A Reflection On Every Computer I've Owned
✰ Dell Desktop (2000)
- 1 Ghz Pentium Processor
- This is literally all I can remember
- But, 1 Gigahertz! In my mind, this was a huge deal
- Windows Me
Entering high school, I convinced my parents that I deserved my own computer. It's hard to overstate how important this was for me at the time. It opened the door to lots of new creative experiences and hobbies -- surfing & learning things on the internet, making stop motion movies with Windows Movie Maker, writing music on sequencer software, photoshopping, programming.
And the faithful Dell Desktop was something I could call my own, to be customized and tinkered with. I kind of doted over it, wasting a lot of time playing with the various operating system themes, changing the screensaver every week, and creating a meticulous but pointless organization system for the Windows Start Menu.
Eventual fate: wiped OS & installed Ubuntu, as a learning experiement. Final resting place unknown, probably recycled, possibly still lurking in some corner crawlspace of my parent's house?
✰ Dell Inspiron 9100 (2004)
- 3.2 Ghz Pentium 4 ❗❗❗
- 1 GB RAM
- ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 256 MB graphics card (Eventually upgraded to Radeon 9800)
- Windows XP
This was my college computer, selected in an attempt to fulfill both the university requirement to have a laptop, and my personal requirement to have something that could play serious video games. And wow, was this thing a beast! It had a full size Pentium 4 processor, no wimpy watered down mobile version. I was completely blown away by the performance, and thrilled at how well it could handle all the latest games, such as Half Life 2 (which came out that year). I remember hosting large multiplayer servers, then starting up a game and joining my own server! Woah, crazy!
But, it was far from perfect. The concept of a "gaming laptop" didn't exist in 2004, so this machine was a strange compromise and had some issues:
- unfashionably large & heavy, approaching 10 lbs
- relentlessly loud fan
- terrible battery life, like ~90 minutes if you were lucky
- gigantic power brick, which you were pretty much committed to bringing with you everywhere
Despite these drawbacks, I really loved this computer, even if it ended up spending 99% of its life parked on my desk. My setup eventually included a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse, plus an assortment of USB peripherals and external hard drives. The computer stayed permanently tucked away behind all this, shackled by the web of USB, power, and video cabling.
As a student with few possessions, the computer ended up becoming a kind of nexus for my life as it served many purposes -- a television for watching shows and movies, a stereo for listening to music, a phone for catching up with family members, a library for reading books. During the 90s, there had been many predictions made about the personal computer becoming a true one-stop multimedia center -- it took time for the capability to develop, but that promise was finally playing out.
Eventual fate: donated to a friend
✰ EHONDA (2008)
By 2008, my beloved laptop was in a bad place. The system had become prone to overheating and locking up. The most reliable way to restart it was to actually flip the whole contraption over and disconnect the battery. One day, during a hasty flip-n-restart procedure, I forgot the headphones were still plugged in and dislodged the entire audio assembly! Despite some clueless efforts to fix it, the only way to get the sound working again was to keep an external USB audio card permanently hooked up.
Besides the sound issue, the hardware was painfully out of date and totally unable to cope with any newer games. An upgrade was desperately needed, so I spent a long time researching parts in preparation for building my first PC from scratch. Money was tight, so maximizing performance-per-dollar was a top concern. Instead of buying a single beefy graphics card, the most cost effective option at the time was to take two moderately priced cards and hook them together using a special dongle [ATI Crossfire], so they could combine forces. I thought this was pretty cool.
- Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66 Ghz
- 4 GB RAM
- 2x ATI Radeon HD 4850 512 MB Graphics Cards
- 160 GB Hard Drive
- A DVD Burner
- Windows XP
- Windows Vista
- Windows 7
The actual build was quite an ordeal and took considerably longer than it should have because I didn't know what I was doing. While trying to lock the fan to the CPU, my sweaty hand slipped and caught the sharp corner of the heat sink, slicing open my thumb. When it was all hooked up, I flipped the switch and...nothing happened. Is there a worse feeling? An eternity of confused debugging revealed some loose wire that needed plugging and soon the machine was humming along. I enjoyed a rush of excitement watching it finally come to life for the first time. When Windows prompted me to give the computer a network name I chose EHONDA, thus beginning a silly tradition of naming computers after Street Fighter characters.
It felt great to have something new again! And I felt a real sense of pride at having done the whole thing myself: from saving the money all the way through to assembling the parts. This machine served me well for much longer than I could have anticipated at the time...
Eventual fate: donated to a friend, who then re-used the case to build his next computer, which is still in use today
✰ BISON (2015)
Entering the 10s, I found myself spending less time holed up on the computer obsessing about video games and more time out in the world living life. This helps explain the seven year gap without an upgrade, which would have been totally unacceptable if I was actually trying to stay up to date with the latest titles. But still, by 2015, EHONDA was on its deathbed and becoming unable to cope with even moderate non-gaming tasks. It was time for another upgrade.
- Nvidia GTX 970 graphics card
- 128GB SSD Drive
- 8GB RAM
- Windows 8
- Windows 10
I spent some time researching and picked out a mix of medium/high end hardware and a cool understated black case. Everything arrived on schedule, the parts assembled one evening with little fanfare, and...that was that?
Each previous computer had felt like some kind of moment, bookending important periods of my life and providing fresh excitement for new possibilities. But this time around, the enthusiasm wasn't as forthcoming. Despite having a brand new machine, the computer simply wasn't occupying such an important position in my life so the switch from a very old system to a brand new one wasn't as impactful as it had once been. I was simply happy to have something that worked, without fuss, but it didn't carry any special significance.
I had nicknamed the computer BISON. It was solid overall and served its time with quiet reliability, never occupying too much space in my mind, but dependable.
Eventual fate: Converted into music workstation -- still going strong. GTX 970 graphics card removed & donated to a friend.
✰ BALROG (2018)
- Core i7-8700K CPU 3.70GHz
- Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics card
- 16 GB RAM
- Windows 10
A few years later, a lot had changed in my life and I was finding myself drawn back towards my old hobby of video gaming, with a particular desire to jump into some of the more modern, big budget (and thus graphically demanding) games. BISON was performing at a "mildly ok" level, but as an adult with lots of responsibilities and a dwindling amount of free time I felt justified wanting to get the best experience possible in those rare moments when I actually had a chance to steal away for a few hours of gaming.
The balance between "money I have to spend" and "free time I have to enjoy it" was tipping. Whereas the old EHONDA was an exercise in maximizing value, this new computer would be an indulgence, so that I could luxuriate in some of that old high intensity video gaming glory I had once loved.
I got a bunch of nice hardware and put it in a cool light up glass case. And it's been quite the dream, to no surprise. It has none of the old college laptop's jury-rigged character or EHONDA's homespun charm, but it's the perfect thing for where I am right now.
Eventual fate: still in use today
✰ Bonus: ASUS Eee PC (2008)
- Intel Atom Processor
- 1 GB Memory
- 80 GB Solid State Hard Drive
- Windows XP
- Color: "Fine Ebony"
- Windows XP
2007 marked the rise of the Netbook, a new and short lived market segment of laptops that were:
- really small
- really cheap
- really kind of crap
You see, in 2007, if you wanted to do any kind of mobile computing stuff, you were pretty much forced to carry around a regular old full size laptop. Smartphones and tablets were just starting to become a thing but did not have widespread consumer adoption, like <10%. This presented a possible opening in the market.
"There's a bunch of new low power, low cost mobile hardware being invented. Let's use this garbage to construct the smallest, least expensive laptop possible."
- Computer company ppl
I was really enamored by the idea of having this cool, cute little computer and had this idea in my head that it could sort of unobtrusively hang near you to be used for passive multitasking while you do other stuff.
What I found, though, was that the Eee PC, however small and cute, was still fundementally a laptop, so using it meant packing it in your bag when you go somwhere, finding space to sit down and spread out, booting it up, and pretty much giving it your full attention. Like a regular laptop, just smaller and worse. Duh.
I ended up not really using it that much.
The "unobtrusive", "passive" device I was looking for ended up being the smartphone, and the rise of smartphones and tablets killed off the netbooks.
Eventual fate: in a box somewhere in my basement, to serve as a some kind of future curiosity