It seems as if it's been eons, but it's hardly been 10 years: In August 1981 IBM unveiled its first microcomputer, the IBM PC. A basic machine, with 64 kilobytes of random access memory, a 160-kilobyte floppy drive, and a monochrome monitor, cost about $2,600. By 1982 you could have configured a system -- the basics plus 512 kilobytes more RAM, a low-resolution color monitor, and a 100-character-per-second printer -- for $4,500, give or take.

In December 1991 that same $4,500 acquires 8 megabytes of RAM; one 1.44-megabyte and one 1.2-megabyte floppy disk; a 200-megabyte hard disk; a modem; a mouse; the ability to do calculations eight times faster than with the original; a high-resolution monitor; and a 350-character-per-second printer. Adjust that sum for inflation, and you can throw in two weeks in Aruba.

To put that into perspective, in 1981 a little more than $4,500 would have bought a year's health insurance for a 12-person business, a 10% down payment on a median-value U.S. home, a Chevrolet Chevette, or five Selectric typewriters.

-- Robert A. Mamis

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