3M was a goal first proposed in the early 1980s by Raj Reddy and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as a minimum specification for academic/technical workstations: at least a megabyte of memory, a megapixel display and a million instructions per second (MIPS) processing power. It was also often said that it should cost no more than a "megapenny" ($10,000). This was in contrast to the personal computers of that period, such as the IBM Personal Computer which might have 640KB memory, a 320×200 pixel display (64000 pixels), and 30 kiloFLOPS floating point performance.
The concept was inspired by the Xerox Alto which had been designed in the 1970s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Several Altos were donated to CMU, Stanford, and MIT in 1979. An early 3M computer was the PERQ Workstation made by Three Rivers Computer Corporation. The PERQ had a 1 million P-codes (Pascal instructions) per second processor, 256 KB of RAM (upgradeable to 1 MB), and a 768×1024 pixel display on a 15 inches (380 mm) display. While not quite a true 3M machine, it was used as the initial 3M machine for the CMU Scientific Personal Integrated Computing Environment (SPICE) workstation project.
The Stanford University Network SUN workstation, designed by Andy Bechtolsheim in 1980, is another example. It was then commercialized by Sun Microsystems in 1982. Apollo Computer (in the Route 128 region) announced the Apollo/Domain computer in 1981. By 1986 CMU stated that it expected at least two companies to introduce 3M computers by the end of the year, with academic pricing of $3,000 and retail pricing of $5,000, and Stanford University planned to deploy them in computer labs. The first "megapenny" 3M workstation was the Sun-2/50 diskless desktop workstation with a list price of $8,900 in 1986.
The original NeXT Computer was introduced in 1988 as a 3M machine by Steve Jobs, who first heard this term at Brown University. Its so-called "MegaPixel" display had just over 930,000 pixels with four shades of gray. However, floating point performance, powered with the Motorola 68882 FPU was only about .25 megaflops.
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- AnnaLee Saxenian (December 9, 1994). "The Limits of Autarky: Regional Networks and Industrial Adaptation in Silicon Valley and Route 128". HUD Roundtable on Regionalism sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
- Forbes, Jim (1986-03-17). "Makers Ready '3M' Workstations". InfoWorld. p. 15. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- Andy Hertzfeld (January 1983). "What's A Megaflop?". Macintosh Stories. folklore.org. Retrieved 2008-01-26.