBC External Services
This advert seems to represent the end of a period of retrenchment for Acorn following a difficult year which had seen it bailed out by Italian company Olivetti back in February. For mo... (more)

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Zorba

October 1983

New Zorba 2000 Series - Now with Full 9" Screen
This almost-comedy wannabe hack at the Osborne and Kaypro market, with its claim that cramming 80 columns on to a "massive" 9" screen is somehow a good thing, ... (more)

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Psion

October 1983

The best software on earth comes from Psion
Psion made its name as a software company writing mainly for Sinclair's machines, starting with the ZX80 and including the one featured in this advert - the ZX Spe... (more)

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Psion

August 1984

One way or another, you can have a computer in your pocket
Launched in the spring of 1984, the Psion Organiser, billed by Psion as the "world's first practical pocket computer" is considered as the world's f... (more)

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Amstrad

November 1985

More than a Word Processor for less than a typewriter
Retailing for only £399 - about [[399|1985]] in [[now]] and about a quarter the price of an IBM PC at the time, the P‍CW 8256 and its follow ups were ... (more)

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Sanyo

January 14, 1984

This year will be as important to the computer industry as 1959 was to the motor industry
It's perhaps stretching it a bit to assert that the launch of another IBM clone, albeit one of the first "legitimate"... (more)

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Digital Research

November 1985

Introducing the new and improved IBM PC. From £49.50
Much has been written about how CP/M, the operating system written by Gary Kildall and his company Digital Research - originally known as Intergalactic D... (more)

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Victor

November 1985

Victor: The power to control won't cost you the Earth
The original Victor company was the OEM manufacturer of the Victor 9000 - also known as the Sirius 1 in Europe. Sirius - founded by 6502 designer Chuck P... (more)

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Bondwell

August 1984

Make it portable! Make it possible
Bondwell was the trading name of Bondwell Holdings Limited of Hong Kong and was the company that rescued the failed SpectraVideo, which had made its name (as SpectraVision)... (more)

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Acornsoft

June 1984

The Aviator - One man's fight to save his home town
This particular advert appeared as an A2 poster inside June 1985's PCW and came from Acorn's software offshoot Acornsoft, which produced several ground-bre... (more)

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Casio

August 1984

New from Casio - mighty micros that fit in your briefcase
1983 and 1984 were definitely the years of the "lap-held" computer, as PCW liked to call it. Pioneered in 1983 by machines like Epson' HX-20, they we... (more)

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British Micro

February 1984

Grafpad - for as many uses as YOU can imagine!
British Micro was a company started by Manas Heghoyan, formerly of Hegotron Printed Circuit Boards Ltd and John Marshall, formerly of Nascom. It had been Heghoy... (more)

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ACT/Apricot

April 1985

A beginner's guide to the best in business computers
ACT had carved out a briefly-successful niche in the UK with its Apricot range of micros, several of which touted their "Sirius" compatibility, rather tha... (more)

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Comparison prices are adjusted for the average rate on inflation in each year with data sourced from http://safalra.com/other/historical-uk-inflation-price-conversion/, along with a $/£ conversion rate of 1.5, where relevant.