I'm old enough to remember that (around 1980) the first personal computers were referred to, triumphantly, as 'microcomputers'. When did this usage fade out?

  • 1
    from 1986, as it is shown here. Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 0:31
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    As someone who develops 8-bit microcomputers (for educational purposes) I don't really know what to think about this. Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 8:15
  • @noah1989 that the word has so declined that it could easily be repurposed for other needs. Of course, a small 8-bit computer would have been a microcomputer in the earlier use, but so would what evolved into a quad-core 64-bit laptop, that I imagine you aren't including in that usage.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 9:54
  • It faded out in the 90s as PCs became ubiquitous. Something like the Raspberry Pi could be referred to as a microcomputer though.
    – user24964
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 10:22
  • @TheMathemagician so would a PC in the original usage.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


Microcomputer originally differentiated them from mainframes (AKA "big iron") and minicomputers.

Minicomputers declined in the mid-80s and became obsolete during the 1990s. Mainframes remain in some use, but much less than they once had, while completely new types of larger computer system exist.

Differentiation of micros from mini and big iron is less useful. Meanwhile differentiation between types of micros became more useful, first between "home computer", "personal computer" and "workstation" in the 80s, later such differentiations as desktop, laptop, notebook, various distinctions within small microcomputer servers, and so on.

At the same time, the introduction of the microcomputer meant that computers changed from being something most people had heard of, to something most people increasingly saw and increasingly used themselves. With microcomputers being the type almost everybody knew about, and those using other types still mostly using microcomputers more often than any other, they became what people thought of when they thought of computers.

Both of these two changes that made microcomputer a less useful term started around the mid-80s and were largely complete by the mid-90s.

  • Interestingly, at one large company, they divide up their computing resources into mainframes, midrange systems, and personal computers. Midrange system is code speak for a Unix system of some sort.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 1:21
  • @tchrist since historically Unix was run on minis, I imagine it's a legacy of that. There does also still remain a class of computer much more powerful than most micros, and they very often run *nix.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 9:52

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