Humble Beginnings

So, how did I get into computers? Well, the first recollection I have of using a computer was when I was still at junior school. I saw a game called Zombie Island - I don't remember what sort of computer it was running on, probably an Apple, I do remember it only had a small green screen monitor.

My next experience of computers was the BBC and Apple ][ micros at Comprehensive School - I was amazed, too many hours spent playing Lemonade Stand... It was about this time that my Father decided we ought to have a computer at home. I had seen Spectrums and even a Vic 20, and I (ashamedly) admit that I wanted a Spectrum.  I even built a computer cabinet for it.  We had a white wooden toy box, and I think it had like "Toys for Boys" painted on the side.  I emptied it, tipped it on it's end, and squeezed some cardboard or something a couple of inches from the top to hold the Speccy.  Fantastic.  Or not.   

My First Computer

Luckily, my Dad thought that the Spectrum didn't look much for the money, and he bought a Commodore 64 with a C2N cassette recorder, together with a 'portable' colour TV from Asda. Which in a way, was a shame, because, yeah I initially spent some time trying out programs like this:

10 PRINT "Hello Martin ";
20 GOTO 10

Ha...those were the days. Of course, having all those wonderful colours and sprites, I soon found myself playing games - endless hours playing Summer/Winter/California Games, Defender of the Crown, Skate or Die, and a multitude of other, wonderfully playable games.

We got a 1541 Disk Drive, and a huge DPS1101 Commodore badged Daisy Wheel Printer which gave great service for many years using the wonderful Easy Script word processor.

We later got another C64 and 1541, and I can truly say that it was a wonderful system.  I did write some programs, one of the worst being a Dog Racing simulator (no graphics) using a turn based racing system with random events.  One of the best was a brilliant program that I was writing for my Dad who was a union secretary, to handle membership and subs paid records.  It was really good, but I never did get round to completing it properly - owing to some issues I ran into with the C64 file system.

Then came that fateful day back in (I believe) 1985, when I first saw, with my own eyes, the Amiga A1000. I've never enjoyed a visit to the Novotel in Hammersmith so much, I fell in "love" with the Amiga there and then, it and it's lovely "Bouncing Ball Demo", a love affair that lasted over a decade.

However, it would be three more years before I was in a position to buy my own computer. At that point, September 1988, I was on a Youth Training Scheme at the Scunthorpe Information Technology Centre (ScITeC). The main course I was doing was programming - COBOL of all things! My tutors advised me to go for a PC Compatible, basically an Amstrad PC1512. I had a dream though, and I realised it with the purchase of my first Amiga A500.

In those days the A500 was the best machine in the High Street, the thing to have - and I had one! That machine only ever got a 1/2 MB expansion and external disk drive, although it did travel. Almost every weekend in the summer of 1990 it was taken by train to my friends house - unfortunately that took it's toll on the poor machine, and it gave up the ghost late 1990.

Life without Amiga was horrible, so I went and bought a new one, one week before the A500+ came out. I wasn't that upset, I was still impressed with my A500 1.3 that came with 1 MB as standard. I kept that machine for years, but it ended up in quite a few pieces.

My next Amiga purchase was an A1200.  I soon added a Hard Drive, an Accelerator + RAM, a CD-ROM, then a modem late in 1995, and an Amiga M1438S Monitor - of which I wrote a review for - click here to read the review.  It was an awesome machine, and I used it for all sorts of home officey things, playing games (naturally), and doing a bit of programming - taking my first steps in C and 68k assembly.

Late 1997 I "jumped ship", well, kind of. I kept hearing people at work talk about their PCs and I realised that I was behind times - quite a way behind times. 

My Dad had bought a PC six months earlier, and I have to admit I was quite impressed with how functional Windows 95 was (compared to my last experience of Windows 3.1).  So, I went out and bought a PC. So long had I laughed at PC owners and yet, I now had one. I would have preferred to keep my main computer Amiga, but my machine was under powered and it wouldn't do the things that I needed it to do, the way I wanted it done. I had to either upgrade or jump ship. Upgrading was an expensive option - and all that would have done was increase my available processing power. Real "power" applications just weren't available. What I really needed at the time, most of all, was a new hard drive. Getting one for the Amiga would have cost nearly £200. I could have done with more power too - that would have cost around £400. For just a little over those two prices, I bought a PC with an Intel 166MMX processor, 2.1GB Hard Drive, 16MB memory, 15" SVGA monitor (with no flicker) and a 24x speed CD-ROM.

It's took me a while to get used to the PC. I was impressed with the raw power, I was impressed at being able to browse the Web in more than 32 colours - something I'd not been really able to do with the Amiga. I have been impressed too with the quality of applications available - for the main. What I found really frustrating was internet applications, there are lots of them, granted, but none of them have the "feel" or ease of use that I had become accustomed to on the Amiga. Nevertheless, I do like my PC - it's only fault is that it's not an Amiga. 

Once on the PC trail, it wasn't long before I felt the machine was underpowered, so I got hold of a creative Graphics Blaster Extreme, and a Videologic sound card.  I then got the opportunity to upgrade to a faster processor, so I did it for about £50.  I got a new motherboard with a Cyrix PR300 processor and onboard sound and graphics.  Argh - a mistake indeed.  It was still in the old case, but it didn't give much of an improvement, so less than 6 months after that I went for an AMD K62-400 with an 8MB AGP graphics card and with my old Videologic sound card.  This was much much better - and still in the original case, with the original monitor.

I later went back to Intel, with a Pentium 3 based system made by Medion, a German company, and sold through Tesco.  The system was a 500MHz system, with 16MB on board nvidia graphics - it really kicked bum.  It had been, by far, the most reliable PC I have had, running Windows 98SE which I never had to re-install - even after 18 months use! 

I then moved onto a Dell Dimension 8100 in January 2001.  It looked ace, with the mini tower chassis finished in black and silver, with a matching 19" monitor, lovely Harman Kardon speakers in black and a matching keyboard and mouse.  It's inside where it gets good though - a Pentium 4 processor running at 1.5GHz, 640MB Rambus, nVidia Geforce 2 Ultra 64MB DDR (update - now an ASUS V8460Ultra/Deluxe Geforce4 Ti4600) graphics card, Soundblaster Live!, Ricoh MP-9120 DVD/CD-RW, Sony CDRX160E writer, and a Samsung CD, and a couple of 40MB hard drives.  I'm running Windows 2000 Professional, and after somewhat of a dodgy start with the machine, I have to say I love it to bits.  It's awesome power, and smooth as an androids bottom. The brilliant thing is, that this machine will run just about anything I've ever run on any of my machines before.  It'll do C64, run Amiga stuff (loads faster), and emulates lots of other machines to boot. 

In September 2003, my employer unveiled a scheme run by Computers 4 Staff.  Basically, you pay monthly over three years, the payment is taken before tax - so you effectively get a discount there, and when the three years is up, it's all yours (and probably ancient).  I was actually quite happy with the 8100, and had decided that I wouldn't upgrade until Intel came out with 64 bit systems for the home.  However, now I had a chance to get the latest processor, in a Dell system, with a huge 19" flat panel monitor.  I jumped at it.

So the system is a Dell Dimension 8300, Pentium 4 3.0 GHz with HT, a 120GB hard drive, DVD +RW drive, Geforce FX 5200 graphics card, and a Soundblaster Audigy 2, with a gorgeous 19" TFT display.  I added my existing 120 GB hard drive and NEC DVD +RW drive, and took out the crappy FX 5200 card and replaced it with my Geforce4 Ti card.  I left the short and dumpy Harmon Kardon speakers in the box, and stayed with my slim sexy ones.

What a stunning machine it is.  The Logitech MX cordless keyboard and mouse are extremely useful and help to keep the desktop clearer, and the TFT monitor means I can sit with the monitor directly in front of me instead of off to one side as my old 19" used to be.

In late 2009, I was struggling with the slowness of the 8300, and the noise from it's internal fans. I did some research, and decided to upgrade to a newer machine - but I would build this one myself. I've built and upgraded machines in the past, and I was on a tight budget so I thought I would give it a go.

I bought a cheap tower case, with a built in power supply. I decided on an Asus M3N78-VM motherboard which was compatible with the latest AMD chips, and had built in graphics. I went for an AMD quad core processor, and 2 x 2GB of RAM. I'm very happy with the system, and it runs Windows 7 really well - could do with some more graphics horsepower, but you can't have everything.

Well, I did have a few computers:

  1. Dell Dimension 8300 (which I'm still using - right now infact).
  2. Sony Vaio Laptop (which my Mum's still using).
  3. Palm Tungsten T3 (eventually binned as it died on me).
  4. Apple iMac Blueberry (binned later when I got a real lampshade iMac).
  5. Compaq Deskpro EN (binned a couple of years later).
  6. Dual Pentium II-400 server with 45GB RAID (dumped recently).
  7. Random Tower (did up and gave to wife's sister).
  8. Amiga A1200 with 68030 @ 40 MHz, 8MB Fast RAM, 120GB Hard Drive.
  9. Amiga A500 Plus
  10. Amiga A500 1.3 in bits.
  11. Amiga A1200 NTSC with monitor.
  12. Amiga A1200 PAL (from Australia).
  13. Amiga CD32
  14. Mac something or other (built into monitor with a TV tuner).
  15. Playstation 2.
  16. Commodore C16.

If I remember correctly, everything from eight down went into a skip in the backyard, and the only one I have left now is number 1. However, that doesn't mean that she won and ground me down to just one computer - oh no. Today's list looks like this:

  1. Dell Dimension 8300.
  2. Toshiba Laptop.
  3. Packard Bell sub notebook (the wife's).
  4. Dell Axim X51v.
  5. HP iPaq (a spare).
  6. Xbox 360.
  7. Nintendo Wii.
  8. Nintendo DS Red (mine).
  9. Nintendo DS Black (hers).