THIS (my) Old PC
Where will it all stop? by Ray Levasseur (c) April 1, 1998, all rights reserved
Once fabulous, now arthritic.
I'm not sure if I should throw a party for my personal computer or provide a proper wake and burial. When I purchased it 3.5+ years ago, it was "state of the art". When Digital rolled out the Starion line of PC's, I was right there waiting for mine. Since I had many years experience with Digital's hardware, I opted to go with the best in class (my opinion). Sure, it was a tad more expensive than the discount store brands, but you pay more for a Mercedes than and Chevy. As soon as I learned Sam's Discount Club was carrying the Starion-400, I rushed on over, money burning a hole in my pocket. The Starion was one of DEC's machines aimed at the retail market, and the first was a 60mhz machine. When I got to Sam's, they had already sold out and were expecting more within a week, so a week later, there I was again, money in hand at the door. An hour later I was wheeling a cart out the door with my spanking machine. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I spent the entire day playing with my new toy. My "once fabulous" 486 was now up for sale.
Three weeks later I returned to Sam's to find my machine replaced with 75 and 90mhz models, which also had larger drives and were......gasp! cheaper than what I paid for mine less than a month ago. Sigh! the way of an ever accelerating world. The same thing occured when after I purchased my DX33 a scant two years ago. Less than a month after paying for the DX33, the same thing was available with more memory, larger disk, etc....and for less money than I paid.
Suddenly my new Pentium was condidered on the way out. The pot kept getting sweetened by all the PC makers; 90....100....120....133....166, with more and more memory, disk space, plus assorted bells and whistles. But I still decided to hold on to my 60mhz Starion, despite the media hype about the "flawed" processor's floating point problem. If I were supreme ruler of the planet, media talking heads, reporters, etc would be the first marched off to exetermination camps. The media just loves to stir up hysteria; it sells! Anyway, I never did encounter a problem with my PC's imperfect ability to math, but then I never used it to launch a deep space probe or begin my own personal version of the "Genome Project".
The sales people at all the local computer mega-stores insisted that my 60mhz was of little use outside of a paperweight. But one must keep in mind that PC store sales people are in business to do one thing, sell more! more! more! and up! up! up! I confess....I have gradually upgraded my PC, second larger, faster drive, 16-40-64meg of ram, faster modem and Soundblaster card, 17" monitor.......hmmmm, that should do! Micro$oft Office 95 Professional, Visual Basic 4.0, Netscape and other assorted "must have" software ran just fine and frisky on the 60mhz processor.
Ha Ha, try to run this!!!!
Up until recently the Starion has been a stellar performer. It is still faithfully reliable, after being worked to death for 3.5 years, being dropped from around 5 feet twice......but it's performance is less than blinding, in light of the newer, fatter, more robust, hyped shrink wrap offerings lining the shelves of computer stores. I don't own many computer games, with the exception of Myst, Monty Python's Holy Grail and Complete Waste Of Time. So OK, I'm easilly amused! Along comes Riven, a really great sequel to Myst.....but 100hmz Pentium is recommended. It "runs" on my PC...marginally. Then there is Monty Python's Meaning Of Life, which also "runs" less than optimally. Oh let's see, there's also the high end graphics package I bought that "barely" runs at all.
At about the same time I finally got a new peecee at work to replace the 33mhz Heinz-57, 12 meg of ram, etc, etc thing that sat on my desk. When I moved into a different position, they had to supply me with something to put on my desk, so the 33mhz was constucted from bits and pieces of castaway maschines in our area's "computer boneyard." I would guess that many large offices that utilize tons of PC's have similar graveyards tucked away, where the once cutting edge mechines now await the scrap man. My manager blessed a request for as much as I could hoard for under 2K. The result was a very frisky 233mhz P2, 64meg, big disk, MMX, etc, etc, etc.....hotcha!...like moving up from a bicycle to a Ferrari.
Whoops! this just in
The salesguy at MicroCenter (my personal fave store for peecees and supplies) probably knew I'd be back. I kept passing through the Wintel iron section and jotting down notes. Over the weekend I did the deed, with a little help from my housemate, "awww c'com, you know you're going to buy a new machine today. And don't give me the story that prices will drop again in a month. You and I know they will drop again in a month and the month after that and the month after that......" He is right, those courteous, helpful and greedy manufacturers have been out price gouging and blood letting for years.
So what did I get......was it a Compaq?....nope!...was it an HP?.... nope.....was it a DEC?....nope. I opted for one of their Power Spec house brand boxes, a (soon to be obsolete???) 300mhz P2, 512K cache, big fast disk, 32X cd, 64 meg sdram, etc, etc. Nice machine actually, well packaged, well constructed, more open architecture than the mass market brands. By Summer 300mhz will probably be considered an entry level PC, appropriate for a grade schooler's first personal computer, but for now, it's mighty frisky by my books. The DEC Starion would probably outlive me, as that's the way Digital builds their stuff....to last. But in today's world a new machine will be obsolete right after you get it home and set up. I decided to keep it as a spare, besides my housemate, who's an injuneer, wants to tinker with it. Before I made the decision the two front runners were either Digital or Dell, but I didn't want to spend the few extra bucks this time around. I could have also roamed the computer shows, filling bags with bits and pieces, building my own machine from scratch. After pricing this option out, MicroCenter's PowerSpec brand came in just a tad more expensive, without the hassle of stuffing my own box.
Drunk with power
My my! whatever will I do with all this speed and power: launch a deep space probe? a first nuclear strike on the neighbors? complete the Genome Project? No! I'll surf the web, run fat bloated Micro$oft products like Office-97, Visual Basic-5, Internet Exploder 4.0, etc. I figure it'll take about 6 months to fill up the 6.5 gig drive with stuff..... One tiny problem (out of many) since it came with Windoze-95B some of my older software doesn't run due to obsolete drivers and B's 32bit file system. It seems every time Micro$oft improves (tinkers with) their operating system and products, older stuff doesn't work. Ohhh....many of us love to razz Micro$oft, but to be honest (are ya listening Bill) over time I have gotten to like their suite of disk filling applications. Office-97 Professional does some very nice things, and does them well. Visual Basic, although I know very little about visual programming is fun to use. I'm even "gasp" using Internet Exploder more than Netscape these days. At least now I have the oomph to run the stuff reasonably fast.
The nostalgia machine
The first machine I had was a Digital Rainbow-100. This was an extremely well designed and thought out machine except for one thing.....it was not IBM compatible. Other than that it had outstanding video, ergonomics, reliability, etc. Mine had a whopping 768K of ram and 10mb hard drive. Those were the days, when most applications came on 1-2 360K floppy disks, and having a 14" green or amber monitor was something. The old Rainbow wound up being given away after 7 years of faithful service. At times I wonder, if every old/dead PC ever made were placed in one pile..... how high would it be? Could you fill the state of Rhode Island with them?
What should I buy then?
I'm not an expert, but do have enough experience being surrounded by these devilish inventions to give "some" intelligent advice on what to buy. Brand names tend to be personal, but you probably can't go wrong with IBM, Dell, Compaq, HP, Gateway, Digital (soon to be Compaq). Then there are the mail order (Dell is one) companies. You can also check out the house brands at stores like MicroCenter and Comp USA, which tend to use all industry standard components at a pretty good price. Orrrr... for the truly adventurous, visit computer shows and build your own. This is not recommended unless you know what you're doing or have a techno-nerd friend to help.
Hitting a moving target
what shall I buy, and how much?
Like the beer commercial says, "grab all the gusto you can." In the case of purchasing a PC, buy as much power/performance as you can afford. You may not need it right now, but you probably will in the not to distant future. Today, April 20, 1998 you can get a nicely loaded PC for between $1000 to $2000. Some little tips.
I know that I've missed some things to look for, but have touched on some key points. When you buy your PC, leave the store and don't look back...you'll be depressed a week later after you see an even frisker machine for less than you paid. It goes with the territory. The same goes for some software, right after you buy an application, the next, bigger and better release is sure to come out, especially from those curteous, helpful folks up in Redmond, Washington.
- Get at "least" a 266mhx processor
preferably 300-333mhx Intel Pentium P2.
- If it comes with 32meg of ram, shell
out the extra to upgrade to 64 or more
meg. In the long run, it will pay off.
- Many machines come with 256-512K of L2 cache. This will add some speed.
- Get at least a 2gig hard drive, 4-5-6
and up are even better for today's bulemic
- 56KB modems are prety much de rigeur for
faster connections to Satan's playground,
- Get a good Soundblaster compatible soundcard
with wave table. This makes for better sound
quality and more accurate musical voicing.
- Cd/Rom, most today are 24-32X, which means they
spin like the devil.....fast!
- Look for expandability of ISA/PCI slots, 3-4 each.
This will allow more upgradability, add more stuff
in the future.
- My personal preference is a tower over desktop box,
as there is more room to add extra drives (empty bays)
etc, plus you can set the box on the floor, freeing
up desk space.
- Don't skimp on the monitor. Go for a 17", .28 pitch or better.
If the auto industry were like PC's
I read an article a while back comparing the technology and pricing trends in personal computers, comparing car prices if the auto makers kept pace. You could get a car that cruises at the speed of sound, gets 1000 miles per gallon, never needs service and costs under $100. Of course the major problem is you'd be trading in cars every year or less. That's about it for now. I'm off, busilly enjoying the new machine, which I hope lasts until....I die? the world ends? January 1, 2000 when the world semi-ends? or the hardware/software makers dream up some way to make everything we know and love today as old as yesterday's news.
Return to Shadowlands