A link to my past

By | Saturday 16.07.2011

A.k.a. “The Good Ol’ Days of Computing” and why I am so attached to old computers / computer components, especially the ones which resemble those of my first computer.

I can never forget about my first days of owning a personal computer, especially not about my first computer nor the games I used to play on it – which I got somewhere in May – June 1998.

The configuration of my first computer was… rather interesting. It didn’t show the right processor type in the System Properties window. I don’t really know why. Maybe it was a bug because the Windows 95 installation was upgraded from Windows 3.1. I know this because it had MS-DOS 6.22 installed at first and it leaves its distinctive signature when you install it – it labels the C: partition as “MSDOS_6”.

Anyway… the configuration was the following: Cyrix PR200 processor (166 MHz, however it was overclocked at 200 MHz because the idiots who configured it didn’t know what PR200 meant and they’ve probably thought it meant its native speed is 200MHz), 16 MB of RAM (which I found out later to actually be 24 MB of RAM, but the BIOS didn’t recognize the two SIMM modules properly – it saw only 8 MB per module instead of 12), a 1.6 GB hard drive and a 3.5 inch floppy drive (and of course the keyboard was of AT type and a serial port mouse). Oh… and the monitor was a Sampo 14″ SVGA model, pretty good for the time, actually.

Well… it was my first computer and I would’ve settled for anything just to have one, because I wished for one for years. On our way home I was hugging the keyboard like I haven’t hugged anyone in my life and I was petting it too. I guess that my Aspie nature showed up quite intensely from that day.

When we finally got home and I managed to connect all the peripherals to the computer I was quite anxious about what would happen the first time I ever pressed the power button. So I did… and it started loading. It showed the Video BIOS on the screen which, by the way, was of a SIS graphics card with 1 MB memory… and drivers only for Windows 3.1, which came on a floppy disk. 🙂

After the Video BIOS loaded the computer always halted after the hard drive detection, telling me “Press F1 to enter Setup”. I had no idea what that meant, because I’ve never seen a BIOS CMOS configuration screen in my life before. I still have no idea what it did that – continuously tell me to enter the BIOS setup – by the way.

Having no other choice I pressed F1 and it showed the BIOS Configuration Utility. The BIOS vendor was AMI, by the way. I looked around that thing for a while, trying to find a way to quit it, while my father was being a worthless retard, like always, telling me that everything that I learned before was for nothing. How could I have learned about a thing like that in a beginner’s course? Anyway the only type of Setup I knew about was when you wanted to install Windows 95. I really didn’t know there could be any other kind.

Anyway, I did select “Save and Exit” a few times in a row and the BIOS still wanted me to enter Setup, but it did boot up properly, eventually – I think it was the fourth time or so.

So finally Windows 95 began loading. I truly miss the “Starting Windows 95…” message of my original computer. That’s when I saw how different it was from what I knew but I got used to it pretty quickly, though.

For a few months I was learning how to get around Windows 95 and also I started going to some courses about Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95. Meanwhile I started buying a few PC magazines, including PC World (IDG Romania) and PC Gaming. It was because of PC Gaming that I saw a CD for the first time in my life. I didn’t know you could actually use it with a computer but I figured that out later, I think it was when I carefully analyzed some details about the configuration of a computer which some kid won from a competition organized by the Mickey Mouse comic book Romania (yes, I read that for years and I used to have a huge pile of comic books from it) but also probably of the fact that I saw something similar to my – at the time – brand new Philips Mini HiFi System which included a CD player. Obviously computer CDs didn’t work with a music CD player, so I wanted to see what was with that CD and asked my parents to get my PC to service so that they can install a CD-ROM drive. That happened within a few days – meaning I had to stay without a computer for a few days but at the time I wasn’t -yet- so addicted to it.

Finally I had a CD-ROM. It was a BTC 24x drive, which is the reason why I’ve asked my boss this Wednesday to let me have the 48x drive I had found the last Friday. I really liked that CD-ROM drive and I truly miss it. I wish I could find the person I sold the computer I had later on to which I had installed that CD-ROM drive and ask her to buy the drive back – or better yet to buy back the whole computer.

Now that I could access the CDs I had from a few PC magazines. One or two contained just some computer programs, and other two contained some games. I didn’t know how to play them at first but I found out how to install a game later on. After another few more months, since I had those PC and Office 95 courses, I asked my parents for that office suite and also for some “active speakers” – I didn’t know it also implied a sound card but they did install one by default – and it was an ISA port Avance Logic (now known as Realtek) card. I waited a week or more for that and I still remember how weird it felt to have the peripherals but not the actual computer. When I finally got it back it was time for me to have some fun. I did a lot of things in MS Office and I had fun doing even those. Now comes the gaming part. I did try playing some games before I had the sound card but now it was starting to get really fun. I mostly played demos for a lot of games, mainly because I didn’t have money – and my parents never wanted to give me money – for buying games, but also the configuration didn’t allow for just any type of game.

Anyway, the games which I’ve played the most, over and over again, were:

  • The Red Baron (for DOS)
  • Worms Armageddon
  • Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines
  • SWAT 2
  • Commandos: Behind The Call of Duty
  • Commanche Gold
  • Ultimate Race PRO
  • Gruntz
  • Caesar III
  • StarCraft
  • Ignition – (probably the only full game I’ve ever had)

and many more which I can’t remember now.

I’ve always wanted to play 3D shooters but I didn’t have a 3D accelerated card and I didn’t even know if it would work. That computer had some weird trouble anyway. As far as I can tell it had a very weird IRQ conflict between the ISA audio card and the floppy disk controller. The first time I’ve booted the sound never worked but after that if I pressed Reset the sound card worked… but the floppy drive would have trouble.

It was a pretty interesting time. Of all the games I’ve played Worms Armageddon remained my all time favorite, because it was so funny and cute. 🙂

When I was in 6th grade my second mentor – which was my Informatics teacher and later on my math teacher and tutor – offered to install Windows 98 on my computer and I accepted because I really liked the way it looked and the enhancements it added to the old Windows 95 environment. That’s when we found out that the graphics card didn’t have drivers for Windows 95 or later. It did work – in a rather forced way – with the Windows 3.1 drivers but they couldn’t be installed in any other way than running their Setup program. The sound card didn’t work for a while because Windows 98 didn’t have the drivers for that model but I didn’t really mind. We got it to work later on and to my happyness it didn’t have that weird IRQ conflict any more.

The story of that computer ended one day when it started freezing all of a sudden. At first we thought that it was because it had no grounding. Turned out to be the processor, which was overheating so much that, in combination with all the dust inside the case, it actually broke the cooler, making it overheat even more. My teacher lowered the working frequency to the normal one it should’ve had from the beginning – 166 MHz instead of 200 MHz but the damage was already done. The processor began self destructing itself, an interesting trait which Cyrix’s processors had, probably one of the reason why they almost went bankrupt and they were bought by VIA. The computer worked like that until one day when no matter what I did it kept freezing over and over again. That’s when my teacher found me a temporary PC with a Pentium MMX running at 133 MHz which, believe it or not, worked even better than that Cyrix at 200 MHz. That’s the computer I sold to get some money I needed at the beginning of 2002 and I regret doing that so much to this day and I will never stop collecting old computer and old computer hardware. I hope that one day I’ll be able to rebuild each computer I owned. I can not accept losing any treasureable memory of my past.