The tower of a personal computer. From top to bottom: DVD player and writer (marked D), CD player and writer (marked E) and 3.5 inch floppy-disk drive (halfway down the tower). The 120 gigabyte hard drive is inside the tower

Personal computer and peripherals. From left to right: ink jet printer, TV (irrelevant), CRT monitor, broadband cable modem for the internet, flat bed scanner. The tower (CPU, hard drive, etc) can just be glimpsed at bottom right. The keyboard and mouse are wireless.

The term personal computer or PC has three meanings:

  • IBM's range of PCs that lead to the use of the term - see IBM PC.
  • A generic term used to describe microcomputers that are compatible with IBM's specification - (discussed here)
  • A generic term sometimes used to describe all microcomputers - (mentioned here)

The first generation of microcomputers were sometimes known as home computers, and are discussed in that section.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Architecture and expansion
3 Non IBM compatible "Personal Computers"
4 See also


A personal computer is an inexpensive microcomputer, originally designed to be used by only one person at a time, and which is IBM PC compatible - (though in common usage it may sometimes refer to non-compatible machines).

The earliest known use of the term was in New Scientist magazine in 1964, in a series of articles called "The World in 1984". In "The Banishment of Paper Work," Arthur L. Samuel of IBM's Watson Research Center writes, "While it will be entirely feasible to obtain an education at home, via one's own personal computer, human nature will not have changed."

The first generation of microcomputers that started to appear in the 1970s (see Home Computers) were markedly less versatile and powerful than business computers of the day, and were generally used by computer enthusiasts or for playing games.

It was the launch of the VisiCalc spreadsheet, initially for the Apple II and later for the IBM PC that became the "killer app" that turned the microcomputer into a business tool. The low cost of personal computers led to great popularity in the home and business markets during the 1980s. In 1982, Time magazine named the personal computer its Man of the Year.

During the 1990s, the power of personal computers increased radically, blurring the formerly sharp distinction between personal computers and multi-user computers such as mainframes. Today higher-end computers often distinguish themselves from personal computers by greater reliability or greater ability to multitask, rather than by straight CPU power.

Architecture and expansion

Most modern personal computers use the IBM PC compatible hardware architecture, using x86-compatible processors made by Intel, AMD, or Cyrix. The hardware capabilities of personal computers can usually be extended by the addition of Expansion cards.

With regard to portability we can distinguish:

Non IBM compatible "Personal Computers"

Despite the overwhelming popularity of the personal computer, a number of non IBM PC compatible microcomputers (sometimes also generically called Personal Computers) are still popular in niche uses. The leading alternative is Apple Computer's proprietary Power Macintosh platform, based on the PowerPC computer architecture, which is widely used for grapic design and related uses.

Further PC and PW (Personal Workstation) types through time:

See also