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My First Computer - a used IBM 80286

My first computer was a used IBM 80286 with 640k RAM, a 10MB hard drive, running MS-DOS 3.0, and a sporting stylish 5.25" floppy drive on top of a 3.5" drive. The computer was brought home by my father, from work, when I was 6 years old. He'd bought it from the company when they upgraded to 386s that were brand new that year. When he carried the massive box into the living room that evening, I wasn't sure what he was carrying, but I knew that I'd like it anyway. We spent the evening setting it up, and I was the first of us to actually flip the switch on the back and power up the beastly machine.

This computer, which still exists and runs today, was the first one I'd ever seen, and I didn't know why, but I liked the thing. Even at that age, I was obsessed with technology; even going so far as to beg for a Nintendo just because it had wires. When the machine booted up, we were met with a DOS prompt and... nothing else. My dad grabbed one of the many manuals that came with the computer, and started flipping through. Eventually, he found what he was looking for, and started typing what seemed like gibberish to me.

After an hour or more of watching him type on the huge, white, loud keyboard, he finally stopped and said, "OK. We'll come back to this tomorrow," and shut down the computer. I didn't know what I'd just seen, but I wanted to learn. So while we ate dinner that evening, I read one or two pages of the manual, and figured out a few basic DOS-commands, and a few simple lines of BASIC. After dinner, I walked into the living room, up to the desk, and switched on the dusty box.

Sitting there for most of the night, typing one-fingered, and referencing the manuals every 10 seconds or so, I was eventually able to make the computer do a few things that I thought were really good--the standard "Hello World!" script being among them. Once my father came in and saw what I was doing, he sat down and had me show him a few things from the book. After that night we started picking up shareware, games, word processors, and anything else that we could find; and met the system requirements.

A week after we first set up the computer, we went to Radio Shack and picked up a RAM upgrade. So, we went from 640k to 1024k. That's right, a whole megabyte! And that was pretty much twice what every program we could find required. We went from playing horrible Classic Concentration games, to picking up all sorts of amazing products from SSI/TSR, like the Silver and Gold Box collections of AD&D games, and even an early flight simulator that wouldn't run with the computer's original hardware.

That computer was in regular use until it was replaced by a Compaq 80386 with no 5.25" drive, one 3.5" drive, a 20MB hard drive, and 2MB of RAM, but it was still pulled out every now and then to play some of those games that were only available on 5.25" floppy. It enjoyed a long life of Wolfenstein 3D, Ken's Labyrinth, Rambo III, and countless Commander Keen games. It went from DOS to OS/2, and even had Windows 3.1 installed on it at one point. Word Perfect 3 was the word-processor of choice, and batch files cluttered every sector of it's trusty hard drive. BASIC manuals and tutorials cluttered the desk, and at least 5 different "floppy containers" were in use, and stuffed, at any given time.

These days, I'm on a MacBook with a 2.16Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, a CD/DVD burner, and a display that's not only widescreen, but supports resolutions nobody even thought of back then. The home computer of choice for the household is a DIY-monster I created using an old case, a Pentium 4, 4GB DDR2 RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and a video card that could render Pixar movies in real-time. Technology has certainly come a long way since my first computer, but that doesn't mean the thing is useless now. Like I said, it's still around, and every now and then it's still booted up, and an old game is loaded and played for hours on end. And that's perfectly fine with me. As long as it keeps chugging along, I'll keep going back to it and giving it all the attention it could ever need. As long as the parts are available to ensure that it still serves up some fast-paced Hillsfar then it will always have a place in my home.

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Tags: 286, 80s, computer, first, floppy, harddrive, IBM, retrocomputing, technology

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