Take a look at how crazy expensive personal computers were back in the ’80s, and how their features compare today

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Computer costs from 1986 (2)
Looking back at these old IBM-compatible PCs will remind you just how incredibly far technology has come in the last 30 to 40 years.

These vintage personal computers from the ’80s weren’t just expensive — even by today’s standards — but some had hard drives so small that just one of these retro images below would have maxed them out. 

For a quick comparison, the modern-day base model iPhone 11 comes with 64GB of storage space. That’s 64,000MB, or 3,200 times the capacity of the high-end 20MB hard drive touted in one of these ads.

Let’s take it one step further. On the Micromail ad below (“Disk drives for IBM PC”), a 320KB disc drive was $250 — that’s 78 cents per kilobyte. The iPhone has a capacity of 64,000,000,000KB. So if we were to use that same cost per KB, our math says a smartphone would end up with a price tag of nearly fifty billion dollars. ($49,920,000,000.)

Columbia VP portable for $2995, or MPC for $4995 (1983)

The Columbia family: IBM-PC compatibility plus outstanding value and performance

Columbia VP portable for 95, or the MPC for 95 (1983)

From Silicon Valley – The Pied Piper Professional for $1999 (1983)

From Silicon Valley - The Pied Piper Professional for 99 (1983)

Micromail vintage PC price list from 1983

Micromail vintage PC price list from 1983

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TeleCAT-286 for $2995 (1986)

Comes with a 20MB hard drive, 512K RAM and a 1.2MB floppy.

With TeleVideo, you always settle for more. Up till now, with a mid-range budget, you had to settle for mid-range performance. And a mid-range set of features.

But not anymore. Because now, there’s the new TeleCAT- 286; from TeleVideo. An IBM AT-compatible machine that lets you settle for an entirely new concept in medium-priced PCs: more.

More Performance: The TeleCAT-286 retails for $2995, roughly the same as a comparably-equipped IBM XT. But the similarity ends there. Instead of starting you off with a stripped-down box, we’ve loaded up the TeleCAT-286 with 512K RAM. A 20MB hard disk. A 1.2MB floppy. And everything else you need. Like an Intel 80286 CPU that runs at either 6 or 8 MHz clock speed. There’s even a high-resolution monitor for text and graphics.

To make even better use of internal space, we socketed the TeleCAT-286 for one MB of RAM, and also included serial and parallel ports on the motherboard. As a result, we can still give you three extra expansion slots.

More Productivity: Using our experience in building terminals and systems for 750,000 users worldwide, we’ve designed a machine that’s the last word in ergonomics. With sculptured keycaps on a high- quality keyboard. LEDs on the three critical locking keys. And a footprint that’s 28% smaller than the IBM AT’s. So you get more of your desk back, too.

TeleCAT-286 for 95 (1986)

Comes with a 20MB hard drive, 512K RAM and a 1.2MB floppy.

$2599 for the Tandy 3000 personal computer, or $3599 for the Tandy 3000 HD (1986)

This Radio Shack ad features actor Bill Bixby, star of The Incredible Hulk

1986 Tandy 3000 personal computer from Radio Shack

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Low end: Limited Turbo Personal Computer for $795 (1986)

Low end: Limited Turbo Personal Computer for 5 (1986)

Low end: JC Lips PC for $795 (1986)

Low end: JC Lips PC for 5 (1986)

$848.95 for the Tandy 1000 HZ computer from 1987

Tandy 1000 HZ computer from 1987

Dell computers from 1988: SYSTEM 310

System 310: $4,099 (base model with mono monitor) up to $7699 (top of the line with color monitor)

THE NEW SYSTEM 310. The top of the line. It’s our highest-performance computer available, faster than the IBM PS/2 Model 80 and the Compaq 386/20. It runs at 20 MHz with the latest 32-bit architecture. Since it also has Intel’s Advanced 82385 Cache Memory Controller, and high-performance disk drives, the System 310 is ideal for intensive database management, complex spreadsheet development, CAD/CAM, desktop publishing or performance as a network file server.

Standard features:

  • Intel 80386 microprocessor running at 20 MHz.
  • 1 MB of RAM (640K usable) expandable to 16 MB without using an expansion slot.
  • Advanced Intel 82385 Memory Controller with 32 KB of high speed static RAM.
  • Socket for 20 MHz 80387 or Weitek coprocessor.
  • 85,25” 1.2 MB or 3.5” 144 MB diskette drive.
  • Dual diskette and hard disk drive controller.
  • Enhanced 101-key keyboard.
  • 1 parallel and 2 serial ports.
  • 200-watt power supply.
  • 8 expansion slots (6 available).

Performance Enhancements (Systems 310 and 220): 384 KB of dedicated RAM is used by portions of the system software for increased performance.

Dell computers from 1988 System 310 and 220

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