Gadget history: Personal computers

Apple IIcFor the second instalment of my ‘Gadget history’ series of posts I thought I’d look into the personal and home computers I’ve owned and/or used. I added the ‘or’ in that sentence because the first two computers I used extensively weren’t mine. Not even my dad’s. They were the property of the local University, and the only reason I got to play with them was because I was friends with a professor’s son.

Apple IIc

The IIc was the ‘portable’ version of Apple’s II series of computers. It had a monochrome display, but you could hook up a colour TV if you wanted. I remember how my friend and I figured out Apple’s own brand of BASIC without any help, not even a book (the manual was in English, and thus not very helpful for two eleven or twelve year olds).

We eventually managed to create a paint program that we could use to draw eight-color graphics. And little snake-like games. Because the machine’s real purpose was decidedly more serious, there wasn’t any fun software like that on it. Or rather, next to it, because everything came installed on 5.25″ floppy discs.

Apple Macintosh

Apple Macintosh 128kI vividly remember the day I was introduced to the Mac. My friend’s dad had brought it home and we were very excited about this amazing new machine. I didn’t realize until years later that I had been very fortunate to get to play with Apple’s very first Mac model. Few people have, and I learned a lot about computers from using the ‘128k’. It may not have had a color display, but the tiny, 512×342 pixels screen looked amazingly sharp. And the OS was a marvel at the time.

If the initial Macs hadn’t been so terribly expensive, my first ‘own’ computer might have been one. Instead, my parents got me a slightly less expensive and far more mainstream one that beat the Mac in a number of important ways.

Commodore Amiga 500(+)

Commodore Amiga 500Not only was this the first machine we had at home, it’s also the computer that made me decide I wanted to get into computer graphics. The only real problem the Amiga had was that it was the direct descendant of the Commodore 64. Because of this, people thought it was good for games only. But in fact, all the graphical power in this 7 MHz machine was available for other applications too. It was (to my knowledge) the first non-purpose-built computer that could play back animations at 25 frames per second. This, along with its 4096 color graphics made it ideal for animators, designers and video effects people.

Deluxe Paint, or DPaint, was the best pixel based animation software I’ve ever used. Mostly because there are very few other programs that do this, but it really was great. I later got a 500+ model, which allowed me to use more colors at the same time. And eventually, when I was well into art school, I got the biggest Amiga ever.

Amiga 4000T

To get through the last stage of art school I needed something with a lot of processing power. I looked into Apple’s brand new, but horribly expensive’ PowerMac series, IBM’s OS/2 offerings and regular Windows PCs, but couldn’t find a suitable DPaint alternative. That’s why I decided to get the mother of all Amigas instead.

By this time, Commodore was on the verge of collapse, and dealers were scraping together what few parts they could get. I found one that still had 4000 model motherboards (with 25 MHz 68040 processor). He sold them in huge 3rd party full tower casings. It was the most expensive computer I’ve ever bought, but it was worth every penny.

Pentium 166MMX with Windows ’95

Intel Pentium 166MMXAfter school, and with Commodore all but gone and the internet becoming ever more important to me, I got my first IBM compatible PC. It was OK I guess, but I couldn’t help but miss AmigaOS. Even at nearly 7 times the clock speed it couldn’t keep up with me when multitasking. I eventually sold it to my brother.

One thing I did like about it was the motherboard. The Asus P55T2P4. When my brother grew tired of the machine and gave it back to me, I was able to put a 500 MHz processor in it, after which my wife used it for a few years. It even had an early draft implementation of USB on board which turned out to work surprisingly well.

Homebrew PCs

My second PC was originally a 350MHz Pentium II, but I upgraded it so much that three years later the only original part was the floppy drive. I remember putting in a Celeron 300A (at 450 MHz of course), then a Duron 800 and a Duron 1300. After a catastrophic failure involving burst capacitors it became an Athlon 2000+ machine, and it’s still being used by my parents.

Core 2 Duo E6600

My current desktop PC is a reliable workhorse that runs Vista really well and makes Photoshop fly. It’s not a computer I feel passionate about, but it’s built from the very best parts I could find and has yet to let me down in any way. It’s also the first computer I built specifically to be as environmentally friendly as possible, which I’ll be sure to keep doing from now on.

Asus Eee-PC 901

Asus Eee-PC 901I’ve written about this little machine so much on this blog, that I’m going to keep this short. I’m writing this post on my Eee-PC. Wireless-N, SSD, Ubuntu purring along smoothly. What’s not to like?

3 Comments

  1. I like to try Apple, I always use windows, and i heard got a cool feature on it.

    Comment by Ari Lestariono — May 5, 2009 @ 6:05 am

  2. Thanks for the fun post, Roy. Could you write a little more about making your Core 2 Duo E6600
    “enviromentally friendly”?

    Comment by Jason Crane — May 5, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

    • Hi Jason. I blogged about that when I first got the machine, but it basically comes down to (a) picking the Core2duo over 65nm AMD’s alternatives back then, (b) spending a little extra on an extremely efficient power supply and (c) not going for a state of the art graphics card. The Samsung drives also run very cool, which keeps heat to a minimum.

      Comment by Roy — May 6, 2009 @ 3:07 pm