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A Buyer's Guide For IBM 5150 Computers

The IBM 5150 PC was the first IBM personal computer marketed to home users, originally launched in 1981. It was notable at the time for having an open architecture which allowed third-party peripherals and custom software; it subsequently became known as the first computer to standardize the public's concept of a "PC." After nearly four decades, it is still popular with hobbyists, collectors, and enthusiasts of vintage computing, and many options can be found on eBay.

What software typically runs on an IBM 5150?

The most common operating systems on this line would have included IBM BASIC, PC-DOS 1.0, or CP/M-86. Later open source developers and hobbyists expanded on its flexible design to the extent of the machine's capabilities. A few of the vintage games ideal on the IBM 5150 include:

  • The "Wolfenstein 3D FPS" series
  • Early Sierra games like "King's Quest"
  • Early DOS ports of arcade games such as "Pac-Man"
  • The "Zork" series
  • Early Apogee titles such as "Commander Keen"
What should you look for when buying a used 5150?

You at least want a booting system with as much of the original hardware as possible, but a multicolor monitor is preferred over the original monochrome. The owner might be able to supply extra peripheral devices such as external drives and expansion cards. The IBM 5150 motherboard posts with a single short beep if there are no errors.

What modern day use might an IBM 5150 PC have?

Collectors and hobbyists with interest in vintage computing will want this to run classic games. There are some industrial environments which still use this model of computer day-to-day, such as the U.S. National Weather Service. The hobbyist demoscene community typically uses these for artistic works composed in assembly language, BASIC, or ANSI character graphics.

What are the technical specs of an IBM 5150?

Due to the open architecture design, there are hundreds of different possible configurations of used 5150s, with the typical speed being 4.77 MHz and typical memory running from 16KB to 256KB. The IBM 5150 motherboard came with five 8-bit ISA expansion slots; common builds had ports for joystick and keyboard, and connectivity for tape drives and 5.25 floppies. Used models might have been expanded with peripherals not even invented at the time the 5150 was no longer produced. A "typical" build would usually include:

  • Intel 8088 CPU
  • Two 5.25 floppy drives
  • IBM 5150 monitor - CGA
  • IBM 5150 M mechanical keyboard - 101 keys commonly
  • PS/2 mouse
Content provided for informational purposes only. eBay is not affiliated with or endorsed by IBM.
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