The greatest home computers – ranked!

Fighting through the myriad competitors of the 1980s, the x86-based PC is now inarguably the dominant computer platform for games. The original IBM 5150 was expensive at $1,565, but its open architecture and adoption of MS-DOS allowed multiple third-party manufactures to build cheap clones and establish a technological standard. IBM may have lost control of the PC industry years ago, but its decision to use off-the-shelf components and to publish the technical reference manuals behind its technology are why you’re playing on a generic PC and not the ZX Spectrum 16GB.getintopc

IBM PC (1981)

The last truly great gaming home computer before the dominance of the PC and the 32-bit games consoles, the Amiga saw an explosion of creative talent with studios such as Sensible Software, LucasArts, DMA Design, Bitmap Brothers and Psygnosis creating complex, visually rich adventures and opening up new game design conventions and ideas that stand today. It also inspired a vast demo scene of underground coders and artists, many still creating work today.

Commodore Amiga (1985)

With its huge 64KB of RAM, vibrant colourful visuals (including hardware-supported sprites and scrolling) and revolutionary SID sound chip, the C64 was the most powerful and multifaceted games machine of its era. It could handle everything from arcade conversions (Bubble Bobble, Green Beret) to experimental puzzle games (Sentinel, Hacker, Frankie Goes to Hollywood) to brilliant multiplayer sports sims (every Epyx Games title), and coders kept finding new depths throughout its 20 million-selling lifespan.

Commodore 64 (1982)

The people’s choice, the gaming platform of the everyman, Sinclair’s 48K Spectrum, with its rubber keys, strange clashing visuals and tinny sound was absolutely pivotal in the development of the British games industry. From Jet Set Willy and Horace Goes Skiing to Knight Lore and Lords of Midnight it drew the absolute best from coders, many of whom would go on to found the country’s biggest studios.

ZX Spectrum 48K (1982)

While the UK had the BBC Micro, the US had the Apple II, a serious, highly expandable, multipurpose home computer, which was accessible enough to attract a burgeoning generation of game coders. It the first major computer to ship with BASIC in ROM, colour graphics and up to 48k of RAM and its successors kept refining the specs to maintain its popularity. As for games? Lode Runner, Choplifter, Prince of Persia, Castle Wolfenstein, Ultima, John Madden Football … they all debuted here.

Apple II (1977)

If you went to school in the UK in the 1980s you’ll instantly recognise the BBC Micro, the 32k machine designed by Acorn and the BBC Computer Literacy Project to bring programming to the mainstream. It was a serious, expensive machine, but its ubiquity in classrooms provided a gateway into games development for wannabe whiz kids and will be for ever known for Elite, Repton and Granny’s Garden.

Atari 800 (1979)

The dominant Japanese personal computer of the 1980s faced stiff competition from the Sharp X1 and Fujitsu FM7, but held on to its leading position through a series of ever more powerful models. The PC-88 boasted games from all the major arcade and console developers including Sega, Namco, Square, Hudson and even Nintendo, which released the little known Super Mario Bros Special for the machine.

BBC Micro (1981)

Launched alongside the technically inferior Atari 400, the 800 was a true gaming home computer, with custom co-processors to handle graphics and sound and four joystick ports, allowing multiplayer titles such as MULE, Airline and Dandy. Atari was also able to call on its own team of experienced developers for classic titles Star Raiders and Missile Command as well a community of bedroom coders via the Atari Program Exchange (APX) initiative, essentially creating its own formative indie scene.

Commodore Vic-20 (1981)

Sold as “the friendly computer” the Vic-20 was designed for accessibility, with a low price ($300), colourful graphics, a ROM cartridge port and lots of accessories. Following the more business-orientated Commodore PET, it was one of the first home computers to really acknowledge the importance of games in its marketing and despite its teeny 5KB memory, saw plenty of landmark titles such as Sword of Fargoal and Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time.