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The technical history of the PC. Any good books?


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#1 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:20 PM

Are there any good books that describe the technical history of the PC?

 

I got to reading this ArsTechnica article, and it tends to focus on the early politics and people of how the PC got off the ground floor. Not exactly what I'm looking for. Want something that explains the technical tradeoffs and explains why this chip was used as opposed to that chip, and why it was wired up the way it is.

 

https://arstechnica....history-part-1/

https://arstechnica....history-part-2/

 

The January 1982 issue of Byte offers more, but not quite enough:

https://archive.org/...agazine-1982-01


Edited by Keatah, Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:45 PM.


#2 NIKON OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:27 PM

https://en.wikipedia...iki/Altair_8800

 

http://lowendmac.com...first-25-years/


Edited by NIKON, Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:28 PM.


#3 save2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:30 AM

Not sure, but could see it being included in a book titled: Shitty Tech That Managed To Win Over The Mainstream. :lol:

#4 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:19 AM

Are there any good books that describe the technical history of the PC?
 
I got to reading this ArsTechnica article, and it tends to focus on the early politics and people of how the PC got off the ground floor. Not exactly what I'm looking for. Want something that explains the technical tradeoffs and explains why this chip was used as opposed to that chip, and why it was wired up the way it is.
 
https://arstechnica....history-part-1/
https://arstechnica....history-part-2/
 
The January 1982 issue of Byte offers more, but not quite enough:
https://archive.org/...agazine-1982-01


I have/had a book called "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" which was thicker than a Bible that contained a lot of the technical history of the PCs. You may not have guessed it would from the title, but it did. It was interesting stuff.

Of course my edition is long outdated- I have no idea if there are newer editions available.

Edited by zzip, Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:20 AM.


#5 jhd ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:21 AM

It is not, strictly speaking, PC-related, but there is a corporate history of Intel (published in about the early-1990s) that covers some of this ground. Unfortunately, I cannot provide the citation as my copy is currently packed away in storage. 

 

There is also the classic Soul of New Machine (1981) which gets deeply into the technical details and trade-offs of designing a computer -- albeit not a PC, but getting closer to your specific interests. 



#6 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:46 AM

Ahh yes those 1000+ pages PC-Repair "bibles". I think that'd contain some interesting information and put into real-life context how components and sub-systems fit together.

 

Que, Wiley, and Sams printed a bunch of those IIRC.


Edited by Keatah, Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:50 AM.


#7 Flojomojo OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 4:45 PM

I would think something outside of mainstream commercial "how-to" books (which imho have been replaced by websites) would be more what you want. Perhaps an electrical engineering textbook? I'd hit up a university library.

#8 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:17 PM

I found data sheets for some of the larger chips (chipset) on the motherboard. I also found the Phoenix BIOS reference manual.



#9 Flojomojo OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:45 PM

Footnotes here Keatah

https://en.wikipedia...960s–present)

#10 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:50 PM

Great.

 

In my early readings I'm finding the PC to be even more generic than one would imagine. As generic as the Apple II and II+, just more of it. More of everything. Bigger memory, bigger graphics, that sort of thing.

 

If anything is custom in the PC it's the microprocessor itself, and perhaps the "chipset" - which is essentially a condensation of all the discrete logic into 2 or 3 packages. Just parts count reduction, no new functionality like sound synthesis or blitting. No new proprietary functionality.

 

It was also amusing to read how Bill Gates kept SCP in the dark when setting up the licensing/purchase deal for what was to become MS-DOS. Essentially Gates knew IBM needed an OS, and SCP didn't.

 

And even more surprising to read that Atari approached IBM with an offer to design the PC. It went through several departments (inside IBM) before getting laughed out by committee.

 

I don't think (right now) that I want to go further back than Kildall and the CP/M era.

 

I'm almost done with the Pentium Chronicles. A good read on the politics that influence CPU design with focus on tradeoffs and effects management has on final product. It's centered around the Pentium Pro and Pentium.

 

---

 

https://en.wikipedia...croarchitecture

 

I also found:

 

The Intel Microprocessors, The Architecture, Programming, and Interfacing, 8th Edition - Prentice Hall 2008 - Barry B Brey

 

The 80X86 IBM PC and Compatible Computers Assembly Language, Design, and Interfacing (Volumes I & II) 4th Edition - Prentice Hall - 2002 - Muhammad Ali Mazidi - Janice Gillispie-Mazidi

 

Intel486_DX2_Microprocessor_Data_Book_Jul92

 

Tom_Shanley_80486_System_Architecture_3rd_Edition

 

i486_Processor_Programmers_Reference_Manual_1990

 

---

 

I choose to stop at around the 486, because it's so similar to all that came before. Then I'll proceed into Pentium through Core2.


Edited by Keatah, Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:52 PM.


#11 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:11 PM

I have/had a book called "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" which was thicker than a Bible that contained a lot of the technical history of the PCs. You may not have guessed it would from the title, but it did. It was interesting stuff.

Of course my edition is long outdated- I have no idea if there are newer editions available.

 

As far as I know they're on the 22nd edition now. Published in 2015 or 2016. It comes with the 19th and 20th editions on DVD along with other reference material. I would say whatever edition you have is only partly outdated, because everything builds on everything else.

 

I'm pretty sure the 23rd edition will be out soon because of all the new material. I just hope they don't ever go to a subscription model - I feel the quality would decrease if they did.

 

---

 

It's refreshing to read these sorts of things uninterrupted as opposed to farting around on the web - where half your time is spent weeding out bullshit and e-commerce.


Edited by Keatah, Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:21 PM.


#12 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:02 AM

Watch the documentary Triumph of the Nerds.

 

You could read IBM's own account of it:

 

https://www-03.ibm.c...pc25_birth.html

 

Most biographies of Bill Gates and/or Microsoft Histories include the story of the PC's birth. Ditto books on Kildall.

 

****

 

8088 wasn't really shitty tech. It was the only widely available 16-bit design in 1979-80 when the project was being engineered. Motorola's 68K and the Z8000 were still paper launch products. The 68K wasn't widely available until late 1982, a year after the IBM PC was released. Plus the 8088 had a whole set of support chips and could use very slow memory.

 

There were some other options but they were even slower and couldn't address as much memory as the 8088 - see the IMP-16 and National Instruments CP1600.

 

If IBM had waited 18-24 months to enter the PC market, they could very well have gone with the 68K or something cleaner than the 8088/8086, but who knows if they would have still dominated.


Edited by rpiguy9907, Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:03 AM.


#13 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:30 AM

As far as I know they're on the 22nd edition now. Published in 2015 or 2016. It comes with the 19th and 20th editions on DVD along with other reference material. I would say whatever edition you have is only partly outdated, because everything builds on everything else.


Well my edition ends at either the 486 or Pentium, so it's still pretty outdated :) And yet it still managed to be as thick as two bibles. I'd hate to see how big the current editions are if they weren't partially on DVD.

#14 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 20, 2018 2:47 PM

Currently ATM I'm reading through the "Phoenix Technical Reference Series - System BIOS for IBM PCs, Compatibles, and EISA Computers, 2nd Edition - 1991". It's a period book, meaning it was published in the era I'm interested in. I guess that's the term. And therefore tends to provide firsthand insights rather than a biased history.

 

While it isn't exactly, precisely, like history textbook.. It, instead, presents history by default. It's history itself, frozen, captured, and bought forward to today. Things that were important in the all-powerful godlike BIOS are explained in the book - if in a rather dry reference format. In one sentence, drumming up support for the BIOS, it can be said that the BIOS was THE defacto standard in enforcing and enabling PC compatibility across the ages. It is the "Force" from StarWars programmed into ROM.

 

From the book, "By defining the hardware-software interface, the BIOS insured that PC software would be compatible with future generations of PC hardware. This enforced compatibility created a new industry. Because of the BIOS, each generation of PC has been able to maintain a backward compatibility. Its hardware-software interface has allowed each of the PC's components to incorporate the major features of its predecessors."

 

This is one (of many) reasons why the PC became as popular and widespread as it did. In light of this, all the micros that came before it, including their respective manufacturing companies, seemed like little more than experiments lurching around. Half-zombified, half-aborted attempts at designing something the industry would latch on to. Trying this. Trying that. Oftentimes overcomplexity became a liability rather than an asset - locking customers into one narrow architecture.

Another feature was the PC's XT/ISA bus. It was very similar to the 8088 bus. About as standardized and basic as you could get. Besides standardization of the bus; video, disk I/O, serial & parallel I/O, and other peripherals also had standard interfaces. Thanks to the BIOS.

I see (saw) no way Commodore or Atari or any other deviating platform, no matter how high performance, could compete with the heavy hitters like Compaq, Epson, AST Research, NEC, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Olivetti, Tandy, Toshiba, Dell, Gateway, Wyse, Zenith Data Systems, and many countless others.. When you have that many major corporations backing a standard you, you can't help but have good things come from it.

 

Thanks to all and this thread as I've discovered several titles and added them to my summertime reading list.


Edited by Keatah, Fri Apr 20, 2018 2:47 PM.


#15 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Apr 23, 2018 1:58 PM

I have/had a book called "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" which was thicker than a Bible that contained a lot of the technical history of the PCs. You may not have guessed it would from the title, but it did. It was interesting stuff.

Of course my edition is long outdated- I have no idea if there are newer editions available.

 

I was just about to recommend that exact same book!  That's one of the best PC hardware books that I've encountered over the years.



#16 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:01 PM

8088 wasn't really shitty tech. It was the only widely available 16-bit design in 1979-80 when the project was being engineered. Motorola's 68K and the Z8000 were still paper launch products. The 68K wasn't widely available until late 1982, a year after the IBM PC was released. Plus the 8088 had a whole set of support chips and could use very slow memory.

 

There were some other options but they were even slower and couldn't address as much memory as the 8088 - see the IMP-16 and National Instruments CP1600.

 

If IBM had waited 18-24 months to enter the PC market, they could very well have gone with the 68K or something cleaner than the 8088/8086, but who knows if they would have still dominated.

 

Motorola was showing the first signs of becoming an old & tired company just as the 68000 got under way. The executives made their money and started coasting. So the continued development of that architecture was limited.

 

From what I understand so far, the main selling point of the 8088/8086 (and why it was chosen) was the amount of memory it could access. That and a host of other supporting reasons. Speed wasn't much a concern. IBM and everyone else in the industry could see that speeds would be increasing over time.

 

The 8088/8086 had a wide range of well-documented support chips. Documented well enough to call them generic and off-the-shelf even. IBM liked that because they were motivated to get a system up and running in less than a year. No custom chip rabbit holes and lengthy design cycles to fall into.

 

---

 

The 8087, one of the most advanced chips of the time, was an optional math coprocessor. Businesses and scientific establishments loved and benefited from it. Home users not so much. So it was an option. I think it was options like these that enabled the PC to get into hands more readily than other systems.

 

When I got my 486 I had to go with minimal memory as a cost cutting measure. If there weren't options I would not have been able to afford my rig. I knew I could (and did) upgrade next year. It was a matter of simply getting 4 more SIMMS. And then upgrade yet again to 16MB!

 

I also had a choice of processor, 386SX-16 through 486 DX2/66. I settled on the DX2/50. If there were no choices I might have become disappointed with low-end machine. Or could not have afforded the high-end processor. And the same thing applied to disk drive size, 100MB, 160MB, 200MB, 340MB. Got what I could afford. 3.5 or 5.25? Got them both. I even got to pick my sound and graphics chips.

 

No other machine aside from the Apple II had offered so many options and choices.



#17 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 24, 2018 1:13 PM

Ah yes. I recall the day I went out and purchased an 8087 for my amazing Comtex Turbo XT (a PC with a convenient flip-open case). 

 

The redraw times in CAD were crazy-fast after installing it. 



#18 wood_jl OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat May 5, 2018 5:47 PM

Not sure, but could see it being included in a book titled: Shitty Tech That Managed To Win Over The Mainstream. :lol:

 

....And Also Managed To Win Over The [Formerly Superior Power PC] Macintosh And Eventually The Two Prominent Game Consoles As Well.

 

Now that's a title!



#19 dafivehole OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:40 PM

Fire in the Valley is a really good read... they (very loosely) made into a movie, The Pirates of Silicon Valley.



#20 MrMaddog OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 30, 2018 4:59 PM

Here's a start of a good series about the early days of the PC...

 

https://www.filfre.n...ts-discontents/

 

It does a real good job of explaining of why busniess people who purchase PC's are more willing to stick with a cludgy OS like MS-DOS instead of using other computers or even 3rd party GUI's.



#21 high voltage OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jul 8, 2018 1:03 AM

normal_WP_20180708_08_49_45_Pro.jpg

 

Two excellent books.

 

Think: IBM chair asking upon checking the finished product, What's that RED thing in the middle of the keyboard? Wow, panic, red is communism...

Answer: Oh, it's the TrackPoint, the colour is Amber. Chair: Ok, that's fine... Classic.


Edited by high voltage, Sun Jul 8, 2018 1:07 AM.


#22 Flojomojo OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 14, 2018 7:38 AM

Keatah -- not sure if you've seen this blog, but it looks to be exactly what you're looking for

https://www.filfre.n...-rapprochement/

 

I think the author is an active member here



#23 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 14, 2018 9:39 AM

Yes! Lots of good suggestions so far. Thanks for these! I need to set aside time to do all this reading.



#24 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Mar 21, 2019 8:35 PM

Some 8 months later and I have amassed enough programming, technical, theory-of-ops, repair, and semi-technical layperson style material for many a-nights reading. It's amazing what has recently become available.



#25 boxpressed OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Mar 21, 2019 9:06 PM

I forget which edition of Upgrading and Repairing PCs I have, but it came with fun DVD of the author walking you through some basic PC repair. Book and DVD are great resources.






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