Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MacBook Air - Almost as Thin as a Sinclair ZX80

I just watched the photos and text from today's keynote at MacWorld. Steve Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air, described as the world's thinnest notebook computer. I suddenly recalled being at a computer graphics user group at UCSC, circa 1982.

One of the hobbyists in that group had a Sinclair ZX80, a kit computer from the UK that was notable as the first personal computer available for under £100. The thing that makes me think of that early PC in relation to Apple's new notebook is that the ZX80 was even smaller and thinner than a MacBook Air. We usually think of early PC's as chunky monstrosities like the Osborne 1 or the Commodore PET that nonetheless cost over $1500.

It's interesting to recall that more than 25 years ago, the $100 portable computer was a reality, though with far less computing power than a modern alarm clock.


Matt Chaput said...

I think you're misremembering. Go to wikipedia and look at the ZX80 and ZX81 -- they're both quite thick. They were awfully cheap, though :)

Bill Karwin said...

Well, I looked at the picture in Wikipedia before I made my post. It looked exactly how I remembered it. It had a membrane keyboard, which made that part of the ZX80 so thin that it actually felt quite flimsy. But you're right, the riser behind the keyboard was thicker.

gareth_bowles said...

That brings back memories; I had a Spectrum, which was a ZX80/81 update that had colour output and more RAM (up to a massive 48k !)

One thing that made the ZX computers thin was that they didn't have a display or onboard storage - you had to hook them up to a TV and a cassette recorder for that.