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Lurch
05-03-2005, 03:56 PM
Spring cleaning sometimes turns up some interesting odds and ends, especially when one doesn’t do it every year. Or even every other year. I ran across some overhead projector transparencies that I had used many years ago as a guest speaker at Oregon State University. It was long, long ago in the last century (late ‘80s), and the class was meant to introduce students to personal computers. Herewith a quick trip down PC memory lane (pun intended) from the perspective of that class. Propeller-heads will recognize more than non p-heads.

IBM PCs clocked at 4.77 MHz, and were still considered a viable option, at least for writing papers. IBM PC clones on the market had a “Turbo” mode, which allowed running at 7.16 to 8 MHz, and still caused oohs and ahhs from PC novices, which included most people. IBM ATs running Intels’ 80286 microprocessor were mainstays, and IBM had just introduced the PS/2, which disappeared quicker than you could say “proprietary.” High-end computers used the Intel 80386 processor, and memory was still divided into three classes: Standard, Extended, and Expanded. Windows had already gained a reputation as a kludge. Anyone doing serious work still used PC/MS-DOS. The first Intel 80386es, by the way, ran at 16 and 20 MHz. (A 2.0 GHz Pentium clocks 100 times faster than a 20 MHz 386. Internal changes in the architecture of each generation also had a positive effect on processor efficiency, so clock speed doesn’t tell the whole story.)

Monochrome monitors still sold as well as color monitors. The standard monochrome (green or amber) screen resolution was 720 x 348. Color offered several resolutions, from basic CGA (640 x 200 and CGA’s “game face” 320 x 200), to EGA (640 x 350), to VGA (640 x 480), to SVGA (800 x 600), with the price going up at each step. Extended VGA (1024 x 768) was an exotic and expensive option that few software packages supported. Some of the stuff sold today won’t run on anything less than 1024 x 768.

Floppy disks were a necessity. The original, and I mean waaay back, IBM PC 5.25” floppy was a single-sided disk that held 160 kilobytes of data. When double-sided drives were introduced they initially held 320K, but that was soon increased to a whopping 360K. AT floppy drives increased the capacity to 1.2 megabytes of data. 3.5” floppies first appeared on the IBM PS/2, and they held 720K. A high-capacity version soon became standard at 1.44 megabytes.

PC hard drives were about the size of a hardcover novel. The first hard drives offered in the IBM PC held 5 megabytes of data, cost several hundred dollars, and were soon increased to 10 megabytes. By the time the IBM-AT hit the market, PC drives were in the 20 to 30 MB range, and the AT started with 40 megabytes. At the time, most people thought that 40 megabytes was nigh unto infinite storage. Yes. Well. Now, 40 gigabytes is considered the bare minimum, 1,000 times the capacity of the AT drive.

Memory in the original IBM PC was restricted to 640 kilobytes of RAM, because IBM engineers couldn’t see any reason why anyone could possibly need more. IBM had a choice of two Intel processors, the 8088 and the 8086. To save few bucks they chose the 8088, which led to the memory limitation. If they had gone with the 8086, many of the ensuing memory hassles would never have happened. The very first PCs came with, if I recall correctly, 16K of RAM and a cassette tape drive for storage. A single-sided floppy drive was optional. You could, of course, add more memory up to the 640K limit. That limit would come back to haunt IBM when it became apparent that 640K was not enough for AT-class machines and Windows. Programmers were forced to resort to writing all sorts of contorted code to make use of “Extended” memory beyond 640K. It didn’t help that Microsoft’s MS-DOS was also limited to directly addressing the same 640K, and Windows has been paying the price ever since. Only recently has Windows made a clean break with the past. Today, 256 megabytes of RAM is the bare minimum needed.

One transparency reviewed typical costs of the various systems:

IBM XT clone, 640K of RAM, one floppy, 30MB hard drive, mono monitor............... $ 750
IBM AT clone, 1MB of RAM, one floppy, 40MB hard drive, mono monitor................. 1,000
80386 20 MHz clone, 1MB of RAM, one floppy, 40MB hard drive, mono monitor.... 1,400
Dot matrix printer........................................... .................................................. .................... .200

The only “affordable” printers available then were based on typewriter technology or dot matrix, either noisy impact or quiet but slow and non-permanent thermal. Most dot matrix printers had a “letter-quality” mode that produced passable type for everyday use, but you wouldn’t want to print your resume on one. Laser printers cost thousands, and inkjet printers were still a gleam in some HP engineer’s eye. Color printers weren’t even on anyone’s radar.

WordStar was a very sophisticated word processor that ran from a single 360K floppy disk, with enough room left over to hold several word processing files. Programming efficiency was mandatory then because of memory and storage limitations. As the ability to address more memory increased, programmers got lazy and programs became increasingly bloated. Floppy drives have all but disappeared from personal computers because nothing is written with enough economy to fit on one. Even data files can now exceed the capacity of a 3.5-inch floppy. CD-ROM and CD-RW drives have become the standard method of delivering software to a PC and backing up data files.

Oh, how far we’ve come.

Don

Meerkat
05-03-2005, 04:00 PM
Point of order: standard PC hard drives started out where they are today: 3.5" form factor, considerably smaller than a hardback novel. I still own the first HD I ever bought (ca: 1991), a Maxtor SCSII 1 GB drive that cost me $1100. :eek: :eek: :eek: I needed it for the work I was doing back then though. It sits ensconced in a small server tower adjacent to a "DX-2/66" motherboard - that's a 80486 running @ 66MHZ - top of the line for it's day! IIRC, it's got 4mb of RAM too! Woo! ;)

Today's laptop computers have standardardized on a smaller form factor: 2.5". At maximum, they hold less than a 3.5" and the fastest available 2.5" are slower than the fastest 3.5" available.

MickeyLane
05-03-2005, 04:06 PM
I must be older than I thought. As I write this, there are four (4!) core memory modules within 10 feet of me. I also have a mess of 8" floppies somewhere in the pile.

MickeyLane
05-03-2005, 04:49 PM
Point of order: standard PC hard drives started out where they are today: 3.5" form factor, …

Point of order, part duex: The 1st PC hard drive (early/mid 80s) was a five and a quarter inch wide, one inch high MFM ST506 drive with a capacity of about 5 Mbyte. I think I threw one away just a few days ago. Three and a half inch drives came along a bit later.

SCSI drives came along a lot later (relatively speaking). I’ve got a DEC RZ22 here in front of me (SCSI, 50 Mbyte). From the date code on the chips, it looks like it was made in ‘89.

Lurch
05-03-2005, 04:50 PM
Originally posted by Meerkat:
Point of order: standard PC hard drives started out where they are today: 3.5" form factor, considerably smaller than a hardback novel. I still own the first HD I ever bought (ca: 1991), a Maxtor SCSII 1 GB drive that cost me $1100. :eek: :eek: :eek: I needed it for the work I was doing back then though. It sits ensconced in a small server tower adjacent to a "DX-2/66" motherboard - that's a 80486 running @ 66MHZ - top of the line for it's day! IIRC, it's got 4mb of RAM too! Woo! ;)

Today's laptop computers have standardardized on a smaller form factor: 2.5". At maximum, they hold less than a 3.5" and the fastest available 2.5" are slower than the fastest 3.5" available.Sorry Meerkat, standard IBM PC hard drives started out at 5.25" form factor. The first models were "full-height," about 3" high by ~= 7"=8" deep by ~= 5.5" wide. Later models were available as "half-height," about 1.5" tall. I opened my store in 1983 and was involved with PCs for a couple of years before that. I not only repaired systems, I custom-built them for clients. 3.5" hard drives weren't available until the late 1980s, and as you found out, the first ones were spendy.

Don

Meerkat
05-03-2005, 04:52 PM
Oops! 5-1/4" - you're right! I think they shrank to 3-1/2", full height and then 3-1/2" half height pretty rapidly though.

SCSII predates PC's. It was popular on minicomputers, IIRC.

Meerkat
05-03-2005, 04:57 PM
I worked in the 2nd computer store to open in the world: Byte Shop of San Francisco (in 1977 or 1978 or so). The store quickly dropped affliation with the Byte Shop franchise and, since we were only 50 miles N. of Silicon Valley, mostly did business directly. Met both Jobs and Wozniack at the store, as well as too many other names I've forgotten over the years. (We never should have let Apple buy back that Apple-1 we had - they quickly became rare collector's items.)

Interesting side note about the owner of what became known as "The Computer Store of San Francisco": Al (forget his last name) was the principal architect of IBM's 360 line. His background was as a millwright. Alas, he was a hopelessly innefectual businessman.

MickeyLane
05-03-2005, 04:58 PM
Might want to check SCSI (http://www.acad.humberc.on.ca/~khnr0066/P11.htm)

Meerkat
05-03-2005, 05:00 PM
I clearly remember a 3-1/2" 5mb hard drive ca 1981... Probably a Shugart.

Meerkat
05-03-2005, 05:04 PM
Originally posted by MickeyLane:
Might want to check SCSI (http://www.acad.humberc.on.ca/~khnr0066/P11.htm)Yup, like I said, SCSI predates IBM PC, albeit, not by much! tongue.gif

SCSI was first widely used in minis. Remember that hard drives didn't hit the PC for 2-3 years after it's introduction.

ahp
05-03-2005, 07:08 PM
Some of my coworkers built their own PC's which predated the Apple and the IBM. It was sold as a kit and was called the "Gimix".

Bruce Hooke
05-03-2005, 07:22 PM
I've got a nice 1988 or so vintage Tandy PC stowed away under my planer. Word processing on it was done on Sierra Homeword, which ran off a "real" floppy disk because there was no hard drive...

The 4GB hard drive that came in the computer that replaced that Tandy is still running. I have it in my current computer along with two more modern hard drives...

Lurch
05-04-2005, 09:18 AM
Anyone remember the Commodore Pet, Kaypro, Trash-80, or Osborne, with its puny ~4"-5" screen?

Bruce Hooke
05-04-2005, 09:23 AM
My landlord (an art history prof) was still using a Kaypro with a tiny screen in about 1995!

Bruce Taylor
05-04-2005, 09:44 AM
I remember all of those quite well.

I had one of the first C64's, in 1982. With its cassette drive, daisywheel printer and a copy of SpeedScript (hand-typed from an issue of Compute! magazine) it made a passable word processor.

There wasn't much software available, at first. I wanted to learn touch-typing, so I created a game in which the cursor was a little red mouse who "ate" words, while a large blue cat (interrupt-driven sprite graphics!) chased him down the screen.

Incidentally, if you're nostalgic for an old system you can probably resurrect it on your current PC (along with much of the original software) by using a freeware emulator. There are emulators for most of the popular computers of the 80s (C64, Vic20, Apple II, Atari, Sinclair, TI99, Coleco, etc...even the early Macs, I believe).

[ 05-04-2005, 10:54 AM: Message edited by: Bruce Taylor ]

Bruce Hooke
05-04-2005, 10:01 AM
Hell, if you are nostalgic for an old system you can HAVE my Tandy! :D

Bruce Hooke
05-04-2005, 10:04 AM
I still remembering going with my father in about 1983 to get an Apple II. And I remember bailing out my mother when it wouldn't do what she wanted it to do when she was writing her master's thesis...

MJC
05-04-2005, 10:30 AM
If you were really into computers in the mid to late 70's, you bought an S-100 bus computer from MITS or ALTAIR.

And, BTW, about the floppy drive, a number of companies were making an 8" drive and Western Digital cobbled up a controller board kit for it for S-100 bus in 1975, more than a year before the 5.25" drive was invented.

Lotsa weird stuff was hung on S-100 bus computers. I remember working with a 10mb removable platter hard drive from Pertec, it was the size of a dishwasher.

P.I. Stazzer-Newt
05-04-2005, 11:00 AM
Anyone remember
Playing "Decathlon" on an Apple II?

or Startrek on a Univac 1100 series?

Writing a production code change on a twelve button manual card punch.

Reading paper tape by eye.....

Using an 80 col card for something unrelated to computing

[ 05-04-2005, 12:02 PM: Message edited by: P.I. Stazzer-Newt ]

Lurch
05-04-2005, 11:30 AM
Originally posted by Bruce Taylor:
I remember all of those quite well.

I had one of the first C64's, in 1982. With its cassette drive, daisywheel printer and a copy of SpeedScript (hand-typed from an issue of Compute! magazine) it made a passable word processor.

There wasn't much software available, at first. I wanted to learn touch-typing, so I created a game in which the cursor was a little red mouse who "ate" words, while a large blue cat (interrupt-driven sprite graphics!) chased him down the screen.

Incidentally, if you're nostalgic for an old system you can probably resurrect it on your current PC (along with much of the original software) by using a freeware emulator. There are emulators for most of the popular computers of the 80s (C64, Vic20, Apple II, Atari, Sinclair, TI99, Coleco, etc...even the early Macs, I believe).Ah, Compute! magazine. Jim Butterfield, et al. A neighbor bought a VIC-20 when they first hit the market, and we'd spend hours typing in programs, only to type "RUN" and have them crash. Then we'd spend more hours comparing the print version with the typed version, looking for the typo that caused the crash. Peeks, pokes, and sprites. Finally breaking down and buying the cassette recorder so all that typing wouldn't be lost when you turned off the computer. :eek:

There was a computer chain specializing in IBM and CP/M PCs in Salem in the early 80's. They had a kiosk in the showroom showcasing an IBM PC Jr. What customers couldn't see was the Commodore 64 inside the kiosk that was actually running the display. :rolleyes:

Here's (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=181) a good place for a dose of computer nostalgia.

Lurch
05-04-2005, 11:37 AM
Originally posted by P.I. Stazzer-Newt:
Anyone remember playing ... Startrek on a Univac 1100 series?
Was that a character-based game? I vaguely remember something similar, where you'd enter your move and the characters on the screen would rearrange themselves accordingly.

I also remember some rather randy pre-graphics card ASCII printouts. It's surprising what you can do with just a bunch of X's, 0's, 1's, and M's. :D

Cuyahoga Chuck
05-04-2005, 11:40 AM
I wish you guys had not brought up the old 8086 PC's. My first PC was one. I was given one in about '94.
It was the only computer I evergot a grip on. It was my buddy.
About a year later I was given a clapped-out 486 with a 250M hard drive. It was at that time that head scratching caused me to lose a bunch of hair. That reflex is still with me today. A 160 gig HD is a hole that can swallow a file so it's never to be seen again. Oh,Lord, where will it all end?
As I peck away at a keyboard that is connected to a whole 'tater sack of computing muscle I dream of that old 8086. IF I still had it I would have it bronzed because it was the only machine that did not tie my mental processes in knots.There was plenty of time to daydream and suck coffee as it slowly crunched away.
It's hard to imagine that something that was considered so amazing in it's day would be relagated to memory lane along side other oldies like the "Lone Ranger" radio show and hula hoop.
Time marches on.
Charlie

Bruce Taylor
05-04-2005, 11:54 AM
How about Dungeons of Moria? Pyroto mountain at 300 baud? Castle Adventure?

The net, before www & html?

FIDOnet?

Bruce Taylor
05-04-2005, 11:58 AM
Jim Butterfield, et alYeah, he had his own little 6502/10 empire. I used his Machine Language monitor for years...SuperMon, I think it was called.

Meerkat
05-04-2005, 12:05 PM
Originally posted by MJC:
If you were really into computers in the mid to late 70's, you bought an S-100 bus computer from MITS or ALTAIR.
Yup - a MIPS Altair 8800A to be exact. People were electrified when it showed up on the cover of the January, 1975 issue of "Popular Electronics" (IIRC).

About 6 months after initial introduction, they started up something called "the kit of the month club" where you could send off $75 or so per month and get portions of the full kit to build. The first thing they sent was the case, backplane and frontpanel. It required soldering 4-6 PC board connectors and 200 wires between the front panel and the backplane.

Next was the mammoth power supply with it's huge transformer and gigantic capacitors.

After that came the memory card - A princely 256 BYTEs of static memory storage.

The last card was the CPU card (no CPU). Solder in lots of chips and the CPU socket.

I never bought the last installment, which was the CPU (8808): by the time I was ready for it, it was considerably cheaper to run down the peninnsula and buy one for ~$45 from Jameco Electronics. My first one was a toaster: LOTS of heat and no cycles! Fortunately, they replaced it, and - my computer worked!

The first program was something toggled in via the frontpanel switches that just made the front panel lights scan back and forth. The program was lost every time the machine was shut off, so it ran that darned program for days and weeks at a time.

Ultimately, the box got 1-3 8K static memory cards (don't recall how many exactly), an upgrade to a Z-80 (2x the speed and wooosh!), home made (from a kit) "Oliver" brand paper tape reader I could never get to work, a video card (25 lines x 80 characters - a little better than the typical 24 lines x 80 characters that was the norm of the time!) and, at last, a Northstar 3-1/2" floppy disk with a fabulous capacity of 87kB and it came with Northstar Basic!

On the strength of that little wimp, I started my first business to create POS terminals for a local camera chain and, we did it! Built a butt-ugly prototype using a custom (by us) box, a pair of cassette tape recorders (digital, from that company in Denver that started with an "S") and a wonky little Japanese paper roll printer. The Northstar went along for development. Ulitmately they shot us down over fears our ugly box wasn't going to get pretty enough to go on their cash register stands and that was the end of that! They did let us keep the hardware though, so I got the Z-80 CPU card and the Northstar floppy back!

I think I ran that bad boy for 4-5 years and then I didn't have a computer until I could afford a PC-AT clone with an 20MHZ (?) 80286 CPU, huge 40MB hard drive and 2MB of ram some years later!

My next computer was a little Apple II, which I ended up loathing and despising for it's lack of case on the keyboard (EVERYTHING was upper case! :eek: )and it only had 16 rows of 64 characters. Slower than god too! It featured a pair of ?? KB floppies and 64 (plus an add-on?)KB of ram.

That was eventually followed by the 66MHZ '486 that still sits in the corner, the dual 200MHZ Pentium Pro box sitting (shut down, but was working the last time I had it on) on the right corner of the desk and the 1.5GHZ AMD Athlon box I'm typing on right now on the left side of the desk. There are a couple more computers in various states of partiality around the house now too.

[ 05-04-2005, 01:14 PM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]

MJC
05-04-2005, 12:36 PM
Ahh, David, you take me down a faulty memory lane. MITS or IMSAI (the first clone).

Paper tape readers!!!

I remember the day my Micro - Soft Extended Basic (the 16K version) arrived on paper tape with a handwritten note from Bill himself - "It's still a little buggy, let me know what you think." - at least something to that effect. Wish I'd saved that note and the paper tape.

I had a whopping 48K in the machine, part of my "pay" from the bankruptcy of the Computer Store where I was working.

[ 05-04-2005, 01:37 PM: Message edited by: MJC ]

Lurch
05-04-2005, 01:14 PM
Originally posted by Bruce Taylor:
How about Dungeons of Moria? Pyroto mountain at 300 baud? Castle Adventure?

The net, before www & html?

FIDOnet?I imagine someone will chime in about working teletypes at 150 baud or less, but my first experience was at 300 baud. I ran a BBS for about six years sponsored by my store (tax deductible, eh?) on a Commodore 64 and two 1541 drives (170K per disk), later supplemented with an aftermarket dual disk drive 1541 clone for up/downloading files. I joined CompuServe when it was text-based, not owned by AOL, and still a decent service. I remember moving up to a 1200 baud modem and thinking it was the perfect speed because the rate of the text scrolling up my screen coincided with my reading speed. I don't know how anyone can live today with 56 Kbd dial-up. :cool:

paladin
05-04-2005, 01:34 PM
let's go back even more, dudes...built my entire first machine...and tons of memory cards....one S-100 buss memory card held about 40-50 integrated circuits and had a capacity of 1 kilobyte..memory chips were 14 pin dip 2114's....still have a few tubes.....and did our own design for video cards