The Plummeting Price of Home Computers in the early-mid 1980s

Just for fun, I spent some time going through old issues of New Zealand Bits and Bytes recording prices of popular home microcomputers from late 1982 (when the magazine first started) to March, 1985. After that time prices for home computers started to disappear from the magazine as advertisements focused more on higher-end computers, or the newer "home" computers like the Amstrads and Spectrum Plus.

The prices I gathered were (as far as I could ascertain) for the computer console (i.e. an integrated keyboard and computer) ONLY. Anything else (even a cassette deck!) was extra...usually $120 or so. All the computers shown could use the family television as a monitor.

It's hard to make international comparisons but (from memory) the NZ dollar's value fluctuated at this time between 0.45 and 0.60 US cents.

Here are the results:

You can see prices coming down as the years went by. It's a good reflection of how the price paid for capability changed over a relatively short time as technology advanced. It also shows just how expensive these things were initially given their primary use was computer education (i.e. learning about and how to use an computer) and gaming. Of those shown, only the Commodore 64 was practical for home word processing and data storage, but then only if you splashed out on a disk drive and printer (and probably a screen too). With those you were looking at a total package in excess of $3000.

Where the lines stop short, it's because I couldn't find any price data in Bits and Bytes. However, some of these models went even lower before they disappeared from the market. I seem to remember the ZX81 falling to $99 at the end of it's life and the C-64 getting to around $350 or so eventually, the latter being sold at chain stores like Woolworths or K-Mart.

Some well-known computers of the era do not feature on the chart. Computers like the Apple IIe (with one disk drive and 80 column green screen) were close to $4000. This was well out of reach of the home market, as was the BBC Micro which stayed at $1995 for most of the period. Also absent is the Dick Smith System 80. While the model was popular in 1981/1982 and was within the price range of a "home computer", it was a different generation of machine targetted more at hobbiests than families. At September 1982 the System 80 was around $1295 but moved down to $995 by February 1983. It had disappeared from the market by late 1983. Finally, there were a number of other makes and models of home computer which also briefly flashed onto the New Zealand market during 1983-84, sometimes lasting only a matter of a few months. These are not shown.

Just to give some kind of benchmark for those prices for those that were not there at the time, my annual income over that period would have been about $18,000-$20,000 and I was in my early 20s. It was a young professional's salary and higher than the average wage (which I think was about $12,000-14,000). A "good" salary was something like $30-35,000. So you can see, forking out $1000 for a tape-driven computer you needed to plug into your TV was a fair whack! Upgrading cost the earth.

Buying computers those days was a "big" family decision!


30th May, 2009
Updated Jan, 2013

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