What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation?

Digital Equipment Corporation was perhaps the second most important computer company in history, behind IBM. Its minicomputers challenged IBM, and, indeed, Unix first ran on a DEC PDP-7. DEC’s Alpha CPU was one of the few chips to make Intel nervous for its x86 line. It created the first really good Internet search engine. In a just and perfect world, DEC would still be dominating. Instead, it faded away in the 1990s. What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation?

There’s a short answer and a long answer.

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What happened to CompUSA?

Readers of a certain age will remember CompUSA, a defunct big-box computer retailer. What happened to CompUSA? It went out of business, then came back as an undead brand, then went away again.

In some ways, CompUSA was the epitome of 1990s computer retail. It had huge big box stores with aisles of software and upgrades. It sold desktop computers, including its own house brand, Compudyne, manufactured for CompUSA by Acer. But the business model didn’t work as well in the 21st century.

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What is a game cartridge?

What is a game cartridge? If you’re asking, you must not have grown up in the 1980s. But that’s OK. We’re happy to share our generation’s fun with you.

A game cartridge is a plastic case containing a circuit board, a connector, and a ROM chip. CDs and DVDs ultimately displaced them because they offered higher capacity at a lower cost. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the only lasers our game consoles had were the ones they drew on the screens in games about aliens. We liked our cartridges, even if we called them tapes sometimes.

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Commodore 64 models

Over the course of its 12 years on the market, Commodore released a number of Commodore 64 models. The computer’s capability changed very little over time, but the technology did. The world changed a lot between 1982 and 1994, and that gave Commodore some opportunities to lower costs, chase other market segments, or both.

Here’s an overview of the various Commodore 64 models that hit the market over the machine’s long life.

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IBM PS/2 vs PC

The IBM PS/2 line was a fairly radical departure from the older IBM PC line. This was deliberate, as IBM wanted to disrupt the clone industry, which it saw as a threat to its business. Here’s a look back at the IBM PS/2 vs PC, the line it replaced.

IBM succeeded with the PC because it created an ecosystem, not just a PC. IBM’s misstep was creating an open architecture and then trying to close it back up after the fact with the PS/2. In IBM’s defense, it’s not clear whether they knew this at the time. If nothing else, in the case of the IBM PS/2 vs PC, IBM created a classic case study of open architecture vs closed.

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Radio Shack computers

Radio Shack released one of the first home computers, the TRS-80 Model I, in 1977. Between 1977 and 1979, it sold 100,000 units. Radio Shack sold them just as quickly as Tandy could make them. You can count Radio Shack and its parent company Tandy among computer companies that failed, but they enjoyed a good run. For a time, Radio Shack computers, later marketed as Tandy computers, were very popular.

Radio Shack and Tandy computers included the TRS-80 Model I from the inaugural class of 1977, the pioneering Model 100 portable, and the Tandy 1000 series, which helped bring PC clones into homes.

There were several reasons why Radio Shack computers were hard to compete with in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

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