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1981 Personal Computer Catalog 437

edibobb writes "I just fired up my scanner and uploaded the 35-page 1981 (+/- 1 year) personal computer catalog from American Small Business Computers. 16K RAM for $22; 10 megabyte hard drive, 5 meg fixed and 5 removeable, with 14-inch platters; 25-character per second printer. Things have changed a bit since then!"
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1981 Personal Computer Catalog

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  • Made in USA? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:45PM (#9014900) Homepage
    One thing I notice is that 20+ years ago alot more high tech development seemed to have been happening all over the USA, instead of being highly concentrated in just a few places as seems to be the case now. Printers from Florida? Word Processors from Oklahoma? I remember reading the the original MOS chips were manufactured in PA in the 1970s! If I bought a printer today and the box said that it was manufactured anywhere other than Taiwan or China, let alone Florida or Oklahoma, I'd be shocked!
    • by xs650 ( 741277 )
      As soon as they made some money, they left those places.
    • That "Pro/Writer" printer was one I had for my Atari back in the 80s.

      It's made by C.Itoh [] in Japan. It's originally the C.Itoh 8510A , it's also known as the Apple Imagewriter.

      Of course, Japan itself has moved a lot of its production to cheaper Asian countries by now. :)
    • Re:Made in USA? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      Well part of that is due to the fact that you can lower your costs by moving your buisness nearer to your customers/supplyers, so it is good for everyone involved if they all move to centralized locations.
    • by asv108 ( 141455 ) <.asv. .at.> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:43PM (#9015328) Homepage Journal
      Remember 15+ years ago when a lot of products would feature in advertisements that they were made in the USA? A lot of it was a reaction to perceived threat from Japan and the thought of NAFTA. In current times that is a rarity, globalization aside. Even though people are buying Mercedes made in Alabama and tech support from India, it would be interesting to see a return of promotional campaign designed to promote goods made in the US. Perhaps there can be a similar campaign designed to promote companies that don't use overseas labor?
      • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Friday April 30, 2004 @03:04AM (#9016449) Journal
        People cared about American jobs. Today people car about their wallets. Americans today are more greedy then back then.

        It was Ronald Reagan that started the phase anyone who taxes or offers a higher price is a theif and that corporatism is a reward for sucess and creates jobs, etc.

        The second factor is percentage of Americans who own stocks. I know former hard core democrats who are voting for Bush/CHeney, because they have 401k's and Ira's and want corporate rights upheld and lower taxes. They feel the greed system is for them and not the top 2% of all Americans sadly.

        Anyway this is why the made in USA does not work. People want lower prices and view those who dont outsource as theives from their wallets as well as 401k's and Ira's.

        • by nharmon ( 97591 ) on Friday April 30, 2004 @08:19AM (#9017342)
          Made in the USA doesn't work because we live in a global economy and there are industries that cannot be profitable in the United States. People need to learn to adapt. Why should I pay more for a sub-quality domestic product?

          It's like saying you should buy Microsoft Windows XP instead of SuSE Linux (even though SuSE is now American) because Microsoft is an American company.
        • It's not greed; it's intelligence. Why pay more for less? Americans produce shoddy products at high prices; others produce fine products at lower prices. Would you pay $1 for a moldy pear when the grocer's down the way sells good, tasty pears for a dime a dozen?

          And the ownership economy is for everyone. That's a good thing. It means that workers have a voice because they are also owners. It's a better solution than unions, that's for sure. Ask my co-worker, who was once kicked out of a union (and t

  • by General Sherman ( 614373 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:46PM (#9014911) Journal
    I don't see what's so special, it's just like taking the tour inside NASA.
  • by nlinecomputers ( 602059 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:48PM (#9014922)
    Those guys in those suits. Did we really dress like that? Fuck I'm old.....

  • by ksheff ( 2406 ) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:48PM (#9014928) Homepage

    In this picture [] which one do you think is the compsci geek and which one is in league with the devil (aka the Marketing guy)?

  • 1981? Not Later? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by angst_ridden_hipster ( 23104 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:49PM (#9014940) Homepage Journal
    I suspect that was actually from later than 1981.

    In 1980, I spent $269 for 16k RAM for my TRS-80.

    That was 4116s, too. I can't believe I spent nearly an order of magnitude too much, since I watched prices in 80-Micro and Byte like a hawk.

    My (ahem) memory could be failing, but I think this may have been more recent than 1981...

  • Too Pricey (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:49PM (#9014944)
    I'm not upgrading my memory until it drops to a buck per K, a few months from now.

  • Here I sit (Score:4, Informative)

    by GlassUser ( 190787 ) <slashdot&glassuser,net> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:49PM (#9014946) Homepage Journal
    Watching it die. Didn't finish the index, so I decided to let it load one image. 33% and it seems to be decreasing exponentially.
  • Phone number (Score:5, Informative)

    by kavachameleon ( 637997 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:50PM (#9014949)
    The phone number given is now the phone number for Upperspace []. They make CAD software.
    • Re:Phone number (Score:5, Informative)

      by zjbs14 ( 549864 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:24PM (#9015192) Homepage
      Same company, different products. Back in the later 1980's they released Design CAD as a low-cost alternative to AutoCAD. My parents' company actually used to by Corvus stuff from these guys.

      If you've ever been to Pryor, OK, you'd be amazed that anything technical would have come from a town like that.

  • by isny ( 681711 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:51PM (#9014954) Homepage
    What do you think? [] 1970s Pr0n stars or computer salesmen? You be the judge!
    • The thing that really shocks me is the forthright and honest wording in the page. In the third paragraph they admit that sometimes they were in too far over their heads, but they are trying their best. Good luck finding any company stump material today that doesn't proclaim them to be the infallible Word of God concerning technology X.
  • by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:53PM (#9014966) Journal
    Things have changed a bit since then!

    Yeah, the Slashdot effect hadn't been invented yet.
  • Oh man (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ryanr ( 30917 ) * <> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:53PM (#9014971) Homepage Journal
    I really wanted one of those Corvus drives about that time. You could hook your Apple ][ up to them, several simultaneously, in fact. They functioned like a rudimentary network. If I coulda had a whole 10 *MB*... that would have been like having 70(!) simultaneous 143K floppy disks worth. The warez board I would have run....

    That remind me, I should pick up a few more drives, and finish off my home Terabyte...
    • Re:Oh man (Score:5, Interesting)

      by netringer ( 319831 ) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `todhsals-rddaam'> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:05PM (#9015056) Journal
      I really wanted one of those Corvus drives about that time. You could hook your Apple ][ up to them, several simultaneously, in fact. They functioned like a rudimentary network.
      AND as I recall as Local Area Networks began viable Corvus took that file sharing idea and became known as....guess who?


      Ethernet was WAY too expensive. At first we used 4mb/sec Arcnet. It had a maximum of 256 nodes and you had to set the address of each one by hand on DIP switches.

    • Re:Oh man (Score:3, Informative)

      by g00z ( 81380 )
      Thats nothing, check out the Corvus ad on page 23 --

      "This corresponds to a conservative baud rate of 1.1 megabaud...."

      Megabaud? WTF? Is that some arbitrary unit of measurement that they invented to sound like this was wicked fast?

      In it's defense, 100 megabytes of removable storange in 1981 was like 2 terrabytes of storage today.. so that was pretty cool.
      • Re:Oh man (Score:3, Informative)

        by Kardamon ( 54123 )
        Baud: Pronounced bawd, the number of signaling elements that occur each second. The term is named after J.M.E. Baudot, the inventor of the Baudot telegraph code.
        At slow speeds, only one bit of information (signaling element) is encoded in each electrical change. The baud, therefore, indicates the number of bits per second that are transmitted. For example, 300 baud means that 300 bits are transmitted each second (abbreviated 300 bps ). Assuming asynchronous communication, which requires 10 bits per charac
  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by krray ( 605395 ) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:54PM (#9014981)
    You did all that ... and then posted it on /. ?

    I will say ... you have a bigger set (or more bandwidth) than me!
  • by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:55PM (#9014985) Homepage
    A desire to cause pain to one's server, primarily though the Slashdot linking of an article that consists of nothing but large .jpg images. This condition should be treated immediately with extensive psychiatric care (the glowing and smoking remains of the server can be hosed down once the heat dies down enough to allow approach).
  • Mirror... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Copperhead ( 187748 ) <talbrech.speakeasy@net> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:57PM (#9014999) Homepage
    I mirrored the site here [] since his site doesn't seem to be weathering the storm. If you see broken images, it's because I'm still wgetting it.

    I'll take it down if he wants me to, of course, but I thought it would help.

  • marketing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shams42 ( 562402 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @09:57PM (#9015000)
    To me, what is even more striking than the change in computer technology is the change in marketing! Everytime I see an early 80s advertisement, I just want to laugh at the naivete. Is this presentism, or have modern ads really become that much more compelling?
    • Re:marketing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SmackCrackandPot ( 641205 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:16PM (#9015134)
      Everytime I see an early 80s advertisement, I just want to laugh at the naivete. Is this presentism, or have modern ads really become that much more compelling?

      I think modern adverts are much more serious; Back in the 80's everything was much more laid back and relaxed. I've got a collection of old Byte magazines from this time; For those adverts in color, the advertisers usually took the companies name literally (Eg. Smoke Signal Systems would have a company meeting with everyone looking as if they were having an 1850's fancy dress party). If that didn't work, then a beautiful woman in cocktail party dress was an alternative. Alternatively, using D&D characters (wizards, trolls) wouldn't be too bad either.

      A good retro web page is TheOldComputer.Com []
    • Re:marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Quill_28 ( 553921 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:19PM (#9015152) Journal
      Or who they are marketing to.

      I am guessing you were marketing to a more informed crowd.
    • Modern computing adverts compelling? Maybe the rendered graphics for gaming equipment, but not ads in general. Maybe it's just me choking with cynicism at Microsoft home user and HP ads (HP innovation? Now?), but MS .Net and IBM ads are simply lame. The only people that they could possibly compel is a PHB with no brain (okay, so there a quite a few of them around). They don't even bother to translate them from American here in Aus.

      The only thing they compell me to do is throw up.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    No threat of some lawsuit company charging you $699 for innocently using a nifty free OS.

    Virus checker? Who needs it.

    No DRM either

  • The gear shown in this catalog is the only equipment that current Corel products will run flawlessly on.
  • i had one of these, with 4K of memory... i remember programming john carmack's game of life in assembly language on that one, the 6509 instruction set... geez...

    trs-80 color computer []
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:02PM (#9015031)
      Er...that would be John Conway's Game of Life. Less fragging.
  • by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:00PM (#9015021) Homepage
    I found an old Fry's Electronics San Jose Mercury News ad section in a box of old papers at my father-in-law's house once a couple of moths ago. As a joke I replaced the ad in that day's newspaper with it. It was funny seeing his reaction later that evening when he browsed to the Fry's section to check out the day's deals as he normally does. It took a little while before he realized what was going on. Fry's ads from 1989 look almost identical to those of today, but the 386's listed for $2500 and dot matrix printers for $500 eventually tipped him off to the joke.

    It's a stupid story, but I thought it was funny.
  • Credit Cards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Traxton1 ( 154182 ) <> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:01PM (#9015028)
    Holy crap, people actually paid more to use credit cards back then? People don't even carry cash anymore. I wonder how freaked out people would be now-a-days if I told them I was adding 3% to their purchase.
    • Re:Credit Cards (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Quill_28 ( 553921 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:16PM (#9015137) Journal
      hmmmm... I have actually shredded my credit cards and have one debit card used for gas and internet purchases.

      Cash makes the perfect budget, can spend what you don't have.

      Just remember I think it is Sears that makes more money on financing than they do selling stuff. My understanding is that this is becoming the norm.

      Yes, I know my post if offtopic.

      • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:37PM (#9015286) Homepage
        .. for people who don't have enough sense to manage their money.

        I have had a credit card since I was 18, I charge over $1000 on my cards a month.. I buy everything on credit card, including pay my bills. This way I maximize the free "points" my credit card gives me.

        Guess how much I have paid in finance charges the past 6 years? I would say a max of 25 dollars *total*??? ( and that was only due to purposeful "letting it ride" for a few weeks since I was on vacation ).

        50 dollars in finances for well over 600 dollars in rewards.

        Seriously, credit cards are only "the devil" to people who have no will power. Just because I have thousands worth of credit in my pocket, doesn't mean I am about to go buy a car on my visa.

        Not to mention if you charge something and you break it or it is stolen in the first 3 months, you can usually get a free replacement.. or if you get ripped off you can contest the charges. Try that with cash.

    • Re:Credit Cards (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jfdawes ( 254678 )
      Try asking for the 3% back if you pay by cash. I once bought something for around $900 and insisted that if they didn't give me the 3% back I'd use American Express (6.4% at the time from memory)
    • That's because (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:38PM (#9015289)
      The credit card compaines got on them about it. Declared if you didn't offer credit for same as cash pricing, they'd yank your verification system so you couldn't take cards anymore. There are actually several ongoing lawsuits about this (companies claiming this an unfair practice).
  • by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:02PM (#9015034) Homepage Journal
    Things have changed a bit since then!



  • Oh my Gawd!!The hair!!Noo!!!
  • by JustinXB ( 756624 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:07PM (#9015067)
    Thanks to the Slashdot effect, you get to see the catalog at 1981 speeds!!!
  • 200 ns! 16K modules.. easy to install! those were the days.
    I still have a bunch of old Apple magazines from about the
    same error. Computers were a lot more fun then. People
    spent a lot more time hacking hardware rather than figuring out why the OS just bsod again.. oh well
  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:09PM (#9015085)
    16K RAM for $22; 10 megabyte hard drive, 5 meg fixed and 5 removeable, with 14- inch platters; 25-character per second printer.

    You think that's advanced technology, eh? You should come to my place sometime and check out my ENIAC. You have to be the 1337est of the '1337 to operate this thing. No hard drive. No mouse. No graphics... hell, there ain't even a CLI for cryin' out loud! (Real Programmers don't need no stinkin' user interface.) To enter commands into this baby, you gotta connect hundreds upon hundreds of wires, kind of like they did in the old telephone switchboards, where a human operator connected your call.

    And best of all, this computer does it all.

    • Want to multiply two numbers in just 3 milliseconds? Done.
    • Want security even the likes of OpenBSD can't beat? Done.
    The designers of this system knew what they were doing. The inability to store a program means that this system CANNOT get a virus, ever, period. Of course, then Von Neumann had to come along and invent stored programs, and the next thing you know, Outlook automatically executes email attachments...
    • von neumann? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dollargonzo ( 519030 )
      funny that you mention eniac and von neumann in the same post. i know it's humor, but von neumann published what eckert and mauchly *couldn't* publish since they were under military classification at the time. so, naturally, everyone forgets about them.
  • I don't care what anyone says... Computer nostalgia is coolio, y0...

    Thanks for sharing!
  • it looks like the webhost is actually running the hardware from the catalogue
  • by varith ( 530137 )
    is that on their company backgroung page they actually 'fess up to service problems and mistakes as their company grew. It's hard to imagine a company - even a startup - doing that in these current days.
  • by Doppler00 ( 534739 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:20PM (#9015160) Homepage Journal
    So if you were to buy 1 gig at those prices it would cost: $1,048,576.

    Prices sure have come down huh?
  • The pictures are loading about as fast as they would have from a BBS in 1981!
  • by Jack Porter ( 310054 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:23PM (#9015187)
    I remember printing pages of BASIC source code with one of these things []. At 25cps I could usually type faster than this thing count print.

    I once reprogramming the horizontal and vertical motion rates and printing lots and lots of periods to print really ugly bitmap images.
  • Its a catalog of values []

    as opposed to the catalog of scandalous [] corruptions [] that we have to live with today. Computer memory prices go up? Computer device prices should always be going down in comparison to what you get. F*ck the cartels.

  • Things have changed? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:24PM (#9015197) Journal
    Things have changed a bit since then!"

    They have?

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I've still got a terminal from '81 still up and working within arms reach of me. Poor thing doesn't even know vt100, fortunately some OSes still have qvt in their termcap (most don't :-( )

    I've got a new Tandy Color Computer 80 with monitor in my closet (new in box, only opened and used once!). (I can also get a hold of one that is still in mint condition, outer box hasn't even been opened.

    If it wasn't for the multi-GHz computer I'm tying on, it would still be 1981 around here...
  • The eye []!
  • So I've been scouring Epson's site, and I can't seem to find the driver software for the MX-70 printer anywhere. And office depo doesn't even have the print heads in stock. What gives?

    seriously though, I wonder what would happen if you were to call Epson tech support about a problem with your TRS-80 and the MX-70 printer.

  • by pyrrho ( 167252 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:28PM (#9015234) Journal
    when I was young we had to signal our computer orders (usally replacement beads for the abacus) with damp blankets using smoke signals.

    And we liked it.
  • by slapout ( 93640 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:30PM (#9015241)
    Slighty off topic, but related:

    the classic computer magazine archive at has the text from some issues of Antic, STart, and Creative Computing magazines.
  • by chevybowtie ( 96127 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:41PM (#9015309)
    Since the average guy has to run the spam filter, virus scanner, Service Pack 12, pop-up blocker and spy-ware removal tools, his new Dell runs about the same today as those did. Why did we have to go from 4.77 Mhz to > 3000 Mhz and and not see near 1000 fold increase in snappyness? Because of all the freakin' 3l337 haxor d00d, because-I-can-spammer's, Gaim a**holes, MS programming school of buffer mangement & X10 snakeoil salesmen.
    • by dmaxwell ( 43234 ) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:17AM (#9015818)
      Don't forget all of the eye candy, abstraction layers, and the replacement of assembly and C with high level languages...which are probably running on a virtual machine. And we can't blame it all on MS either. Everybody is operating that way.

      For all that developers have a bit too much ease of use vs efficiency, today's PC has apps that just weren't possible with that old gear. Non-linear video editing and audio compression just isn't going to happen on a 12 Mhz 286.

      In another 10 or 15 years, I believe that computing will cease to be sexy in any way shape or form. Don't get me wrong; advances will still be occuring but they won't be hot topics. Most major applications will have well understood methodologies for accomplishing them. APIs and architectures will be settled down more. That is the point where there will be value in making things a bit more efficient and maintainable. Hell, I even think the IP tulip mania will be mostly over with by then. But things will stay chaotic as long as Moore's Law still has steam in it.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:43PM (#9015324) Homepage Journal
    Somewhere in my parent's house is a 1990 issue of Computer Shopper with the world's only 4GB hard drive at the time (by IBM). price: $20,000

    I kept that around just to look back at times like this.
  • "Is the site hosted on a the original server with 16K RAM and a 10 megabyte hard drive becase it is Slashdotted!!!!!"

    "Yes, but does it run Linux?"

    "Bill Gates said 640K ought to be enough for everyone." which is then followed by 10 variations of "Actually, Gates never said that."

    "I actually owned one of those (insert archaic by modern standards technology here)" which is followed by another 10 variations of "That's nothing. We didn't even have those abovementioned technology because Big Bang just occurred and we only had hydoren and helium available, you insensitive clod!!"


  • Something similar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by danuary ( 748394 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:45PM (#9015333)
    Check out this [] unix ad, also from 1981 (hi Bob! -dp). Brought to you by Bell Labs. It's amazing how times have changed......
  • by pjwhite ( 18503 ) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:48PM (#9015353) Homepage

    I was building my own computer [] in 1981. It had a 1 MHz 6502 processor, 1024 bytes of RAM, Teletype terminal, and paper tape program storage.

  • Wikipedia (Score:5, Informative)

    by cos(0) ( 455098 ) <> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @11:05PM (#9015447) Homepage
    Wikipedia is amazing -- it even has an entry for The Magic Wand word-processing software advertised on one of the catalog's pages []:

    Magic Wand (software) []
  • Copyright (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Friday April 30, 2004 @10:58AM (#9018743)
    Larry Lessig should use this as an example of how dumb our copyright laws are. As the RIAA and MPAA and most of Congress would have us interpret the law, this is a copyright violation.

    Does that make ANY sense in the real world?

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors