Special Report

Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born

Detailed Findings

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. However, for the time, 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 even more changes in the world of personal computing in the last 15 years. The number of available devices 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. 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. And for the first time in 2015, more tablets were sold than all laptops and desktop computers combined.


To estimate the cost of a computer in a given year, 24/7 Wall St. identified the price of a specific computer representative of each year between 1971 and 2016. Computers were considered representative if they were 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 the 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 the following year. 1971 was chosen as the first year because it was the year the first ever personal computer was released.