The era of the PC assemblers

by May 17, 2022 0 comments

Edited excerpts from an exhaustive video interview with Raj Saraf, Founder, Zenith Computers

“Somewhere in 1980, we started making computers. At the time apart from Zenith, we had HCL, Wipro, Nelco, IDM, etc. They all started from 1978 onward. But the IBM PC was born in 1982. Prior to that everyone had their own operating system. The most common OS was CP/M (first Control Program/Monitor, then Control Program for Microcomputers). Most of that was based on a Zilog Z80 or Intel 8080 processor.

We were possibly the first company to take a standardized OS CP/M. When the IBM PC came with MS-DOS in 1982, everyone started shifting to that computer market with the Intel 8080. This was the scene till 1984. After that people started looking at a UNIX-based OS with Motorola 6800 processor. Especially NIC started to push that in a big way.

Assembled PCs take off

Assembled PCs started somewhere I would say in 1985-86 when a lot of these components from Taiwan started coming in individually for people to assemble them. By now we had a standardized Operating System, while the motherboard, chassis and monitor all were available.

They took off in a big way in 1990 and we had assemblers in Nehru Place in Delhi, Lamington Road in Bombay, and many other cities. There was a price difference of 30% primarily due to excise duty and the sales tax. The assembled PC flourished because of the unlicensed Operating System.

Practically all the big groups in India at that time went into the business of computers whether it was the Birlas, the Tatas, Mahindras, etc. Everybody went out also very soon. Possibly they found this business to be very competitive. Competing with the assembled PC was not a joke. The assembled PC also flourished because it could be custom-made.

End of an era

Today, there’s not a single Indian company making the PC. The last three companies in this field were HCL, Wipro, and Zenith. They also stopped. You can’t compete with multinationals. The whole PC industry has been dominated by Intel and Microsoft. With their volumes, multinationals get a much better price on the processor and OS. Any new vendor will find it very difficult to compete with them worldwide. Today in the world there are only five players: HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, and Acer. Everyone else is finished.

The problem for the assembled PC had also begun when India signed an IT agreement wherein the PC came duty-free. Any passenger coming from abroad could bring a laptop duty-free. The laptop growth continued. Now since all your data is common, people want only one device and that is why the number of laptops numbers far exceeds the desktop.

But the assembled desktop PC is very much there for gaming purposes. As far as the gaming market is concerned, 90% is assembled.”

These are excerpts from a video chat with Editor Sunil Rajguru and part of our PCQuest 35 Years Series on the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow of Technology.

Check out the complete interview…

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