Special Report

Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born

Once wildly expensive and inaccessible but to the very rich, computers today are one of the most ubiquitous technologies worldwide. The most basic model of an HP 3000 sold for $95,000 in 1972, the equivalent of slightly over half a million in today’s dollars, but not all personal computers released in the early 1970s cost as much.

Today, a brand-new computer costs just a few hundred dollars and has capabilities that in the late 1960s and 1970s — when movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Alien” were the biggest draws at the box office — were the realm of science fiction.

The development of the personal computer is considered one of the most important technological advancements/inventions of the last century. In the early 1970s, technology improved to the point that PCs no longer needed to be the size of a car to function. Not all personal computers released in the early 1970s cost as much as the HP 3000. In fact, many became accessible to the public in those years in both cost and size, offering consumers a product that could fit within a small room and a typical budget.

Over the years, a number of landmark devices that came on the market set the bar higher for the generation of PCs that would follow, contributing to the transition of the computer from a technical marvel to household staple. 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, which was released in 1982, would eventually sell about 20 million units to become the best selling personal computer of all time.

24/7 Wall St. identified the price of a specific computer representative of each year between 1971 — the year the first personal computer was released — and 2016, using sources such as computerhistory.org.

Click here to see the cost of a computer the year you were born.
Click here to see our detailed findings and full methodology.

The early desktop computers of the late ’70s and ’80s provided a tiny fraction of the graphics, storage, and processing capabilities of the devices we have today — and at several times the cost. For the time, however, these machines represented a massive improvement in the way people processed data, conducted business, and interacted with the world.

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.

There were more important changes in the world of personal computing in the last 20 years. The number of available devices, especially mobile ones, rose, and the increasing quality of components allowed manufacturers to make smaller and lighter devices capable of much more.

In 2005, laptops outsold PCs in the United States for the first time. Apple — today the most profitable company in the world — introduced the iPhone at Macworld 2007, marking the beginning of an era in which computing became truly mobile. Other handheld devices such as the iPad offered yet more options. And for the first time in 2015, more tablets were sold than all laptops and desktop computers combined.