In the early days of personal computers, there was something of a delay in the technology crossing the Atlantic, and when American computers did arrive in the UK, they tended to be expensive relative to local incomes. Thus for example the absence of Tandy left a niche for Sinclair's remarkable low-cost ZX80 and ZX81; the high price of the Apple II left a niche for the BBC micro to be adopted in British schools; the late arrival of the IBM PC meant the Commodore PET survived significantly longer in Europe than on its home shores.

However, this effect became weaker over time.

In September 1986, Compaq in the US launched the Deskpro 386, the first computer based on Intel's new 32-bit chip, and a very significant development for the industry as a whole, being the first time a non-IBM company established that sort of leadership within the IBM PC standard.

When did the first 386 PC go on sale in the UK, and how much did it cost?

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    Timing only applied to the 386 but I think we ha a gray import ASAP. All the others are due to price
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 6:20
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    It was likely before 1987; this article trumpets the UK launch of what Toshiba claimed to be the first portable 386 in the world, in September 1987.
    – Tommy
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


It's not a completely robust answer, but I found the following text archived at Computer Business Review from March 1987 that's primarily about Zenith's plans:

In the UK, 27% of Compaq’s revenue comes from its 80386

The Compaq Deskpro had originally been announced only six months before that article, in September 1986.

So based on the timeline:

  • a 386 was first announced by Compaq in September 1986; and
  • by March 1987 Compaq not only had a sales operation in the UK, but had one long enough for the percentage breakdown of its revenue sources to be known to its competitors.

I therefore think it's likely that Compaq's 386 was directly available in the UK from Compaq itself shortly after the US launch, and given that Compaq had the first 386 computer in the world it was very likely also the first 386 in the UK.

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    It was supposedly available in France in November 1986, costing an eye-watering 59,330 FF ex VAT in its base configuration, so it was very likely available in September or October in the UK. I think Zenith was the next manufacturer to offer a 386, a few months later. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 14:24
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    Also, Compaq definitely had a sales operation in the UK before then, their Portables were quite popular. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 15:14

You question says that the UK computers were produced only to fill 'a niche' left by the U.S. computers but that's not the case. These were large, wide-open markets at that time.

The BBC micro, for instance, was a attractive product with better capabilities than the Apple II: faster, better screen modes, better BASIC, better OS.

The ZX80 and particularly ZX81 succeeded because they were so low cost (£100-odd or less) that they pulled non-computing spontaneous buyers into the computer market.

Neither the Tandy nor Apple II had 'left' a 'niche' in the market. The Apple II was very expensive and overpriced for what it was. If sitting side by side and if the same price, the BBC Micro is the much better computer by spec'. And the Apple II was actually about three times the price of a BBC.

It's like suggesting that Ferrari has 'left a niche' in the family car market that the Ford Focus managed to fill. Ferrari can't make a £10k car, they do £150k cars which are poor value and vastly overpriced for that biggest market, the family car market. But Apple weren't making a Ferrari, just a slower Focus while asking Ferrari prices.

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    This doesn't answer the question asked, "When did the first 386 PC go on sale in the UK, and how much did it cost?" What you wrote should have been a comment to the question, not an answer. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 10:54
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    @No'amNewman, a larger part of the question as written is a long premise, which this challenges. It is far too long for a comment.
    – TonyM
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 11:08

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