Evolution of Laptops: From 1970s to Present

Today, laptops are everywhere, and their slim design allows us to work and connect with anyone from virtually anywhere. From where did all this start?

Laptops have evolved significantly, from bulky and heavy models in the past to the sleek and modern ones we use now.

The journey from the first portable computer to today’s cutting-edge technology shows just how far we’ve come in both technology and design.

Let’s find out the history of laptops, how they have evolved over time, and where they are heading.

The Birth of the Idea:

The idea of a portable computer started in the 1970s. Although the technology for laptops wasn’t available until the next decade, researchers at Xerox were experimenting with a portable computer called the Dynabook in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Dynabook original illustration in Alan C. Kay's 1972 paper

The Dynabook was designed as a tablet computer with a battery that could last a long time. 

Unfortunately, the technology of the 1970s wasn’t advanced enough to make this idea work, so the Dynabook never became a functional product.

Earliest laptops:

The story of laptops began with Adam Osborne, who released the Osborne 1 in 1981. It was the first truly portable computer and it sold for $1,795, which is quite a lot of money.

Osborne 1

The Osborne 1 was about the size of a portable sewing machine and had a small screen. It couldn’t run on batteries, so you had to plug it in. 

At first, businessmen could take their computer data with them, even though it was massive and not portable. Consequently, this did not make much impact as they were bulky and needed to be plugged in, unlike current technological developments.

Also, in 1982, the first real “laptop” called GRID Compass came into being. The computer’s screen could fold down onto its keyboard (like a modern laptop). This was incredible, given that it also worked on batteries.

GRID onboard Space Shuttle “Discovery”
mission STS-51G – June 1985. Pic

Despite the fact that it was very expensive and did not work with IBM systems, hence making regular people buy a few of them, others were mainly bought by US military and NASA institutions.

In 1983, two other portable computers, the Compaq Portable, and the Epson HX-20, became more successful in the commercial market.

compaq 1980
Compaq 1980
Epson hx 20
Epson hx 20

The Compaq system needed AC power but was the first portable computer compatible with the MS-DOS operating system and IBM, making data transfer from desktop computers easier. 

The Epson HX-20 was relatively inexpensive and could run on rechargeable batteries, although its programming was quite simple.

The Rise of Laptops:

In the 1990s became way more popular because their UX was improved. They had lighter, more efficient batteries, and the new Intel 386 processor was made just for laptops. The displays were improved with active matrix technology, replacing older cathode-ray tubes and basic liquid crystal displays.

IBM thinkpad 750c
IBM Thinkpad 750c

Hard drives got thinner and could store more data, and laptops started coming with built-in modems and ports. Thanks to all these upgrades, laptop sales shot up.

In June 1991, Bill Gates declared, “DOS is dead,” which spurred the development of advanced technologies. This era saw the creation of Linux and many other innovations like the World Wide Web, emails, SSDs, iOS, MS Office, JPEGs, keyboards, HTML, MP3s, browsers, CDs, DVDs, DVD writers, JavaScript, graphics enhancements, Nvidia’s Geforce, Hotmail, Yahoo Chat, WiFi, and hotspots.

In 1995, global sales hit 10 million for the first time. By 2000, they reached 28.5 million. By the early 2000s, laptops were more profitable than desktops.

By the end of the ’90s, it was clear that big advancements in features, design, speed, storage, and price were making technology more accessible and exciting than ever.

In the 21st century, laptop makers didn’t just improve laptops—they came up with new types, too.

In January 2003, Steve Jobs told the audience at Macworld that “this is going to be the year of the notebook for Apple.” He wanted to boost the sales of portable computers because they usually make more money than desktop computers.

Jobs foresaw the increasing popularity of laptops. This category now includes not only “notebooks,” as termed by Apple, but also smaller “netbooks” since 2008.

But the Asus Eee PC 701 which grabbed the attention of ordinary people, came out as a public favorite netbook in 2007.

ASUS Eee White

It featured an Intel Celeron-M processor, a 4 GB SDHC storage disk, and a 7-inch screen invented by ASUS. Moreover, it became widely available as a result of being the first kind of netbook on earth.

However, these did not stand much longer because the mid-2010s witnessed the introduction of smartphones and tablets, which rendered them obsolete. Netbooks have given way to devices like the Chromebook, which has been on the market since 2011 and runs on Google’s ChromeOS.

In 2008, Apple introduced the MacBook Air, Steve Jobs said it was “the world’s thinnest laptop” since it was just 0.75 inches thick.

Steve Jobs introduced first thinnest Macbook air 2008

This super light, glossy laptop sets Ultrabook in trend. Secondly, Apple changed its hard disk drive to a solid-state drive (SSD) to make it super fast.

The SSD helped make the laptop slimmer, faster, more power-efficient, and more durable without moving parts. Within no time, almost all laptops transitioned to SSD drives.

Intel’s Core series and AMD’s Ryzen series arrived this decade for example, with speeds as well as efficiency that were simply extraordinary; hence, there have been significant improvements in processors over this period of time.

Also, graphics processing units (GPUs) developed and improved, which influenced the gaming capabilities in laptops as well as other professional applications.

Since 2020, laptops have outperformed both desktop computers and tablets to become customer’s favorite choices amongst the available alternatives.

acer 2023 Newest Aspire 5 Slim Laptop

Technological Advances and Impact:

In the past, there have been numerous advancements in the technology of laptops, making them a must-have device for work, study, and leisure. We’ve seen CPUs becoming faster, which enables the smooth running of laptops and improved batteries that last longer and charge faster.

Laptops have also become much slimmer and more portable, with the screens being brighter and clearer to suit the eyes.

Today, they are powered by strong processors from Intel, AMD, and ARM, among others, granting them incredible speed and power. Hence, in the contemporary world, laptops are necessary because they can be carried easily, used in many different ways, and give top-rate performance. 

Processor Evolution:

Processors’ evolution is an interesting one, starting from the earliest microprocessors to today’s powerful multi-core ones. Let’s take a look at different generations of processors and how they have changed over time.

First Generation (1971-1972):

Intel C4004

During the early 1970s, the first microprocessors were developed, which marked the beginning of Generation One.

At this time, the Intel manufacturer released its single-chip processor after a collaboration between Ted Hoff, Federico Faggin, and Stanley Mazor. It was originally used for calculators but was later designed to be innovative; however, it was not very powerful or fast enough.

Second Generation (1973-1978):


By the mid-’70s, we moved into the second generation, which brought 8-bit microprocessors. The best examples of these microprocessors included the Intel 8085 and the Motorola 6800.

These processors could handle more complex tasks and were faster than their predecessors, making them popular in early personal computers and other electronic devices.

Third Generation (1979-1980):

Intel AMD D8086
Intel AMD D8086

The late ’70s and early ’80s were the era of new a generation. We saw the rise of the third generation with 16-bit processors. The best examples of these microprocessors were like the Intel 8086, 80186, and 80286, as well as the Motorola 68000 and 68010.

These processors used a new technology called HMOS (High-density, short-channel MOS), which made them faster and more efficient. The incredible thing about these processors was that they were able to manage larger amounts of data and follow more complex instructions.

Fourth Generation (1981-1995):

Motorola MC68020
Motorola MC68020

In the early ’80s through the mid-’90s, the fourth generation introduced 32-bit processors. Notable examples include the Intel 80386 and Motorola 68020.

These processors used HMOS fabrication, which significantly improved their performance and efficiency. They were capable of handling even more complex tasks and larger amounts of memory.

During this generation, AMD introduced the AM386 microprocessor family in March 1991, which was tough competition for Intel.

Fifth Generation (1995-Present):

Intel Pentium Processors
Intel Pentium Processors

Fifth-generation processors have been our mainstay since 1995, which are designed to multitask and have 64-bit prowess.

These include Intel Pentium, Celeron, Xeon Core series, and others with multiple cores like dual-core, quad-core, and octa-core.

AMD also came on board with chips like K6, Athlon, Phenom, etc., Ryzen (3, 5, 7, & 9), and Threadripper families.

Apple first released the M1 chip, which was an AMR-based for Macs and later followed by the M1 Pro and M1 Max. These chips are hailed for their high efficiency along with good performance.

The advent of modern processors has largely boosted computer speed as well as efficiency. Unlike single-core processors from the 1990s, which had low speeds, today’s computers come with many fast cores. This development has given us faster and more capable processors that we all rely upon nowadays.

Display Technology Evolution:

Since Ferdinand Braun invented the cathode-ray tube (CRT) in 1897, display technology has come a long way.

cathode ray tube
cathode ray tube

CRT screens used electron beams to light up phosphors on a glass screen and were widely used in computers and radar until the late 20th century.

The next big leap was the liquid crystal display (LCD), first adopted by Microsoft for computers. LCDs now dominate the market, powering devices like computer monitors, smartphones, medical tools, car displays, and more.

Innovation continued with thin-film transistor (TFT) displays, common in monitors and car screens.

TFT LCD display Samsung

TFTs can be touch-enabled using resistive (RTP) or capacitive (CTP) technology, allowing interaction via finger or stylus.

OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays are another breakthrough. Each OLED pixel emits its own light, enhancing color and contrast. OLEDs are flexible, leading to the development of foldable screens. 

According to Statista, 2020 recorded 19 million shipments of foldable OLED; this figure is estimated to grow by up to 90 million by 2027.

foldable oled era
Foldable OLED Era

Memory and Storage Evolution:

Random Access Memory (RAM)’s journey began in the 1960s with magnetic-core memory, which was large and expensive to produce. Semiconductors replaced magnetic-core memory, introduced silicon chips during the 1970s, and made computers faster and more efficient.

magnetic core memory
Magnetic core memory

Among them, there are dynamic RAM (DRAM) and static RAM (SRAM), which are now considered standard types of RAM.

Today, contemporary RAM, such as DDR (Double Data Rate) RAM, enhances computer performance by enabling data movement at a higher rate.

Computers were using punch cards and magnetic tape before modern RAM and storage solutions came into play. Hard disk drives (HDDs) emerged in the ‘50s and used spinning disks for data reading and writing purposes. 

In spite of being dependable, HDDs are slow on account of their mechanical parts. SanDisk, known then as SunDisk, introduced a prototype solid-state disk (SSD) module for IBM in 1992 using non-volatile memory chips instead of spinning disks.

They became much faster than HDDs because no disk-spinning mechanics were involved, thus making them more reliable with less physical wear, which made them preferable for smaller, lighter devices that were becoming trendy. The latest development is NVMe SSDs, which plug directly into the motherboard, offering even faster data transfer speeds than previous SSD generations.

The computer’s RAM and storage have improved immensely. From HDDS to SSDs, NVME SSDs are now available on the market, which has significantly reduced boot times and enhanced the system’s overall responsiveness. These advancements make everyday tasks faster and allow more complex applications to run smoothly.

how to ram will look like

NVMe SSDs are generally more reliable than HDDs because they have no moving parts; hence, they minimize the risk of mechanical failure. As opposed to HDDs with their spinning disks and moving parts, which can easily be damaged physically over time. Even though they may be faster and more durable, SDDs can be costly per gigabyte compared to HDDs.

Connectivity and battery efficiency:

The evolution of laptop batteries is remarkable. In the early 1980s, personal computers used AA batteries, which were weighty, had a short lifespan, and were hazardous to the environment. The late 1980s saw the introduction of lead-acid batteries that could be recharged but remained cumbersome and offered a low backup period.

AA battery
AA battery

The 90s saw the advent of nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries, which could supply high currents but required complete discharge before recharging due to the “memory effect.” Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries followed, offering more capacity but still suffering from the memory effect.

The real breakthrough was made in the 1970s when lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries were developed. These had high energy density, did not suffer from the memory effect, and were capable of making thinner and lighter laptops with longer battery life.

Today, lithium-polymer (Li-Po) batteries represent the latest advancement. They have the highest energy density, can be stored for months without losing charge, and allow for even thinner and lighter laptops. 

In 2024, advancements are being made in solid-state batteries and other innovative battery types, like silicon anode batteries, which could provide significant improvements in energy storage and efficiency.


IEEE 802.11
IEEE 802.11

Wi-Fi was first made available to the general public in 1997 with the launch of the IEEE 802.11 technical standard, which facilitated wireless data transmission at speeds of up to 2Mbit/s using the unlicensed 2.4 GHz radio spectrum.

We now have Wi-Fi 6, which is way better than that one. It transmits information faster while having less latency, especially when several devices are connected to it. This means everything works more smoothly and quickly. Additionally, Wi-Fi 6 shares its higher speeds with all devices on the network, resulting in a boost for every device as well.

Artificial Intelligence Integration

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how we use technology, and this includes laptops. At present, laptops are becoming smarter, more efficient, and increasingly personalized thanks to AI.

They used to be mere work and fun tools but now they use AI to improve battery life, enhance security, provide instant language translation, and intelligently manage performance.

Big computer brands like Lenovo, Dell, HP, and Apple are including advanced AI features that adapt according to user demand, making them faster in response time than anything else.

These latest computer technologies mark the beginning of a long journey that computers have taken in their evolution so far.

We cannot wait to see even more improvements in the future.

Images sources:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Old Computers
  3. Nasa.gov