Old PCs, especially PCs from the 1980s to the mid 1990s, have a button with the curious label “Turbo.” On some PCs, a number on the front changes when you push it. Why did old PCs have a turbo button?
Some 90s computer brands are the same as today, but a lot more companies played in the field than now. Profit margins were higher then, so industry consolidation wasn’t the matter of survival that it is now.
Here’s a look back at some of the brands of old, including some famous PC brands, some not-so-famous, and some notorious. The 1990s were certainly a make or break time for many of them.
The IBM PS/1, sometimes called the IBM PS1, was a line of 1990s personal computer systems, not to be confused with the Sony Playstation video game console that’s also often called the PS1. The PS/1 was IBM’s second attempt at a mass market consumer PC.
You can neatly divide the PS/1 into two generations. While they ran the same software, they had major philosophical differences. Perhaps more than any other computer line, they represent IBM’s change of heart in the early 1990s as it tried to survive in an extremely competitive and crowded market.
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.
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.
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.
In 1996, Dr. Thomas Pabst, a German MD then living in England, created a web page where he talked about motherboards, video cards, and a then little-known phenomenon called overclocking. Dubbed Tom’s Hardware Guide, it spawned a long list of imitators, creating a new industry: PC hardware enthusiast sites.
In 2006 he sold the site and walked away.
Overclocking didn’t start in the 90s, and it wasn’t limited to PCs either. Here’s a history of overclocking from a guy who did it some, and talked to guys who did it a lot in the 80s.
I don’t recommend overclocking, and today Microsoft can prove it’s a bad idea. But overclocking has a long and colorful history. It’s less common than it used to be, perhaps. But it’s not completely extinct.
What happened to Packard Bell? It ceased operations in the United States in 2000, after a 14-year reign of terror on the consumer market.
But there’s more to the story than that. The Packard Bell story is a brilliant piece of marketing. The computers were terrible, but the marketing was as good as it gets. And that’s one of the reasons people remember it as one of the more prominent of the 90s computer brands, even if they don’t usually remember it fondly.