When did the pizza box begin to fade and why?

Early IBM compatible personal computers usually came as pizza boxes. Then towers, minitowers, and laptops began to spread widely and the popularity of pizza boxes waned. Today the mini PC seems the only surviving pizza box descendant.

When did the pizza box begin to fade? What forces drove this form factor away from the desktop?

I suspect you’re thinking mainly of PC compatibles? Or at least, something more substantial than the all-in-keyboard style like Amiga 500 or 1200, Archimedes 3000, Atari ST, Sinclair QL(!)

My guess would be that it’s about whether or not a monitor stands on the computer box. For a modest height box, putting a monitor on top is relatively ergonomic. But the need for space inside the computer box for expansion cards and hard drives perhaps pushes these boxes towards being larger (and noisier) so putting them tower-style on the floor or perhaps tower-style next to the monitor starts to be attractive.

There might also be something about workplace ergonomics, and regulations about office worker posture. Perhaps a monitor on top of the box isn’t compliant with regulations?

There might also be something about optical drives - CD drives - which can be designed to operate vertically but are perhaps most popularly used horizontally. A classic PC tower allows for that.

Yes I meant IBM PC compatibles, I edited the original post to make it clear.

So I’m a little confused here. I was around when the early IBM compatibles came out and I certainly wouldn’t call them “pizza boxes”. Looking at the Sperry HT next to me, that’s at least 6" high. Thinking of all the early IBM compatibles that I know of, they were all about the same height.

“Pizza box” usually refers to a computer that can fit into a 1U space in a rack mount cabinet, so that’s what I’m envisioning and I can’t think if a single early IBM compatible that small.

1 Like

I think it’s simply a matter of monitors getting bigger and heavier. Early on, the horizontal Altair layout was convenient for working on the internals of the computer, and the teletype would be off to the side.

When CRTs became used, they were first small and light, so they could be placed on top of the computer for some height and it wasn’t too much bother to move them when needed to work on the computer.

Eventually, though, monitors would get too big and heavy for this, and the extra reinforcement needed to support the monitor was itself an undesired extra expense and bother.


I broadly agree that I don’t associate IBM PC-style desktops with vertical cards with the pizza box form factor, although I think the quintessential pizza boxes (Sun3, SPARCStation 4/5/20, DEC VT240/VXT2000 and maybe VAXStation 3100 size) are somewhat thicker than 1U.

Maybe relevant to the original question, all of those machines had horizontal expansion cards parallel to the motherboard (where they had expansion cards at all) and, as @EdS indirectly points out, seldom had internal drives larger than 3.5" 1/3 or perhaps 1/2 height.

I don’t know why the PC chose expansion cards at 90 degrees to the mainboard (obviously card edge connectors are cheap) or why risers (which were common in early PC desktops precisely to reduce thte cabinet height) died out, but for me, pizza box form factor is strongly associated with Unix workstations because of that choice. Probably the movement of most of the Unix workstation manufacturers to PC architecture before their ultimate demise is related, here.

So if we think about “pizza box” PCs like the Sun3, etc, then I think we have the answer to the original question: Expandability and customer lock in.

Thinking of the some of the Tandy 1000 line of computers that were thinner, the expansion cards mounted horizontally. This led to the computers not being able to use the standard expansion cards, but also limited the number of cards that could be installed.

1 Like

Also on the big ‘n’ heavy monitor front: a typical desktop case would put the monitor way too high for comfortable CAD use. So the pizza box form factor made ergonomic sense.

Never could quite understand what Sun’s squat “lunchbox” form factor was meant to do, even if I was a happy SPARCstation IPX user for several years.

1 Like

On the other hand, my first PC-compatible was a desktop from Laser that had a single standard ISA bus slot (electrically; it may have been somewhat different physically) with a riser that accepted fiveish ISA cards that mounted parallel to the mainboard, for a total height reduction of maybe 25–30% versus vertical cards. In this instance I wouldn’t really consider it a pizza box, because the total cabinet height was still rather high (it had a full-height 5.25" drive bay, which was essentially the limiting factor there), but the principle allows it.

I suspect the PC world hunger for expansion boards made that kind of form factor difficult; a typical PC motherboard up through the Pentium II or III had only keyboard, basic I/O (RS-232 and PC parallel) and disk controllers on board, and even that was not universal – the PC itself, of course, had only keyboard and cassette interfaces on the motherboard; from a previous comment: “This is particularly painful on the PC 5150, which only had 5 slots to begin with. It led to a proliferation of multi-function boards like the AST Six Pack to save slots.” This led to a typical PC-compatible containing 3-5 boards just to provide standard functionality (video, disk controller, multifunction I/O and/or memory expansion being common early on).

When ATX came around in the late 90s and introduced a standardized way for motherboards to provide additional I/O on the back panel, more slim desktops started to show up, with short riser cards and a small number of slots reappearing.

You’re right, I was inaccurate. I meant a case with shape and size similar to the original IBM PC.

So, thinking about the larger desktop cases like the IBM-PC/XT.

I think it just had to do with desktop real estate. People wanted larger monitors, places to put their work, bigger keyboards, and mice, and having a desktop style case just took up too much space. I recently got a Sperry HT (which was the first computer that I actually owned) and I had to do some things just to make it fit on the desk that I needed it on. The case is HUGE. Compare the IBM-XT case with how large the IBM-AT case was.

I remember people putting their desktops on their sides. At first on their desk, then later, below their desks. Now bring in things like CD-ROMs and a desktop case on its side is not very convenient. So it’s only a short hop to tower cases where the drives are horizontally oriented.

Then there’s the problem hard drives have when mounted vertically for a long period of time. They tend to wear and if you make them horizontal again, they don’t work.


Lunchbox meant you could stick it and your scsi disks next to one another and the monitor bases were still small enough you could use it as a stand.

They were unpopular for a different reason in some environments. Lunchbox sized machines fitted very well into brief cases and employees bags

1 Like

The purpose of the slim pizza box form factor, typically with awkward horizontal cards, was pure aesthetics. It looks so sleek and svelte!

Like, people thought the Amiga 1000 looked cool, but at what cost? The motherboard needed a big hole in the middle, for a support strut, and the body needed spines radiating out from that support strut.

In retrospect, it would have been nice if people just decided a mini-tower looked cool instead of a pizza box.

1 Like

I suspect that the PC and XT were the height they were because IBM had looked at the Apple II and S100 boxes and decided, “So expansion cards are about this high …”

I’d never considered the Amiga 1000 as a pizza box before. It doesn’t have any horizontal expansion slots to speak of. Pizza boxes, to me, were higher-end workstations. Amigas weren’t that, no matter what their most rabid fans said at the time

The C128D and Amiga 1000 IMHO definitely had that form factor. The A2000 then went more PC like and is way taller and has card slots in the usual format.

1 Like

Continuing the survey of non-PC pizza box machines, Acorn’s 1987 Archimedes range was 97mm high (that’s about 4 inches) which is just a shade less than the 1985 Amiga 1000 (108mm).



Pizza boxes was just one form factor, And I certainly would not call early IBM/IBM PC compatible computers Pizza box form factor. There where XT mini/full size desktops , Mini AT desktop systems, Full size AT form factors, All-in-one AT form factors similar to Amiga and Acorn Arcimedes Risc systems. Also tower/mini tower systems All-in-one types and a few other types including Pizza box types by a number of OEM manufacturers.

With the resurgence in interested in Ye Olde Computers it is easy enough to see what was made back in the day.

Small form factor desktops are still in wide usage.

Out here, All one can find is big tower (GAMING) cases, that are fans and leds and USB ports. The mother boards just keep evolving so you need new power supplies and the new footprints need new cases.
Pizza boxs tend have ye old speed mother boards, that require vintage software that is hard to find.That also may be why they faded away.

I once had a 386SX pizza box machine. It was the usual beige color, but it had four square, bright blue feet on the case bottom. One of the buttons (power, drive eject) may also have been this same blue color.

Anyone know who might have made this machine? The CMOS batt leaked and killed a few board traces, such that it couldn’t keep the CMOS data between power cycles… so I ended up junking it.

I’d like to find another. =)

I guess, the defining factors had been drive heights and expansion cards. (Notably, the original line-up had to accommodate full-height drives.) As drives became slimmer, it was mostly about vertical card slots. As more and more of that functionality moved onto the motherboard (like drive controller, serial and printer ports, etc), you could do with 1 or 2 slots for classical desktop use and mount cards horizontally, which allowed machines to become slimmer and thus less intrusive. On the other hand, there was the move to towers for more powerful machines, for even more drive bays and card slots, becoming kind of a must for “professional appeal”, which separated the display from the main unit. (This went hand in hand with CRTs becoming bigger and heavier to the point that it would stress the then prelavent plastic cases, while power hungry machines with robust power supplies became increasingly noisy and moving them from the desk was kind of welcome.) Which in turn facilitated the mini form factors, when drives became mostly obsolete…