The IBM PC turns 25: Engadget's first PCs

Guess whose birthday it is today. Nope, not us, we had ours a couple months ago -- so did Apple. August 12th marks the birthday of the IBM PC, the big, ugly, beige box that kicked off the computing revolution as we know it today (hold it in Mac fanboys). 25 years ago, Don Estridge and a team of engineers introduced the IBM 5150, the first box cobbled together from off the shelf parts manufactured by a variety of companies -- the very model that would make the cheap, ubiquitous personal computer flourish. Few of us here at Engadget HQ have had a chance to lay our hands on one, but we did want to take a moment to reminisce about years past spent in front of monochrome monitors and boxy machines running all variety of DOS, DOS clones, and the like. So here's one to you, PC, for being so "good" to us over the years -- let's take it back to the 80s. Oh, and dear readers, share your first PCs with us in comments!

Ryan Block - My first PC was my grandfather's Toshiba T-1200 series. The family business at the time was a robotics company called CIMAD (anyone want to dig up some dirt on that one?), and way early on they had car phones (one of those too big to actually remove from the car) and one of these puppies for doing "work" on the go. It was a powerful box: 4.77MHz, 640KB RAM, 640 x 200 pixel monochrome screen. The T-1200 was pretty massive, no doubt about it, but at 11 pounds it wasn't too much worse than many of today's high performance clunkers. I only remember actually doing three things with this device: playing Apes on it, fixing it when DOS crashed (which was, like, all the time), and carrying it around with me wherever possible, because being the only pre-teen kid with a laptop in the 80s had so much cachet. Robots, laptops, video games, I guess some things never change.

Darren Murph -

While it's a bit hard to remember so far back, the mere mention of Wolfenstein 3D brings it all back into focus. My first PC was a run-of-the-mill beige box packed with a state-of-the-art Intel 80386 microprocessor (better known at just "386"), 2MB of RAM, dual floppy drives (5.25-inch and 3.5-inch), a 1x CD-ROM drive, and a killer 14-inch color CRT monitor. My folks surprised me with this on Christmas morning, and their primary intention was to teach me to type correctly and whip me into shape for "all those jobs" in the future that would require such expertise. It didn't take long to figure out that typing "WOLF" at the DOS screen using any combination of fingers I so desired would launch the legendary Wolfenstein 3D, where I spent entirely too much time stuck on that last boss before learning the "I + L + M" trick. My folks had no idea how that machine would mold my interests, but hey, at least I'm putting those oh-so-crucial typing skills to good use.

Will O'Brien

- The first PC that I had at home was a sturdy Zenith 8088 running at a smoking 8MHz. I managed to write a few programs in BASIC, specially designed to annoy my sister. After a year or two, we even upgraded the graphics card and bought a CGA monitor. Aside from writing papers using WordPerfect for school, I played plenty of Jumpin' Jack and Flightmare. (No Wolfenstein for me until we bought the 486SX a few years later) Those were the days when shareware was actually a good thing.

Thomas Ricker

- Hmmm, my first PC huh? Well this may come as a surprise but I've never owned a PC. As any purist or fan boy will happily pontificate, my father's Apple ][ -- the platform of my deflowering -- was not a PeeCee. Oh sure, pops sprung for an IBM AT (pictured) in my final year at university which delivered an Intel 80286 clockin' in at 6MHz, a 20MB hard disk, a couple MB of RAM, MS-DOS 3.0, and a 5.25-inch floppy drive all packed neatly into a lovely beige box. The attached dot-matrix printer would rattle the walls and send the cat into fits whenever WordStar detected a ^ P. Sadly, my AT met its demise in a hairy buffalo accident which must never be discussed.

Paul Miller

- Being the son of graphic designer, my first computer experience involved scanning color images onto the family Macintosh IIci just because I could. My first actual experience with PCs was years later watching over the shoulder of a neighborhood kid messing around with MegaZeux, Commander Keen and crazy DOS prompt actions like "CD" and backslashes. It wasn't until 2001 or 2002 that I got my first proper PC though, an eMachines T1090, with a spankin' 900MHz Celeron processor, CD-ROM drive, 20GB drive and 128MB of RAM split between two 64MB sticks. I stole a 10Base-T PCI card from a friend to get it running on my network, and proceeded to push the machine to its limits with late night games of Unreal Tournament and an installation of QuickBooks. The Command Prompt still gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I try to pretend things like the registry and DLL files don't exist, but I'm thoroughly cross-platform these days and wouldn't have it any other way.

Ross Rubin - I'd played my fair share of games on an Apple II, Commodore 64 and Coleco Adam that belonged to friends (I was holding out for the Intellivision Keyboard Component), and the first PCs I used on a regular basis were IBM PC ATs at a school lab and the infamous PC jr. to work on BASIC homework at a neighbor's house. As a Mac-only guy for many years, who was also lucky enough to generally use Macs at work, I finally purchased my first PC when a series of articles about PC software I got to write justified the purchase -- a Dell Dimension XPS T700r with a 700 MHz Pentium III. It had a DVD-ROM drive, a 10GB hard drive and came with Windows 98. I added a tape drive which I used exactly never and eventually a CD burner and more RAM. I'd had a big 20-inch Radius CRT that I used with my Power Computing PowerWave 604/150 and had dual video inputs, so i would use it to switch between the two computers. With the size of that thing, there wasn't room for much else on my desk. I replaced that computer as my home music server last year and still have it. (Please do not bid if you do not intend to buy. Users with positive feedback only please!)

Chris Ziegler -

Not including the trusty TI-99/4A that I used to cut my teeth on BASIC, my first true PC was a homebuilt 8MHz 286 sporting 640K of RAM and an expansive 40MB hard disk. My favorite feature of the box was its clearly-labeled external "Turbo" button, toggling the processor for compatibility with older PC and XT apps (my copy of Pitfall being a prime example -- though attempting to play it at full speed was great exercise for hand-eye coordination). I clearly remember pleading with my parents to spring for a Hayes Smartmodem 1200 so I could check out the then-new Prodigy service; they eventually relented, though not until we upgraded the giant beige box to a 386DX with 4MB of RAM. Some 13 years after canceling our membership, my Prodigy ID and password are still inexplicably stuck in my brain. Should they ever decide to go back to a DOS-based service, I'll be first in line to whip out my credit card.

Don Melanson

- My first PC was a Tandy 286 sold by Radio Shack back in the day. It had a massive 25MB hard drive and 1MB of RAM, not to mention full-blown VGA graphics, which proved to be perfect for playing countless old-school Sierra adventure games when I should have been doing my homework. Soon after we added a 2400 baud modem and I discovered the world of BBSes (both of them), where I got a taste of the demo scene that made this PC do things I'd never imagined was possible. Sadly, that's not the actual computer at the right. It was sold long ago and replaced with a true monster of a system: a 486.