What were the first computers you worked on?

By LookinAround · 28 replies
Jul 19, 2008
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  1. Was just chatting with someone about this and thought it might be interesting to discover where people experienced and honed their first computer skills. (Though i guess is also somewhat indicative of, ahem, one's age).

    Anyone else work on or remember these computers?
    • Intel 4004? (was the 1st microprocessor)
    • DEC PDP-8? (was a great "mini"-computer)
    • CDC 6400? (was a "super"-computer with "central memory" (i.e. RAM) using a 60-bit word organized in 32 logically independent banks of 4096 (60-bit) words)

    What did you start out with? What were you doing on them?

    /****** Edit *******/
    In response to a private message (and to clarify)
    1. Yes, these were some of the computers i worked with during college years
    2. DEC = Digital Equipment Corporation who pioneered some of the most popular mini-computers for their time (the PDP-8 and then the PDP-11). DEC was later acquired by Compaq who was later acquired by HP
    3. CDC = Control Data Corporation who was well known for Seymour Cray, who used to be the architect behind the then "super" computers they designed and sold with a small staff of engineers. IBM couldn't understand how they could be outdone and sent a small group of their own engineers off to build something to compete (at the time IBM just had the standard business mainframes) but when it came down to it, IBM failed to product a machine that could compete AND be compatible with their other computers.
  2. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +38

    I first worked on my old 486 PC, tinkered around with it more than a few times back in the day. Then graduated to a Pentium I, which I used for gaming and for learning my way around Windows 98 for at least 2 years before moving onto a Pentium II. That one I used for a very long time, and even screwed around with it to the point of frying two motherboards. Then I got a Pentium 4, which is now my dad's machine, and I first attempted overclocking on it. After a year or two of usage, I got my current machine.
  3. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    First I 'worked' on was a pentum 2. And by worked on I mean I added some more RAM and maybe a PCI card. It wasn't the oldest computer I worked on, I got a 386 given to me at one point, I think around 2001, and I ran Windows95 and AIM on it, and it was still incredibly slow.

    I grew up on other computers, not "pc"s, the first computer I owned that ran a Microsoft OS was when I went to college in 98.
  4. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    286 and DOS in a University staff computer
    I had to fix why it was freezing up
    It was those damn sims, (usually one meg each card)

    I still love DOS, I'm one of the only techs to still write bats, but recently starting doing AutoIT scripts

    Later on when 386 came out, woo Hoo!
    When Windows 3.1 came out, I couldn't believe the color, everyone loved PaintBrush
    Universities had a lot of money, because they had up to 16Meg of Ram on some computers (how jealous us techs were!)

    I've still got Windows 3.1 - Very proud
  5. Obi-Wan Jerkobi

    Obi-Wan Jerkobi TS Maniac Posts: 502

    Hmm, 'worked' on... Well, since a game-boy is a computer (not a pc) I'll consider that. I had fun modding it. At one point I put a game-boy pocket into a color case and sold that as a GBC. (lol)

    PC, would be my utterly awful (Though powerful at the time) Pentium 2 system. When it had the ATI Rage Pro 3D, I would always have to constantly reseat the card. But ever since I got a Voodoo5 in it, I sold it for $80 with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
  6. Masque

    Masque TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 1,058


    ....the first one I tore into was an Atari 400. Actually, just replaced the membrane keypad with the real thing.

    Then, got into the Apple IIe series...did a little minor work under the hood and some tweaking on the dual disk drives.

    From there, graduated to the Amiga series...a friend purchased the first 1000 in the state of Michigan....signed by the dev team under the hood as well as the pawprint of one of their dogs. Was able to mess around in there for a bit before I bought my Amiga 500.

    After that, the first IBM clone was an old Acer...and then things just kind of took off from there.

    Most of these were upgrades for gaming...and a bit of troubleshooting.
  7. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    DataPoint 1977, NorthStar and NorthStar OS 1989, and Wang in 1978 with its 12 inch disc. Later the Kaypro II in 1982 as the first portable, but it kept popping open in the flight from Washington to New Mexico... bigger than a suitcase but it was portable. The one I remember the most vividly was the Apple II in 1977 after flying the Apple boys at the Hot Air Balloon championships in Indianola, Iowa in 1977 or 1978. They clearly could see the future, and wer so full of themselves. The Wang was the most fun for me, because it was a real professional machine, with parts and schematics, though they called it a Word Processor. They soon reduced the discs from 12" to 10" to 8" and would have ruled if they had been more flexible.
    I had the first IBM desktop that I know of in the Federal Government in 1983 when it had CP/M as the operating system... two 5 inch floppy drives, then they made the big move to a 5 MB hard drive, then 10 mb hard drive. Those were exciting times.
    Parts were so outrageously expensive, and there were no knowledgable technicians... so we all stumbled around... aligning disks and replacing capacitors and such.
    I consider IBM the leader more than Gates and Microsoft... but the boys, Jobs and Wozniak, carried all the excitement. I remember borrowing money to fly out to San Francisco for the first computer convention because they were going to be there.
    What was the most fun at that convention was some guys that had a desktop printer. It was made out of wood, but they knew if they could get the funding money at the convention, they could build what became the first epson and ibm ribbon printer with the fan fold paper... I laugh now about how brazen they were to show up at a computer convention with a wooden printer, saying it was the prototype. When it was first out, it took me all day to print 50 pages.
    But the tech advances came from the guys with the NorthStar and the DATAPOINT.
  8. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    1) Hey Raybay. Thanks for jogging my memory. I forgot all about having worked on a Wang! (gee, doesn't quite sound right saying that though LOL)

    2) IBM might have been the leader as in being there first with the widely used mainframe but remember that they thought the PC was just a "flash-in-the-pan". They had the option to buy the PC Operating System system from Gates when they developed the IBM PC (cuz they thought they needed it to be competitive until the PC trend fell back to the mainframe again) but instead the just licensed the Operating System from Gates. Big mistake!
  9. Zed

    Zed TS Rookie Posts: 20

    IBM PS2...Upgraded the ram and put in another hard drive that was when 8mb of ram was smokin' and having two hard drives was just too much storage space....140/250mb's....spooky.
  10. TimeParadoX

    TimeParadoX TS Rookie Posts: 2,273

    The first computer I worked on was when I was about 7, but I forgot the specs, it was those really old ones that were from the late 80s, I believe it was a Apple.
  11. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    " IBM might have been the leader as in being there first with the widely used mainframe but remember that they thought the PC was just a "flash-in-the-pan". They had the option to buy the PC Operating System system from Gates when they developed the IBM PC..."

    IBM used CP/M and BASIC on the first computers I worked on. CP/M was developed by Digital Research. IBM was developing PC DOS at the time, but CP/M and BASIC were both difficult.
    Then those kids in Albuquerque before it became Microsoft knew there were about 9 different Disc operating systems. They picked DOS from Gary Kildall and Digital Research because it was already designed and it was cheap, coming from QDOS. IBM "knew" that PC DOS would be better than MS DOS, and they were right. But they didn't know how to market to the public. Their targets were always corporations and governments. The didn't "believe" The Gates Team that resided in Albuquerque, then moved to Seattle, probably succeeded because they didn't know the rules. IBM's PC Division was in Florida, while the rest of the company was in Armonk. IBM didn't believe any of those "amateur" systems would amount to anything.

    I can remember feeling relieved with CP/M because they offered something with rules that made sense. The Gates team just bought something because they needed anything that would make it operate. What they bought was easier than what anybody else had, that was also cheaper than what anyone else had, and it was available without a fight.

    I also remember that the first IBM PC with 5 MB hard drive cost $3500 back when that was a hell of a lot of money.
  12. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    A little more history on the rise (and fall) of IBM

    Yep. That's how IBM blew it on the PC side.

    In my college days i also happened to work on one of the "super"-computers designed by the famed Seymour Cray (at Control Data Corporation) and recall IBM's attempt to compete in that arena as well. For a bit of that history in IBM's over-confidence, tactics and blunders, i find it easiest to excerpt from Wikepedia (here's a link to the full history)

    Seymour Cray, Jim Thornton, and Dean Roush put together a team of 34 engineers and in 1964, released the CDC 6600, out-performing everything on the market by roughly ten times. The 6600 had a CPU (Central Processing Unit) with multiple, asynchronous functional units, and it used 10 logical, external I/O processors to off-load many common tasks. That way the CPU could devote all of its time and circuitry to processing actual data, while the other controllers dealt with the mundane tasks like punching cards and running disk drives.

    It was after the delivery of the 6600 that IBM took notice of this new company. At the time, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. asked (words to the effect of) How is it that this tiny company of 34 people —including the janitor — can be beating us when we have thousands of people?, to which Cray reportedly quipped You just answered your own question. In 1965, IBM started an effort to build its own machine that would be even faster than the 6600, the ACS-1. Two hundred people were gathered together on the U.S. West Coast to work on the project, away from corporate prodding, in an attempt to mirror Cray's off-site lab. The project produced interesting computer architecture and technology, but it was not compatible with IBM's very successful System/360 line or computers. The computer-makers were directed to make it be IBM-360-compatible, but this compromised its performance, and the ACS was canceled in 1969, after producing no product. Many of the engineers left the company, leading to a brain-drain in IBM's high-performance departments.

    In the meantime, IBM announced a new version of the famed System/360, the Model 92, which would be just as fast as CDC's 6600. This machine did not exist, but its nonexistence did not stop sales of the 6600 from drying up, while people waited for the release of the Model 92. Norris did not take this tactic, dubbed as fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), lying down, and in an antitrust suit against IBM a year later, he won over 600 million dollars.
  13. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    That was the first real money. The fun part for me is that I know do computer work for one of Tom Watson's children who has a $350,000 trust and a 10,000 acre ranch. That person is as tight with money as if it were $1,000. I have learned some fun stories about the family back in those days. I was offered a job with IBM back in 1963, but couldn't take the dress and haircut requirements... starched button-down collars were required and Brooks Brothers was expected. I doubt I would ever have learned anything useful had I been offered the job.
    I now now seven retired IBM Engineers from Vermont, now in the soutwest. They are amazingly competent people for being in their 70's, but have no stories to tell... just a bit of perfection in everything they did, made possible by having all the money they needed to to it right.
  14. TimeParadoX

    TimeParadoX TS Rookie Posts: 2,273

    Very nice Raybay, how old are you by the way?
  15. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    So old I can't see much and cannot hear. My woman wants to trade me in on two 35's.
  16. NetCablesPlus

    NetCablesPlus TS Maniac Posts: 228

    The first machine that I worked on (very briefly) was a DEC PDP 11 of some flavor. But that was just a brief thing in the early 1980's. Later in that decade, I was running a sales department for a simulation software company (mainframe-based) and one of our engineers hooked me up with a sales/forecasting database on the first Macintosh machine which I thought was really cool at the time...was not networked, of course, just a standalone machine that I would sneakernet around when necessary...
  17. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 11,167   +986

    IBM 360/model 65 with 16-meg of Toriod Core memory
  18. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,475   +126

    Teletype using yellow paper made by Heath KIT used for programming in basic
    IBM Keypunch used for programming/running applications using IBM color index punch cards in COBOL
    TRS-80 4K in college code name Dummy!, TRS-80 16K, Coleco Adam Family Computer System 144K, Coleco Adam Module 4 for Coleco Game System I still have the TRS-80 16K with Voice playback $300 item had to be special ordered, all the Adams still work. 386sx, Pentium, PII, PIII, P4, AMD x64 Like I said stil have 386sx still runs.. Windows 3.11 on it..
  19. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    tipstir I've always wanted one of these http://www.brielcomputers.com/micro-KIM.html (just for the name of course). If you happen to have any of these boards lying about, pls let me know. The system can be purchased for around $300 (but it's too much for novelty I feel)
  20. God Of Mana

    God Of Mana TechSpot Paladin Posts: 493

    I first worked my my on pc, for fun.
  21. BorisandBailey

    BorisandBailey TS Enthusiast Posts: 154

    I started on Mac SE back in 1990, then I got my first computer--the first Power PC by Apple, System 7. I got to know that thing in and out. Then I worked at Micron as a web designer in 1996 on Micron PCs. I enjoyed PCs so much that I gave up Macs, much to the disgust of other graphic designers. These days I build my own computers and run Linux and Windows.
  22. old101

    old101 TS Rookie Posts: 52

    1. Sinclair - not much more than a fancy calculator, but you could attach a printer. A toy really, but my son being a mathematician could input algebraic functions to create fancy looking graphics.
    2. Commodore 64, with a $45 cartridge containind word processor, spreadsheet and a data base. Connected to an old beat up TV. External floppy drive and printer. Used it for some time for home and business, until...
    3. Radio Shack,s first computer with a 10MB hard drive. Thought I died and went to heaven.
  23. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

  24. old101

    old101 TS Rookie Posts: 52

    Well, I kept passing them on to my son. Must have been worth it, because computing is what he now does and teaches.
  25. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Hey, remember the old atari tennis game, you could have on TV ? :)


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