Early 80s Computer History Through Vintage Ads


A collection of benchmark vintage ads that give a glimpse into how the computer industry developed in the early 80s.

juki printer

Juki Printer, 1983

Despite the space-age imagery, this expensive (and noisy!) daisy wheel printer has more in common with electric typewriters than laser printers. It could print graphics, but only using its period character.

David Hard Disk Subsystem

David Hard Disk Subsystem, 1982

Early computer peripheral ads were weird. The David Hard Disk Subsystem promised a wild new world of computing, where programs could be stored on “hard drives” rather than on a series of flimsy 5 1/4-inch floppy disks.

How you printed your screen in 1984

How you printed your screen in 1984

It’s something we take for granted today, but there was no easy way to print your screen on an early Apple computer. You’d have needed something like this FingerPrint printer interface card (complete with a “touch-sensitive button” to be added to keyboards) to make hard copies of graphics and text.

Apple IIc, 1984

By 1984, Apple Computers were becoming ubiquitous in U.S. schools. Ads like these hoped to make them just as popular in U.S. homes.

flight simulator II

Flight Simulator II, 1984

First developed in 1977, SubLogic’s Flight Simulator is one of the longest-running and most successful computer programs of all time. SubLogic made the software available for Apple, Atari and Commodore systems. It licensed its IBM PC compatible version to Microsoft in 1982, meanwhile, as Microsoft Flight Simulator.

ghost busters computer game

Ghostbusters, the Computer Game, 1984

One of the hottest movies of 1984 got its own computer game, of course. This Ghostbusters game was designed and programmed by industry heavyweight David Crane, best known as a co-founder of Activision and the designer of Pitfall!

Atarisoft, 1984

Atarisoft, 1984

Early computers weren’t just about programming and productivity – there were plenty of games. Atarisoft made some of the biggest arcade hits of the time available on IBM and Apple Computers alike.

Osborne 1, 1982

Osborne 1, 1982

Being one of the earliest laptop computers ever made, the Osborne 1 weighed 25 pounds, which made it a bit of a beast. This computer is historically important, but it wasn’t a money maker – Osborne Computer Corporation declared bankruptcy in 1983.

north star computer ad

North Star Computers, 1982

One of the earliest computers with a built-in drive, the North Star Horizon here was a major player in late 1970s and early 1980s multi-user computing. Unfortunately, the company’s technology failed to keep up with the times. By 1984, North Star was no more.

Pro-Modem 1200

Pro-Modem 1200, 1984

The clock built in to this early ’80s computer modem enabled you to send e-mail late at night, when per-hour charges of early online services were their lowest. It didn’t come cheap, though – this 1,200 baud modem retailed for a whopping $495.

Compuserve, 1983

Compuserve, 1983

Founded in 1969 and an industry leader throughout the 1980s, Compuserve was the first commercially successful online network. The service offered games like MegaWars and access to stock brokers at a pricey per-hour charge that often topped $10.

Altos Computer Systems, 1982

Altos Computer Systems, 1982

Founded in 1977, Altos Computer Systems made a name for itself as a purveyor of low-cost multi-user computers. The company was ultimately acquired by Acer in 1990.

Hewlett-Packard 85

Hewlett-Packard 85, 1982

First released in January 1980, the Hewlett-Packard 85 was an early-albeit-expensive ($3,250) portable computer.

Amdisk 3" Micro-floppy disk system

Amdisk 3″ Micro-floppy disk system, 1984

Sure, you remember 5 1/4-inch floppy disks and 3 1/2-inch floppy disks, but do you remember 3-inch disks (286K)? This $299 Amdisk system was an easy add-on for the Apple II and IIe, but the 3-inch floppy format never really caught on.

Texas Instruments Compact Computer 40

Texas Instruments Compact Computer 40, 1983

More than just a calculator maker, Texas Instruments was one of the early leaders in computer sales. Unfortunately, this particular model was panned by Byte magazine as offering “more promise than performance” and no available software.

Janus Diskettes

Janus Diskettes, 1984

Early floppy disks were … well, floppy. These heavy-weight diskettes from Janus were less likely to warp, even when inserted into a hot machine.

HP-11C Programmable Calculator

HP-11C Programmable Calculator

A cross between a computer and a calculator, the programmable HP-11C made life easier for engineers and math students alike. It handled trigonometry and logarithmic functions with ease, while also offering over 200 lines of memory for more complex calculations. The Museum of HP Calculators suggests the device had an MSRP of $135 when it was introduced in 1981.

Microsoft, 1982

Microsoft, 1982

This ad from Microsoft predates most of the company’s smash successes – Word wouldn’t be released until 1983, and the groundbreaking Windows 1.0 wouldn’t arrive until 1985.

Cadmus Computer Systems

Cadmus Computer Systems, 1984

By 1984, graphics-focused computers were already doing amazing things. This ad from Cadmus Computer Systems shows off its machine’s computer-aided design prowess.

Universal Data Systems Modem, 1984

Universal Data Systems Modem, 1984

Connecting to a multi-user service like Compuserve required an expensive modem. This Motorola modem from Universal Data Systems offered “top of the line” 1,200 bps connectivity at a cost of “only $645.”

IBM wants your software!, 1984

IBM wants your software!, 1984

In the early ’80s, IBM solicited software submissions from amateur and professional programmers through computing magazines. If the program was useful, IBM would distribute it for you and pay you royalties. By the time this ad ran in 1984, Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character had become synonymous with IBM.

Inside Apple, 1983

Inside Apple, 1983

Some of Apple’s early ’80s advertisements had a newsletter appearance to them. This one from 1983 touts the Apple Joystick II, the Apple Hand Controller II, and the Apple ProFile hard drive that “can handle as much data as 35 floppies.”

Apple, 1982

Apple, 1982

This 1982 ad from Apple Computers touts the company’s advanced graphics prowess, tempting businesspeople with the promise of full-color pie charts.

Atari 800 Home Computer, 1982

Atari 800 Home Computer, 1982

Atari wasn’t just a video gaming company – it was a largely unsuccessful computer maker, too. The Atari 800 Home Computer ran programs off cartridges and cassette tapes, though an external floppy drive was available for an extra $599.95.

IBM Personal Computers, 1982

IBM Personal Computers, 1982

Business behemoth IBM dominated early computer sales, both inside offices and homes. IBM PCs were expensive, however, and would soon face significant competition from an army of PC clones.

via TechRepublic

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