100 Best Gadgets Ever: The Silicon Age

Games consoles, video recorders, portable music and personal computers - the modern world as we know it starts here

Not that long ago computers were made from vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors and goat dung and were so big they had their own weather systems. In an alternate universe, humanity continued down that path and your alter-ego is reading this on a mobile phone the size of a kettle. 

Fortunately, a few clever people invented the integrated circuit and then the silicon microprocessor. In a single generation, computers went from being the tools of science and industry to the playthings of the proto-geek, finding their way into all kinds of tech and making possible many of the entries in this feature.

In short, The Silicon Age is where things start getting interesting. So settle down and see what's made our shortlist. And if you're reading this in an alternate universe, you might want to put down your kettle-sized phone for a rest halfway through.

Image credit: Shutterstock

READ MORE: CHECK OUT THE FULL 100 BEST GADGETS EVER LIST HERE

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JVC HR-3300 (1976)

Arriving in 1976, the HR-3300 VHS VCR was yet another life-changing Japanese product. No more would you miss your favourite episode of Columbo because you were out disco dancing – this hulking beast would record every minute of it for you. Amazingly, it didn’t use any custom-made parts: all its innards can be purchased in any electronics store, even today.

ATARI 2600 (1977)

With its wood-effect case, simple one-button joysticks and blocky graphics the 2600 looks like a bit of a relic today – but then again, it’s easy to underestimate what a revelation it was being able to play Battlezone and Pac-Man at home with your friends. This was the console that really brought the arcade machine experience into the front room – the grandfather of the PS4, if you will.

More after the break...

Sony Walkman (1979)

Before the Walkman, listening to your own music involved a plugged-in hi-fi or a giant boombox on your shoulder. The idea of a ‘personal stereo’ was a mere fantasy until the magicians at Sony managed to shrink a cassette player to a size that would run on batteries and clip to your belt, though to begin with it was still pretty big. They continued to be produced until 2003, overlapping with the first iPod by two years.

Roland TR-808 (1980)

A gadget that was out of the limelight but still touched the lives of nearly every music lover through the tracks it produced and styles it influenced. The TR-808 was an ’80s analogue synth drum machine that provided the signature sounds for everything from Marvin Gaye’s 'Sexual Healing' to tracks by Public Enemy. The band 808 State even named themselves after it.

Audi Quattro (1980)

Nissan, Porsche and even Ferrari are proving that you can often go much faster with power in all four wheels. And, obviously, rally cars have been 4WD for years. The daddy of them all is the Audi Quattro, which proved devastatingly effective as both a road and rally car, not to mention one of the coolest cars of the ’80s. Audi keeps threatening to bring it back. Let’s hope so. Chas Hallett, Autocar

READ MORE: The 100 best gadgets ever: The engineering age

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