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Most information online states that the 80286 (or iAPX 286 as it was initially known) was first available in February 1982. But information about it from this time is hard to come by, and famously it was not used in PC-class computers for multiple years after this date.

However, according to the June 1982 issue of DTACK Grounded, it was not actually available at date of writing.

I'm trying to figure out when a homebrew computer designer would have first been able to get their hands on a 286, and roughly what kind of budget they'd need to build a system using one.

When was the 286 first available for purchase by end users (by which I mean when were the chips themselves available, not when the first commercially produced computer using them became available), and what was its cost?

  • Possible duplicate of First 80286 Based Computer – snips-n-snails Jul 9 '18 at 22:04
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    This question seems of a different shade than the proposed duplicate to me. – Jim MacKenzie Jul 10 '18 at 3:43
  • There was several early steppings of the 286. The IBM PC/AT in 1984 shipped with the B-step, but C-step came out soon after. – Yuhong Bao Nov 6 at 2:32
11

PC Magazine 11/1984 was first reporting about the PC/AT 5170. They quote a price tag of 3800 USD for the low end configuration with 256 KiB and 5800 USD for the high end configuration with 512 KiB RAM and 20 MiB HDD.

PC clone manufactures to produce 80286 based AT compatibles would have taken at least until 1985. You can try to find the first ads in PC Magazine via Google Books...

The issue 12/1984 already has seller advertising the 80287 for 350 USD. At that time obviously intended as an upgrade for the IBM 5170.

By August 1984 Wave Mate was offering an 80286 upgrade board for the original IBM XT, starting at 1995 USD.

By the end of 1985 more XT clones with 80286 were announced. Still no AT compatibles, but obviously manufacturers were using XT tech to bridge the gap until true AT compatible mainboards became available. The Kaypro 286 reviewed in that same issue seems to be already AT compatible. It's entry price is stated at 3000 USD for the 512 KiB FDD only version.

Amusing side note: p136 talks about overclocking the 286 from 6 to 8 MHz...

  • 1
    My first IBM-compatible computer was based on AMD 80c286 CPU clocked at 8/16 MHz (Turbo button). It also had that advanced NEAT or LEAP chipset, that could give me up to 900 KB DOS memory ( but I could not find the driver to activate it, and when I did it was already past Pentium-1 era :-D ) – Arioch Jul 9 '18 at 12:42
  • At the time, swapping crystals to go from 6 to 8MHz became commonplace enough that IBM just released an 8MHz model of the AT. Of course, they also introduced a check in the BIOS POST to ensure the clock rate stayed at 8MHz.This was countered by expansion boards that kept the clock at the stock setting for long enough to pass the POST check and then increase the clock rate higher. There were also 80287 accelerators that just sped up the clock rate for the chip's execution unit. – mschaef Jul 9 '18 at 16:51
6

When was the 286 first available for purchase by end users

Well, this of course depends a lot on the values of 'Available for Purchase' and 'End User'. Is the question about the chip, boards with a 286, or polished turnkey systems including some IBM compatibility?

If it's about general availability of working boards, it may be as early as late 1982/early 1983 when Intel started selling their iSBC 286 Multibus board, as well as systems based thereon (30?). S.C. Digital started selling their 80286 S-100 board in January of 1983. Lomas introduced their S-100 based Lightning 286 in March 1983. There was a whole wave of 80286 S-100 boards in 1983-1984.

It's safe to assume that turnkey 286 systems (S100 or Multibus) could be bought starting in Spring 1983.

and what was its cost?

That will need a bit more magazine flipping, as I assume you want real sales prices, not just announcements, right?

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    "I assume you want real sales prices, not just announcements, right?" Either would be useful: basically, I'm trying to figure out when a homebrew computer designer would have first been able to get their hands on a 286, and roughly what kind of budget they'd need to build a system using one. – Jules Jul 10 '18 at 1:05
1

There was no 'homebrew computer designer' at the time to deal with the huge requirements of an 80286 cpu. You couldn't do this in your basement. Radio shack came out with the Tandy 2000, using the 80186 in the early 80's. You don't get to this level of production single handedly. By this time, CPU/computer development was beyond the reach of most nerds playing with trash-80's. <- which I loved.

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    You couldn't? No, not necessarily. But maybe you wouldn't have done - The rare nerdy computer tinkerers of the time based their tinkering on less expensive material. – tofro Oct 24 '18 at 6:15
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    It was certainly possible to build reliable 80286 boards with wire wrap (I've done it in the past) timing requirements weren't too bad. – PeterI Oct 24 '18 at 10:14
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    I totally disagree with your assessment. Plenty of people built homebrew 8086 machines, running at 8MHz in many cases. The 80286 isn't that much harder, and of similar complexity to the 68020 which was a very popular choice for homebrewers. I'd pick the 80386 as the last mainstream processor that was accessible to homebrew design, at least at lower speeds (I certainly wouldn't homebrew a system at 40MHz, but iirc there was a 16MHz version which should have been achievable). Homebrew wasn't strictly an 8 bit phenomenon, even if it was easier to start back then – Jules Oct 24 '18 at 14:11
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    Also, I definitely disagree with any notion that building a machine with an 80186 is in way difficult ... The 186 was designed as an integrated computer, approaching what we'd call a "system on a chip" these days - CPU, integrated peripherals and enough memory to get a minimal system running without needing any other components. It was designed to be easy to integrate. (Of course this was also its downfall -- those integrated peripherals weren't PC compatible, so you needed to run a custom DOS version to make it useful, and PC games wouldn't run). – Jules Oct 24 '18 at 14:20
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The first AT compatible was made by Kaypro, available July 1985. Cost $4500 for the base model with 512K RAM and two 1.2Mb floppy drives.

https://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v11n7/25_Kaypro_286i_the_first_PC.php

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    Not the first 8028-based computer (since the AT (in 1984) came out before the AT compatibles, plus the question was specifically asking about the chip. – manassehkatz-Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '18 at 15:00

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