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Ghosts of Christmas PastPosted under Musings on Life on Thursday, December 12, 2013 @ 10:43:33 AM
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With Christmas nearly here, I found myself thinking about the Christmas experiences of my childhood. I have fond memories from the '93-'97 time frame. In '93 I was just getting into computers and had just discovered the Internet. Of course back then, the Internet wasn't the same as it is today. There was no spam, malware didn't exist yet, and everyone online was friendly.
Since we lived about 25 minutes from the nearest real grocery store, our family would usually do our shopping on Friday evenings. I remember going to the Publix magazine rack every week to see what new magazines were out. I used to read Computer Gaming World and PC Magazine. One of the best things about the magazines was the bundled CDs that would have shareware games and utilities included. You have to realize that back then, downloading a 1 MB file took about 4 and a half minutes. Downloading a heavily compressed MP3 would take almost 15 minutes. So having access to 400+ MB of software on a CD really was a valuable thing. Perhaps my favorite magazine of the time was Computer Shopper. Computer Shopper hung around to the 21st century, but it wasn't the same as it was before. In the early nineties it was a phonebook-sized mail order catalog where you shopped for PC parts.
Speaking of hardware, here are a few things that dominated my childhood Christmas lists.
The DX4 was the last major processor architecture before the Pentium came out and effectively killed the 486. The two coexisted for a while and the DX4 was considered the value competitor to the Pentium. I remember the first Pentium PC my parents bought for their office. It was a Packard Bell with a 75 MHz Pentium 75, and it was AWESOME. My first computer was a 486 SX 33 MHz, and from there I upgraded to a DX4 133 MHz, and it was similarly awesome.
Today folks talk about overclocking, but they're doing it because they think it's a fun hobby. If you need more power today, you can simply throw money at the problem and it goes away. Back in the 90s we overclocked because we had to. The fastest CPUs still weren't fast enough to run what we wanted to run at full speed. Overclocking meant that everything ran hot, so we tried to get the biggest case so we could fit tons of fans in it. My first full tower case was an AOpen HX08 and it was a great case. I spent many hours with a dremel modding it to fit more and more fans in it and consider that time well spent.
Here's one that I wanted but never got. Then, US Robotics was to modems what Google is to search now. I had a 33.6 Kbps modem that I software upgraded to 56k and life was good, but one day I ready about DSVD and I wanted it...badly. DSVD stands for digital simultaneous voice and data. Back then if you wanted to play a multiplayer game, you and a friend used your modems to dial up to each other's computers. There was no concept of Skype or Ventrilo or Teamspeak. There was no tcp/ip stack for them to run on, but even if there had been there was nowhere near enough bandwidth for them to work. DSVD was a proprietary fix to that problem. Essentially what it did was it put microphone and speaker jacks on your modem and allowed you to talk to the person you were dialed up to, assuming they also had a DSVD modem.
Ah, the good old Zip drive. The 90s precursor to the ever-prevalent USB stick. It held 100 MB, connected to your computer with a parallel cable and had a monstrous power brick. It was portable in the sense that anything that large weighing 3-4 lbs was portable, and I used it a lot to bring games and other stuff to my friends houses.
Perhaps the best upgrade I ever received as a Christmas present was the Stealth 3D 2000. It was my first combo 2D/3D graphics card and came bundled with a special version of Descent II. It revolutionized the way I looked at computer graphics and could probably be considered a very early precursor to just about every modern game console. Speaking of Descent II, it's totally worth 3 minutes of your time to go watch the D2 opening cinematic. That was back when games shipped complete and were actually worth your money.
I've often contemplated buying an old surplus Pentium system with a Sound Blaster 16 and Voodoo II card to relive those days, but unfortunately most of that hardware has long since died or been recycled, so the prices are actually pretty prohibitive. Somehow doxbox just isn't the same.