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Friday, June 5, 2015

On a Quest for a Computer

On a Quest for a Computer
Motherboard by Charles Rondeau
I’ve been around computers for numerous years. In the olden days, before the Internet, there were many magazines that helped you make the right decision when buying a computer. Nowadays, the printed magazines are gone and you need to rely on a computers buying guide found on the Internet, or just a plain old Google search to find out what’s new and different with the latest generation of systems.


A personal favorite magazine of mine was PC Magazine. They had a “PC Labs” section which would literally get all the systems available and compare them, running a rigorous set of tests for performance, graphic speed, and some other wild tests you wouldn’t typically find out there. Then they’d tabletize the results for easy comparison. Another favorite of the magazine was the monthly source code sections where real source was provided for simple little utilities you could add to your system.


An earlier personal favorite magazine was Computer Shopper. It was a thick tome, really thick, that probably required three times the postage of a PC Magazine. Instead of comparing all the pre-built computers like PC Magazine, they offered you pages and pages of classified ads on where to get the parts to build your own system. Hardly anyone does that nowadays as most computer parts are built into the motherboard, but back then you could literally buy each individual part and put them together when you got home.


When it was time to get that first computer, mine was a Commodore VIC-20 system. I do not remember why I got a VIC-20, if it was something I picked myself or my parents picked. I always laugh (now) about the system. It had 5KB of RAM, of which 1.5KB was used by the system. Its display was 22 columns by 23 rows of 8x8 pixel characters. There was no hard drive, instead loading programs off of cassette tapes. The display itself was your television. And to get online to a service like CompuServe, you used a 300 baud acoustic coupler modem, where you literally placed the handset over a device which transmitted your data through the handset. It was slow, but a big improvement over the 75 baud that existed earlier.


Thankfully, times have a changed a little and the computing power in your mobile phone is more than what took the Apollo rocket to the moon. But, you have an online guide now to help get you the right system.


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