Friday, August 21, 2009

Then and Now

Inspired by this page showing an ancient Atari as compared to a modern notebook, and a general desire to brag a little about my latest PC build, here's a comparison of some of the computers I have known throughout the years.

Fall 1982 - the IBM PC
Technically known as Model 5150, this old boy celebrates a birthday this month; it was released in August 1981. The stats were modest - 4.77 mhz CPU chip, the floppy disks stored a mere 360 kilobytes (about 360 single-spaced pages of text), it could only display 4 colors in graphics mode (assuming you purchased the optional color graphics adapter at all) and it was expandable to only 640 kilobytes or RAM, which Bill Gates famously said "should be enough for anybody." In more recent years folks have chuckled mightily at this - RAM is measured in gigabytes now, of course - but I think he meant it was enough at the time. The PC came with PC-DOS (a version of MS-DOS), no mouse, no hard drive; and as far as sound goes, it pretty much could just beep. Really this was designed as a machine to run spreadsheets, display bar charts and process words, but some brilliant programmers did some really nifty things with it over time.

Summer 1988 - the Amiga 2000
I have a post from last year about the Amiga, and it includes a scan from a magazine article shortly before the Amiga (later named the Amiga 1000) came out in 1985. What a great leap forward in technology - this one stored 880K on a disk, had a 40 MB hard card hard drive, displayed an eye-boggling 4096 colors simultaneously, and could play polyphonic music in stereo using CD-quality digital sound samples. Ten years ahead of its time, it sadly faded into obscurity in fewer than ten years on the market (Commodore went bankrupt on my birthday in 1994.)

November 1996 - the mail order PC
I used and loved my Amiga long past its expiration date, and finally entered the world of Windows in 1996. My "Comtrade"machine had a gigantic (for the time!) 4 gigabyte hard drive (I actually ordered the "Fireball" hard drive by Quantum, but received the Quantum "Bigfoot" drive instead), the first CD-ROM drive I'd owned, and the much-touted Windows 95 (second edition.) It was alright - in fact I still have it and it works fine!

Summer 2002 - the Obscene Machine
The OM ("Obscene" meaning excessively powered/customized) was my first "build" - and a rewarding experience it was, despite some issues with the graphics card. Speaking of which, the graphics card had a built in TV tuner and remote and 64 megs of RAM (one thousand times as much as was in the whole IBM PC.) The OM itself sported 512 MB of RAM, a CD burner (later a dual layer DVD burner), 120 GB Western Digital hard drive (R.I.P.) and Windows XP, which I've found to be a truly decent and serviceable product out of Redmond. The OM got a motherboard, RAM and hard drive upgrade last year (SATA2 internal drive and external 1 Terabyte drive for offloading stuff when I inevitably fill up my machines.)

Summer 2009 - the Home Theater PC
This year's model boasts the following components:

Cooler Master "Centurion 5" case (courtesy of Craigslist "Free," this one made some lists of the best and quietest cases - not the tops of the lists, but still)

LG GGW-H20L Blu-ray CD/DVD drive plays and writes all formats including the defunct HD-DVD as well as the winner of the format war, Sony Blu-Ray (six times the fidelity of DVD, and stores up to 50 gigabytes on one disc.)

Silent but deadly ASUS video card with 512MB of RAM (as much as my whole computer a few years ago) and HDCP and HDMI ready.

Top-of-the-line Gigabyte brand motherboard

Solid-state OCZ Hard Drive (unlike traditional hard disk drives, SSDs have no moving parts to fail, so they are (in theory) more rugged, and definitely much faster than waiting for hard disk platters since they are all RAM.)

6 GB Mushkin DDR3 RAM (12 times as much as in the 2002 pc)

Intel i7 Quad-core Processor (got a great deal on this chip - and it has 4 cores and eight threads, so it trumps anything that came before it, not to mention all its other new features...)

The HTPC will run Windows 7, so I will be dodging the whole Vista debacle. Even though this gear will look archaic very soon, I'm having a ball with it, and can't wait to watch my first Blu-Ray movie on my new monitor!

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