Technology – That Was Then, This is Now

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


I was just sitting and thinking the other day – you probably heard the strange ticking noises – about how far PC technology has advanced over the past few decades. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth now so these moments of nostalgia are not uncommon.

A computer of some kind or another has been a part of my life for so long and I marvel at the differences between what we thought was the bees knees 30 odd years ago to what we expect today.

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I started off circa 1980 with a TRS-80 purchased from Tandy, this was a very basic machine compared to today’s PCs but at that time it was considered pretty cool. Programs came on pre-recorded tapes which were loaded via a connected tape player. They were very volume sensitive with each program requiring its own optimum volume level and users had to keep a list of what programs loaded best at what volume setting. I taught myself Basic language during that time and used to amuse the kids with little programs I’d write especially for them.

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Next, I moved on through the Commodore series of computers, starting off with a good old Commodore 64 and eventually to an Amiga 500 and 600. When it came to playing games, these machines were incomparable in their day. I still have a working Amiga 500 and 600 stored away in the garage but, unfortunately, the floppies and software have long fallen victim to far too many house moves.

I can’t even recall the exact specs of my first Windows PC but I do remember they were far from spectacular. Those were the days when 20GB hard drives and 256MB RAM were pretty much the norm. I do, however, still remember the specs, if not the model number, of my first Windows XP machine purchased from Dell some 14 years ago which came with an 80GB hard drive, Pentium 4 CPU, and 512MB RAM – pretty good specs at that time but laughable by today’s standards.

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I’ll tell you something; XP sure taught me a lot about computers and the Windows operating system. I think I spent most of that initial year or so with XP on Google looking up how to fix this and that. XP really was a horrible operating system when it was first released, regularly BSODing all over the place. A decade and 3 service packs later, of course, XP had matured into a pretty good OS, but people tend to forget about those formative years.

Following the Dell’s untimely demise, I built my first custom machine. This was during a period when hardware advancements really went crazy and the “norm” moved to unprecedented new heights. The new norm for hard drive capacities increased from 40-80GB to 350-500GB.  The new standard for RAM was now 2-4GB rather than a measly 512MB, and Intel had introduced a whole new range of powerful CPUs.

My latest custom built machine is even more powerful of course. I always try to build my machines to specs which offer value while still retaining at least some relevancy for a period of time. However, technology is moving forward at such a rate that this is often a fool’s errand and, even as the last screw secures the tower’s side panel, I am aware that the machine is probably already outdated.

Peripherals:

I can’t finish up without also mentioning the dramatic advancements in peripherals. I remember saving up for months to purchase an Epson LQ dot matrix printer which cost an exorbitant $599.00au, ten times the amount of today’s basic multi-function inkjets.

And who remembers the old CRT monitors, whose bulk and weight belied their small screen size?

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Who would have thought that those humble beginnings would lead to a tiny portable device capable of not only making and receiving phone calls but also connecting to the internet, watching videos, playing games and music, taking photos, etc.

As I watch today’s youngsters nimbly manipulating their internet connected smartphones and tablets, I can’t help but wonder what awesome technological innovations might be in store for them during the next 30 years. The mind boggles!

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4 Comments

Filed under computer, History

4 responses to “Technology – That Was Then, This is Now

  1. Dave Terrell

    Great retrospective. My first PC was a b&w LCD screen 486 laptop with 1Mb RAM & 20 Mb HD. My first “build” was upgrading a Dell Dimension 2 much like yours from Celeron to Pentium, maxing RAM @2Gb, adding a larger PATA drive to the 80 Gb and the fastest PCI graphics card possible, all limited by the motherboard. I’ve built two new systems, following the same price point / performance approach as you. Thanks for the article.

  2. Mal

    Hey Jim,
    My introduction to computers was around 1990. I was working doing a bit of office work, and the boss says “Hey Mal, you can type, do you know anything about computers?”. I say nope,he says there is a computer over there in that corner, nobody knows how to use it, go and figure it out. It was an old 386, running on DOS, not Windows.

    And here I am 25 years later, still at it. I think the best knowledge is that which has been self taught.

    Cheers
    Mal