Throwback Thursday: Kaypro II Stole My Heart

You never forget your first PC -- especially when it weighs 29 pounds and boasts a jaw-dropping 64 KB of RAM.

Ellis Booker, Technology Journalist

October 23, 2014

3 Min Read

Were you born Before Computers Everywhere (BCE)? If so, you know it's nearly impossible to convey to young people today how we lived in this pre-PC, pre-online, pre-cellular data world. They can't quite grasp it, this primitive, joyless, grey world. Besides, they're usually staring at their smartphones and not listening to you anyway.

But I need to tell you about it, children! (To help you listen, I've taken the liberty of shutting off the WiFi and hiding every tablet, laptop, desktop, smartphone, smartwatch, Raspberry Pi, and Internet-connected appliance in the house. Now I'll pause until you stop crying.)

The most important thing to understand is that early PC enthusiasts knew, even in the mid-1970s, that we were a vanguard, part of something big. Indeed, we were a vanguard.

[Driverless cars are just the beginning. Prepare for the era of the smart machine. Read 10 Robots Changing The World.]

Even otherwise smart businesses were irrationally slow to embrace desktop computing. All of my jobs between 1980 and 1983 had me working on IBM Selectric typewriters, the gold standard for office technology at the time. In fact, it wasn't until 1984, when I joined a startup trade magazine, that I got my hands on a PC.

Okay, so it wasn't my PC. It was delivered one day for my boss, the publisher, who promptly placed it on the expansive desk in his corner office. We'd received it as a review unit shortly after the machine's official introduction in August.

One afternoon, as my boss was away doing what trade magazine publishers do (i.e., making more money than all the writers, editors, and designers combined), a colleague and I snuck into his office.

It's true, what they say: You never forget your first.

As the late afternoon sun danced through the office blinds and the air conditioning hummed from somewhere deep within the walls of the office building, we booted up that IBM Personal Computer/AT.

Fantastically, the AT sported a 20-MB hard drive. "Do you realize how many floppies that is?" my workmate asked in a hushed tone. "A whole lot," I replied, showing off my intuitive gift for numbers.

The original AT ran at 6 MHz; it was superseded by an 8-MHz model sporting a 30-MB hard drive. But by then, I'd moved on to my true love. I was using a computer that taught me everything I would need to know about where the world was headed in terms of connectivity and mobility. I was using a Kaypro II.


The Kaypro II, released in 1982, featured two 5¼-inch double-density floppy-disk drives, 64 KB of RAM, and ran Digital Research's CP/M operating system. Weighing in at 29 pounds, it and other PCs like it were dubbed transportables or, more cheekily, luggables.

But I didn't care. Hauling this PC, which was roughly the size of a sewing machine, through airports, I'd look disdainfully upon the other travelers, who didn't have a computer -- much less a mobile computer like mine!

At my destination, all I needed was my acoustic coupler, CompuServe account, and (sometimes) a screwdriver to send stories electronically to my editor back in New York.

Arthur C. Clarke, a childhood hero of mine who wrote novels and screenplays on a Kaypro II from his home in Sri Lanka, and I were already living in the year 2001. I loved that Kaypro, all the way down to its 9-inch green monochrome CRT.

What was your favorite Kaypro II memory? Do you have another favorite PC from the 1980s? Share your story in the comments below.

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About the Author(s)

Ellis Booker

Technology Journalist

Ellis Booker has held senior editorial posts at a number of A-list IT publications, including UBM's InternetWeek, Mecklermedia's Web Week, and IDG's Computerworld. At Computerworld, he led Internet and electronic commerce coverage in the early days of the web and was responsible for creating its weekly Internet Page. Most recently, he was editor-in-chief of Crain Communication Inc.’s BtoB, the only magazine devoted to covering the intersection of business strategy and business marketing. He ran BtoB, as well as its sister title Media Business, for a decade. He is based in Evanston, Ill.

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