4,000 Pages of IBM PC Documentation

Over at Gearfuse, Vince Veneziani — the shrieking monkey id of gadget blogging — took advantage of an all-too-rare moment of sanguinity to post this striking shot of the gorgeous manual set that IBM shipped with the original PC back in 1984. This complete set of documentation is still sitting on the shelves of my parent's house under a cake of twenty year old dust as thick, silvery and undappled as the surface of the moon. They just don't make documentation like this anymore. Classic IBM Packaging [Gearfuse]
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22 Responses to 4,000 Pages of IBM PC Documentation

  1. mdh says:

    David, I had that day about 5 years back. It woz even a Woz edition.

  2. Cordwainer Duck says:

    This comment intentionally left blank.

  3. markfrei says:


    Damn you beat me to it.

  4. compound eye says:

    the basic manual, i think its one of the pinkish ones, first taught me to program

  5. technogeek says:

    IBM referred to these as the “PDBs” — Pastel Denim Binders. I’ve still got the ones that came with my first IBMPC (and a few others such as the Technical Reference Manual), but then I’ve still got the machine they refer to.

    These days you’re lucky to get any paper at all. CDs are cheaper to print and ship.

  6. dculberson says:

    Reminds me of the awesome DEC documentation from back in the day. It came in binders that had a horizontal joint in the middle so they would make their own table-top stand. So awesome and handy.

  7. sdt says:

    I learned English from these manuals (by trying out various commands in DOS, seeing what they do, and comparing that back to what the manual said) when I was 4-5 years old. Seeing them gives me goosebumps and happy feelings inside.

  8. dimmer says:

    One of the best Apple ads used this as a basis, with a set of IBM documents thumping down onto a table followed by a tiny Apple manual drifting down. Forget is that was for Lisa or Mac right now, but it conveyed a lot in that very simple visual.

  9. Nawel says:

    I still have some stuff like that around. I guess I’ll post some photos somewhere.

  10. airship says:

    As an old-timey documentation writer and editor guy, I wept with joyous nostalgia at this photo.

    *sigh* Now back to positioning photons on an ephemeral web page. :(

  11. OM says:

    …Damn. I still had every single one of those manuals until about 5 years ago, when I decided it was time to dump the lot. I also had the Logo and P-System manuals, as well as the aforementioned-in-another-thread PCJr Tech Ref & Engineering Manuals.

    Say what you want, Mac Geeks, but IBM could write some manuals…

  12. Mark Crummett says:

    This stack of paper is probably worth more now than the computer it came with.

  13. David Carroll says:

    I held on to my Apple ][gs, bought weeks after it was announced in 1986 until three years ago. At that time I checked on eBay: Complete systems just like mine were selling for $25! It was dropped off at the recycling center the next day. I did keep my even older Apple ][ clone for old times sake. I fire it up every 5 years or so and see if I can remember how to use WordStar and Visicalc

  14. technogeek says:

    #7: I suspect that the complete set — the original PC with the original manuals, preferably with original boxes and packing material too — certified to actually be a single set as shipped rather than regathered from the individual pieces — is probably worth more than the sum of its components.

    I’m holding onto my old Luggable because it amuses me, not as an investment. Though I’m pondering removing the 286 processor upgrade and the VGA card and returning it to something closer to the as-shipped configuration.


    This is a strange coincidence. on a longish drive today I was thinking about the manuals for IBM mainframe utilities. It was amazing. No matter what oddball, incomprehensible once-in-a-lifetime run time error or condition code happened, you could find that code, its clear explanation and corrective action in teh manuals with a very minimum of page turning. Rookies never believed that obscure stuff would actually be accurately covered in detail, but they came to love the manuals for their clarity and usefulness.
    Say what you will about Big Blue, The Giant of Armonk, but they organized and documented the daylights out of their products.

  16. dimmer says:

    IBM did, indeed, document the life out of anything (working there in the mid-80’s, we’d get our existing telephone book directories for VM/CMS/REXX/Xedit/CGM updated quarterly.) Working in the Support Centre, this was great: for a user, it was pretty much dead trees.

    I like the idea of an “opt-in” for printed documentation: have it if you want it, no charge, but if you don’t want it you won’t increase your “carbon footprint”.

  17. Stefan Jones says:

    I got rid of my 51?? (256 k motherboard, but with a cassette port) last year, at a recycling event. I had the original box. I packed in the original boxed BASIC manual and the DOS 5.0 manual which was the last version I ran on it. Also the last of the 5.25″ floppies I had around. It was like burying toys and a leash with a dead dog.

    I couldn’t bear to see it sorted. I just unlocked the back doors and told the guys to take everything back there.

    They left the keyboard and its box. You could kill someone with that keyboard; it had a sturdy metal case.

    I’m hoping someone realized what the computer was and kept it as a collectible, but it is probably reduced to raw metals and toxic waste in some benighted Chinese village.

    Um. I must say that I didn’t like those manuals much. They were useful but not inspiring. Intimidating, even.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the lost art of technical writing! How else were new recruits going to learn the esoterica of such a strange and magical contraption? Suddenly the regimented corporate atmosphere, right down to the sock-garter inspection, seems somehow more rational.

    Sorry, I grew up coloring on the back of blue-and-white striped paper that had giant….

    II B B M MM M
    II B B M M

  19. dculberson says:

    I sigh in wistful regret when I think about the stacks upon stacks of original 5150 and 5160 PC’s (the 5150 being the original with a cassette port) we had and scrapped back in the early 90’s. At one point we had close to a thousand, with the keyboards. Selling those on eBay might take years but would be very profitable now.

    They went on to make up new computers, though, so they didn’t go to waste.


    Old computers? I’ve got a Cromemco. It’s the size of a dorm fridge, runs an 8 bit CPU at 1mhz (that’s ‘m’, not ‘g’) and was the feline’s posterior 30 years ago. Now everyone’s got a Cray equivalent in their telephone and all they can use it for is to tell their friends LOL!1! BrB. I’m going to collect abacuses and slide rules instead.

  21. David Carroll says:

    Could someone send me a copy of page 3,653? My GL won’t balance….

  22. millia says:

    Wordperfect used to have similar manuals. I recycled them about 2 months ago, because, well, what else can I really do with them?

    One of these days, I’d like to get an original IBM and retrofit a new tiny mobo into it, and a flat panel into one of the big IBM color screens. 15″ of flickering EGA goodness…

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