personal computer

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A modern personal computer



Often attributed to Stewart Brand (1974), but in use before, see quotes.



personal computer (plural personal computers)

  1. (dated) A small computer, built around a microprocessor, for use by one person at a time.
    Synonym: PC
    • 1962 November 3, John Mauchly, quotee, “Pocket Computer May Replace Shopping List”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      “There is no reason to suppose the average boy or girl cannot be master of a personal computer,” he said.
    • 1974, Stewart Brand, II Cybernetic Frontiers, New York: Random House, →ISBN, page 88:
      Meanwhile the research center is nifty as ever. Virtuoso Peter Deutsch is working on interactive systems for secretaries. They're part way along on the Dynabook fantasy with a working personal computer the size of a breadbox.

Usage notes


The term personal computer originally was broadly applied to any computer for personal use, for example the Apple II, and distinguished such computers from, say, large corporate mainframes or the smallest microcomputers designed primarily for electronic games or controlling equipment. From the launch of IBM's PC in the early 1980s the term often was used to imply an IBM PC or at least a computer highly compatible with that design, while the term PC was used even more specifically to mean some IBM-compatible computer, capable of running MS-DOS and software designed for the IBM PC and its successors.

Since then the definitions have become even less exact; hardware and software characteristics of what is generally recognised as a PC have changed greatly and the term personal computer is often used for desktop computers or non-dedicated servers that may run multi-user software and be accessed by more than one person (for example: via a local area network). More specific terms (such as desktop, laptop, home computer, Linux workstation), all of which could be based on personal computer hardware, tend to be preferred now unless a very broad term is required.

Coordinate terms




Further reading