About My Computers

I knew from a very young age that my life would involve computers to a strong degree. Electronic devices and any sort of machine always had my undivided attention. So it's no surprise that I'm now a computer tech.

The first real computer I ever used was most likely the 286 in the office of a women and children shelter which my mother and I stayed at when escaping my father. It had games on it like Tank Wars and Oilcap. The other kids and I would bang on it and blow each other up, though we were no match for the staff. I must have been 4 or 5 at the time. Shortly after I'd also get to play on another shelter's computer, and once we had an apartment of our own, one belonging to a neighbor. I'm unsure what they were, outside of being PCs. One had Sim City on it though, and it nearly took a crowbar to get me off of it.

It probably would have been 1995 when I got a computer of my own. It was an Apple IIe clone by an obscure company called Circle. 2 single sided 5.25" floppy drives, 64k of RAM, a 12" amber Amdek monitor, and a Roland dot matrix printer. All that for $10 at a garage sale. Plus a big box filled with pirated Apple II software. From the handwritten labels I learned that the previous owner was a man named John Wolford. (And from the internet, I recently learned that Mr. Wolford died in 2007 of a brain tumor.) I didn't care much that an Apple IIe clone was ancient history by the mid '90s, it was still a computer, and that was enough to excite me. I tried out all the games, playing classics like Donkey Kong and Shogun. I dabbled with things like Print Shop Deluxe and News Room, making ugly printouts on the half-dry dot matrix printer. I tried to wrap my head around 8 bit computing, as it was the only kind I knew at that point. And when I found myself sent to the first of many foster homes, that computer was important enough to me that I somehow managed to lug it along.
(I don't think the staff realized that I had a Nintendo there which I could play in my room by connecting it to the Circle's monitor. Though I didn't do this as often as you might think, since Mario was a lot less fun with no sound or colour.)

It wasn't too long after getting the IIe clone that someone asked me if I wanted what would be my first PC. And, rather fittingly, it was a clone too. An XT clone in one of those cases where the top opened like a car hood. This time it was a green monitor, a 20 meg ST-225 hard drive, and even things like serial and parallel ports! It too was very dated, which is why I got this one for free. And though I didn't have any software to use on it, I still remember the big label across the top of it which instructed you to "PARK YOUR HEADS!!" with a special DOS tool.

It was about this time that I got my first taste of the internet. I can't for the life of me recall if this was in 1996 or 1997, but the school had a computer lab. The tables around the room were covered in AST 486s, I think they were, and the computer class consisted mostly of opening Kid Pix and making ugly messes with the stamp tool for a half an hour. But one day the class was different. We were told we would be surfing the world wide web! And so all of us kids double clicked on the Netscape icon, and watched in wonder for several minutes as a tiny bar crept across the screen and progressive images slowly gained detail. We had loaded a web page! I presume the lab must have had an ISDN connection or something of the sort, as our computers had no modems. I shudder to imagine what the network protocols might have been. In any event, the very first website I ever viewed was Yahooligans!, a sort of Yahoo web directory aimed at kids. And I saw something about Archie comics and Sonic the Hedgehog. But I didn't have long to explore, as it was at this point that the internet connection went down. That would be the last time I saw the internet until 1999.

After getting my first two machines the flood gates opened. Suddenly, any time I saw a computer being thrown out or offered cheap at a garage sale, I had to have it. An Apple IIgs for $20, a Commodore PC 10-III from an unknown place, at least a dozen barely functional XTs, ATs and 286s from the PC Galore free pile, with names like APCO TURBO. 2 different C-64s. A Tandy 1000HX that never worked. Come to think of it, quite a few of the machines never ended up working. But between the lot I managed to make a little progress. I slowly learned a bit of DOS. I bought a computer game for the very first time, a copy of The Secret of Monkey Island from a thrift store in Washington. And I successfully dialed into a couple of the remaining BBSs with a 2400 baud modem.

But it wasn't until 1999 that I finally owned a computer with Windows on it. Everything before then was DOS. Or worse. So it was amazing when I got my first 486 running Windows 3.1. An NEC with an SX chip and a Maxtor hard drive. It was my first computer which I would still consider to be modern, in the sense that it had all the pieces of a modern computer. A 32 bit CPU, a hard drive, colour display, mouse, keyboard, sound, a Windows operating system, it was all there. Suddenly I could actually see what my computer was capable of, instead of stumbling around blindly in command prompts that I barely understood. Unfortunately there wasn't much the computer could do without an internet connection or a collection of software. And what little software I had for PC was almost entirely games. So I still found myself in that frustrating position of being aware of the potentially amazing thing that sat on my table, but having no idea what to do with it. In the end, the problem solved itself when the hard drive went.

2000 would be a landmark year for many reasons, but for me it marked the year when I not only got my first Pentium class machine, but also got on the internet. It originally came to me as a stripped Socket 5 machine from PC Galore's free pile. Even the cache chips had been taken. I scrounged up a Pentium 75 chip for it and an 800 meg Quantum hard drive, and probably something like 24 megs of RAM. It was enough for Windows 95a, and after some overclocking to 90 MHz, enough for Starcraft! More importantly though, with the addition of a PCI Aopen 56k modem, it was internet ready. And so I signed up for a budget ISP, and I was finally online.

The internet of 2000 was so much different from the internet of today. I wouldn't hear of Google for another few years, and Geocities was the hot site. But I was captivated. Right away I started spending hours online, reading and exploring, but most of all interacting with other people. I used IRC, MSN chats, AIM, anything to reach out. And it was amazing to see responses coming back. I was hooked.

Over the next year or so I browsed heavily. I couldn't get enough. I played games like Starcraft and Starsiege: Tribes against other real people, somewhere out in the world, and it was amazing. I even once got disconnected during a Starcraft game, and my modem managed to re-connect and obtain the same IP address before the game timed out and kicked me!

My PC slowly went from a crash-prone Pentium 75 to a slightly more stable and significantly faster Pentium 233 with MMX. And windows 95 was thankfully replaced by Windows 98SE. But it was still pretty problematic, and so in 2001 I somehow convinced my last pair of foster parents to help me get an all-new PC. This was a first for me, and a huge leap forward in capability. If the 486 was the first computer that I consider modern, the machine that replaced my socket 7 box would probably be the first computer which most people today would consider modern. For I went from a 233 MHz Pentium 1 to an Athlon 1300. And after a few false starts, settled on a Geforce 2 Ti. Now we were talking! Combined with a cable internet connection provided by my foster parents, I was finally a part of the modern world of computing.

That Athlon stuck with me for a very long time, though by the end of it I think I'd replaced every single part at least once in a sort of rolling upgrade/repair. By the end it had turned into an Athlon 2200+, which I kept using for far longer than sanity would have advised. Partly because I was broke, in fairness. But also because, after the initial teething problems, I had hit upon a combination of hardware that was shockingly reliable. And Windows 2000 Pro was humming right along with 30 day uptimes and very few problems. I struggled to justify replacing a system which was so stable.

In fact it wasn't until the start of 2007 that its replacement came, in the form of a Core 2 Duo system. That little budget E4300 was so many times more powerful than my old Athlon that I didn't care that it didn't have 4 cores or hyperthreading. I was blown away by how much more powerful my system was.

In the years that followed my e4300 was replaced by a prototype QX6700 that had been reviewed by The Lab with Leo Laporte, after they donated their evaluation hardware to Free Geek. And then, like the Athlon system above, I kept the system for ages. It would keep chugging until 2012, when I retired it in favour of an i5 system. And that's where I am today.

My current PC is an ever changing mix of new and salvaged hardware. Currently it has an Intel Core i5 2500k on an Asrock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3. It is equipped with 16 gigabytes of DDR3-1333 RAM, a fanless Nvidia GTX 550Ti video card and 3 x 3TB Seagate Barracuda SATA drives in a RAID 5 array. Operating system is Windows 7 Pro on an Adata Sandforce 120gb SSD. The 100/5Mbit Cable connection is provided by Shaw.

Last edited June 16th 2013

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