Low End PC

Strolling Down Memory Lane

- 2001.11.12

While cleaning up around the GeekLair, I found a book that I didn't know I had. It was the 1987 version of Aubrey Pilgrim's "Build Your Own IBM™ Compatible and Save a Bundle," a book that's been through several editions and which is now known as "Build Your Own Pentium III PC and Save a Bundle."

Anyway, the book is full of the flavor of the time when DOS was king, the BBS was the place to hang out, and people paid ridiculous sums of money for stuff that we now take for granted as being cheap as dirt.

This was the computer world I first set foot in. In that year my uncle gave me an IBM PC, the very one you see mentioned in my mini-bio. He was moving his CPA practice from the San Fernando Valley to more trendy digs in West LA, and, to quote him, "I don't want to move a broken computer. Get it fixed and it's yours." It took $200 to get it back into working order - this was before I began fixing my own PCs, so I was at the mercy of the repair shop. But when it started working again, it was great. Here I was with my own computer, something I had dreamed about ever since I could remember.

People forget just how expensive buying and maintaining a computer was back in the day. When you consider inflation between 1987 and 2001, the figures in this book are even more staggering than they seemed back then.

"If you can afford it at all," says the book, "get a hard disk drive, preferably a 20 MB. If you can't afford $500 for a 20 MB hard drive, you might be able to pick up a 10 MB for about $100."

Remember, Aubrey Pilgrim is talking in terms of megabytes, not the gigabytes we are familiar with. Nowadays $500 is way too much even for the newest and baddest 100 GB UltraDMA/100 drive on the block. If you were looking for a huge SCSI drive, then maybe you might still pay something like that. But a long time ago, that's what we had to pay to be on the bleeding edge.

However, as the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. For example, most of the companies mentioned in the book are long gone. The author laments that the stock they bought in Eagle Computers, which seemed like a bargain at $3/share, was 10 cents per share when they finally sold it.

In this day and age of content protection rearing its ugly head, one finds oneself remembering how important and lucrative programs like "Copy II PC" were back in the days of key disks and strategically mutilated media. Honest people were forced to use pirating programs to preserve their right to back up their programs for disaster recovery. Sound familiar? Copy protection didn't work back then, and it won't work now.

It was fun to reread this book and realize how far we've come. We have Usenet, Web forums, instant messaging, and IRC instead of BBSes. Bill Gates made a big deal of euthanizing DOS at the Windows XP launch. Computers are cheap, and you can even get a really good, if still somewhat requiring a learning curve, operating system for free or close to it. Upgrades that used to cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars are affordable now. But there is something missing now that existed back then - the attitude of "we're all in this together" that seems to be missing from the Internet generation. The feeling that we are still pioneers. That's gone now. I think it's called growing up. LEPC

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