Once wildly expensive and inaccessible but to the very rich, computers today are one of the most ubiquitous technologies worldwide. In 1972, the most basic model of an HP 3000 sold for $95,000, the equivalent of slightly over half a million in today’s dollars. Today, a brand-new computer costs just a few hundred dollars and has capabilities that in 1972 were the realm of science fiction.
The advent of the personal computer is one of the most important technological developments of the last century. Personal computers became accessible to the public in the early 1970s, as technology improved to the point that the devices no longer needed to be the size of a car to function. Personal computers were an innovation in both size and cost, offering consumers a product that could fit within both a small room and the typical budget. Although personal computers in the 1970s were larger and costlier than they are today, they were a significant improvement over the other machines available at the time.
The early desktop computers that arrived in the late 70s and through the 80s provided one tiny fraction of the graphics, storage, and processing capabilities of the devices we have today — and at the several times the cost. However, for the time, these machines represented a massive improvement in the way we process data, conduct business, and interact with the world.
As the computer transitioned from technical marvel to household staple, a number of landmark devices that came on the market set the bar higher for the generation of PCs that would follow. These computers, which include 1977’s Apple II, 1980’s Commodore VIC-20, 1981’s IBM PC, were extremely popular at the time of their release. The Commodore 64 was released in 1982, and would eventually sell about 20 million units to become the best-selling personal computer of all time.
The 90s were also full of milestones in technology, in particular the widespread use of the Internet. Computers built to be easy and accessible, such as the iMac in 1998, provided American families with a portal to the world.
The last 15 years have had even more changes in the world of personal computing. The number of available devices rose, and the increasing quality of components allowed manufacturers to make smaller and lighter devices that could do much more.
In 2005, laptops outsold PCs in the United States for the first time. The iPhone’s introduction in 2007 marked the beginning of an era in which computing became truly mobile. Other handheld devices such as the iPad offered yet another option. In 2015, more tablets were sold than all laptops and desktop computers combined for the first time.
To estimate the cost of a computer in a given year, 24/7 Wall St. identified the price of specific computers representative of every year between 1971 to 2015. Computers were considered representative if it was released that year, and held an important place in the history of computing. A computer may be chosen as representative for a number of other reasons. A chosen computer may have been best-selling model of the year, or contain a significant technological development of that year, such as an innovation in processing power. Computers were only ever used for the year of their release, even if their sales or popularity reached a peak in a following year. The parameter of 1971 was set in accordance with the release of the first ever personal computer.
This is what a computer cost between 1971 and 2015.
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