Chronology of
Workstation Computers

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This document is an attempt to bring various published sources together to present a timeline about Workstation Computers. I do not have a good definition of what a 'Workstation Computer' is (or is not), nor do I believe I will find one that everyone can agree on. Indeed, it is likely that any such definition has changed over time, especially if such a definition was based on absolute processing power.

The characteristics of a typical workstation help determine if a particular system is or is not a workstation. The main characteristics I have found are as follows. A 'Workstation Computer' typically:

  • runs Unix, or a similar operating system,
  • has leading-edge processor power,
  • has a large graphics display,
  • has more memory and disk space than other desktop computers,
  • is used for scientific research, CAD, real-time simulations, animation, and, as a result of the above,
  • costs more than most high-end desktop computers.

This timeline is an off-shoot of my research on a Chronology of Personal Computers. I am adding info to this timeline as I encounter it, without looking too hard for large quantities of information at this time.

Note: company and product names are the property of their respective owners. Such names are used for identification purposes only. This site is solely the work of , and is not affiliated with or endorsed by any of the companies listed herein.

References are numbered in [brackets], which are listed here. A number after the dot gives the page in the source.

Last updated: 2022 April 29.


  • In California, IBM scientist John Cocke and others complete a prototype scientific computer called the ACS. It incorporates some RISC concepts, but the project is later cancelled due to the instruction set not being compatible with IBM's System/360 computers. [606.40]


  • At Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie write a primitive operating system in assembly language on the PDP-7. This becomes the Unix operating system. [734.148] [835.168] [248.116] [258.10] [369.24] [995.ss8] [1184.74]


  • Brian Kernighan suggests naming the operating system written by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie's "Unix", as a pun on Multics, the operating system that it was to replace. [995.ss8]


  • Xerox decides to build a personal computer to be used for research. Project "Alto" begins. [263.58] [266.267] [716.85]
  • Researchers at PARC begin work on a prototype Alto personal computer. [716.93]


  • The first prototype Alto workstation computer is turned on at Xerox' Palo Alto Research Center. Its first screen display is a bitmapped image of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. [203.59] [714.95,167] [716.14,93] (completed in 1974 [266.267])


  • IBM scientist John Cocke completes a prototype high-reliability, low-maintenance computer called the ServiceFree. It incorporates a RISC architecture, achieving at least 80 MIPS, 50 times faster than IBM's fastest mainframe at the time. However, the project is later cancelled due to the massive "Future Systems" project consuming much of IBM's resources. [606.40]


  • At Xerox, John Ellenby proposes they build the Alto II personal computer, a modified Alto, making it easier to produce, more reliable, and more easily maintained. His request is approved. [716.205]


  • Xerox management rejects two proposals to market the Alto computer. [716.174]


  • Xerox renames its Janus workstation project to Star. [716.231]


  • At the University of California at Berkeley, programmers add virtual memory control to the Unix operating system. [1089.348]
  • IBM scientist John Cocke produces the 801 computer, a RISC prototype named after the laboratory building it was built in. This minicomputer is often considered the invention of RISC processing. [606.42]


  • Motorola introduces the 68000 16-bit microprocessor. It incorporates 68,000 transistors, giving it its name. [176.75] [423.136] (1980 [120])


  • IBM's Austin Laboratory in Burlington, Vermont, creates a microprocessor called ROMP (Research/Office Products MicroProcessor) based on Jon Cocke's 801 RISC design. This is the first completed RISC microprocessor. Speed is about 5-10 times faster than any other chip on the market. [606.42]
  • Apollo introduces a line of workstations using the Motorola 68000 processor. [203.90]
  • The term RISC (reduced instruction set computer) is coined by Professor David Patterson of the University of California in Berkeley. He designs a microprocessor called RISC I. [2018] [606.40]
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  • James Clark invents the Geometry Engine 3-D software. [1423.61]
  • College professor James Clark found Silicon Graphics, Incorporated. [2019] (1982 [2020.9])


  • Scott McNealy, Bill Joy, Andreas Bechtolsheim, and Vinod Khosla found Sun Microsystems. "SUN" originally stood for Stanford University Network. [2021] [734.149,152] [1298.163]
  • Sun Microsystems begins shipping the Sun 1 workstation computer. [734.152]
  • At the COMDEX show, Victory Computer Systems announces the Victory Factor series of computers, using the Motorola 68000 processor and the Unisoft Uniplus System 3 Unix operating system. [862.268]
(month unknown)
  • Toshiba introduces the Tosbac UX-300. It features a Toshiba 88000 processor, 512 kB RAM, 1 MB 8-inch floppy drive, 10 MB hard drive, and runs UNIX, for US$9300. [447.113]


  • AT&T announces UNIX System V. [461.133]
(month unknown)
  • IBM's Austin Laboratory begins project Olympiad, to develop a scientific workstation based on the ROMP microprocessor. [606.45]
  • Fortune Systems introduces the Fortune 32:16 computer system. It features a 6 MHz Motorola 68000 CPU, 256 kB RAM, and runs Unix v7. Price is US$5000-11,000. [862.84]
  • Silicon Graphics introduces its first product, IRIS 1000 terminal. [1423.61]
(month unknown)
  • Commodore Business Machines announces it will include the Coherent Unix-like operating system on a new series of Z8000-based computers called the Next Generation. [901.7]


February 14
  • Scott McNealy is appointed president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems. [734.153] [1289.D2]
  • Silicon Graphics begins shipping its first 3-D graphics workstations. [2019]
June 28
  • Motorola introduces the 16 MHz 68020 processor, a 32-bit version of the 68000, in CMOS, with on-board cache. Estimated performance is 2-3 MIPS. Price is US$487 each. [9] [934] [1349.D1] (1986 [120])
(month unknown)
  • MIPS Computer Systems is founded, and begins developing its RISC architecture. [160]
  • Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla resigns. [734.153]
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) begins developing the X Window System. [707.207]
  • Silicon Graphics introduces its first workstation, the IRIS 1400. [1423.61]


  • Sun Microsystems begins work on its SPARC processor. [160]
  • AT&T grants a UNIX license to IBM. [1414.1] [2179.14]
  • Steve Jobs and five former senior managers of Apple Computer Inc. found NeXT Incorporated. [170.66] [2024] [206.289] [346.213]


  • Sun Microsystems first sells shares to the public. [734.219]
January 17
  • NeXT and Apple Computer reach an out-of-court settlement on Apple's lawsuit against Next. Next agrees to not use Apple technology. [734.99] [930.335] [2605.158]
January 21
  • IBM announces the IBM RT Personal Computer, using RISC-based technology from IBM's "801" project of the mid-70s. It is one of the first commercially-available 32-bit RISC-based computers. The base configuration has 1 MB RAM, a 1.2 MB floppy, and 40 MB hard drive, for US$11,700. (With performance of only 2 MIPS, it is doomed from the beginning.) [31] [116] [205.114] [329.129] [1311] [1391.D1]
  • Silicon Graphics decides to switch from the Motorola 68000 processor line to MIPS Technologies' RISC processors. [160]
  • Systems incorporating MIPS Technologies' R2000 processor begin shipping. [556.13] [821]
(month unknown)
  • The Massachussettes Institute of Technology releases the X v10.4 windowing system. [707.207]
  • IBM begins work on a new line of Unix-based workstations. (They will become the IBM RS/6000 series.) [157]
  • Motorola begins work on the 88000 processor. [160]
  • MIPS Technologies unveils the 8 MHz R2000 32-bit CPU. With 110,000 transistors, it achieves a speed rating of 5 MIPS. [176.75] (1985 [206.124])
  • MIPS Technologies begins volume shipments of the 8 MHz R2000 processor. [160]
  • IBM debuts a new desktop model of the IBM RT Personal Computer. [1311]
  • Steve Jobs decides to use erasable optical disk drives for the first NeXT computer. [170.66]
  • The TV show, The Entrepreneurs airs nationally on PBS in the US. One segment shows Steve Jobs and his NeXT employees discussing business at a company retreat. [734.97]
  • Worldwide sales of workstations: US$1.2-1.5 billion. [203.96] [2173.S3.1]

End of 1968-1986. Next: 1987.
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1968-1986 1987-1990 1991-1992 1993 1994 1995-1998 1999-end

A list of references to all source material is available.

Other web pages of interest:

  • Chronology of Personal Computers
  • This Day in Personal Computer and Video Game History
  • This Day in History

  • Last updated: 2022 April 29.
    Copyright © 2001-2022 (email: ).
    Link to Ken P's home page.