Typical PCs Each Year


In 1989, Windows/386 was being advertised heavily, the 386 was all the rage and Novell had the networking market in its pocket.

VGA graphics were still too expensive for all but those in the market for a premium PC, making EGA still the de-facto standard on many PCs, but budget-minded buyers could still easily opt for Hercules monochrome or CGA. This year, NEC, who invented the first multisync monitor recently, began a collaboration with eight other graphics card and monitor manufacturers to create the VESA standard. As PC Magazine wrote in their May edition: "When EGA was introduced, it was clearly a turbulent time for video standards. The Multisync promised shelter from obsolescene as a storm of suggested standards raged among the board, software, and computer manufacturers. It even offered analog input. We all wondered what anyone would ever do with that. Now with the advent of VGA, the advantages of analog are abundantly clear. Trouble is, each board manufacturer and software vendor has their own idea of how best to achieve 800 by 600: what horizontal timing to use, what vertical refresh rate, what mode number.

The Intel 386SX, released the year before, was now becoming a realistic option for those looking to upgrade from their aging XT or 286 computer. Interestingly, as this point you never saw the term "386DX" to differentiate between the original CPU and a PC that came with the new 386SX. A PC would be advertised simply as "386" or sometimes "32-bit Intel 80386", so the omission of the 'SX' suffix or the calling out of the fact it was 32-bit was the telltale.


A budget model looked something like this:

  • An 8088 at 10 MHz, or 80286 10 MHz
  • 640 KB memory
  • Single 360 KB floppy drive
  • Monochrome or CGA graphics on a 12" monitor

A mid-range model looked something like this:

  • 80286 running at 12 MHz
  • 1 MB memory
  • 1.2 MB floppy drive
  • 20 MB or 40 MB hard disk
  • EGA graphics on a 14" monitor

A premium PC looked like this:

  • 80386 running at 20 MHz
  • 1 MB up to 16 MB memory
  • 1.2 MB floppy drive
  • VGA graphics on a 14" mono or colour monitor


In October of this year NEC launched the very first colour laptop - the ProSpeed CSX. This still used DSTN technology (not the newer TFT technology that was still only mono at this time), and was able to display 16 colours on-screen from a palette of 64. It could display up to 640 x 400 resolution, making it EGA-capable. As the name alluded, the ProSpeed CSX ran one of the new Intel 386SX chips and carried a list price of $8,499 for the 2 MB/42 MB hard disk version, or $9,499 for the 4 MB/100 MB model - this compared with the non-colour PowerMate SX whose list price began at $6,595.

By January 1989, the cheapest laptops running 8088 or 8086 CPUswere down to about $780.






Dot matrix printers were standard fare by 1989, and prices had come down to very reasonable levels. Cheap 9-pin printers with 120 cps (characters per second) speeds were as low as $139. A decent Epson 24-pin LQ (letter quality) printer would set you back more like $339. Competition was steep with the key players being Epson, Citizen, Panasonic, Star and Okidata.

Laser printers such as the HP Laserjet II were upwards of $1,600.


In 1989 we had a very broad range of monitor options, ranging from amber or green screen monochrome 12" models for around $90, up to CGA RGB colour monitors for $200-$250, and EGA monitors for $100-$150 extra. At the top end of the scale were colour VGA multiscan/multisync monitors which sold for closer to $450. Key players in the monitor industry in the U.S. were Magnavox, Samsung, NEC and Mitsubishi.

Hard Disks

Seagate's trusty ST-225 20 MB, 65ms hard disk is still being sold. In a kit with its controller, cable, mounting hardware and installation manual, this was sold for $239. The ST-238R (32 MB RLL hard disk) sold for $259. Another old favourite, the ST-251-1 (40 MB MFM hard disk) was selling for just $349 as a bare drive. Competing with that was Miniscribe's 40 MB (model 8450 with 46ms access time) kit which sold for $309.
The Seagate ST296N (80 MB capacity SCSI drive with 28ms access time) sold for $529.

Hard cards (or Card Drives as some adverts called them) were also popular. Most used Miniscribe hard disks, and were compatible with IBM PC/XT (so they were mounted to an 8-bit ISA controller card). Here are some prices from October this year:

Card Drive 20 (Model 8225 hard disk, 68ms access time) = $279
Card Drive 30 (Model 8438 hard disk, 68ms access time) = $309
Card Drive 40 (Model 8450 hard disk, 46ms access time) = $349.

The largest capacity drives available at this time were Miniscribe's M9380E, which was a 340 MB ESDI hard disk. It had an average access time of just 16.5ms and cost $1,795 !


Other Stuff

Category Item Details Price
Graphics Card ATI VGA card $209
Graphics Card Everex Micro Enhancer $149
Graphics Card Genoa Super Hi-Res $179
Graphics Card Genoa VGA 5100/5200 $239/$359
Graphics Card Hercules Graphics $181
Graphics Card Hercules InColor $219
Graphics Card Orchid Designer VGA $299
Graphics Card Paradise Auto-Switch 480 $179
Graphics Card Paradise VGA Plus $265
Graphics Card Paradise VGA Professional $479
Graphics Card Quadram EGA Plus $179
Graphics Card STB Chauffeur HT $135
Graphics Card STB Multi Res II $169
Graphics Card VEGA Deluxe $189
Graphics Card VEGA VGA $265
Multifunction Board AST Advantage with 128K RAM $229
Multifunction Board AST Advantage Premium with 512K RAM $319
Multifunction Board AST SixPak Plus with 384K RAM $245
Multifunction Board AST Rampage 286 $385
Multifunction Board AST Hotshot $355
Multifunction Board Everex Mini Magic with 0K RAM $59
Multifunction Board Intel AboveBoard 286 with 512K RAM $379
Multifunction Board Intel AboveBoard PS286 with 512K RAM $409
Multifunction Board Intel InBoard 386 with adapter $1,075
Multifunction Board Intel InBoard 386 for PC with 1 MB RAM $799
Multifunction Board Intel AboveBoard II for PS/2 with 0K RAM $259
Multifunction Board Orchid Jet 386 with adapter $975
Multifunction Board Orchid PC Net Starter Kit $735
Multifunction Board Orchid Tiny Turbo 286 $259
Multifunction Board Orchid RAMQuest with 1 MB RAM $479
Multifunction Board Orchid Twin Turbo $349
Monitor NEC Multisync II $589
Monitor NEC Multisync Plus $879
Monitor NEC Multisync GS $199
Monitor NEC Multisync XL 19" $2,199
Monitor IBM Mono 8503 $209
Monitor IBM Color Display 8512 $459
Monitor IBM Color Display 8513 $559
Monitor IBM Color Display 8514 $1,195
Monitor Princeton MAX12 $149
Monitor Princeton HX12 $419
Monitor Princeton HX12E $449
Monitor Princeton Ultrasync $529
Monitor Magnavox Amber 776 $79
Monitor Magnavox RGB80 $259
Monitor Magnavox EGA 9CM053 $369
Math Coprocessor 8087-3 $104
Math Coprocessor 80287-10 $269
Math Coprocessor 80287-8 $229
Math Coprocessor 80387-16 $399
Math Coprocessor 80387-20 $599
Math Coprocessor 80387-25 $799
Mouse Logitech Mouse C7 Plus $74
Mouse MouseSystems Mouse $89
Mouse Genius Mouse GM6+ $59
Mouse Microsoft Mouse with Windows $135
Mouse Microsoft Mouse with PC Paintbrush $99



Cheapest/Clearance PCs


Standard PCs


Premium PCs




Cheapest/Clearance PCs

Swan XT10

8088-1 4.77/10 MHz, 640 KB RAM, Phoenix BIOS, 0 wait state, 150W power supply, single 360 KB floppy drive, 1 serial, 1 paralle, 1 game, 8 expansion slots, enhanced 101-key keyboard, clock/calendar with battery backup, Swan setup & utilities diskette. No display or graphics card. For mono, total = $699. For CGA, it's $869, for EGA $1,098, and for VGA it's $1,198.

Adding a 2nd floppy drive adds $80.
Adding a 32 MB hard disk (40ms) adds $280.



Standard PCs

Most PC manufacturers and resellers would advertise their range roughly grouped by the CPU (since that made up the largest difference both in price and performance), along with the base price for the one with the lowest amount of memory and monochrome graphics. They would then show either the upgrade cost for certain additions or would just show the new total price tag as you added more memory, bigger hard drive and moved to colour graphics. In such as highly-competitive market, manufacturers would look for the smallest details to help differentiate their offering from the competition. Some of these differentiators were subtle while others were actually key influencers in your decision to buy from that company. Here are just a few of these differentiators:

  • Hard Drive
    • Disk controller supports 1:1 interleave
    • Hard disk has a 32K cache
    • Hard disk access time, e.g. 65MB (22ms) hard drive
    • Branded hard disk, e.g. Seagate
    • Hard drive technology specified, e.g. 150 Meg ESDI Hard Drive, or 80MB SCSI drive
  • Memory and Cache
    • Page interleaved memory architecture, e.g. Memory interleave for near 0 Wait State
    • Motherboard cache, e.g. High speed Zero-Wait 64K read- and write-back SRAM Cache.
    • Maximum memory you could expand to, e.g. 1MB of zero wait DRAM expandable to 16MB
    • LIM EMS support, e.g. fully compatible with LIM EMS specification 4.0
  • Graphics & Monitor
    • 16-bit VGA card (as opposed to 8-bit)
    • Branded monitor, e.g. 14" Seiko 1430 SVGA/8514A monitor
    • Maximum resolution stated, e.g. 14" SVGA (1024 x 768) monitor
    • Branded graphics card, e.g. Paradise 16 Plus or ATI VGA Wonder card 16-bit with 512K
  • Motherboard, Chipset and BIOS
    • named motherboard, e.g. Mylex/AMI 386 System Board
    • quality of the motherboard, e.g. Eight-layer Design Made in U.S.A.
    • named chipset, e.g. Advanced Chips & Technologies NEAT Chip Set
    • named, e.g. Phoenix BIOS
    • 384K shadow RAM caching for BIOS
    • the number of expansion slots, e.g. 8 Expansion slots: 1) 32-bit, 4) 16-bit, 3) 8-bit
    • Actual performance stats from known utilities stated, e.g. Norton SI = 22.0
  • Case, PSU and overall package
    • Power supply maximum load stated, e.g. 200W Power Supply
    • The number of drive bays stated, e.g. 5 device bays (3 Exposed, 2 Internal)
    • Other goodies, e.g. Rugged case with security lock and LED indicators
    • Bundled software, e.g. MS-DOS 5 and GW-BASIC included
    • Length of Support contract, e.g. includes our 24-hour a day toll-free Technical Support and Customer Satisfaction Package
ALR Powerflex 80286 @ 12 MHz, 1 MB RAM, 0 wait state paged, 40 MB hard disk, 1.44 MB floppy drive, 6 expansion slots, 4 internal drive bays $1,495
AST Bravo/286 (Model 5) 80286 @ 8 MHz, 512 KB RAM, 0 wait state, 1.2 MB floppy drive, 3 expansion slots, 2 internal drive bays. Add 40 MB hard disk for $850. $1,245
Austin 286/12.5 Intel 80286 @ 12.5 MHz, 1 MB RAM (optional 2 or 4 MB), 5 x 16-bit expansion slots (full size), 16-bit VGA adapter, shadow RAM caching (BIOS caching), 8K high speed hard disk cache, 3.5" 1.44MB or 5.25" 1.2MB floppy drive, EMS LIMM 4.0 support, enhanced 101-key keyboard, IDE hard drive controller, 2 serial ports and 1 parallel port, 1 PS/2 mouse port, clock with battery backup, 80287 math coprocessor socket, American-made motherboard, Phoenix BIOS, fully DOS and OS/2 compatible, monochrome VGA with 40 MB 28ms hard drive.
Upgrade to a 72 MB hard drive: $1,995.
Upgrade to a 110 MB 15ms hard drive: $2,295.
VGA color (640x480) with 40 MB 28ms hard drive: $1,995.
VGA color (640x480) with 72 MB hard drive: $2,195.
VGA color (640x480) with 110 MB hard drive: $2,495.
VGA color (800x600) with 40 MB 28ms hard drive: $2,195.
VGA color (800x600) with 72 MB hard drive: $2,395.
VGA color (800x600) with 110 MB hard drive: $2,695.

Advert claims performance of 2.01 MIPS, compared to Dell System 200/286 scoring 2.00, AST Premium 80286 scoring 1.80, and IBM Model 50/286 scoring 1.58.
Swan 286/12 80286 12/6 MHz, Phoenix BIOS, 512K RAM expandable to 1MB, 0 Wait State, 200W Power Supply, 1.2 MB floppy drive, Ports: 1 serial, 1 parallel, 1 game, dual floppy/dual H.D. controller, 8 expansion slots, 101 key Enhanced keyboard, clock calendar w/ battery backup, Swan Setup & Utilities Diskette.
*Monitor not included.
Single floppy with mono: $1,249, 14" flat mono: $1,298, EGA: $1,648, VGA: $1,748
40MB (40ms) hard drive with mono: $1,649, 14" flat mono: $1,698, EGA: $2,048, VGA: $2,148
80MB (28ms) hard drive with mono: $1,949, 14" flat mono: $1,998, EGA: $2,348, VGA: $2,448

Premium PCs

Austin Computers 386/20 80386 @ 20 MHz, 1 MB RAM, 16-bit VGA display adapter, 64K static RAM cache (35ns), 8 expansion slots, 40 MB hard disk (28ms, 1:1 interleave), 3.5" or 5.25" High-density floppy drive, IDE or ESDI controller, Enhanced 101-key keyboard, Clock and battery backup. Monochrome monitor and video card. As above but with VGA color (640x480) = $2,995. As above but with VGA color (800x600) = $3,195. For 72 MB hard disk, add $200. For 110 MB hard disk, add $600. For 160 MB ESDI hard disk add $900.

Advert claims performance of 4.33 MIPS, compared to ALR System 386/20 scoring 3.54, IBM Model 70 386/20 scoring 3.50, and Compaq 386S scoring 2.52.
Swan 386/20D 80386-20 (Norton SI rating of 22.0), MS-DOS, OS/2 & UNIX compatible, Phoenix BIOS, 1 MB RAM (expandable to 16 MB), shadow RAM for video & BIOS, memory interleave for near 0 wait state, 200W power supply, 5 device bays, 1.2 MB or 1.44 MB floppy, dual floppy/hdd controller with 1:1 interleave, 2 serial, 1 parallel port, 8 expansion slots, enhanced 101-key keyboard, clock/calendar w/ battery backup. No video card or monitor.
For mono, add $500. For 14" flat mono, add $549. For VGA mono, add $700. For VGA color, add $999.
To add a 48 MB hard disk (28ms access time), add $500.
To add an 80 MB hard disk (28ms access time), add $850.
To add a 150 MB ESDI hard disk (18ms access time), add $1,495.



Amstrad PPC640 8 MHz processor, 640K, supertwist LCD display, 2400 baud Internal Modem, 101-key AT style keyboard, parallel & serial ports, dual 3.5" drives, MS-DOS 3.3 $895
Mitsubishi MP286L Twin floppy laptop = $1,985. For 20 MB hard disk variant, price is $2,289. For 40 MB hard disk variant, price is $2,789. $1,985
NEC ProSpeed 286

For 20 MB version it's $3,309.
For 40 MB version it's $3,389.

NEC ProSpeed 386 40 MB hard disk. $4,385
NEC Ultralight 2 MB RAM $2,279
Sharp PC4602 Twin floppy laptop $1,435
Sharp PC4641 20 MB hard disk laptop $2,285
Sharp PC5541 386 CPU with 40 MB hard disk $3,589
Sharp PC7241 286 CPU with 40 MB hard disk $1,989
Toshiba T1000   $625
Toshiba T1200F 10 MHz/20 MB $1,289
Toshiba T1200FB   $1,375
Toshiba T1200H   $625
Toshiba T1000   $625
Toshiba T1000   $625
Toshiba T1000   $625
Zenith SupersPort 2   $1,485
Zenith SupersPort 20   $2,285
Zenith SupersPort 286 20 MB hard disk version = $2,939. 40 MB hard disk version = $3,378 $2,939