Tales from the crypt: Our first computers

Computerworld editors share stories of their first PCs, from classics to clunkers.

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1995: The Mac's darkest hour

The first computer I owned was one of the worst Apple Macs ever made.

I came late to this whole "online thing," as I described it back in 1995. At Thanksgiving that year, I asked a friend whether I should get a Mac or a PC. He told me to go Apple. Within a week, I'd gone shopping.

My purchase? A crippled, cobbled-together Macintosh Performa 6200, complete with 15-in. monitor. The price was around $2,100, I think, and I got it at Lechmere.

It came with a shocking amount of storage: a 1GB hard drive. It also came with 8MB of RAM and ran on a 75-MHz processor. Best of all, I could get online using the zippy 14.4K modem that came with it (and which I later upgraded to a 28.8K).

At the time, Apple had an online community (eWorld), and I joined that. Eventually I wound up as an AOL subscriber, where I found myself having a great time tracking down and printing up weather maps. Before long, I took off the training wheels and wound up really online, and I never looked back.

Given how buggy the computer was, how awful it was to upgrade and how often it crashed, it's a wonder I stayed with Apple. I got my first laptop less than two years later, an early PowerBook 3400. It's been all downhill for my bank account since then.

-- Ken Mingis    

1985: Attack of the clones

In the summer of 1985, I accepted a technical support position at PC clone vendor Leading Edge Computer. It was there that I bought my first personal computer, the Leading Edge Model D.

The standard Model D included a 4.77-MHz 8088 processor, dual 5.25-in. floppy disk drives and 256KB of RAM. It also included monochrome green-screen graphics by way of a clone of a Hercules graphics card that wasn't quite perfect.

But the price was right: For $1,495, you could have your very own IBM PC clone. With an employee discount, I paid a few hundred dollars less. As a support tech, I fielded calls all day long on the Model D, so I knew what I was getting into.

The author's Leading Edge Model D sits in a dark corner, ready to spring into action (shown on-screen: Microsoft Works 2.0). The black box in the drive bay up front is an after-market 10MB 5.25-in. hard disk drive; the unit originally came with two floppy disk drives.

This was the era when the BIOS chips in clones weren't entirely compatible, and the Model D had its share of issues. Some programs would not run at all. In other cases, a bug in the Hercules emulation prevented some games from rendering properly. I recall countless calls from irate buyers who couldn't get the chess program Sargon III to run.

Some problems we acknowledged; others we were told to take down as though we had never heard about the issue. The reason: The ROM BIOS chip needed to fix those early problems cost about $50, and the company didn't want to spend the money. Needless to say, I didn't last long at that job.

As a general-purpose business computer, though, the Model D worked just fine. At some point I upgraded the memory to a whopping 640KB and added a 10MB hard drive.

Eventually the machine passed out of my hands and went to live with my mother-in-law. To this day, it remains at her house, unused and forgotten, the ghosts of a thousand text screens burned faintly into the green glass of the monitor. It sits idly on a small desk in a dark corner of a utility room, long since abandoned and frozen in time alongside its now outdated successor: an Apple IIe.

-- Robert L. Mitchell    

1982: IBM PC vs. Olivetti typewriter


The original IBM PC (Model 5150). Courtesy of Boffy B, GNU FDL 1.2 and cc-by-sa 1.0.

In the summer of 1982, my wife began working as a computer operator for Computerland, one of the first national retail chains for PCs and such. She was able to get us an original IBM PC at a discount. I believe we paid about $1,500 for it.

It had two floppy disks, ran DOS and was, to me, not particularly useful. I continued to depend on my Olivetti electronic typewriter, which had, as I recall, a small screen that remembered your last 200 characters or so, allowing you to "easily" change text.

Ah, the bad ol' days.

-- Mark Hall    

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