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Computers

(Last updated December 8, 2018)

I'm not exactly sure what the point of this page is. I upgraded to a new computer (again) and realized, in a fit of nostalgia, how much old crappy hardware I had around and I wanted to catalog it. I guess this will also be a history of my involvement with computers, starting from the beginning. I get the added bonus of being able to point people here if they think I am insufficiently geeky or hardcore, "Chief Technology Officer" title notwithstanding. If you want to know about my various other devices, you can visit my mobile page.

YearComputerDetails
1982? TRS-80 We only had this for a little while. It was on loan to my Mom while she took some programming course. I think for a while my parents thought that was a mistake since it got me into computers. I guess the Porsche resolved that once and for all.
1983? Timex Sinclair 1000 Including a "tape storage device" (read: tape recorder) and the 16k memory expansion pack. I loved the video chip, which had "slow mode" and "fast mode." The only problem was that the screen blinked for every single character update in fast mode. I think it was hooked up to an old black and white TV. The only game it could run was Chess.
1984? Atari 800XL Now before you say anything, this was not one of the cheapo Atari computers with the flat keyboard panel, this had a real keyboard. It not only supported BASIC but also Atari game cartridges and came with a Panasonic KXP-1091 printer and a floppy drive! Wow!

Subsequent upgrades included a color monitor, then joysticks and game paddles (for programming games, of course). What more could you want? Ah yes, a hard drive...
1987? 4.77/8 Mhz 8088 My first real computer, a classic XT-compatible. It actually had a hard drive of a whopping 20 MB, an insane 640k of memory, and of course the omnipresent Hercules compatible monographics card with the tiny little amber monochrome monitor. It did run Windows 1.01. Fortunately I figured out quickly how to lock it in "turbo mode."

Eventually it was upgraded with a Kraft KC3 joystick (great for AutoCAD and Sierra 3D Helicopter Simulator, and even had an IBM PC and Apple II/II+/IIe/IIc selector switch), blistering 1200 baud modem and a second(!) 20 MB hard drive, as well as, drum roll please, an original Microsoft mouse complete with ZSoft Paintbrush software. I think it went to a couple cousins when we got rid of it.
1991 MITC 25 Mhz 80386 The computer I took away to college, with a whopping 130 MB hard drive and something like 8 MB of memory. It was the top of the line when I got it. In case you are wondering, MITC was a local computer place (long since out of business). The name stood for "made in Taiwan computers." It did have a color monitor, and a Super VGA card. It ran Sopwith, TankWar and Visual Basic 1.0 like nobody's business.

This one was upgraded with a second 130 MB hard drive, a Sound Blaster Pro (which had a MIDI port and an onboard synthesizer and began my obsession with electronic music), and a 2400 baud MNP-5 modem, the better to log into the college network and this thing called the Internet.
1993 Micron 66 Mhz 80486 Some ditzy girl at college decided she needed a laptop and was selling this (including CD-ROM) at a cut-rate price. I am not making this up. It played Doom a lot better than the 386 (maybe it was the 32 MB of memory). Wait, no, I mean, Maple took much less time to solve calculus problems. Wait, uh... never mind.

The old 386 went to my parents. This one got a prized USRobotics 9600 baud modem, an HP inkjet printer, a Gravis Ultrasound, a Sony CD-ROM that could read digital data from audio CDs (which was a big deal), a Sound Blaster AWE32, and a 10 Mbps ethernet card as upgrades. The AWE32 even had its own upgrades, to 2 MB of memory. As for the ethernet card, I was lucky enough to live in a dorm that had ethernet straight to the Internet. In 1994. Eventually I added a Music Quest MIDIEngine 8Port/SE and a Connectix QuickCAM (yes, the original black-and-white model).
1996 Frankenstein 90 Mhz Pentium Take one Micron computer. Replace 486 motherboard with Pentium motherboard holding 64 MB of RAM. Add one cork (yes, a cork) keeping the motherboard far enough from the frame to not short out.

Technically this is not a new computer, but if you replace the brains... good enough. I think it also got a new video card (Diamond Stealth 64), a USRobotics 28.8kpbs modem, a 250MB tape backup, an ISA SCSI card and a couple of ZIP drives, a 2GB hard drive, and a Philips CDD2000 CDR drive, as well as an additional 24 MB of memory. I think I first connected my Sharp Zaurus to this one.
1998 Kehtron 400 Mhz Pentium II The cream of the crop in 1998, with a mammoth 8 GB of hard drive space, 64 MB of memory, a 2X Creative Labs DVD2240E DVD player and decoder card AND a 4x CD-ROM, a Sound Blaster 64 PCI, and an ATI 3D Rage Pro video card. I even have a naked picture of it.

This one got a lot of upgrades. Let's see... 4(!) video cards: a Matrox Millenium/Daimond Monster 3D combo, a 3Dfx Voodoo3, and a 3Dfx Voodoo5 (yes I was unlucky enough to buy one, right before 3Dfx vanished). 3 new sound cards - a Digital Audio Labs Digital Only CardD, a Sound Blaster Live! Platinum with Live! Drive front panel, and an M-Audio Audiophile 2496. Somewhere along the way it picked up first a BTC 24x CD-ROM and then a Sony 8x/4x/32x CDR/RW drive, an HP color inkjet printer and then an EPSON Stylus 740 color printer, a Best Data Smart One 56SPX V.90 56k external modem, an Iomega Ditto 4GB tape drive, a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro, a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer (the one with the laser), and a Adaptec PCI SCSI card for the Syquest SyJet 1.5 GB drive and the UMAX scanner. Plus a NetGear fast ethernet card. It also got an extra 64 MB of memory. Indirectly it benefited from a Linksys KVM switch, a 3COM 10Mbit ethernet hub, a Netgear RT314 Cable/DSL router and Verizon Infospeed DSL, and a Netgear ME102 802.11b Wireless Access Point. It's also the computer to which I connected my Everex Freestyle palmtop. At one point I had a parallel port switch box hooked up to cycle between the 8Port/SE, the printer, the Ditto drive, and the QuickCAM. It had gone through a lot and was still going, but the battery was almost dead and it blue screened quite a bit. It was almost ready for that big used computer shop in the sky.

This one got a new lease on life with the installation of an 8MB ATI Rage Pro video card and Red Hat Linux 7.3. Then it got a completely new life by being shipped as a gift to my aunt and uncle in a little town in Texas called Marfa.
2001 1.8 Ghz Pentium IV Buy one bare-bones Pentium IV with 256 MB of DDR RAM on an Asus P4T socket 423 motherboard. Add 80 GB IBM hard drive, Sony CDR/RW drive, VisionTek GeForce 3 video card, M-Audio Audiophile 2496 sound card. Be happy. Replace Sony drive with HP dvd200i DVD+RW drive, and be happier. Upgrade to 768 MB of RAM, and add Sound Blaster Live! Platinum card, and feel the love flowing. Experiment with overclocking to 2.0+ Ghz and decide against it. Replace the clunky old printer with an EPSON Stylus CX5200 color printer/copier/scanner, and be a media maven. Upgrade mouse to Logitech Mouseman Dual Optical mouse, play "Day of Defeat," and dispense death with pinpoint accuracy. Add a Belkin 5-port USB 2.0 card and a Maxtor external 120GB USB drive, and feel much better about backups. Replace the GeForce3 with a PNY Verto GeForce FX 5900 card and start kicking some big-time ass, especially on a sweet new ViewSonic VX900 19" flat-panel monitor!!
2002 1.9 Ghz Pentium IV Pentium IV 1.9 Ghz + 256MB 133 SDRAM + 40 GB IBM disk + A/V/L motherboard = very capable test and development machine for Windows 2000 Server and .NET. Also a very good Christmas present for my parents.
2003 Compaq Armada M700 Pentium II 400 Mhz My company was having a fire sale on used laptops, so I picked this up this comparatively old and clunky model as a backup to my other PCs. With the addition of a Netgear MA401 Wireless PC Card or a Linksys WET11 Wireless Ethernet Bridge, it is completely portable.
2004 Athlon 64 3200+ Ok, so the P4 1.8 wasn't really a bad computer, but the GeForce FX 5900 was a bit crippled running in a 4x AGP slot, and there was better out there. So I got myself an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ CPU in an Asus K8V Deluxe motherboard with 1GB of PC-3200 RAM, running dual 80GB drives in a striped 160GB RAID 1 configuration. For good measure I threw in a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum, and of course the GeForce FX 5900 from the P4 (which got the GeForce 3 back). I also got a new joystick for it, a Saitek Cyborg EVO. It even has enough USB ports for the printer, backup drive, and Wacom tablet. Sweet!! With the addition of an Edirol PCR-80 61-key USB MIDI keyboard, I can get rid of all my old synths. Speaking of the printer, interesting story about that CX5200. It seems that Epson multifunction printers have a way of dying on a regular basis, shortly after the warranty expires. Problem with the print head or something. Well, after a new set of ink cartridges didn't fix the CX5200, I called Epson to complain and they sent me a CX5400 replacement gratis. About a year later, the CX5400 died. So I junked it and replaced it with a Canon Pixma MP500. This machine also acquired a ZBoard convertible gaming keyboard (really a cool invention), the VX900 monitor was replaced by an HP f2105 21" widescreen flat-panel monitor, the dvd200i drive was replaced by a dvd640, and first a Linksys WMP54G Wireless-G PCI card and then a Netgear WPN311 RangeMax wireless PCI card appeared (which by the way crashed my computer on a regular basis). The wireless card talked to the Netgear RangeMax WPN824 router that was hooked up to my cable modem. In late 2006, the whole thing was looking a bit old, but the addition of an ATI Radeon X1600 Pro video card (that AGP bus has some legs left after all) perked things up a bit.
2006? Dell Optiplex 466/T At a certain point I realized I had a problem: lots of powerful new computers, a pile of old 5.25" floppy disks to archive, and no 5.25" floppy drives. I solved that by "borrowing" an old P.O.S. desktop Dell from our IT guys, which to this day I have in the basement to do nothing more than read 5.25" floppy disks, which I haven't done since, oh, 2006. I'm pretty sure this computer has an 66 Mhz 80486 processor, hence the name. Ancient.
2007 Core 2 Duo E6600
Core 2 Quad Q6700
Three years is a long time for me to go without a new computer. I almost made it but came up a couple months short :). I decided to get serious about my computer upgrade with a Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 Ghz) processor on an Intel D975XBX2 motherboard with 4 GB of Corsair DDR2 PC-5400 RAM. Add to that an Enermax 600-watt power supply and an EVGA GeForce 7900 GS video card, all in a sleek black case with those cool blue LED fans running Windows Vista Ultimate, and you have a nice PC. I pulled over the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum and the HP dvd640c from the Athlon, with a new Western Digital 320GB SATA2 disk. The Athlon got a Samsung OEM DVD-RW and a new ThermalTake 500 watt power supply to replace the old dying RAIDMAX power supply. Add the necessary peripherals - Edirol MIDI controller, Wacom tablet, Logitech mouse, ZBoard, SanDisk ImageMate SDDR-92 card reader, and get ready to rock. It's hard to back up 320 GB onto 120 GB disks, so I also picked up a pair of Maxtor 300GB external drives for rotating offsite backup. Oh, and yes... the motherboard does support a future quad-core CPU. Oh yeah. This computer also got the Canon printer and a Seagate 160GB second hard drive as a scratch disk. After a while the internal drive ran out of space, and was replaced with a Seagate 750GB model. To back it up I got a Maxtor One Touch 4 750GB external drive, and then also a Maxtor My Book Essential 1TB drive. I got tired of the ZBoard and retired it in favor of the good old Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro. After a while I decided to finally get a truly Vista-compatible sound card, and replaced the Audigy with an X-Fi XtremeGamer and a Cakewalk Music Connection USB MIDI device, because I also dumped the Edirol controller in favor of my very first keyboard, and still excellent controller, an E-mu Proteus MPS+. After Call of Duty 5: World at War came out, the 7900 GS just wasn't cutting it, and was dumped in favor of a massive EVGA GeForce 9800 GTX+ card.

This computer got a major upgrade in late 2009, after much hemming and hawing on whether to get a Core i7 computer. The Seagate 750GB main disk and 160GB scratch disk were replaced with an Intel X25-M 80 GB solid state system disk and a Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5 TB data disk, the 4GB of RAM was replaced with 8GB of faster RAM, and another 1TB Western Digital MyBook Essential external drive was added for backups. All the new hardware also got a new operating system: a fresh build of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit in place of Vista Ultimate 32-bit. Capping off the upgrade frenzy was a switch from the original Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU to a Core 2 Quad Q6700, the most powerful CPU the D975XBX2 could handle. All good stuff for running Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2, Office 2007, plenty of virtual PCs for development, and of course, Call of Duty 5: World at War. Since I didn't replace the motherboard, I don't really consider it a "different" computer.

While blazing fast, the 80GB solid state drive did start running out of room, so I replaced it with an Intel X25-M 120GB SSD. I also replaced the aging SanDisk Compact Flash reader with a Kingston multi-card reader, since both my Nikon D7000 and Panasonic LX5 used SD cards instead of Compact Flash. I used the 80 GB SSD as the storage for my new Sanho Colorspace UDMA memory card backup device, which I used to backup memory cards on vacations. At the same time I upgraded my home network to gigabit, with a little D-Link DGS-2205 gigabit switch. In mid 2012 my trusty Netgear WPN824 wireless router died, or at least started failing intermittently, so I replaced it with a Netgear WNDR3700v3 N600 dual band gigabit wireless router. At about the same time, the cheapo RCA DCM425C cable modem that Comcast supplied also died, and I replaced it with a Motorola SURFboard SB6121 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem.
2011 Toshiba NB255 This is one of my wife's computers, a little netbook, with an Atom N455 1.66 GHz CPU, a whopping 2 GB of memory (after the 1 GB upgrade), a slow 160 GB magnetic disk, 10.1" display, and Windows 7 Starter. It's very small, and very light, and very slow, but it works for what she needs to do with it, which is mostly web browsing and OneNote. I was not jealous.
2012 HP Pavilion dv7 Core i7-2820QM My wife got another new computer, this one even faster than my then desktop of the time! What's going on here??? Now I'm jealous. It was packed with a fast Core i7-2820QM quad-core processor with hyperthreading, 8 GB of RAM, a beautiful 1920x1080 17.1" screen, an Intel 160 GB SSD system drive and a Toshiba 500 GB 7200 rpm data drive, and a Radeon 7470M graphics card, all running Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. It certainly does everything she needs, which is mostly web browsing and Office 2010. Ironically, one of the reasons she got it was to remote in to her work computer over VPN, but several months later she left for a new job.
2013 Puget Systems Core i7-3770K If three years was a long time to go without a new computer, six years was a really long time (especially after my wife got two new computers in the interim). After wringing as much as I reasonably could out of my home-built Core 2, I decided it really was time for a genuinely new-as-in-new computer. The first step was to make a buy vs. build decision, which really had been going since late 2009 when I first contemplated a new computer and started looking at some buy options, including off-the-shelf from the likes of Dell and custom system builders like Puget Systems. I opted against building because I just didn't want to spend the time it would take to do it properly, and opted for a custom system from Puget because of their excellent reputation and right balance of best-of-breed parts and customization options. I have to say the team at Puget is great, particularly the rep with whom I worked in both 2009 and then again in late 2012 and early 2013 (Wilson Chau).

So on to the business at hand: I wanted a computer that was fast (to easily chunk through lots of big 36 megapixel raw images from my Nikon D800E), had plenty of space (to store said images and various other stuff), quiet (to produce and mix electronic music and also not annoy my wife), and expandable with all the latest interfaces and ports. I wound up with a Core i7-3770K 3.5 GHz quad-core CPU with hyperthreading on an Asus P8Z77-V Pro motherboard with 16 GB of Kingston memory. The motherboard is loaded with onboard video, sound, Bluetooth support, and pretty much everything I expect to need for the next few years, plus two more memory slots for another 16 GB of memory if 32 GB is just where it's at. Storage comes courtesy of a 240 GB Intel 520 SSD as a system disk and a 2 TB Western Digital Caviar Black storage disk, plus an Asus 12x Blu-Ray burner and an Atech PRO-37U USB 3.0 internal card reader. All of this was packaged (very nicely) into an Asus P183 V3 case with silent fans, acoustic insulation, a Seasonic X-560 560W power supply, and a Corsair Hydro H60 water cooler on the CPU. Is it quiet? Let's just say that my old PC sounds like a vacuum cleaner in comparison. I also got with it an Asus GeForce GTX 660 video card to cover my 3D gaming needs now and in the future.

I did pull over a bit of hardware from my old system, including the X-Fi ExtremeGamer sound card, Canon MP500 printer (which just keeps chugging away), the they-don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro and Logitech Mouseman Dual Optical mouse, the HP f2105 21" monitor, and finally the Cakewalk Music Connection USB MIDI interface, although installing it was surprisingly difficult because the driver software is crap. As all this was happening I tipped over the threshold of available storage on my rotating offsite 1TB backup drives, so soon after setting up the new computer I picked up a pair of 3TB MyBook Essential drives to use instead.

I went with Windows 8 Professional on the new system, a tiny risk but well worth it. I find that I actually like Windows 8, although I don't spend much time in the Metro or Modern or M-whatever-they're-calling-it-now interface. Most of my time is on the desktop, where I can get to almost everything I need, and the search tools for applications and settings are actually quite handy. There are a lot of subtle but useful improvements on the desktop, and a lot of the important stuff in the OS itself is available via keyboard commands.

The thing I was most worried about in all of this was upgrading from Quicken 2010 Premier to Quicken 2013 Premier, because coincidentally Quicken 2010 was dropping online service support at the end of April. Quicken has a pretty bad reputation in Amazon reviews for various bugs and problems, but the upgrade went through without incident.

The only issue I had with the new PC was the Atech PRO-37U, which only recognized inserted media intermittently. They sent me a replacement which has so far been fine.

I upgraded the system to Windows 8.1 shortly after it came out, running into a couple compatibility issues. The main problem was that my Cakewalk Music Connection USB MIDI interface stopped working, and although there were some drivers from Roland that probably would have worked with it, installing them was a major pain in the ass and I decided to get a new interface. The nearby Guitar Center had a iConnectivity mio USB MIDI device, so I tried it and it worked.

In late 2013, after many years of solid service (somewhere between 7-8, I'm not even really sure), my Canon MP500 decided to stop using its main black ink tank, and neither repeated deep cleanings nor a replacement ink tank would fix the problem. I was already frustrated by the lack of support for the scanner in Windows 8, so I had little issue in getting a new printer, and replaced the old workhorse with a Canon PIXMA MG7120, another multifunction inkjet photo printer that has all the latest bells and whistles (like wireless networking built in and an additional ink tank for gray ink). Hopefully it will work just as well. At the very end of 2013 I also decided to give myself a holiday present, and picked up an Asus PA279Q 27" ProArt wide gamut WQHD (2560x1440) monitor. The screen is awesome (near 100% Adobe RGB color coverage) and huge and actually not that much bigger physically than the HP f2105 it replaced. At about the same time I installed (again) the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 I'd purchased a couple years earlier, the modern successor to the Natural Keyboard Pro that is getting to be impossible to find after 10 years out of production. I mostly fixed the clunking space bar by putting two adhesive velvet pads on its underside, strategically located at the points where the hard plastic supports hit the key itself.

After using the ProArt monitor for a little I realized the dot pitch was just too small for "normal" work in a lot of software that still is pixel-based, like Propellerhead Reason, and the screen was actually a bit too big for my tastes. Some research online also revealed that the backlight dimming mechanism in the Asus monitor was pulse width modulation, which explained the eyestrain I was getting when I turned the monitor down to usable, less-than-thermonuclear brightness. After doing some additional research in late 2015 I found what I now consider the perfect monitor, a Dell U2415 24-inch 1920x1200 monitor with a large size and unusual pixel resolution that provides a perfect compromise of reasonably large dot pitch and plenty of screen real estate. It's "only" 99% SRGB, which I've found is more than adequate. There are a few sunset and flower photos that look their best in Adobe RGB, but for the most part, the difference is tiny. Earlier in 2015 I also added an Elgato Game Capture HD60 and the appropriate adaptor for my iPad so I could record HDMI videos on my computer -- mostly for the admittedly lame reason of recording my best Clash of Clans war attacks and upload them to YouTube!

Eventually I also relented and upgraded to Windows 10 before the free upgrade offer expired. It's been stable, and that's about all that matters.

In mid 2018 my trusty Sound Blaster X-Fi stopped working in my music software, probably thanks to some Windows 10 automatic update, and after much hemming and hawing on whether to get a pure audio interface or not, I replaced it with a Sound Blaster Z. Then the Sound Blaster Z sometimes stopped working, and I had to restart my PC to fix it. Awesome :(. Late in 2018 the Sound Blaster Z started malfunctioning and wasn't being recognized by its own control software (probably thanks to yet another Windows driver update), and I tried out what I thought was an amazing solution - an ESI Maya44 Ex. The control software for the Maya44 was great, but as soon as I saw that the drivers were more than two years old, I got worried - and found that the CPU load for the supposedly optimized ESI ASIO drivers was higher even than the Sound Blaster Z! Turns out ASIO4ALL with my motherboard's onboard sound worked just fine, and it even had an optical digital output.

Around the same time, I was getting frustrated by the performance of Reason with fancy new rack extension synths, and started researching new computers and CPUs - but also played around with the settings, and found out that disabling hyperthreading improved the performance and stability in Reason, and allowed me to easily overclock the system. Nice!
All content copyright(c) 1993-2013 by Anthony Ruggeri. All rights under copyright reserved. 0.0 seconds.