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Nerd Nostalgia – Remembering Desktop Computers of Yore

It’s easy to take for granted these days the computing power we have in our pockets at any given time. It’s been said, and I think I believe it, that the average smart phone has more computing power than all the computers used to send Apollo astronauts to the moon and back. That’s an amazing thought…

But we didn’t just end up with smart phones out of the blue. It was a long process from vacuum tube computing machines in the 40s and 50s to where we are today. And, being the nostalgic nerd that I am, I thought it might be fun to relive some of my pages in that book, so to speak.

So without further ado, here are the computers I grew up on.

Commodore 64

I’m pretty sure my parents had this one when I was born (1984). My mom probably wrote her masters thesis and her doctoral dissertation on it. It was a total workhorse; I can remember playing games on it until I was in probably 3rd grade, and after we quit using the computer we used the monitor as a second TV.

  • Computing power: Several large hamsters, most of whom were angry.
  • Monitor colors: More than a crayon box, less than reality…?
  • Most played game: Dig Dug; Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Seriously, my sister and I kept case files…

IBM 386

Somewhere along the way, we picked up an IBM 386, and I was first exposed to Microsoft Windows 3.1. Man, that was awesome… That was back when windows were windows, and operating systems knew how to take a beating, you whippersnappers! The 386 was the first machine I ever used for word processing. It was 3rd grade, I believe, and I wrote what I’m sure was a really comprehensive piece on Georgia history.

  • Noise when powered on: More than a hybrid, less than a diesel.
  • Time to boot up: Enough to make and eat a bowl of cereal.
  • Most played game: Minesweeper.
  • Games of Minesweeper won: Zero, because what is even the point of that game?!

IBM Pentium 2

My memory is fuzzy here, but at one point I’m pretty sure we had, and were using, both the 386 and the spanking new IBM with the PENTIUM 2 PROCESSER WITH MMX TECHNOLOGY. What a cool name! Along with the cool name came a lot of new processing power. Like, enough to play a pretty decent flight simulator (at least by 1997 standards). This was also the first computer I ever used to access the internet.

  • Number of tries to successfully install Windows NT 4.0: At least 3.
  • Most used search engine: WebCrawler.
  • Most played game: MechWarrior 2; Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Dell Pentium 4

At the height of the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” craze, we got ourselves one with a Pentium 4 processor. More than that, it was black. How awesome is that?! This was the first desktop we owned that could really come close to replicating modern video game consoles graphically. It was a great machine. I took it with me when I moved to college. It was also the last desktop I owned. During the summer after my sophomore year of college I took the Mac plunge and got myself a PowerBook G4. If this computer was truly the end of the desktop era for me, then it was a good one to go out on.

  • Most used internet-ey thing: AOL Instant Messenger.
  • Monitor colors: “Millions and millions” (I never understood that…)
  • Most played game: Rainbow Six; Jane’s Combat Simulations: USAF

It’s easy to forget sometimes that I’m a part of the first generation of kids who truly grew up with personal computers, either at home or in the classroom or both. And it’s probably not possible to quantify how different our childhoods were from the generation before us, or from the current generation who are growing up in a world where they’ve never not had the ability to send someone into space in their pocket. Strange days…

What were some of the computers you grew up with, or that had a big impact on you as a young nerd?