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IBM PC Compatible


by T.J. Deci

As a group, IBM Compatible PCs are the most popular home computers on the planet. Many of the basic design concepts found in IBM's original home computer are still seen in PCs built more than 20 years later. IBM began selling its first personal computer in 1981. Unlike other companies vying for a piece of the primitive PC market in the early '80s, such as Apple and Commodore, IBM built its machine from non-proprietary parts. Instead of manufacturing its own CPU, IBM's computer was built with an Intel processor. Even the machine's operating system came from a third-party company -- a Seattle upstart called Microsoft.

Through the next two decades, IBM continued to contribute to the evolution of the PC, establishing standards such as the ISA bus and the EGA video card. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the original design of the IBM PC, however, is the mix-and-match mentality it inspired. Since IBM did not have exclusive control over the various parts and software used to build its machine, there was nothing to stop competitors from copying the IBM design and selling their own compatible component systems. In 1982, the recently founded Compaq brought its first "IBM clone" to market. Many, many other computer companies would soon follow that lead.

Relying on a basic architecture but allowing the use of different components from different manufacturers, IBM Compatible PCs can be built for a remarkable variety of purposes and price ranges. Therefore, unlike consoles and other dedicated gaming machines, there is great variation in the system specifications of IBM Compatible Personal Computers. Because of this, the particular system requirements for a PC game are usually listed on the side of its box. These listings typically include the required operating system (OS), central processing unit (CPU) type and speed, amount of random-access memory (RAM), and hard drive space, among other factors. When a PC game supports the use of additional equipment or services, such as a steering wheel controller for a racing game or an Internet connection for a game with online multiplayer features, these are usually listed in the system requirements as well.

While there is no official standard for the display of this information, essentially all published PC games list system requirements someplace on their packaging. Because most PC games will run on a range of computers that meet basic specifications, sometimes two sets of system configurations are listed: the "Minimum" and the "Recommended" specs. Minimum specifications represent the slowest, least powerful computer on which the game will run and be playable, while a machine that meets all the "Recommended" specifications should be able to run the game with graphics, sounds, speeds, and other elements set at their standard or higher levels.