1998 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

Ever wax nostalgic about your first PC or cell phone? It's easy to forgive your Tandy desktop or your Motorola portable for their limitations--after all, they were technological infants.

What we often forget, though, is how $%#@! expensive that crude neolithic junk was! So join us on a trip two decades back in technology's history--and we bet that the next time you're charged $895 for a small square of plastic and transistors, you'll smile and say, "Wow, what a bargain!"

1988: Tandy 1000 TL

  •  Price: $1400 ($2454 adjusted for inflation)
  • CPU: Intel 80286
  • RAM: 640KB
  • Storage: 3.5-inch floppy
  • Monitor: 14-inch, 640-by-200 RGB CRT, 16 colors

2008: HP Pavilion Elite m9100z series

  •  Price: about $1000
  • CPU: 2.8-GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ dual-core
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 750GB HD, CD/DVD recorder
  • Monitor: 17-inch, 1440-by-900 LCD, 16.7 million colors

By 1988, personal computers had found their way into about 15 percent of U.S. households. PCs dominated, but other home systems were popular as well--among them the Apple II, Macintosh, Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Amiga 2000.

PCs came with DOS; Windows 2.0 was a $99 option, and one of many competing graphical interfaces. Radio Shack was home PC central, offering the Tandy 1000 TL for $1400 in a configuration that included a 14-inch, 16-color monitor; 640KB of RAM; and a single 3.5-inch floppy drive.

Tandy's DeskMate graphical interface provided an office suite, drawing and sound-editing apps, and PC-Link online software, a precursor to AOL. The 16-color monitor, graphical OS, and multimedia support were cutting-edge in an era still dominated by monochrome monitors and DOS. But the $1400 price didn't cover a mouse, a modem, a network card, or a hard drive, each of which was an expensive add-on. And CD-ROM drives were extremely rare. Microsoft had just released the first version of Bookshelf, a collection of reference materials on CD-ROM in September 1987, and it would be another couple years before the CD-ROM format really took off.

The situation in 2008 almost defies comparison with 1988. Instead of conserving RAM and disk space like gold, we store our entire lives on our hard drives and expect our PCs to double as home entertainment centers. For a total price of $1000, the HP Pavilion Elite m9100z is available with Vista Home Premium, a 750GB hard drive, an HDMI graphics card, Wi-Fi, a CD/DVD recorder, an HDTV tuner, surround sound, and a 17-inch flat-panel monitor.

Where do we go from here? Expect connected everything--from lights to washers to talking mirrors to fridges that make your grocery lists. Instead of a home computer, we'll have a computerized home. For a further look into the future, see "The Next 25 Years in Tech."

Laptop PCs

1988:Toshiba T1200H

  • Price: $4098 ($7182 adjusted for inflation)
  • CPU: 4.77-/9.54-MHz Intel 80C86
  • RAM: 1MB
  • Storage: 20MB hard drive, 720KB floppy drive
  • Display: 9.4-inch supertwist LCD
  • Weight: 14 pounds (including modem, charger, and case)
  • Battery life: 2 hours

2008:Lenovo ThinkPad X61

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