The home computer is a consumer-friendly word for the second generation of microcomputers (the technical term that was previously used), entering the market in 1977 and becoming common during the 1980s.
The home computer became affordable for the general public due to the mass production of the silicon chip based microprocessor and as the name indicates, tended to be used in the home rather than in business/industrial contexts (the name also marks the difference from the first generation of microcomputers (from 1974/75 onwards) which catered mostly to engineers and hobbyists with good soldering skills, as they were often sold as kits to be assembled by the customer). The home computer largely died out at the end of the decade (in the U.S.) or in the early 1990s (in Europe) due to the rise of the IBM PC compatible personal computer (the IBM PC and its clones are not covered in this article).
In a manner resembling the expansion of new animal forms in the Cambrian period, large numbers of new machines of all types, including such exotica as the Forth-based Jupiter ACE appeared on the market, and disappeared again. A few types remained for much longer, such as the BBC Micro and Commodore 64 which still have a devoted following. However by the end of the decade most were squeezed out between the IBM compatible Personal Computer and the newer generations of video game consoles because they each used their own incompatible formats. The PC revolution was initiated by the August 1981 release of the IBM PC (its original designation actually being the quite anonymous, classic IBM-nomenclature, "IBM 5150").
Many home computers were superficially similar, some having a very cheap-to-manufacture keyboard integrated into the processor unit and displaying 20–40 column text output on a home television. Many used ordinary and widely available compact audio cassettes as a (notoriously slow and sometimes unreliable) storage mechanism since floppy disk drives were very expensive at the time, especially in Europe (often a disk drive would be priced higher than the computer itself due to its more complicated mechanical construction, and thus, manufacturing cost). All in all, cheapness was the order of the day for most of these machines, in order to get the prices low enough to encourage ordinary-income people to buy. A prime buyer segment were families with school-age children.
All modern desktop computers employ an operating system (OS) which acts as an interface between the operator and the computer's internal hardware (memory, CPU, etc). Home computers most often had their OS, of which one part was usually a BASIC interpreter, stored in one or more ROM chips. The term software commonly denoted application programs sitting 'above' the OS to perform a specific task, e.g. wordprocessors or games. As many older computers have become obsolete it has become popular amongst enthusiasts to enable one type of computer to emulate another via the use of emulation software. Thus, many of the operating environments for the computers listed below can be recreated on a modern PC.
Home computers were mostly based on 8-bit microprocessor technology, typically the MOS Technology 6502 or the Zilog Z80. A large variety of 8-bit home computers were designed and marketed during the early to mid-1980s. These were then gradually supplanted by the PC (mostly the PC compatibles—clones—costing significantly less than the IBM PC) and the PC's competing Motorola 68000-based home/personal computers appearing from 1984 onwards. Some vendors attempted to prolong the market life of their 8-bit computers by price cuts and other means (see, for example, GEOS), but their era had ended. See the list of home computers by category for a comprehensive listing of most well-known home computers, divided by wordlength (8, 16-bit) and CPU architecture.
Notable home computers
The list below shows the more popular and/or historically significant home/personal computers (and computer ranges) of the 1980s and their initial year of release. A plethora of home computers came out during this period, but most failed to have a significant impact on the market or the history of home computing and as such are not mentioned. Different models in a line of compatible computers are listed as a whole, such as the TRS-80 and Apple II families.
Notable game consoles
The list below includes the most popular and/or significant video game consoles of the home computer era. Though not general purpose computers, many consoles competed for consumer money in the same market as the more low-end home computers (and used ~similar hardware). This market was also flooded with several oddball or badly marketed systems that never achieved much success; accordingly, those systems are not mentioned here.