Your first PC: Ah, memories...

Readers share their earliest PC memories. Responses reveal a passion for the power of the personal computer.

CNET News staff
11 min read
Your first PC: Ah, memories...

August 10, 2001, 4:00 a.m. PT

We recently asked our readers to share their earliest PC memories. Some people traced their PC roots back to the 1970s and others to a few months ago--but all the responses revealed a passion for the power of the personal computer. Many readers even acknowledged naming their beige boxes, like pets.

Here is a sampling of the responses, which have been edited but not fact-checked for the accuracy of model numbers or configurations.

early Apple ad I received my first computer from my stepmother when I was in fourth grade. It was an old Apple II+--so old, in fact, that it didn't have Shift keys; it typed only in capitals. With a 5.25-inch disk drive and 64K of memory, I taught myself to program in AppleSoft BASIC and got my first taste of code-making and -breaking. Today I hold a patent on an advanced encryption algorithm, and I do Web design on the side.
Stewart Smith

It was an IBM PC XT "Turbo" clone. It had (2) 360K floppy disks and was "souped up" with an NEC V20 chip, a (very) slightly faster replacement for the Intel 8088. My sister's boyfriend, who sold us the computer and worked in a computer store, gave me a CDC 20MB full-height MFM hard drive out of a scrap heap. The servo motor was so big in that thing it vibrated the dining table that served as my "desk" whenever I did a low-level format. Who remembers debugging c800:5 to get into the Western Digital BIOS?
Jim Antoniou

My first PC was a clone--a Leading Edge model D running at 4.77MHz. I loved the built-in BASIC interpreter that loaded if a boot floppy was not inserted in the A drive. The wonderful days when WordPerfect would fit on a single 360K 5.25-inch floppy disk.
Matt Probst

Remember Wang Computers? I still can't get over the fact that I meet a lot of young people in technology today who think Wang is an urban legend. I owned a Wang; actually, my father owned a Wang. Can't remember how fast, can't remember how much it cost, can't remember any of the specs--but I do remember the red-on-white logo and what was at the time a hot new feature: 16 colors on a 14-inch monitor.
Joe Kwak

early IBM PC ad My first PC (circa 1978) was a pre-IBM North Star. I don't recall the operating system; it was almost certainly proprietary. It came with two single-sided floppy disks that each held a whopping 90K of data. The RAM was probably only about 32K, maybe 64K. We used these to program financial and contract systems for automobile dealers in some really early version of BASIC. It had an RS-232 port, I believe, and we connected a CPT typewriter that would fill out contracts automatically when people bought a car (this saved the poor finance guy at the dealer a lot of time in hand-writing contracts).

Shortly after that, I had an Exidy Sorcerer (circa 1979). It was a state-of-the-art, Zilog Z80 (8-bit processor) machine with Digital Research's CP/M operating system. It came with a meager 8K of RAM, which could be expanded internally up to 64K (minus some for video), but it had a special slot designed to take special function cartridges (in 8-track cases!) for programs such as word processing (Spellbinder) and a macro assembler (MASM) for machine-level programming. The great advance on this machine was the introduction of a then-industry standard S-100 expansion bus box. With it, we could add really cool devices like dual quad-density, single-sided disk drives that held 360K worth of data each (at a cost of $3,400 for a pair).

This was a great improvement over the cassette recorders we had been using. Later, a Corvalis 5MB drive (what would we do with all of that storage?) was available for a low price of $7,500.
Bob Amiral

Santa Claus gave me my first computer--an IBM XT. As a kid, I dissected that computer, inspecting every little bit of it. Putting it back together was a monstrous challenge, but it's what made the whole thing fun. That Christmas, I knew I wanted to work with computers the rest of my life--get inside them, see how they work, and control the electrons that make the magic inside computers.
Brandon Bray

I was in college in 1988 when I got my first one: 8088 processor, 640K of RAM, 10MB hard drive, 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch floppies, Hercules monochrome graphics card with an amber-chrome monitor, running DOS 3.X. I remember it was a "turbo" model that you could run at 4MHz or 8MHz. Wow, we've come a long way. But I still have fond memories of all that I could do with my first PC.
Drew Jones

IBM 5150 PC I saw the first IBM PC a few weeks before launch while working at IBM. I knew I had to have one and ordered one. It took several months to arrive since the demand was much bigger than expected. I took the few months to write a basic word processing program on paper in preparation for receiving the PC with only limited application software.

After a few weeks of debugging, the word processor was off and running. The entire DOS operating system and word processor fit on one 5.25-inch floppy diskette and used the green monochrome screen. I still have the original and have fond memories of it as I have upgraded to newer, faster and larger PCs. I still on occasion will do some operations in DOS.
Peter M. Hirsch

Albeit noisy, the original IBM PC keyboard with its tactile and audible feedback was by far the best at the time. The availability of the IBM PC was instrumental in the launch of my career in the PC software industry. It was a joy to get BASIC programs to run on that green phosphorous display.
Doug Walgren

It was a Sol-80 used in my law office. I doubled the memory to 8KB (yes, KB!). It had a 6-inch black-and-white monitor, a daisy-wheel printer, and a 5.25-inch, single-sided, low-density floppy. With it I successfully fought the giant law firms with their MagCard IBM word processors. A far cry from my present 1.3GHz Athlon.
Robert E. Johnson

I started with an Epson Equity I, a 10MHz 8086, and two 360K floppy drives, with a 12-inch green screen monitor. The big selling point was 640K RAM, because nobody would ever have any more than 640K. This worked so well for the four years I had it, I was ashamed when I upgraded to a 386.
Norbert Boettger

The company I was working for bought an IBM PC in 1984. It came with two 5.25-inch floppy drives, and we used Lotus Symphony and Peachtree Accounting (DOS V1). I found I was swapping floppy disks constantly, so my boss went and bought a 10MB hard drive. He paid over $1,000 for it at the time. The additional space was so enormous I was sure we'd never use all that space.
Diane Koers

I remember getting our first IBM PC (model 5150) around 1982, 1983 (my father worked for IBM at the time). It was well-equipped with two full-height 5.25-inch floppies, a cassette port, a CGA monitor, and BASICA embedded in ROM. No parallel or serial port, or onboard clock. My most fond memory was hearing my mother exclaim how she could have re-carpeted the entire house for what we paid for it: approximately $3,000+, and that was with the IBM employee discount.
Marc Sternin

The very first computer I owned was a TRS-80, but since that doesn't hold any fond memories, we shall bypass that one. Therefore, we shall name my Multimedia PC from RadioShack as the first one. The cost was astronomical compared to today's standards: $4,000 for a 486 processor, 4MB of RAM, and a whopping 5MB hard drive. But it had a CD-ROM, which, of course, was the newest thing, and that made it exciting. Even better was the add-on of my 28000 modem so I could be "online." I was addicted instantly.

I was the only one in my town who was on the Internet and who used chat rooms, so I was fascinating to some people and weird to others who just could not comprehend people "talking" in real time over a computer. But of course now, at least 40 percent of the people in my town are computer owners and Internet addicts, so I am not the oddity any longer, and that suits me just fine.
Tara Mitchell

My first PC really was a PC: In 1987 my parents bought a Bentley Computers "Model T." This was a "turbo" XT clone with a switchable 4.77/8MHz NEC V20 CPU. The system was maxed out with 640K system RAM, a 20MB hard drive, an amber-screen MGA display, and a 1200bps internal modem. The operating system was DOS 3.1, later upgraded to version 5.0.
Doug Repp

In 1981 I used my first PC while in high school. It had no floppy or hard drive. Data was stored on an audiocassette tape. We were taught to write in BASIC, and the project that I struggled with was to write a program for the dice game craps.
Karen Mallinson

Apple 2 When the Apple II came out, my father had already been using a scientific computer, the HP-86, for some time; it looked like an IBM PC, but smaller. I was impressed by the Apple II's graphics. I'm still impressed by how people have forgotten the large number of personal computers that existed before the IBM PC. I still remember a magazine article that said the PC was more expensive than most, not as good as many, and had the worst operating system (MS-DOS), but that it would soon be dominant--true.

The PC is still dominant, even if IBM doesn't make most of them, and it still has the worst operating system (Windows Me).
David A. Zatz

Our first IBM PC was an Austin Computers 386SX-33, with a 40MB hard drive, and one of the better home PC models at the time. This was back when TV commercials were still trying to convince people that WordPerfect 3.1 was better than a typewriter. This, of course, was light years ahead of the first PC we ever owned--a RadioShack TRS-80 Model III with a built-in monochrome monitor, no hard drive, and booted "TRS-DOS" from a 5.25-inch floppy.
Kerry Contreary

My first PC was an IBM 8086 with dual 5.25-inch floppy drives, no hard drive, and an RGB monitor. It was state of the art back in 1985. Most of the time I played disc jockey because of the lack of hard drive (an optional 10MB hard drive was available). I had a blast with such programs as Mlink (communications software), WordStar (word processing program) and PC Hack (an entertaining Rogue-like D&D game). I relate this to people who have never seen a typewriter or a television with knob channel changers, and they stare, mouths open, in awe.
James Price

In February 1984, my IBM PC was a birthday gift to myself. I paid extra for 256K to run Multimate. When I got home, I discovered that my girlfriend had made reservations at the Rainbow Room for that evening. I was not the most attentive companion that night.
Lockhart Nimick

The year was 1976, and I decided I needed a computer to estimate printing and bindery jobs in my quick-copy shop. There was just so much one could keep in a notebook. Only one company was into supplying the computer needs of a small business, and that was Tandy-RadioShack.

TRS-80 Model 1 My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1. It cost over $600 and had 4K of memory and an audio tape-recorder for memory storage. The monitor was an RCA TV set with no tuner, and the computer was built into the keyboard.

IBM was still into mainframes, Microsoft was unheard of. So how did we get a program for print-job estimating? I couldn't. I had to learn the BASIC computer language and write my own program. Lucky me, I was able to upgrade to 16K, and that memory gave me just enough room for the program and enough for it to make its calculations.

For over 10 years that computer rested on the front counter of my shop with it asking a series of questions and the customers supplying it with answers. When the last question was answered I pushed a button, and the breakdown and final price was shown on the screen and an Okidata dot-matrix printer gave a hard copy.

In the beginning I would transport the whole computer setup to my home so that my young son could play games on it. Later I bought a second monitor, power supply and tape recorder so that all I had to take home was the computer and keyboard.

Then RadioShack came out with its CoCo Color Computer with plug-in RAM programs, and my son was hooked on it. My Model 1 remained on my front counter. Yes, I was in on the ground floor of personal computers, and I stayed there while the computer industry grew up around me. It was still in daily use when the Smithsonian Institution declared it to be the first popular PC to be added to their museum. I think I'm ready for it too.
Ronald M. Goldwyn

With the exception of my TRS-80, I remember clearly, and fondly, my first true PC: a 286/12MHz with 1MB of RAM. I had to decide each night whether I wanted sound (for games) or the modem (for the BBS), as I had only the one expansion slot available and had to swap cards multiple times a day.
Jason McDonald

I bought my first IBM PC in 1985 for $400. It was a used 4.77MHz system with a 20MB external hard drive. I still actively used it into the late '90s to run a BBS. I have fond memories of the green glow from the display.
Marty Edwards


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