Since the personal computer debuted in 1971, a Darwin-esque evolution process has lifted the PC from modest beginnings to its current role as an indispensable part of life in the 21st century.

The PC first appeared in 1971 and over the past four decades it has evolved from clunky commercial flops into slick, high-power machines that play a huge role in our daily lives, both for work and play.

We've taken a look at some of the biggest developments during the history of the PC.

The first PCs

You might argue the abacus was the worlds first PC, but the Computer History Museum bestows that title upon the Kenbak-1, sold for $750 - that'd be about £470 now, and £375 then - through Scientific American in 1971.

"Designed by John V Blankenbaker using standard medium-scale and small-scale integrated circuits, the Kenbak-1 relied on switches for input and lights for output from its 256b memory," the Museum states. Only about 40 were sold.

Another PC known as the Datapoint 2200 was also first sold in 1971. It was more commercially successful than the Kenbak despite prices starting at $5,000, and remains notable for its CPU, an ancestor of the now-ubiquitous x86 instruction set.

Slow evolution

1973 brought the Micral, the first commercial PC that didn't come in a kit and was based on a microprocessor, the Intel 8008.

"[Thi] Truong, founder and president of the French company R2E, created the Micral as a replacement for minicomputers in situations that didn't require high performance," the Computer History Museum says.

The first workstation with a built-in mouse followed the next year in the Alto, a machine built at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Then in 1975 a visual display module designed by noted engineer Lee Felsenstein helped turn the PC into a gaming console.

NEXT PAGE: PCs go mainstream

  1. We look at how computers have evolved
  2. PCs go mainstream
  3. The Commodore 64
  4. Industry maneuvres
  5. The rise of Microsoft
  6. Apple makes a comeback
  7. Online gaming