My computers: the retro article

Originally written a long time ago and updated over the years.

The rise and fall and rise again of my computers and a life wasted in cyber world!

I don’t know if it is wrong or right, bad or good, but a lot of my life has been spent inside a computer in cyber world. I was happy, wasn’t I? I am dyslexic and had trouble reading and writing when I was young, computers just made so much sense!

The coming of the Apple 1970’s
My first experience of computers was an Apple 2 at my Mum’s work, sometime in the late 1970’s. Then it just seemed to have great games on it. Subsequently they had Apple IIe and an AppleIIc. I was allowed to use these computers and did a lot of Apple Basic programming which was very good practice for making websites as it turns out. I ended up owning the IIc and IIe when they were thrown out as obsolete.

Great times were had holding the paddles (2 wheel things, one for each hand, acting as a joystick) playing Choplifter and Breakout. Also all the keyboard games such as Trolls Gold, Lemonade and Wilderness were great fun.. then. These were the days when you bought a book full of programs and typed them out word for word to make a new game to play. In the end I had quite a few. Having to type ‘catalog’ to view the items on the 5″ floppy and then “run ‘so and so'” led me onto making my own programs and I would spend hours fine tuning my many little creations. One of my favourite times for computers, they offered a whole new exciting world. The first Apple 2 didn’t even have small letters, it was all in capitals.

I blew up the IIe buy trying to fit a PC card, what a stupid move. In the end I got rid of them, as the green screens drove me mad, especially the tiny one on the 2c. And the software was getting so old. One day I switched it on after using my Amiga and I thought that it was so rubbish having old computers that I sold it all. I so often wish I had kept them.

I find it a shame that I fell out of love with Apple in more recent times, back then these were so super, and I have fond memories of the quirky ways in which they worked and were programmed. I often wish I could fire one up again. But not that much.

The coming of the Spectrum in the 1980’s
At home I was bought a Sinclair Spectrum when I was a kid and rather than just play games on it I had a good go at programming.

Starting with the 16k, where I was unable to load so much stuff. I think I was bought an upgrade to 48k quite soon after, though I am not sure how soon it was. Later I also had it put into a proper keyboard, though for some reason they stuck with the space bar as a button to one side like the original speccy keyboard, I really hated that.

Many hours were wasted on the games, I loved the flight simulator F15 Eagle and all the old favorites: Attic Attack, Sabre Wolf, Jet Pac, Luna Jetman, Manic Miner etc etc. Not to mention my first ones, Hungry Horrace, Planetoids and Breakout.

Beyond games and basic programming it became pretty useless in the end and I couldn’t handle all the loading from tape anymore, as I never got any drives for it. Once, when I was programming an epic adventure game I was working on for weeks, my Mum wanted to cut my hair one night and I sat with the speccy on my lap and programmed while she cut my hair. As the leads were too short on the tape deck I pulled them out. After the haircut I saved the game back to tape and reset the machine. Then I noticed that the leads were out! I had recorded blank over my game and cleared the computer’s memory! What a doofus! But as computer tech people know, the big mistakes are what make us learn.

Old PC’s fill a gap
I owned a few chucked out old PC’s: Olivetti and the quirky Apricot. I did Dos and Gwbasic programming on them. They were so old that they had to go in the end with no real software available anymore. I did have a lot of fun using Dos and getting Gwbasic to do fun things. It was nice to have a harddisk after the old Specy. At one point I had several Apricot’s and Olivetti’s making a few functional ones from a pile of them. The Apricots were the least useful but the LCD screen with shortcut buttons on the keyboard was fun to manipulate, if nothing else. They looked futuristic even if they were, under it all, a rather limp PC.

The coming of the Amiga in the 1990s
Things got more interesting when I got an Amiga 500plus. Then I stepped up to 1200 which had better graphics. I modified this 1200 with a lot of upgrades but went one step too far when I bought a big tower case and card slot motherboard (for 7 cards) including a Delfina Soundcard. While trying to get all this to work (it turned out that the card slots were not comparable with the Delfina) I was jiggering the whole lot (while switched on) and the stripped wire power lead fell out the back of the Amiga, fell across the motherboard and blew the whole thing up. I was unable to afford to buy a replacement, so I sold all my A1200 stuff and bought an Amiga 2000 which I put the Delfina Soundcard into. The A2000 was a good workhorse and a ‘030 processor at 70htz. Which made it a fast computer (at the time). The restriction was the graphics chip being the same as the A500. I thought about getting a graphics card, but never decided on the best one to get, or had the cash required to get it.

I did have a lot of fun at the Amiga stage, making music, playing games and using it for serious activities. Making first steps onto the web with the 1200 and 2000. I spent hours and hours on my old Amigas and I look back at them with fond memories, sometimes I wish I had never sold the a1200 (or blew it up). I loved the Amiga time. Hours and hours were spent on Civilisation 1 and 2, Settlers, The Secret of Monkey Island 2, Sim City 2000/3000, loads of demos and other games. Making music, paint, animations, word processing, images, and just major geeky fiddling around. Loads of software packages to play with. Happy times, who needed girls? I will never forget when I fitted a 1GB HD to the A1200 and A2000 I thought it was just so huge! Easily my favourite time for computing.

Playstation 1 / 2
I had many hours of fun on the PS1 and 2. Gran Turismo, grand theft auto, music 2000, Fluid. All the demos you used to get on magazine DVD’s, happy times. What the Amiga couldn’t give me in games the PS1 could. The Amiga 2000 was the serious computer and the PS1 for play, though it’s music capacity of the PS1 was high with Fluid and Music 2000.

The coming of the PC in the 2000’s
They had been primitive for a long time, the Apple and Amiga were better bets but the PC was finally starting to make my old computers look silly. I held out for sometime with my old technology at home, even though I was using far better at work. So I got a cheap Pentium 100. Which was so slow but ultimately could offer no more than basic word processing, basic web design with Netscape Composer, slow internet and a couple of old games. I liked it though and at the time had the Amiga 2000 and the PS1 as extras for what the PC could not offer.

Then, in about 2001, I stepped up to a better PC, the Compaq EXm 933mhz, which I put in a graphics card and Creative Soundblaster Audigy Platinum card with Drive for the 5″ bay, this had a huge array of connectors for music application. With this I was finally able to make better music, do serious web design and fast games. Programming seemed to have died on its feet but for HTML for webdesign. This was about the time the Amiga left my life, the poor old thing could not come close to the PC and PS1. The PC had a Tatung 17″ monitor, which to me seemed huge for my home computer, even though we had bigger at work.

This was the time I got Storm music software as it was bundled with the soundcard, in 2012 I was still playing with Storm for years, even though Arituria stopped developing it and reduced support, I still rated it as a splendid, almost analogue, virtual music rack. The amount of music I made with was astounding.

The coming of the Laptop
Then to the laptop! The EXm was starting to show its age and was a huge lump of computer and I wanted to travel. Laptops were getting as loaded as desktops, so why not? The HP Compaq nx9010 I had was faster than the old EXm. Only a 15″ tft display, but it displayed full to the edges and appeared little different to the old Tatung 17″ monitor. Ultimately though I was frustrated with the sound quality and fought with it for a long time, always my issue with laptops until much later. For a long time I tried to convince myself a laptop could replace a desktop.

Lightning Strike!
During a thunderstorm there was a surge down the phone line and the nx9010 laptop was zapped! Luckily my house insurance covered it and I got a replacement, this time a Compaq Presario R3114EA which was slightly faster and slightly more expensive than the old one, perhaps not quite as slinky though. As usual it had it’s little raft of Compaq faults such as the USB mouse did not initialize on startup but was also better than the HP in that the fan didn’t fire up every 30 seconds and make a right racket.

No computer
In March 2005, the Compaq went wrong and I had no computer at all, I sold everything I had computer related as was skint. I now relied on computers at work. I went anti-technology and bought a sharp font writer from ebay at £1.20, it took me no time to know it inside out. The reason I sold all my old computers, stupidly in some ways, was simply a lack of storage space. Oh to have all the old computers! If only I had a big spare room with all my old computers in there. Emulators have helped soften the blow but it isn’t as good as having the old hardware to play with, and I doubt very much I could afford to buy them now as computers like the Apple 2 have now entered the realms of retro computing.

I have used / use Apple Macs, various PC’s and Unix. My whole working life has been based on computers. I was not allowed to study computers at school as they said my mathematics wasn’t good enough. In this day and age that seems bizarre.

When I first used a Mac I was delighted, I still rated Apple then and the Mac seemed very exciting. Eventually I fell out of love with them. I hated ‘Suitcase’ for managing the fonts, and spent to much time having to use it. Though Quark Express and Photoshop were fantastic. Modern products from Apple annoy me rather, like my ipod. Maybe it is the geek in me but I want more control over it than Apple will let me. It is a shame as the old Apple 2 was such a different beast. (Note: I sold that ipod a long time ago as there was a complete lack of bass with them, a tragic fault)

During my time at Archant I was a superuser and loved to explore the bones of the system figuring how to troubleshoot a problem that had shut the system down is such a feeling of accomplishment when the system is back up and you found the problem. I do actually miss that a lot.

Landfill list:
Dell C610 laptop: 2006 second-hand lappy, This computer impressed me so much that I stuck to Dell from then on.
Dell Inspiron 6400 Laptop: On 2006 very powerful at the time. 2007: it died. Meh.
Dell Dimension 9200 Desktop : This was a bruiser, almost a business computer.
Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Laptop 2009 £155 Cheapest new laptop you could get then. Linux Ubuntu operating system. Was interesting to play with, sold it a year later, was so restricting, bit of a mistake.
Dell Latitude D510

2010 £200 square 15″ screen lappy Pentium 1.73GHz one gig ram.

My computers 2013:

Dell Studio 540MT Desktop
2009 £655.66
I used it as a TV, DVD player, Stereo. The OEM soundcard was rubbish as it would not record internal audio, this is a new thing to protect copyright infringement, but at the same time it stopped me making music in the way that I did before, and I was not happy with the sound quality. So I got another original Creative branded one. Other than that the computer had a few foibles but I did really like it. I loved the black shiny finish and the fact that it was a quad core. I had a terabyte HD for it.

Dell D830
2012 £400 second hand. It ran Ableton and play live gigs: Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, 4GB ram, 250gb hd, 15″ display, XP pro.

On my harddrive (2013)
Ableton Live, Traktor, Wave Lab, FL Studio, Storm, well over 60gigs of legal music, Dreamweaver, Photoshop.

Specs (just kept to see how things date!):

Dell Inspiron 6400 Laptop
Intel Centrino CoreT 2 Duo T5500 (2.16GHz 667MHz), Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (April 07: upgraded to Vista), Ultrasharp 15.4″ Widescreen Truelife (1280×800), 256MB Radeon graphics card, 120GB Hard Drive, 2048MB Memory, 9 Cell Battery, Intergrated Sound Blaster Audigy.

Dell Dimention 9200 Desktop
Intel Viiv Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.40Ghz, 1066Mhz), Memory 2048MB 667MHz, Hard Drive 320 GB, Vista Home Premium, 20″ Widescreen Ultrasharp Flat Panel 800:1 contrast, Nvdia GeForce 7900GS 256MB Graphics card, Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme, TV Tuner.

Dell Studio 540MT Desktop
Intel Core 2 Quad-Core Q8200 (2.33GHz, 1333MHz), Vista Home Premium, Memory: 3072MB 800MHz, Monitor: 21.5in HD Widescreen (1920 x 1080), 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3650 graphics card, 640GB Hard Drive, Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme, TV tuner, Logitech 5.1 Surround Speakers

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Laptop
N-Series Intel Atom N270 (1.60GHz, 533MHz), Memory: 1024MB 533MHz, Video Card: Integrated Intel Graphic Media Accelerator 950, Hard Drive: 8GB Solid State, Operating System: Linux Ubuntu, Battery: 3-cell Lithium-Ion, Integrated 1.3MP Camera, LCD: 10.1″ Widescreen with Truelife (1024×600)

2024 update.

The above was written and added to over the years. I don’t know when it was started and where I got up to in the text above. I don’t know what I had in the meantime in the way of computers, but they were all PC laptops. The Dell Studio desktop was sold when I was in Norwich in 2014.

I still had a Dell laptop at the time that I’d used to travel to Ecuador, India and Indonesia. I think I upgraded my “gig” machine and was web designing and playing gigs on it in Goa. It was second hand. As a further to the sound issue from laptops, I bought an external soundcard. Not that long after they stopped updating the drivers for it. However, the Indian DJ’s all expected me to plug the sound system into my headphone socket. Confused they were when I asked for standard audio connectors, to a laptop. I still have the external soundcard, fat lot of good it is without the drivers. However, new laptops do have way better quality audio.

After I used the gig machine to do my access course, I then had a new HP laptop for university 2015. That went wrong in 2020. Luckily I did an online masters degree and for this I had a Lenovo laptop, which is what I am typing this update on.

What a journey. OK, my computer desires were more than most, as I’m a geek, but what a lot of landfill. To think that back in the day I was designing my own computer ideas where the machines were designed to be upgraded, rather than be replaced.

So this article is more about a retro interest, rather than anything else, interesting to see how things change. I now only have the Lenovo laptop. It seems quite capable of audio and running my music software, webdesigning and writing.