IBM’s Home Computer, 1977

IBM PC cabinet sketch_for web_

IBM’s Home Computer, 1977 – Beige, Red, or Teak?

In what seems like a hundred years ago, I was part of the team at the Eliot Noyes office that developed IBM’s 1977 version of a home computer. I was just out of college and was a very junior member of the group. I could turn this into a long story, and at some point I may (!) But I thought I would just mention here that along with many, many other design considerations, we tried to envision how a computer (which up until this point were big evil corporate machines) could possibly fit into a home. The prototypes created for IBM were a bit more interesting than their 1981 PC – this 1977 project was envisioned in three versions: beige, deep red, and teak. Teak? Yep – a real wood cabinet.

It actually wasn’t too far fetched, since expensive audio systems at the time (such as Bang & Olufsen) were also housed in wood cabinets. Our concept was also based on the idea that a major use of a personal computer would be entertainment – videos, games, etc. That idea was definitely ahead of its time. However, this wasn’t IBM’s first effort. Separate home computer projects within IBM, some also envisioned in various colors, date back to 1973. At the time, the design teams weren’t privy to various other projects within IBM. Similarities, if any, were the result of some standard guidelines.

This project was top secret at the time, so I wasn’t able to keep any photographs of the models, although it’s similar to the sketch pictured above. If I ever uncover any photos I’ll post them here, in case anyone is interested. I do have, however, deep in my files, a wiring diagram I made of the components, as first proposed to the Noyes team by IBM engineers. It’s a tangled rat’s nest, and now probably an interesting artifact in consumer electronics history.

For more on the Eliot Noyes office, see Gordon Bruce’s book, titled appropriately, Eliot Noyes.

Dan Formosa, January 14 2009