What was your first computer?

Gutten morgen fellow Terminalists! Can I call you that btw? You know, I’m trying to create a brand here. Like, people who watch Star Trek are Trekkies. People who watch Farscape are Scapers. People who like Firefly are… uh… Browncoats… Ok, so it doesn’t always derive from the name. The point is, that I figured that I might as well give my regular readers (all 3 or 4 of them) a name, so we can all pretend like we are a bigger and more awesome group. What do you think?

So, readers of Terminally Incoherent will henceforth be known as Terminalists. I mean, we could go with Terminators, but that would imply we are all evil robots controlled by skynet – and we are not. Most of us are scientists – we dabble in computer science, super science, evil science and assorted fields. Also, the name of the blog is Terminally Incoherent rather than Terminatorly Incoherent, so there. If you have better suggestion please post it in the comments.

Anyways, I seem to hijacked my own post on my own blog. Let me get back to the matter at hand. Let’s play the following game today – please answer the following questions as truthfully as you can:

  1. What was the first computer you have ever used in your life?
  2. What was the first computer you have owned?
  3. What is the computer you are using right now (like right this minute)?

I mean, you can make stuff up – but it’s more fun if you are honest. Then we can all share the nostalgia. My answers can be found below:

The first computer I have used in my life was this beauty. Let’s see if you can identify it from the picture:

Can you tell what this is?

Did you recognize it? Can you tell me what it is? No? Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller? Bueller?

Side note: I used the Bueller joke in class once, and none of my students (who were mostly undergrad freshmen and sophomores) got it. None of them saw the fucking movie. Not only that, but the whole class somehow managed to miss (or just ignore) the references to it that exist in pretty much every single thing that was produced in this country in the last 20 years. What the hell?

Little later, I showed them a 3.5″ floppy disk, and they were enthralled. Again, it’s the 3.5″ floppy, not the older 5″. Only one kid actually seen it in real life – he accidentally found a box in his grandpas attic one summer. I mean, really? There is only like 8-10 years of difference between us! What the fuck in hell?

Anyway, the machine is the ancient Commodore 64. You see most of my friend had more naive parents than me, so he was able to convince them that a computational machine like this was a good investment. He actually somehow sold them on the idea he could use it for school, and stuff. Of course all we did with that machine was play video games. From tape.

It’s probably a good idea to mention that this charming little childhood story takes place in Warsaw in late 80’s or early 90’s – which was a great time for piracy. You see, in those years Polish government still haven’t wrapped their heads around the idea of a “personal computer” so software was not covered under copyright law. Piracy was a fact of life. Me and my friend would just walk to the local bazaar and chip in for like 6 cassette tapes, each jam packed with like 30 or 40 illegally copied games and we would still have money left over to buy soda, candy and fireworks which were also legal and no one gave a shit about selling them to minors. We were dirty pirates, pyromaniacs and we had toys that were exact replicas of real life guns – and we grew up just fine.

C64 had a blazing fast 1.02 MHz CPU and a whopping 64KB of RAM. Yes, that’s Mega Hertz and Kilo Bytes folks. And you know what, back then it was plenty fast! At the time, this was possibly the most awesome piece of electronics I have seen in my life. I mean, you would boot it up, type in commands and it would like do shit. It blew my mind.

If you were a Commodore I will now show you something that will make you nostalgia so hard you will pee yourself:

Ahhh… Memories…

My parents refused to buy the “I can totally use this thing for school” lie, so I had to wait few years to actually get my own machine. By the time they finally caved in, the technology leaped forward a bit and I ended up with this wonderful piece of equipment:

How about this one?

Do you recognize it? It’s the venerable Amiga 600 which was light years ahead of C64: it’s CPU was clocked at 7.16 MHz and it had the incredible 1MB of RAM. You know what that meant? It meant you could basically load entire contents of the 3.5 inc floppy into memory (a floppy formatted for Amiga could fit 720KB) and still have memory to spare. In other words it was a blazing fast gaming machine, seeing how most games at the time would fit on a single floppy. You could load the ENTRIE fucking game into RAM, and have TONS of space left over for the game state, and other crap.

A600 didn’t have a hard drive because it didn’t really need it. It’s OS fit snugly on a single floppy and would boot in under a minute. Besides, most software made for the platform was actually bootable, meaning that you wouldn’t waste memory and CPU cycles running the OS in the background.

Of course, I used the damn thing almost exclusively for video games, and yes – all of them were legally pirated. Yep, Poland still didn’t have laws governing software copyrights and for the longest time I didn’t know that original games didn’t actually include cractros and trainers by default. I’m not kidding. I was so immersed in The Scene, that I didn’t actually know anything else.

The first and the only legaly purchased game I owned was Utopia and it was because some relative thought it would be a nice gesture to actually buy me a game in a nice shiny box instead of like 20 games on loose no-name floppies. No cool cractro, no built in trainer and a shitty, half translated manual – it was a ripoff.

Let me show you the app I used ALL the time – so much that I would actually wear out the floppy to the point it failed:

X-Copy - It's how you coppy that floppy!

This is X-Copy – a popular app that allowed you to… Well… To copy that floppy. Every time I visited a friend, or someone would visit me this was basically the first thing we would launch. But I left the best thing for last – this next image is something that every Amiga 600 users will know and love. The kickstart ROM screen:

The Kickstart ROM Screen

Ah… So many memories. This was basically what you young whipper snappers would call the “BIOS” screen on the old A600. I should probably mention it was animooted too – the floppy would jump into the drive, effectively telling you what you should do next. Simple, effective, intuitive and very… Purple. I vaguely remember you could press some key combination at this screen and drop to a very rudimentary, limited shell that would let you run simple diagnostic commands. Anyone remembers how that worked?

As for the computer I am using right now, you already know about it. It’s this one.

TL/DR: In this post we age ourselves by talking about using computers that belong in the museum and wallow in nostalgia. Also, you are now a Terminalist for some reason.
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27 Responses to What was your first computer?

  1. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    The 1st one’s a Commodore 64, of course. My first was an Apple IIc. I also had a Timex Sinclair. My first MSDOS based maching was made by Amstrad. At one point, I also used a Colecovision Adam :)

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  2. ths GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    my first one was a self-built thing running with 6502 and 8 digits of display. you could only code in machine language. I still know most of the opcodes by heart. Like most other 8-bit-CPUs back then it had 8 bit data, 16 bit addresses and a stunning 256 bytes of RAM, which was the most expensive chip. Bigger programs had to be burned to an EPROM. A 2708 chip = 1 KB EPROM cost about US$40 (nearly 100 DM in Germany).

    After that I got a ZX-81, built myself an Apple ][+ clone, had a used C64 for about 50 DM (which was something like US$20 in 1992ish), and shortly after I started at university, I had a PC-AT with 12.5 MHz, 512 KB RAM and 1.2 MB floppy. It was already equipped with a HD controller, but I had no money left for a HD. Back then Turbo Pascal fit on a single floppy, and you could write in convenient languages.

    The thing I still remember warmest is the Apple ][. It had a wonderful 6502 assembler/editor called “Big Mac”. I wrote assembly language for nearly 10 years on that machine.

    Currently I don’t care much about the PCs and their innards. From time to time I still assemble myself a new PC, but I choose something a generation back simply to save money. The PC under my desk has an Athlon 64 single core with 2 GB RAM, running dual-boot WXP and linux from scratch in 64 bit mode.

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  3. Aaron UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    The first one I ever used was an Apple ][e. My parents bought an 8088 from a knock-off brand that I used for school later on, which went through various home-brew upgrades to eventually be a 386 I took with me when I moved out then a 486 running various flavors of linux after a brief stint trying Windows95. But the first computer I ever bought for myself was the PowerBook G3 “Wallstreet” which ran MacOS under Linux/PPC. I have the new unibody MacBook now, using OS X since it’s basically BSD anyway.

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  4. Timmy UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    My first one…I’m not sure about. A 386, maybe?

    The first one I owned was a TI-80 graphing calculator. Which I did everything I could with. The first one I owned with a QWERTY keyboard was a Gateway Solo 2150.

    I am typing this from my current laptop, a Dell Latitude D610 (1.79Ghz, 512MB RAM, 40 GB HDD).

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  5. Scott Hansen UNITED STATES Mozilla Linux says:

    Wow, nostalgia indeed — I actually bought the Vic-20 (C64’s predecessor) with my own money! I didn’t have enough for the tape drive, so I just messed around with basic programs (which I was learning on the C64’s in 7th grade). Now I wish I’d saved that thing to show my kids!!

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  6. MrJones GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Computers, thats this thing with the internets, right? ;)

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  7. Trevor CANADA Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    My first computers was an Amiga 500 (ridiculous nostalgia), which according to wikipedia, had the same processor as the 600 but only half the RAM. I, too, used mine mostly for games, though I did play around with AmigaBASIC a bit, mainly because it had a speech synthesizer. I would write little text adventures that always ended in telling my brother that he sucked.

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  8. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I started with a VIC-20 bought by my clever Mother who had the insight that “this thing with computers is going to be *huge*”. That was a wonderful machine with a whooping 3.5 kb free for typing in your basic programs. I think one of my very first programs was a joystick-controlled flapping ASCII bird :)

    Also, thanks for the xcopy screen, that brought back some memories of goofing off with friends while waiting for the green dots to fill up.

    Do you remember the disk turbos for the C64 disk drive? They went from 2x, to 6x, to 20x. Imagine if someone created a hard-drive turbo today that speeded up disc performance by a factor 20…

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  9. smcquay UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux says:

    First one used: probably an Apple ][e or such (at school)

    first one owned: HP 9836 or close variant. I recall the scroll mouse thing, and the separate monitor. My dad worked at the University, and it was surplus.

    Currently, some Dell Dimension monster (work).

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  10. Sam Weston UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I feel really young right now…but I shall answer truthfully anyway.

    1. What was the first computer you have ever used in your life?
    It was my mum’s BBC Model B. I don’t remember much about it except that it had a 5 1/4″ floppy drive. I was really young when this was the home computer…

    2. What was the first computer you have owned?
    My dad bought home a 486 of some description running Windows 95 from work. I can’t tell you much about this either, other than it was a Zenith Data Systems box and I broke it many times when tinkering with things that shouldn’t have been tinkered with.

    3. What is the computer you are using right now (like right this minute)?
    I’ve actually got a new graphics card today, but my pc really isn’t all that interesting. It’s a machine I built myself in summer 2006 with a Core 2 Duo e6300 (1.86GHz).

    It originally had 1GB ram, a 250GB hard disk and a Nvidia GeForce 6800XT. Today, the processor is overclocked to 3.2GHz, it’s got 4GB ram, 3 drives totalling about 1.5TB storage and an Nvidia GeForce 8800GT Overclocked Edition that I bought off a friend this afternoon for £70.

    It’s run just about ever os you can think of since I built it. First Vista Beta and Kubuntu. It’s had OSX on it for a while but I got bored with that pretty quickly. It currently dual boots Arch Linux and Windows 7. The later is my primary OS this week but that changes all the time.

    I wish I could write less about this pc and more about previous systems I’ve owned but I was 16 when I built this, so unfortunately I can only remember my last three PCs in detail.

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  11. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    First one I used was made by Tiny Computers before they were bought out by Time (which dates it approximately; they were extant between 1990 and 2002) and I’m pretty sure it came with Windows 95…

    So I don’t have any cool stories of the elder-computers, but what do you expect… I was only 4 in 1995. I remember playing Theme Park though, that was pretty awesome. Oh, and if my old Gameboy counts, I started gaming on a GB Pocket at around the same time as that first PC arrived… never quite sure which happened first.

    In more recent years, I’ve been building PCs from parts since about age 15. Three examples of that in the house; my old one that was semi-retired for the use of my dad, one that was intended to connect to the TV as a media player, but got displaced by Sky+ and made less useful when we moved because it can’t pick up wifi when it’s downstairs, and of course my own desktop. Currently running on a 3GHz Core 2 Duo and a Radeon HD4850 graphics card. Over a terabyte of hard drive space across 3 discs…

    Only 1GB of RAM at the moment, but that’s because the 2GB I had in there have died, and I’m still in the process of getting that RMA’d for a replacement, so until then I’m cannibalising the aforementioned media player.

    Hopefully another decade or two down the road we’ll have a few more orders of magnitude of computing muscle to throw about. :mrgreen:

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  12. The first home PC I ever used was an Apple ][ (not an Apple ][+ or even //e). It had a whopping 32K RAM, single 5-1/4″ floppy drive, SilentType (thermal printer), and a B/W TV for the monitor.

    The first computer I purchased was an Apple //c in 1984, which kept in operation until I replaced it with a Windows system (Packard Bell, 100Mhz Pentium 16M RAM) in 1996.

    I have owned MANY old systems in between. Here is a partial list:

    Commodore Vic-20
    Commodore 64
    Apple //e
    Apple IIgs
    Sinclair 1000
    TRS-80 CoCo 2
    Sun SPARC Classic
    Sun SPARC Station 20
    Sun Ultra 10
    Sun Ultra 60
    Sun Enterprise 250
    Apple Macintosh Classic II
    Apple Macintosh 9600
    Apple PowerBook G3 (Lombard & Pismo)
    Varian 620/L-100 Minicomputer (with several racks of equipment)

    As far as old systems I have worked on . . . I have some doozies!

    Digital PDP-11
    Cray Cyber cy960
    Digital VAX (includes Alphas and MicroVAX systems)
    IBM System 23
    IBM System 32
    IBM 5100
    Elxsi mini-supercomputer
    Sun Enterprise 10K
    Apple Macintosh II running A/UX
    SGI Power Challenge
    Apple ///
    Kaypro 2
    TRS-80 Model II and III
    Osbourne 1

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  13. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Woohoo! So “Terminalists” is an official name now? Do we get discount cards soon too? :D

    I got into the whole computers thing a bit late. My first PC was an old 386 in 1994, donated by a friend of my dad’s at work, because he bought a new 486. I loved that PC; I had fun experimenting with DOS and WordPerfect on it. And my dad’s friend gave me a copy of Civilization and the original Star Control 2, complete with the draconian DRM: at the start of the game, it gave you coordinates for a star and you have to search a giant-ass star map for it. It still became one of my favourites.

    Currently, using a late-2009 MacBook, a DIY desktop and a Thinkpad T400 at work.

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Btw, I wish I spent more time actually learning to program my A600 than playing games on it. Sadly, the passion for hacking came over me much later when the Amiga was already obsolete.

    @ Trevor:

    Nice. Most of my friends had the A500 because it was cheaper and had a proper keyboard. A600 was a bit of a fluke, and most people stayed away from it. Those who were serious about performance just waited it out and got the A1200. Those who just wanted a gaming box went for the tried and true A500.

    @ Tino:

    LOL @ goofing off while waiting for the green dots. We did the same thing. Ahh.. Memories.

    @ Mart:

    No discount cards yet. Not until I get them lucrative endorsement deals at least. Selling out is hard work when no one is buying.

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  15. Hector SPAIN Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I am more on the incoherent side, but Terminalists souns good.

    My first (used and owned, it was a xmas present I can’t remember the year, early 80’s): ZX-81, shared with my brother.
    A couple of years later my brother and I bought an Spectrum 48.

    Right now (at work), I am using a compaq 8510p laptop and an unamed desktop PC.

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  16. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The first one I used was some old PC my dad brought from work – all I remember was that it used 5″ floppy and, I think, Volkov Commader. Then there were some 386s at school which was very progressive :)

    The fist one that I owned had an AMD-based processor and was built for me by a programmer that I knew. He assumed I didn’t need a computer and built the cheapest one possible. It was the summer of ’98. Half a year later I had PentiumII.

    I also had several Casio calculators. The last one was huge and could multiply matrices up to 25×25 and draw graphs in polar coordinates which I found very useful during Calculus course in university :)

    Now I own a decent system with Core Quad for a desktop computer and MacBook Pro 17″ (which I love but find a bit heavy to carry to work).

    I kinda like that I didn’t have to go through all those older computers. I think, knowing the architecture and all commands of Intel 8080 by heart is enough sacrifice :) we spent a whole semester studying it.

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  17. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    1. BBC Micro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Micro)
    2. ZX Spectrum 48K (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZX_Spectrum)
    3. T61 Thinkpad (Ubuntu 9.10)

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  18. Douglas AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    The first computer I used was an old Olivetti 386 or 486, can’t remember which, which I used when I was 4 or 5 and killed on a regular basis.

    The first computer I ever owned was an even older Toshiba T2200SX, which had a cutting edge monochrome screen and battery life of 0 minutes (it wouldn’t turn on unless it was connected to the mains).

    Right now I am on my Lenovo ThinkPad SL400. :D

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  19. The first computer I ever used was a Radio Shack Model-I back in 1976. I was 16 and they let me come into the store and use it any time I wanted. I was the one who figured out how to get the darned tape recorder to work by recording at one volume and playing at a different volume. Even back then, I was the IT guy.

    The first computer I ever owned was a Radio Shack Model-100. I was in the Marine Corps (1984-1988) and that was the only computer that would fit into my locker. I found a cheap typewriter/printer at Sharper Image that actually plotted the letters as you typed them, using tiny little pens. It had a centronics connector and could be switched into plotter mode. I used that to experiment with Sierpinski Curves and recursive algorithms.

    When I got out of the Jugs I got an Amiga 1000 which I hacked a couple of 32 Megabyte hard drives onto using a kit I bought at a convention. I could open over twenty copies of WordPerfect on that machine with only 256 MB of RAM.

    I currently own a desktop that I built myself, duh, with a 2.14 GHz Core Two Duo running Windows XP. I have two 24″ widescreen monitors, one of which is in portrait orientation so I can view long web pages or long stretches of code. Try it, it really increases productivity. I also own an Acer Tablet PC which I couldn’t live without. I take all my class notes in Microsoft OneNote directly in my own handwriting and can then search through my notes to find what I need later. It is one of the few Tablet PCs with a screen the same size as a letter sized piece of paper.

    I have been looking into switching over to Linux but I just can’t find replacements for things like OneNote or Adobe Lightroom. So I will probably just run Linux in a virtual machine for the things I can only get on Linux.

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  20. Rob UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m not really that old, but I don’t consider myself that young (turning 30 this year, ugh). However, I don’t have that many interesting computing stories either as my family didn’t get a computer until I was about 11 or so. The first one I ever used was probably either one of the Apples at school with the old fashioned green and black display or my Uncle’s (I have no idea what kind he had way back then).

    Then like I said when I was about 11 or so my family got a IBM desktop with a 486 processor and it was running Windows 3.1. I remember we had an account with Prodigy at the time and I used to go on that all the time to post on the bulletin boards. I’m pretty sure at the time Prodigy also charged for emails sent back and forth and I think I got in trouble for sending too many emails to other kids I met on the boards. I also played a lot of DOS based adventure games on it (King’s Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, etc). I also “copied that floppy” from my friend and used to play Wolfenstein 3D and Prince of Persia on it. Oh yeah and there used to be this great golf game that I had for it and I want to say it was called Links 386. That was a lot of fun. I wish I had the disks for it still so I could fire it up on DOSBox.

    I guess the first one I ever owned myself was an old Compaq Presario with a Pentium processor in it that ran at a blazing 133 MHz. I want to say it had 32 mb of RAM, but I could be wrong. I think I bumped that up at some point as well. It’s been a while and that PC is long gone. It also had Windows 95 on it and at that time I thought it was the greatest thing in the world compared to our old IBM with Windows 3.1.

    At this particular moment, like a lot of other people, I’m typing on a PC I’ve built myself. It’s kind of been one of those ongoing builds where I started out with one set of hardware but slowly I’ve swapped parts out here and there to try and keep it as up to date as my budget will allow me. Right now it has a Intel Core 2 Quad with 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. This summer I’d like to bump it up to 8 GB of RAM and then after that I’ll have to buy a new board the next time I want to do any upgrades unfortunately because at that point it will be maxed out. I also have a laptop (Dell Studio 1555) and a netbook (Lenovo S10), but I probably mostly use my desktop lately.

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  21. Kevin Benko UNITED STATES Konqueror Linux says:

    1: Commodore 64

    2: Commodore 64

    3: AMD Athlon(64-bit processor) (2410.96 MHz)
    3G of memory
    1Tb of diskspace spread across 25 partitions (23 of which are LVM)
    Nvidia 6150 graphics card
    OS: Debian GNU/Linux (testing branch with some packages from the unstable branch)

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  22. Paul SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    First computer (also owned it): Spectrum +2 128K
    Current computer: custom axxiv notebook with ubuntu installed.

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  23. mark harding UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Luke, thanks for this post.

    My first computer was the Commodore 16.

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  24. James Heaver UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    First computer I used was probably a BBC Micro.

    The first computer we had at home was an Olivetti dad would bring home from work. I remember it was DOS based but had a menu system over the top that would launch programs. It included a paint program with an included line drawing of a tiger which I used to colour in and when i was a little bit older I used to play xenon 2 on it.

    My first computer was an Acorn Archimedes A3000. It has no hardrive and I remember having to manually reassign memory from one program to another at times. You could open up a panel which gave you sliders for the memory each program was using and you could drag them back to 1k if you needed more space. It had a three button mouse as standard. I can’t remember what the different buttons were used for though.

    I remember my favourite games being Cannon Fodder, Lemmings, Chuck Rock and this demo of a game where you went around with a large mallet squashing hamsters (gosh, wasnt it an innocent age back then).

    The machine I’m using now is my brother’s old gaming rig from Dell, Dual booting win7 and ubuntu.

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  25. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    I think my first computer was a 286, donated from my school. I actually think I’ve preserved some/all of the files from that computer, and from all other computers down the bloodline. I’m an OCD kind of person, like that.

    What I like to think of as my first computer, even though it was possibly the second one, is a C64. Of course. It was just borrowed, though, so I had to return it after a couple of years (mybe when I was 10 or so.) That is a loss that I have since restored. I still have a big bunch of games on tape from the first C64, though.

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  26. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Oh wait! I completely missed 1) and 3)!

    1) My memory is a bit hazy, but quite possibly a C64.
    3) A broken MacBook that I got for free. The screen is not entirely non-functional, but has soda stains in it. (Like, actually inside the screen, between the light dispersion layers, I think.) The keyboard is entirely non-functional. As you might imagine, that poses a problem when it comes to turn the machine on, which I’ve solved by adding a button that shorts two suitable points on the moth… I mean logic board. It now works as a stationary computer so I mostly put it to sleep anyway.

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  27. JuEeHa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    First used: Father’s POMI PC clone with 486 and 16MB of RAM running MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups (he used it until it broke in 2001 because of broken DIMM)
    First owned: Compaq Presario 9520 running Windows 95 and later MS-DOS 6+DOSSHELL
    Right now: Apple iBook g4/1.2GHz 12″ with 768MB of RAM

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