It was almost Christmas back in 1996 and all I wanted was my first computer. I was still pecking away at the keyboard, not yet able to type a full sentence without looking. What I thought was my first computer turned out to be a Brother Word Processor with a two- or three-color external screen. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, and it didn’t play 3D games, but I eventually learned how to type on it.
Fast forward about six months later as PC prices started to fall again, I finally obtained my first PC: The Compaq Presario purchased at my local Computer City. The prices were so low there, they went out of business the following year and were sold off to CompUSA (TigerDirect). Before any upgrades, this vintage computer retailed for around $2,700.00.
What did thousands of dollars buy you in 1997, you ask? Let’s take a look.
My First Computer’s Specs
CPU: 200MHz Intel Pentium MMX
Memory: 32MB SDRAM
Hard Disk: 4.3GB
Graphics: S3 ViRGE 2MB EDO 3D Graphics
Drives: 16X CD-ROM, Iomega Zip (100MB), Floppy
Network: 33.6K Data/Fax Dial-up Modem
Expansion: 2 16-bit ISA slots, 2 PCI slots, 1 PCI/ISA combo slot, 1 Compaq reserve modem slot
Interfaces: 2 USB ports, 1 Serial RS-232C DB9, 1 Parallel EPP/ECP DB25, Joystick/MIDI game port, 2 RJ11 phone jacks (1 in, 1 out), 4 audio jacks (headphone/speaker, microphone, line in/out), Mouse/Keyboard ports
- Microsoft Windows 95
- Compaq SmartQ
- Compaq Phone Center (Speakerphone, Address Book, voice and fax Message Center)
- Compaq Multimedia
- Microsoft Works
- CorelDRAW 5
- Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996
- Quicken Special Edition Multimedia
- PGA Tour 96
- Yukon Trail
- America Online (trial)
- GNN (trial)
- Netscape Navigator (trial)
- CompuServe (trial)
- Hot new software for MMX TM technology (Pod and Ultimate Human Body 2)
- PointCast Network
- QuickRestore CD
Long before “Google” made it into our lives and dictionaries, if you needed help with your first computer it didn’t come cheap. Compaq would gladly help you out back then without ever needing your credit card. Sounds great, right? Wrong! They still billed charges to your telephone bill. Compaq 24/7 support included free help for hardware-related issues within warranty, or all other help billed at a rate of $2.00 per minute. Needless to say, it was very cost-effective for me to learn this whole computer stuff fast when support is costing over $100 an hour from the OEM.
In the years I had my first computer, the memory would be upgraded along with the dial-up modem (to a full 56K). A Microtek flatbed scanner w/ SCSI Card (ScanMaker), HP Digital Camera (640×480) and my first CD Burner (2X) would come later. At one point when my digital library was growing (around the time I upgraded to Windows 98 SE), I acquired a tape backup system as my music alone would fill many 100MB Zip disks–and they were very expensive if you didn’t plan on re-writing them with other data later on.
As my knowledge advanced, I started looking into different operating systems. It was nearly time to purchase another computer (my first Intel Celeron) when I managed to dual boot Windows 98 SE and Red Hat Linux 5.
I have a lot of fond memories of this Compaq Presario. My love affair with open source software, something I use daily decades later, began on this “revolutionary” media-enabled system. Technology has come a long way — Now we have smartphones 5x-10x more powerful than my old Compaq for only 5% of the price. Who would’ve imagined that?