Reminiscences about old computers… part 1

Inspired by a thread on RASFF (I think, might have been RASFC) here are the first in a set of reminiscences about computers I’ve owned. The lengthy bit will follow breaks, so that those of you who are here for humor and/or politics can ignore them.

I got my first computer, a Commodore 64 with tape drive, on Saturday 10/22/1983. My memory for a long time was ’82, but I distinctly remember it being a Saturday – earlier on the day of my birthday party, which was always on a weekend either before or after my birthday – and I eventually found the receipt in my father’s old papers.

Continues following the break…

Sometime during the next year, we got a disk drive for it (classic 1541), and after that a 300-baud modem – a non-Hayes-compatible self-dialing “Modem/300” (as opposed to the not-even-dialing “VicModem”) and printer (9-pin dot matrix) … around Christmas ’84 I think.

Sometime during 1986-87 school year, the C-64 died and was replaced with an original Commodore 128. It was used with all the same peripherals, though; in particular, no 1571[*] It came to Mexico with us, and ended up getting sold there rather than returning to the states.

[* 320-360kb DS/DD drive which could do MFM – CP/M / IBM disk compatible – as well as Commodore/Apple-style GCR recording, rather than the 1541’s ~166kb-only disks.]

Also during that school year, my father got his first PC, a genuine IBM PC/XT with a 30gb ST238 RLL hard drive, and a hercules graphics board. It was supposed to have 640k of memory, but seemed to only have 256k. He paid something like $2500 for it, at a time when a comparable Leading Edge or Tandy XT clone would have been around $1000.

For the trip to Mexico (I think – it may have predated it) he then got a portable machine on surplus through the DaK catalog – an Epson PX-8 “Geneva” laptop running embedded CP/M. It came with 64k of memory and an expansion unit with a 64k ramdisk, an extra cartridge slot (wordstar was always in one of the three, the others varied), and a built-in modem (300 baud, but actually hayes compatible IIRC.) For storage, beyond the ramdisk, it had a microcassette drive, and could hook to an external disk drive (which I believe my father intended to pick up, but never did.) It had (IIRC) an 8 line, 80 column, B&W LCD screen, totally non backlit. It also had exceptionally good battery life – on the order of 8 hours – although the modem or casette drive would reduce that considerably. It also came with an acoustic coupler modem (never used, very much a “WTF” part) and a serial-port printer (a reskinned Epson RX80 sold as a Seikosha.)

After we got back from Mexico, I got a Commodore 128D, which was an integrated unit with a C-128 and a 1571 disk drive all in one “PC-like” box. It also had a few minor hardware differences, most notably 64k of memory for the 80-column video chip rather than 16k in the regular 128. Initially, I still had to use it with the old green-screen composite C64 monitor (or a TV), but eventually I got an amber monochrome TTL monitor to do the 80-column video with. Oddly enough, the one we purchased for my C128D did not work with it (timing issues), while the essentially identical one for the XT did, so they got swapped. Also, around that time I got a 1581 800kb 3 1/2″ floppy drive for the 128D, giving me a LOT of storage for the BBS I wanted to try running.

The same time I bought the amber monitor for the C128D (about $70, IIRC), my father picked up 384k of memory chips for the XT to bring it up to 640k (using an existing, but depopulated, memory/super-IO card costing a little more than $150). Oddly, once populated, it didn’t work, and on further inspection I discovered that the XT *had* 640k on the motherboard, but had its dip switches incorrectly configured for 256k. Ah well! RAM chips were even harder to return then than DIMMs now, but one way or the other the system was up to 640k.

2 comments

  1. YOU SCARE ME… you know, i have a shitty memory, and i realize that, but
    ummm.. dude, you know what DAY you got your first computer. almost impressive,
    but mostly scary.

    your memory is obviously far far far superior to mine.
    – Gareth

  2. Hey, it’s a milestone in my life. I can remember that, a few birthdays, when Marie and I met, and when we got married. Other than that, I reserve the right not to remember dates.

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