Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thinking Machines (a geeky hardware bio)

I've been spending a lot of time with my laptop lately, sometimes at the exclusion of my friends and family. At my current rate of usage, I'm either headed for a techno-break this summer or an addiction intervention. My current "ride" is a Dell Inspiron E1705 - which features a 17" wide screen and a recent video card mod. I picked up a Nvidia 7800 GTX last winter in order to handle some of the new games on the market, any more power and this thing is going to melt. The laptop was originally a gift to my wife, who used it for about a year before admitting that it was a little large for her tastes. I know, shades of Homer Simpson giving Marge a bowling ball with his named engraved on it. We ended up buying her a smaller laptop, which was a better aesthetic fit for her writers lifestyle. If you know Christy, she's on a constant quest for all things tiny (case in point, check out the ASUS Eee PC). Ok, enough chatter, on with the infinitely interesting hardware bio categorized for your convenience.

70's: Home Gaming Consoles
If any of you grew up in the 70's, undoubtedly you'll remember the living room invasion knownas Pong. A kid on my street was the first to get the Magnavox Odyssey. I'm not going to describe it because this video will provide everything you need. Who would have known that light blocks were so captivating!?! This progressed to several other iterations like the Sears and J.C. Penny's knock-offs until the awesomely wood grained Atari 2600 arrived on the market. This machine gave us the closest thing yet to a real arcade experience.

80's: Personal Computers Arrive
Contrary to the idea that the Apple IIe started it all, the gaming console plowed the way for PCs to enter the home in the 80's. Colecovision was the starting left tackle, making way for the Donkey Kong touchdown. Also, Intellivision football remains etched in my mind. Apple's and IBM's were still too expensive for my social caste, so the Tandy TRS-80(a.k.a. Trash 80) was my first real computer experience. I first learned to navigate DOS, and hilariously simple text adventure games using this machine.In high school, my class used Atari 400's to learn BASIC and make simple games using Atari's Player Missile Graphics system. Typing on its mylar-beeping keyboard was quite a challenge, not to mention that a few pages of code would fill it's 8k of memory. I loved this machine, and I still have one today. Later in high school, my friend Jay picked up a Commodore 64 which led to early bulletin-board piracy, and a creepy visit to a local illegal game seller (on 5.25" floppies, no less!). M.U.L.E. and JumpMan were both awesome games on that platform.

It wasn't until college that I started to see the Apple Macintosh show up in my dorm. I lusted after the Mac but again it was too expensive, only the spoiled kids had them. By this time, the acronym "PC" had come to mean a DOS-based platform. I survived the early iterations of Microsoft Windows with several 286/386 machines in the late 80's. Let's remember that this was the era in which Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect ruled the desktop. Microsoft wasn't a powerhouse in anything but MS-DOS at this point, and that wouldn't change until Windows 3.0 came out in 1990. As a quick sidebar, when I left Microsoft in '96 we had over 85% market share in word processing and spreadsheets - shows you how voracious Microsoft was in the 90's. Another odd factoid, my first machine at Microsoft was a Macintosh which I used for the first year I was employed at the company until Windows 3.1 came out and all our Macs were replaced with PCs.

The Obsolete 90's
I was really frustrated with PCs during this decade. I remember buying a Dell Pentium 90 when they first came out in the early 90's. I spent a little over $2k on a machine that was basically obsolete in a little over a year. It's coolest feature was the new CD-ROM drive, which could run illustrious "multimedia" titles like "Microsoft Frank Lloyd Wright", "Myst", and "Seventh Guest". Moore's Law was pounding my bank account. Essentially, there was something infinitely better coming out every six to ten months, that would totally change your life. This is the first time I remember caring about the processor/RAM/video card combinations in my machine. Laptops were still incredible heavy in the mid 90's. I remember lugging around a buggy Compaq laptop in some of my consulting gigs. In retrospect the best value of the 90's was the much-ridiculed eMachine. It was like an old sock, if you found a hole in it you'd just throw it away and buy a new one. Unfortunately, my wife inherited most of my old socks - indifferent to my fanboy tech needs...

The New Century of Customization
Around the turn of the century (I love that we get to say that now, it sounds so important), I started building my own PCs based on all the readily available components on the Internet. I definitely had the DIY bug up until about 3 years ago when I became a Dell zealot. I have built everything from the obnoxiously large server tower case to the a tiny shoebox-sized machine with a handle - because you never know when a LAN party might bust out and you gotta jam! Now in 2008 I'm all about the laptop - portable, powerful, and flexible. Alright, that last line was like a bad tag line. I'm amazed if any of you are still reading at this point, time to type "CLS" and go do something else.

1 comment:

Christy Raedeke said...

Oh, now I see. I am to your old computers what Nevada is to nuclear waste.