Brief History

Birth of the Personal Computer

Intel announced the world's first microprocessor, the 4004, in December 1971. The 4004 was a 4-bit microprocessor developed for use in calculators produced by Japan's Busicom. Intel, however, retained the marketing rights for the 4004. The next year Intel announced the 8-bit 8008 microprocessor and followed this with the improved 8080 microprocessor in 1974. Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in the United States released the Altair 8800 microcomputer kit using the 8080 microprocessor in 1975. Bill Gates created a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 kit and went on to found Microsoft. Personal computers arrived in 1977 that could be incorporated with a number of peripheral devices. Apple Computer began shipping the Apple II in June 1977, which would go on to create the personal computer market.

Arrival of Japanese 8-Bit Personal Computers

In Japan, Sord (today, the Toshiba Personal Computer System Corporation) announced in 1974 the SMP 80/X series of microcomputers equipped with the Intel 8080. NEC, in August 1976, released the TK-80 single-board microcomputer that was equipped with the μPD8080A, an 8080-compatible processor. The TK-80 was sold as an assembly kit to train engineers, but because it was priced at only ¥88,500, it quickly spread to hobbyists, triggering a microcomputer fad. Similarly, Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Sharp, and others all released single-board microcomputers. Seikosha released the SEIKO-5700 in August 1977 with the 8080A processor, and Sord, in September of the same year, announced the M200 series of microcomputers than ran on Zilog Z80 processors.

Hitachi, in September 1978, rolled out the Basic Master MB-6880 personal computer that ran on Hitachi's own 6800 microprocessor and came with BASIC preinstalled. Sharp came out with the MZ-80K in December 1978, a partially assembled kit computer that ran on the Z80 and supported BASIC programming. In 1979, NEC released the 8-bit PC-8001. The three 8-bit machines from Hitachi, Sharp, and NEC were called the first Big Three of the 8-bit generation. NEC, Fujitsu and Sharp dominated the market in the 1980s, with NEC releasing its PC-8800 series, Fujitsu releasing its FM-8, and Sharp releasing its X1 series.

MSX Personal Computer Architecture

In 1983, the ASCII Corporation and Microsoft Japan devised MSX, a standardized architecture for 8-bit personal computers for the home market. Fourteen companies in all — many of which were home entertainment manufacturers such as Matsushita Electric (now Panasonic) and Sony — released MSX-compatible personal computers. Sony began selling its HIT BIT HB-55 MSX home computer in November 1983. The upwardly compatible MSX2 architecture with enhanced image display functionality was announced in 1985, and nine companies released MSX2 products. The further enhanced MSX2+ architecture came out in 1988, but only three companies — Sanyo Electric, Sony, and Matsushita Electric — sold personal computers compatible with the MSX2+ standard, primarily because of the burgeoning growth of 16-bit personal computers in the home market. The final iteration of MSX, MSX TurboR, arrived in 1990, but the only initial compatible model sold was Matsushita Electric's FS-A 1 ST. Its replacement model, the FS-A 1 GT, which came out in 1991, wound up being the last MSX model.

The 16-Bit Personal Computer Era

IBM entered the personal computer market in 1981, announcing the IBM PC, which ran on the Intel 16-bit 8088 microprocessor. Its operating system was PC-DOS, which was equivalent to Microsoft's MS-DOS. Apple Computer released the Lisa in January 1983 and the Macintosh in January 1984. The latter model was a huge success, though it has been said the Macintosh owed much to Xerox’s workstations. IBM released the IBM PC-AT with an 80286 processor in August of the same year. Because its interface was published openly, it became a de facto standard and many manufacturers sold PC-AT compatible machines.

Although Panafacom (today, PFU) had released the Lkit-16 learning kit computer with a 16-bit CPU in 1977, the first 16-bit personal computer in Japan was the MULTI16, announced by Mitsubishi Electric in December 1981. The MULTI 16 ran on an 8088 processor and used Digital Research's CP/M-86 as its operating system. NEC released the PC-9801 in October 1982, equipped with a 16-bit μPD8086 processor (8086 compatible), a μPD7220 LSI for graphics processing, and the MS-DOS operating system. In November 1982, Fujitsu released the FM-11 16-bit personal computer, which had an 8-bit 6809 processor and a 16-bit 8088 processor, as an upgrade model to the FM-8. NEC developed the PC-9801 into a series, with an internal kanji-character ROM chip and internal floppy disk drives or hard disk drives, and took the leading share of the Japanese market. The PC-9801VM, released in July 1985, used the NEC V30 processor, an 8086-compatible processor that was faster than Intel's chips.

As 16-bit machines entered the market, personal computers began to be used for business applications. Consequently, many companies released 16-bit personal computers specialized for business use between 1983 and 1984, such as Sharp's MZ-5500 and Oki Electric's if 800 model 50

Epson started selling the PC-286, a PC-9800-compatible machine, in April 1987. Epson brought out many model configurations of its compatible machines, including desktops, laptops, and notebooks. Proside released a personal computer with dual compatibility with PC-9800 and IBM PC/AT in 1987.

As far as personal computers for hobbyists, Sharp announced the X68000, using the MC68000 processor, in 1986. The X86000 was equipped with advanced graphics functions and enhanced audio and video functions to compete against game machines and consoles.

32-Bit Personal Computers

In September 1987, the first 32-bit machines running on the 80386 processor appeared, with NEC announcing the PC-98XL2 and Fujitsu the FM R-70. In February 1989, Fujitsu announced the 32-bit FM Towns, the first personal computer with a CD-ROM drive and featuring enhanced audio and video functionality.

Previously, Japanese personal computers were fitted with dedicated read-only memory (ROM) modules for Japanese language processing, including kanji characters. But with advances in microprocessor and display performance, it was possible to perform Japanese character conversions in software. IBM DOS version J4.0V, which was released in December 1990 for PC-AT compatibles, implemented all Japanese language processing in software. This operating system and its later version, which would become known as DOS/V, were sold by Microsoft as MS-DOS-5.0/V and could be used on other companies' PC-AT compatibles. Most Japanese manufacturers migrated to DOS/V, and Compact, a U.S. manufacturer of PC-AT compatibles, entered the Japanese market in January 1992 with an inexpensive DOS/V machine. Fujitsu launched its FMV series of PC-AT compatible machines in October 1993.

Although Microsoft had been developing Windows, which ran a graphical user interface on MS-DOS, since the mid-1980s, it wasn't until 1995's Windows 95 that real multimedia functions and network functions were realized. This triggered an avalanche of Windows software applications. NEC, in October 1997, changed its strategic direction with its announcement of the PC-98 NX series, which incorporated the PC97/PC98 system design, the next global hardware design standard.

Notebook Personal Computers

Portable laptop personal computers with 16-bit CPUs began to arrive in the mid-1980s. Toshiba presented the T-1100, the world's first laptop personal computer, aimed at the Western market at the March 1985 Hanover Messe trade show in Germany and began selling the laptop in April of the same year. For the domestic market, Fujitsu announced the FM16π in April 1985, Toshiba announced the J-3100 in October 1986, and NEC announced the PC-98LT in November 1986.

Laptop personal computers gradually got smaller, and in June 1989 Toshiba announced the DynaBook J-3100SS, the world's first A4-file-sized notebook. NEC, for its part, released the PC-9801N(98NOTE) notebook computer in October 1989, announced the 98NOTE SX notebook computer, Japan's first 32-bit notebook, in May 1990, and began selling the PC-9801NC, the world's first notebook with a color LCD screen, in October 1991.

Notebook personal computers got even smaller and lighter. Sony, in October 1997, released the VAIO Note 505, a B5-file-sized notebook.