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IBM released its personal computer in 1981. Whilst this would be the system that would lead to ‘PC’ becoming a synonym for a computer sitting on a desktop, it was quite expensive. Prices started at $1,565 (presumably USD) for a configuration without disk drives (Wikipedia). Apples — destined for the school market — were also quite expensive (as were Compucolor’s, judging by this contribution). These were out of the reach of many ‘computer curious’ households. By comparison, the Vic20 went for NZ$495 and the Sinclair ZX81 for NZ$199 (November 1983, Computer Input). Sega’s SC-3000 ($399 in Feb 1984), Tandy’s TRS-80, the Commodore 64, the Microbee (the kit went for AU$399 in 1982), and the Sinclair Spectrum were also comparatively affordable. There were a plethora of brands, including the Exidy Sorceror, the Spectravideo, and the VZ200. There were even local clones, such as the Dick Smith System 80 and CAT. Many could simply be plugged into the home TV, if an external monitor was not available.
‘Serious’ computing magazines repeatedly published dismissive articles comparing these 8 bit microcomputers to toys, but the fact is that these inexpensive computers have an important place in games and computing history in Australia and New Zealand. They appear to have been very popular with home consumers no doubt in part because of their smaller price tag (reliable ownership statistics do not exist).
Floppy disk drives were available for some of these machines, but people did not always purchase them, often because of the expense, and because it was possible to make do with cassette tape players or ‘datasettes’. Even when there were some disk drives around, the fact that nearly everyone had a tape player meant that it made sense to continue to issue early games software on tape (Marentes).
What was the games computer in your house? Did your household spend up big, or opt for a ‘little’ computer? Was the purchase a big deal occasioning much research, or did it just arrive? Did it plug into a (the?) TV or separate monitor? What are your abiding memories of using it? Please tell us your story, better still if you have pictures!
Reference: Nick Marentes interview, 27 November 2013.