View Full Version : 25 Greatest PCs

Loopy Byteloose
01-26-2012, 09:11 AM

This is a very interesting look into the past. It might help all the Propeller-nauts to sort out what to preserve and what to revive.

01-26-2012, 10:31 AM
Really not sure why any x86/286 computer is on the list.
Yes, yes the IBM PC and it's clones were a big success but they were all a big pile of junk. What with 64K segmented memory, MSDOS and awful graphics. Not to mention the big hideous and noisy boxes these things came in.
Not until the 32 bit 386 came along in 1986, thanks Compaq, did things start to get interesting. Even then MicroSoft held everyone back in the 16 bit world until Windows 95 came out, nearly 10 years later!!

01-26-2012, 11:42 AM
HEY! Where is the Timex Sinclair 1000 (ZX81 for those across the pond) ?

The "best" computer is the one you can afford. When I was a kid, the TS1000 is all my parents could afford. It served me well for many years.

I would not be the person I am today had it not been for that computer.


01-26-2012, 11:54 AM
Glad to see the Atari 800 on the list. During that era I was a 6502 assembly hacker for a company called Kyan Software. We wrote software for Apple, Atari, and the C64. The Atari was great to program, followed closely by the Apple, but I didn't like the C64. I know the C64 was popular with users, but it was squirrelly to program.

01-26-2012, 12:29 PM
The list brought back some memories ( Atari Portfolio, HP 100/200LX which I still use).

But, I would have liked the Timex/ZX81 to have been there. Like Bean, it was the only cost effect choice at the time and it had more to do with shaping my interest in industrial control than all the other computers combined.


01-26-2012, 01:59 PM
I was just thinking...

When I used to buy something like a Timex Sinclair, I was EXCITED and couldn't wait to get home and play with it!

But these days I would be forced to buy a computer with some new Windows OS on it and would not look forward to the frustration of getting things to work like I want. Or all the bundled junk software they include with these. Just not fun anymore!

01-26-2012, 02:45 PM
The Apple II in first place!!?? Are you kidding me? What a hunk of junk. The only reason they were even popular is because they got into the schools.... same with TI calculators in my opinion.

At least the TRS-80 made it on the list. That was a cool computer.... and the Toshiba Satellite should be more than honorable mention, they were built like a tank. I suppose I'm prejudice though, cause I owned one of each.

I hated those @#$*^% cassettes on the TRS-80.

:) Did I just start an argument?

01-26-2012, 03:12 PM
The Apple II in first place!!?? Are you kidding me? What a hunk of junk. The only reason they were even popular is because they got into the schools.... same with TI calculators in my opinion.

:) Did I just start an argument?

The hardware on the Apple II was indeed mediocre. But Steve Wozniak managed to do in software things that Atari and Commodore did using specialized hardware. But Apple also documented the design and made it friendly to hacking, so that was the major appeal. It also meant that the Apple II was cheaper to make, so Apple made a killing while Atari and Commodore both went belly up.

01-26-2012, 04:32 PM
I agree that the Timex Sinclair 1000/ ZX81 should've been on the list. It was inexpensive and a marvel in engineering since Sir Clive St. Clair created a computer that generated graphics without a graphics chip!

01-26-2012, 05:21 PM
Nice to see them include the Amiga and the Xerox Star. Remember first seeing the Xerox Star at Boeing during the mid-80's when I was a Data General tech, it was a slick system and made the IBM PC look like fecal matter. No wonder Jobs and Gates stole UI concepts from them. Without Xerox's work, the computer industry wouldn't be where it is today.

The Amiga was just plain ahead of it's time. It also had a nice multitasking OS that could be understood by single person unlike today's monster gigabyte OS's. It lives on today as a FPGA board.

It would be a interesting project to redo the TS1000/Z81 with Zilog's new Z80's running at 20+mhz coupled with FPGA driven graphics.

Oldbitcollector (Jeff)
01-26-2012, 05:59 PM
/me scans article before reading... Commodore 64.. Ok, looks valid. ;)

Thanks for sharing!


01-26-2012, 06:07 PM
Great list.... but number 7 should have been number 1!!!! :tongue:
In Sweden, there were a lot more Amigas than any other 16-32 bit computer in 1985 - 1991.. (of course there were even more C64s... but... but)
My first contact with an IBM clone at school was a shock, until then I thought all 16 bits computers had a mouse and a full color multitasking operating system.
Jay Miner should have been hailed as the great engineer he was; Too bad his fellow Americans didn't even know he existed. Almost no one used an Amiga in the USA.
That's a big mystery to me? On the other hand "no one" used his 8 bit machine, the Atari 800, in Europe. But I've heard it was quite common in the States.


01-26-2012, 07:03 PM
Jay Miner never got the kudos and visibility that he should have gotten. The guy was a real genius compared to copy cats cut throats like Jobs and Gates.

As far as the Amiga in the U.S. goes, I remember plenty of people using them at the time. They and the Atari ST were the only systems that had a GUI interface and were affordable. It's just too bad Commodore didn't know how to exploit it the Amiga properly.

01-27-2012, 08:14 AM
I see that I have 'a few' of the 'greatest' list, more of the 'almost greats' and a whole shipload of machines that comes in the 'they rule, sorry no one noticed' category.
I assume that the Toshiba at #24 is there because the author of the list have one?

What about my Psion MC400 laptop from 1989?
256KB RAM, NEC V30 CPU, 640x400 B/W screen, touchpad, Fully Pre-emptive OS with a GUI, WYSIWYG wordprocessing, spreadsheet, great calendar... Solid-state storage. Runs for 20Hours on a single recharge... The tech in it ended up in the more well-known SIBO range of PDAs (S3 clamshell PDAs, Siena, the Workabout industrial handhelds) SIBO was rewritten for 32bit(ARM) and became EPOC(Excellent Piece Of Cheese) then Symbian and probably runs on a cell close to you...

The 'First Laptop' debacle...
Yeah, I have both contenders...
I also have the Casio FP-200 which may have been even earlier.
The Epson HX-20 is interesting not just because it was so early, but also because it's a dual-CPU design.
(One CPU is dedicated for I/O, which eplains why it feels so snappy, considering they ran at 0.6MHz)

The HP LX series... Is still popular not just because it's a DOS PC, but also because it has functions for automatic wakeup and running of scripts.
A buddy of mine built a script to wake it, download 'weatherfax' pictures via radio(they're easy to interface to some shortwaves used aboard boats, I understand), then go back to sleep again until he wanted to check the weather. Worked flawlessly for years, until his boat was hit by a large freighter and sunk, taking the LX and all of his other possessions with it.
There was an even less-known model of the LX... the 700... Which was basically a 200, but with a holder for the Nokia 2110 cell-phone on the lid...
(Yes, I have both... )

Where's the Atari ST?

The SGI irons?

The Sinclairs have been mentioned here, but the ZX Spectrum (Timex Sinclair 2000something?) was the greatest of them all.
Cheap, easy to use, easy to program. Accessible electronics(general purpose edge connector at the rear), easy to expand, and could handle NETWORKING!
Not just make programs co-operate, but share drives and printers...
The QL, though, was a bit of a bust...
Even the 128K versions of the Spectrum was a bit odd...
The C5 electric 'car' is best forgotten..
Sir Clive went on to start another company, Cambridge Computers, and launched a laptop of his own, the Z88.
The multitasking was no better than a Palm pilot(programs in background was halted), you had 'almost WYSIWYG' on the narrow LCD with a rather weird word-processor, the guys writing a web browser stopped some years ago because of lack of interest, but someone managed to port a version of Lemmings from the Amiga... Not bad for a Z80based machine with 32KB RAM...

BTW:: The eMate 300... If you look under it, you'll find a large screw-hole. Strangely, this is the exact same size as you'd find under a camcorder, large binoculars, field measuring equipment...
In other words; while working out in the field, you could put it on a tripod! This is something I have never seen on any other 'non-specialized' computer.

01-28-2012, 02:00 AM
At least the TRS-80 made it on the list. That was a cool computer.... and the Toshiba Satellite should be more than honorable mention, they were built like a tank. I suppose I'm prejudice though, cause I owned one of each.

I hated those @#$*^% cassettes on the TRS-80.

The cassette interface on the TRS-80 Model I had one feature that I really liked (other than having the relay make "cricket" noises). You could connect the output from one computer to the input of another and vice versa. It was really easy to communicate between the two machines - PRINT on one and INPUT on the other. Simple "networking" before serial ports became ubiquitous.

I was quite fond of my machine. I took a soldering iron to the main board - the complete schematic was available and you could get a completely documented printout of the ROM (I still have it around somewhere). There aren't too many computers that ship with schematics these days. I learned assembly with the Z-80 (I couldn't stand the 6502 (but maybe I didn't have enough experience with it)).

Hardware ports were also pretty easy to work with on the Z-80.

01-28-2012, 03:06 AM
I'm glad to see the TRS-80 made the list too!
I wouldn't be here today with out it.
If we only had a hard drive or an eeprom back then!!!!!!!

Bill Chennault
01-28-2012, 04:39 AM

I thought Vector Graphics would at least make it on the Top 25 list. They were (and mine still are) great machines. Add a Centronics 703 and you could really churn out some work! My wife and I had two Vector Graphics System B machines and two 703s cranking out millions of lines of reports. We had another Vector Graphics . . . hmmm, forgot the model name; the all-in-one thingy, doing other stuff. All of this in a spare upstairs bedroom of our home in 1979. The noise was beautiful!

The OS was MDOS. (Micropolis Disk Operating System.) We used a beta copy of Datamanager which later became or influenced Smart. (I believe it was something before that, too. Can't remember. Seems like it was over THREE DECADES AGO!

We made actual money doing stuff with 8 bit microcomputers. Quite a bit of it. But, they had to crank 24x7 and they did. So did we swapping floppies to do huge sort/merges and report writing. The computer room was right above our bedroom and when the printers stopped the lack of noise would wake us up and we go upstairs and swap more diskettes into the drives. Thankfully, those days are over. But, I think it built character. :)


Peter KG6LSE
01-28-2012, 11:03 PM
BTW:: The eMate 300... If you look under it, you'll find a large screw-hole. Strangely, this is the exact same size as you'd find under a camcorder, large binoculars, field measuring equipment...
In other words; while working out in the field, you could put it on a tripod! This is something I have never seen on any other 'non-specialized' computer.

I have 3 emates one that is NIB and one that has the added RAM .. it was a true netbook for its day .
( that and the Duo Dock )



the stock batts are 1 AH ( AA) I remade mine with some 2.4 AH cells .
rugged too .
I have the newton TV remote SW and modded the 3rd one to be One hellova touch screen TV remote ..

( has ALL the other newtons too)

old as heck but really cool for what they are . and BTW there was a charging cradle for them too that had 2 POGO pins.

01-29-2012, 01:44 AM
The Apple ][ computers, IMHO, deserve a pretty high spot. The hardware design wasn't cutting edge like some other computers to follow was, but the real value in the machines was the expansion slots and options. Woz did some basic things which really helped make the machines useful for a lot of tasks. There were no system interrupts needed for fetching video data, nor were there interrupts associated with the basic operation of the system. This left DMA / interrupts open for expansion cards to make use of.

The signals in the expansion slots, coupled with that basic design decision to leave the system DMA / interrupt clean, meant co-processors or even replacement processors were fairly easy and robust to implement, as were video related things, though not many of those were developed in ways that caught on to the general computing market, but did catch on for scientific / special purposes.

One downside for international users was the video hack Woz made use of. Artifacting to make color happens when the pixel clock exceeds the color burst. The original Apple ][ would produce 4 colors in hi-res graphics. Woz then added a phase shift function to the otherwise wasted hi-res bit 7, resulting in a 6 color display. That one decision made the Apple computers viable for a lot longer than they would have otherwise been, because 6 colors was enough to render most things acceptably, compared to other machines at the time.

The downside was the technique required extra hardware to deliver video on PAL or SECAM, and those extras were not as widely deployed as they could have been, making the Apple a monochrome machine for many users.

IMHO, the limits are part of why the machine lasted as long as it did. Add-ons were produced for just about any task, and sophisticated add-ons made Apple computers useful in industry for many things. A/D cards, High Resolution graphics (640 + with 16 / 256 colors), large memory, co-processor (6809, 68000, Z80, others), hard disk, SCSI, industrial controls, etc... were all produced and used all over the place. Other computers featuring more advanced core system designs delivered more outta the box, but were limited in their expansion capabilities because those same features complicated the machine, making niche uses like that far more difficult.

The IBM PC followed the same design ideas, and replaced the Apple ][ across the board for most of the same reasons!

In terms of general usability and applicability, the Apple ][ and IBM PC really didn't have peers then, despite their generally poor price / performance ratio and limited speed, graphics, sound capabilities.

At the time, an Atari 800 or C64 was capable of superior graphics and sound, just as the Amiga was capable of the same compared to the IBM PC, yet the PC won out for it's robust expansion capability.

Back in the day, I saw my Apple remain useful well into the late 90's, and in fact is still useful for basic tasks today. I use mine as a terminal, and to write on and sometimes do basic graphics tasks related to the Propeller. When I get my board layout done, and reviewed by folks here so that I don't break things, I'm stuffing a Prop into one with the intent of doing music and graphics on one as a workstation. That's harder to do with other 8 bitters, due to the advanced hardware designs. Not so hard on the Apple though. Same is true for the PC, generally speaking.

I have some of the machines on this list.

TRS 80 Model 100 is great! I do use mine for notes and as a terminal at times. Love it. Great little machine. Insanely long battery life. Useable screen.

Apple //e

Atari 800

(not on the list CoCo 3, which is another potent 8 bit computer, unappreciated IMHO)

The Atari 800 was capable of a lot, and I second the Jay Miner comments above. His approach to graphics made a lot of sense back then. Today, we have enough compute power and specialized hardware to just get the graphics done, no worries. Back then, being able to do things during the raster made a huge difference in what was possible, and it influenced games and other applications in a core way due to things being synched to the screen display 1:1. Other machines, notably the Apple, made this difficult due to the lack of interrupts and or signals / compute power needed to make that possible.

Never owned an Amiga, but I wish I had. Fantastic machine, ahead of it's time, many great influences.

IMHO, there are always lots of ways to measure "best" Change that criteria a little, and the list would change all over the place.

Back in the day, the Apple seemed a bit boring compared to the silicon playgrounds found in other machines. Loved hacking on the 800 and CoCo 3. When it came to getting real stuff done though, I used the Apple to produce lots of of stuff, where I gamed or explored programming more on the machines with fun chips!

Seeing the focus of PC Magazine, I can understand their criteria. If the focus were more on games and media, I would expect a much different list.

BTW: They have the SGI Indy there as an "almost", and that's a crime! In the early 90's, SGI machines were flat out amazing! They punched well above their weight through the late 90's, and were my primary computing platform for CAD / animation until about 2002. Expensive as all get out at first, but extremely well engineered. SGI went on to do things with multi-processing that still are significant today. The Indy was an excellent computer with a very large amount of technical features packed into an efficient space. If I had the head-space to continue with IRIX, I would very likely do Prop related development on one, due to the nice video capture (INDY had a very tolerant video capture suitable for our prop where later SGI machines did not). I got rid of mine, actually trading that scene for the Propeller. With the open tools coming, I may have to reconsider... Way too tempting! Anyway, I suspect the PC Magazine staff really didn't get to put SGI computers to use networked, or they may well reconsider their position in the article. In the mid-90's we were doing teleconferencing with video and sound, running high end software cluster style on many machines and 3D gaming on those computers, all doing things the PC would come to do very nicely many years later. Best computing experience I've ever had. Our machines today are good, Win 7, Linux and OS X all performing well, usable, etc... but not as well engineered as IRIX was.

01-29-2012, 03:27 AM
If there was a category for a add-on board it would be the New Tek Video Toaster for the Amiga which was way ahead of anything available for the Mac or PC. It could outdo the $100k video boxes from other vendors. It was powerful enough it ended up doing doing CGI for shows like Babylon 5 and SeaQuest. It's successor a stand alone box called the Screamer with quad MIPS cpu's, was used to render CGI for many sci-fi movies.

SGI's were just plain cool, but clearly not something a ordinary person would have at home. The AF R&D people loved the buggers, one site had a rather large sized room full of their video servers. Real popular in Mission Control Rooms, no worry about the Blue or Black Screen of death. Mind you this was back in the 90's before Microsquish borged the military.

01-29-2012, 07:47 PM
Yeah, personal workstation was different from personal computer back then.

A look back at Babylon 5 is always impressive. Great program, solid production all things considered.