An IBM PS/2 with the infamous Model M keyboard. (Photo: The Backwood Realm)

When you ask someone about the “PS/2”, they are more likely to say one thing: the Play Station 2. However, the Personal System/2 was the successor to the infamous IBM PC line.

The IBM PS/2 (Personal System/2) line of computers was a response to the massive IBM PC-clone market which grew shortly after the IBM PC 5150 was introduced in August 1981. IBM created the PS/2 computer mainly for businesses, ranging from the simple Model 25 to the Model 80 and 90, which were designed to be servers. IBM also produced the PS/1 computer for home and small business use.

The IBM PS/2 was originally released in 1987. IBM’s OS/2 (Operating System/2) operating system was released in 1987 with the PS/2, which wasn’t nearly as popular as Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system and Windows “operating environment.”

The PS/2 boasted the then-new Microchannel architecture on the planar board. The PS/2 created many new standards in the PC industry, such as the IBM PS/2 keyboard and mice port, and VGA display port.

The later PS/2 computers utilized 386SLC or 486SLC processors. The SLC, or “Super Little Chip”, was a product of IBM’s own design team adding on to what Intel had produced. IBM had a special license to modify the chip designs (wafers) to produce SLC models. Later, IBM (although not much later) partnered with Apple Computer and Motorola to produce the PowerPC processors, under the “AIM” (Apple-IBM-Motorola) alliance. Earlier, lower-end PS/2 models were XT-class machines utilizing an Intel 8086.

The PS/2 computers also came equipped with the IBM Model M keyboard, which utilized the then-new PS/2 keyboard and mice connection standard. The Model M keyboard is highly sought after, especially as a collectors item, to this day because of its excellent tactile response (thanks to the buckling-spring key switches), and the crisp (yet loud) sound it made while typing. While Lenovo and some other manufacturers sell other keyboards with great tactile response and crisp sounds, many people say the Model M will never be beat. The Model M was in production until just a couple years ago, although it was made by Leximark (an IBM spinoff) during the 1990s.

Luggables to Portables to Laptops

A luggable PS/2 model, with its orange neon display. (Source:

In 1989, IBM released the PS/2 P70. The P70 was the first portable (or, due to it’s great size, “luggable”) PS/2, based on the PS/2 Model 70 desktop. The P70 was based on the Intel 386DX microprocessor. The P70 included a 3.5″ floppy disk drive, which was problematic for many due to its odd orientation. The drive was mounted so that it swung out when the case was opened. Debris could easily fall into the drive, especially since it had no shutters, and damage it. The P70 also featured a neon-backlit screen, which was greatly improved over the previous PC Convertible which preceded it, although the backlit ate much of the battery life away. The display was better than the non-backlit LCD panel in the Macintosh Portable from Apple, which was introduced in September of the same year. The P70 was replaced by the P75, released in 1990.

The P70 and P75 were replaced with the N33 (Note 33) and N51. The N33 and N51 heavily inspired the ThinkPad which was released in 1992, and is still manufactured today.

Marketing the PS/2

Unlike with the PC line, IBM decided not to use Charlie Chaplin in their advertisements. Despite Chaplin not being the central “spokesperson” for the PS/2 line, he did appear in the “PS/2 It!” line of commercials for one second, as the camera pans across the skyscraper to the screen (see below.)

There was a jingle in the PS/2 commercials, which went like:

“How ya’ gonna’ do it?
Well, you’re gonna’ PS/2 It!
With the IBM PS/2.

How ya’ gonna do it?
[I’ll tell ya’!]
You’re gonna PS/2 It!
The solution is IBM.”

Here is a IBM PS/2 commercial which aired in 1987:

Some versions of the PS/2 commercial starred the former cast of the hit-TV show M*A*S*H.

A Legacy

IBM’s Personal System/2 isn’t as well known as the IBM PC for bearing modern standards, but it did bring some.

The infamous “PS/2” ports used on keyboard and mice were introduced with, and named after, the Personal System/2. VGA (Video Graphics Array) was introduced with the PS/2, and is still a frequently used standard for video output in modern computers.

IBM introduced spin-offs of the PS/2 starting in 1992, with the PS/2e (energy efficient model) and PS/VP (Personal System/ValuePoint) models which would last until 1995. As previously mentioned, the PS/2 notebooks (most notably the N33 and N51) had a huge impact on developing the first ThinkPad in 1992.