My Personal Journey of Computer Ownership [Updated]

The following is a post that was originally published on the SouthGeek website in 2011. The SouthGeek Ramble & Review podcast has been retired for some time, but I thought this article about my journey with computers and technology would still be of interest.  

I started thinking about the history of the personal computer, specifically as to how it relates to me.  The very first computer that I ever owned wasn’t an IBM compatible computer.  Heck, it wasn’t even the highly successfully Commodore 64 that all of my friends had received as Christmas gifts that year.  It was the ADAM, Coleco’s entry into the emerging personal computer arena of the time.

ADAM had a cartridge slot and could play all of the ColecoVision games.  Using the High Speed Digital Data Pack, one game was shipped with ADAM – Buck Rogers.  And, for the programmer, SmartBASIC could be loaded from another HSDDP.  In comparison to the Commodore 64’s floppy drive, the tapes were very slow.  They transferred data at a whopping 19.2Kbaud.

The printer was a daisy-wheel style printer and it was loud.  The printer also housed the power supply for the computer, so the printer was on at all times.  Due to printer reliability issues, Coleco had to stop selling the ADAM system, which made them miss the Christmas buying season of 1983.  By the time the units were re-released a few months later, most people had lost faith in the system.  

I believe I received my first ADAM unit around February 1984 and subsequently had to send it back because it was malfunctioning.  After the third unit, I convinced my parents that this wasn’t the route we should go.  Plus, all of my friends had Commodore 64 computer systems and I wanted to be able to share games with them.  Thus ended our journey with the Coleco ADAM computer system.  It was a great shame that they couldn’t get the bugs ironed out of them as they did have some potential, minus the stupid tape drives, of course. [NOTE:  Years later, my Dad purchased an ADAM computer from a third party vendor that actually made additional peripherals for the unit, specifically a floppy disc drive.  Why he wanted one of the computers, I’ll never understand.  LOL]

Ironically, the only place in Fitzgerald at the time that sold the Commodore 64 was a furniture store.  So, off we went, my dad and I, to purchase a computer system.  We bought the Commodore 64, the 1541 diskette drive, the printer and the monitor.  My memory is a bit fuzzy now but I’m thinking it was around $1700 to $1900 for the entire setup.  One thing I can say about my parents – when it came to buying items that they were convinced would better my education, they didn’t hesitate.

So I was set with my Commodore 64 for a few years until it was time to move up to something else.  I played many games on that system.  Even started learning programming on it, typing in various programs from computer magazines just to find that many of them were total crap.  It was my first exposure to the PEEK and POKE commands, which I always thought was funny in how you could make the system do things by peeking or poking at specific memory addresses.  I recall that we sold the entire system to a friend of my dad for this son.

In 1985, Commodore released the Amiga and the Commodore 128.  In hindsight, I should have gone with an Amiga, but I upgraded to the Commodore 128 after selling the Commodore 64.  There were three models, the all-in-one Commodore 128 (as seen to the left and the one I had), the two piece plastic 128D and the metal two piece 128D.  The 128 had the benefit of being three computers in one.  It had your standard C64 mode for backward compatibility, the C128 mode which had enhanced BASIC support and better graphics, and then CP/M support.  It was a great attempt from Commodore, but unfortunately it had to compete with IBM compatible MS-DOS based computers that had really taken over the industry.  I found that I even spent most of my time in C64 mode instead of taking advantage of the more powerful C128 features.  I honestly don’t recall ever buying any software that ran in C128 mode.  This unit was eventually sold to a friend just as the Commodore 64 was.

So after having an ADAM, a Commodore 64 and a Commodore 128, I went somewhat backwards.  We visited the Apple Computer store in Macon, GA and I looked at the Macintosh.  I should have opted for it, but for some reason I chose the Apple IIc.  What a mistake that was.  This computer was practically useless for me.  The graphics were nowhere near the quality of even the Commodore 64 much less the Commodore 128.  As I stated in my podcast tribute to Steve Jobs, this was a terrible, terrible purchase.  But, it was my first Apple Computer that I owned and it would be several years before I ever owned another one.  The history of my IIc is a bit sad – let’s just say it stopped working after about a year if not less.

I had been working with and using MS-DOS based computers in the computer lab at my high school, but I had not actually owned one until I decided to purchase the Tandy 1000 TX.  The TX was very similar to the SX with one major improvement.  It had a 80286 processor instead of the 8088.  It’s design, however, was still as a XT class machine and not an AT class, meaning it still operated in 8bit mode and not 16bit.  But, because of the 80286 processor, it was a bit faster than the SX.

Hard drives weren’t common in PCs at that time, but when we purchased this setup, I had the 20MB Tandy Hard Card put in it, along with a 1200 baud modem.  Computer, monitor, printer – all were around $3,000.  And up until that point, the best computer I had owned, hands down.  I remember my best friend had the SX and he and I discovered the world of getting online.  No, not the Internet but the world of bulletin board systems.  Granted, we didn’t have any that were close to us, so every call was a long distance call.  But it was definitely fun.  So much so that I eventually ran one myself for a while.  But that’s another story for another article.

I used my Tandy 1000 TX all the way into the 1990s, by which time it was so slow compared to newer computers and definitely couldn’t run any of the newer software.  I did get Windows 2.0 to run on it, but the black and white interface and sluggish performance was not something I cared to use on a daily basis.  I eventually sold the computer to a church – I think for $500.

Believe it not, I actually went a couple of years without owning a computer.  I occupied my time with CB radio and other forms of communication, but I eventually felt the urge and need to have a computer in the house again.  Around 1993, I ordered all of the pieces for a custom built computer based on the 386DX-40 CPU.  I borrowed $1300 from the bank to purchase said computer parts.  That machine lasted me for quite a while and was a welcomed upgrade from the last computer I owned, the Tandy.

Since that time, I’ve slowly upgraded machines, sometimes using the same case and just replacing the motherboard, processor and memory.  Sometimes, especially when the architecture changed, I had to change everything.  I had one of the original Pentium chips, the ones that ran really, really hot.  Then there was the Pentium Pro CPUs, but those wound up being more for servers than workstations.

Around 2000 or so, I built a new machine based on the Pentium III CPU.  That was a sweet spot for me and a very powerful machine.  Of course Intel doesn’t rest when it comes to making faster, smaller and more energy efficient processors.  Fast forward to today (editor’s note:  today was Sept 2011 when this article was written) and we have the latest processors based on the Sandy Bridge chipset.  I haven’t upgraded to one yet, having built an original i7 system last year (2010).

Technology has changed considerably from the days of the ADAM and Commodore 64.  There were personal computers even before those (such as the Commodore Vic-20), but those were never really mainstream.  I personally believe that the Commodore 64 was the first computer that was generally available at a price point that most consumers could afford.  It was a strong system for a number of years, only really being dethroned by the MS-DOS IBM compatible systems.


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