In terms of comparable salary, how much tech you could get today for what it took to buy a Commodore 64 in 1982?

Short answer:

Then: Commodore C-64 plus 10K hard drive

Now: Mid-range desktop computer plus color laser printer with enough left over to buy a 16GB iPad and iPhone 4S.

Previously discussed the first two computers I owned here.  I realize that dates me, but it gives me perspective to deeply appreciate how far tech has developed.

Long answer:

To set up the comparison, my frame of reference is the pay scale for young military officers. For simplicity of a 30 year comparison, let’s use the 1982 and 2011 pay scale for a first lieutenant, over four years, with subsistence and off-base housing with no dependents.  You can find historical pay scales for the U.S. armed forces here.

Those pay scales show this comp:

  • 1982 – $25,212 annual, $485 weekly
  • 1997 – $40,682 annual, $782 weekly
  • 2011 – $63,650 annual, $1,224 weekly

I searched through my old paperwork and was actually able to find what I paid for my C-64, 10K hard drive, and painfully slow dot matrix printer. Yes, yes, I know you are worried about me that I actually have those records around and was actually able to find them. But hey, I am an accountant.

State-of-the-art personal technology in 1982:

  • 620 – Commodore C-64
  • 200 – 10k hard drive
  • 100 – dot matrix printer
  • 920 – full setup
  • 485 – weekly pay for 1LT in 1982
  • 1.9 – number of weeks salary to buy that hardware

How much tech could a person at the same pay scale buy today for the 1.9 weeks salary?

I went price shopping on Amazon.  I picked a midrange computer and midrange color laser printer.  Included shipping and tax in the following.  Results would have been more extreme with low-end models.  Check this out:

So at this point there is a 51% drop in the number of weeks salary for an astronomical increase in performance and capability.

To spend the same number of weeks salary now as in 1982, our current four-years-out-of-college lieutenant could keep shopping:

  • 609 – iPad 16GB
  • 630 – iPhone 4S 16GB
  • 2,382 – total for comparable computer plus newest model iPad and 4S iPhone
  • 1,224 – weekly salary for 1LT in 2011
  • 1.95 – number of weeks salary to buy all of that


Gotta’ revisit the capabilities. Here is the performance you get for 1.9 weeks salary in 2012 versus 1982:

  • Memory: 4GB vs. .00006GB
  • Hard drive storage: 500GB vs 0.00001GB
  • Processing speed: 2.8GHz vs. 0.-some-time-todayGHz
  • monitor: 21.5” flatscreen monitor vs. your living room TV
  • printer: 21 pages per minute in color vs. go-watch-a-TV-show-while-you-wait-for-21-pages-to-print speed in B&W dot matrix resolution. (Oh wait, you can’t watch TV because it is hooked to the C-64.)
  • telephone: cutting edge iPhone vs. what do you mean phones aren’t connected to the wall by a cord?
  • Tablet: mid-range iPad vs. what are you talking about?

How do you calculate that increase in price and performance? The price for comparable capability in terms of the current market is a drop of 50%. There’s an increase in hard drive storage by factor of 52 million and an increase in RAM by factor of 65,000.

I have no idea how to quantify the total improvement in technology.  But I do know is there’s no better time to be alive than today.

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