ASK [GAS] : What was your first computer and how did it change your life?

by Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

I was a child of the eighties, and the first computer that my parents bought was a Tandy CoCo, on which my mom taught me to type when I was seven. That computer also jumpstarted my love of videogames, since hours of playing Maniac Mansion revved me up to beg for a NES the very first time I saw an ad for one on television.

Though my family went through a slew of other computers as I grew up, including the Dell that went off to college with me, the one that I still think of as “my” first is the one that I picked out on my own, after said Dell crashed and burned–an iMac G4, shortly after the line was released. I’d previously been running a dual-partition of Windows and Linux and found the shiny new OSX to be preferable to both. Though I’ve since had to switch to a PC desktop for work, I still have that iMac. It’s sitting on the entertainment center in my living room, and its sole purpose in life is to store MP3s and play iTunes while hooked up to a rockin’ sound system. I’m sure that many computers wish for such dignified last days.

Do you remember your first computer? How did it change your life? Have you ever had one you loved too much to let go?


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95 Responses to ASK [GAS] : What was your first computer and how did it change your life?

  1. I'm embarrassed to admit that, when I visited the Computer Museum in Mountain View, a couple of the computers I worked on were on display. Okay, more than a few. The earliest was a PDP-8. Sigh, I'm old. And… I remember visiting my Dad at the phone company working on systems with vacuum tubes!

    • Darn Doug, you don't look THAT old (By looking at your picture on various social networking sites).. I would have given you.. Hmmm, 35-36?

  2. My first computer was a Commodore VIC 20. I think I had 8 KB of RAM and used a tape drive to store that programs you had to crank in by hand.

    No, I don't miss it at all… :)

    • Oh yeah, the VIC-20 was my first computer too! I remember the darn tape drive that came with it… To find a program stored on the casettes, you had to fast foward, listening to silence, and when you heard a screeching sound, it meant you were at the right spot. Lol, I don't miss those days either :)

    • I hated that I had to wait 20 mins for the damn tape to rewind. Then, after a couple of years I got a 286. Can't remember the speed or ram, but I know I had a 20MB hdd and a 5" floppy drive.

      • My First 286 was like, 8 MHZ, and there was a turbo button to bring it to 10 or 12.

        4 extra MHZ, Yippie!

        • I believe the turbo button debuted on the PC AT, and jumped you from 6 Mhz to 8 Mhz.

          I remember we had one in our R&D department right after they came out. We wrote a program to just spit out text to the screen — it was fun to see the difference it made when you pressed turbo. Even though it was only 2 Mhz, it was a 33% improvement!

  3. My first computer was a Commodore VIC 20. I think I had 8 KB of RAM and used a tape drive to store that programs you had to crank in by hand.

    No, I don’t miss it at all… :)

    • Oh yeah, the VIC-20 was my first computer too! I remember the darn tape drive that came with it… To find a program stored on the casettes, you had to fast foward, listening to silence, and when you heard a screeching sound, it meant you were at the right spot. Lol, I don’t miss those days either :)

    • I hated that I had to wait 20 mins for the damn tape to rewind. Then, after a couple of years I got a 286. Can’t remember the speed or ram, but I know I had a 20MB hdd and a 5″ floppy drive.

      • My First 286 was like, 8 MHZ, and there was a turbo button to bring it to 10 or 12.

        4 extra MHZ, Yippie!

        • I believe the turbo button debuted on the PC AT, and jumped you from 6 Mhz to 8 Mhz.

          I remember we had one in our R&D department right after they came out. We wrote a program to just spit out text to the screen — it was fun to see the difference it made when you pressed turbo. Even though it was only 2 Mhz, it was a 33% improvement!

  4. A Commodore 64 which my parents bought from my uncle. It took about 10-15 minutes for a game to load from the tape deck! I really wish I still had that C64 as we had some great games for it.

    • Mine was the C64 also. I really enjoyed programming the sprites in the assembly language. Except that it took too long. But no, I don't miss it.

      The one that was hard to let go was a tower I bought in 1990. She started out as a 386/33Mhz with 4MB of RAM and a 160MB hard drive. By the end, I had replaced every component (including the case) at one time or another. But she had AT power supply, so it eventually became pointless to swap out the motherboard for the fourth time. I gave her remains to a buddy who does computer repair. At least she was an organ donor.

  5. A Commodore 64 which my parents bought from my uncle. It took about 10-15 minutes for a game to load from the tape deck! I really wish I still had that C64 as we had some great games for it.

    • Mine was the C64 also. I really enjoyed programming the sprites in the assembly language. Except that it took too long. But no, I don’t miss it.

      The one that was hard to let go was a tower I bought in 1990. She started out as a 386/33Mhz with 4MB of RAM and a 160MB hard drive. By the end, I had replaced every component (including the case) at one time or another. But she had AT power supply, so it eventually became pointless to swap out the motherboard for the fourth time. I gave her remains to a buddy who does computer repair. At least she was an organ donor.

  6. I'm embarrassed to admit that, when I visited the Computer Museum in Mountain View, a couple of the computers I worked on were on display. Okay, more than a few. The earliest was a PDP-8. Sigh, I'm old. And… I remember visiting my Dad at the phone company working on systems with vacuum tubes!

    • Darn Doug, you don’t look THAT old (By looking at your picture on various social networking sites).. I would have given you.. Hmmm, 35-36?

  7. Apple //c; could not explain the creative outlet that became and how much that made me want to do the work I do now. Mom and Dad guessed, and they guessed right!

  8. Apple //c; could not explain the creative outlet that became and how much that made me want to do the work I do now. Mom and Dad guessed, and they guessed right!

  9. Man you guys are old. :) My first was an IBM 286, I still boot it up from time to time to read an old 3.5 floppy that nothing else will read. That thing was a tank.

  10. Man you guys are old. :) My first was an IBM 286, I still boot it up from time to time to read an old 3.5 floppy that nothing else will read. That thing was a tank.

  11. The first computer I ever laid hands on was an IBM 1130 — 64K of 16 bit core RAM, about the size of a desk. 2.5 meg hard drive. This was about 1969-1970, and I was in high school at the time. I've been in the computer biz ever since.

    • The first computer I ever “laid hands on” was a Data General Eclipse C330 running AOS. But we also used an older Nova 840. That baby was in a cabinet the size of a large refrigerator, and it had 80KB (not MB) of memory on ten 8K boards. Each board was about 20″ x 20″, as I recall. Storage was a removable 5MB disk about two feet in diameter. Input was via card reader, punch tape, teletype console, or (gasp) one background CRT monitor. 300 lpm impact printer to complete the package. price tag: $54,000.

  12. The first computer I ever laid hands on was an IBM 1130 — 64K of 16 bit core RAM, about the size of a desk. 2.5 meg hard drive. This was about 1969-1970, and I was in high school at the time. I’ve been in the computer biz ever since.

    • The first computer I ever "laid hands on" was a Data General Eclipse C330 running AOS. But we also used an older Nova 840. That baby was in a cabinet the size of a large refrigerator, and it had 80KB (not MB) of memory on ten 8K boards. Each board was about 20" x 20", as I recall. Storage was a removable 5MB disk about two feet in diameter. Input was via card reader, punch tape, teletype console, or (gasp) one background CRT monitor. 300 lpm impact printer to complete the package. price tag: $54,000.

  13. First machine I owned was a Memotech MTX512, as featured in Weird Science! It had 64Kb RAM, 4MHz Z80A processor, and twin floppy drives; ran CP/M and had Pascal on ROM. Very, very pretty design.

    Before that I used a variety of PDP-11,Vaxen and Research Machines 380Z.

    I don't think the 380Z or Memotech made it outside of the UK so +10 for rarity :)

  14. First machine I owned was a Memotech MTX512, as featured in Weird Science! It had 64Kb RAM, 4MHz Z80A processor, and twin floppy drives; ran CP/M and had Pascal on ROM. Very, very pretty design.

    Before that I used a variety of PDP-11,Vaxen and Research Machines 380Z.

    I don’t think the 380Z or Memotech made it outside of the UK so +10 for rarity :)

  15. The first computer I ever used was a Radio Shack TRS-80. Typing in a three-line program just made something "click" inside my 12-year-old brain, and I've been hooked ever since. I cut my programming teeth on that and an Apple ][, but the first computer I bought was a Sinclair ZX81 — which, by the way, I still have, along with the thermal printer and a cassette deck … and it still goes!

  16. The first computer I ever used was a Radio Shack TRS-80. Typing in a three-line program just made something “click” inside my 12-year-old brain, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I cut my programming teeth on that and an Apple ][, but the first computer I bought was a Sinclair ZX81 — which, by the way, I still have, along with the thermal printer and a cassette deck … and it still goes!

  17. Timex Sinclair 1000 here as well, Followed by an Atari 800XL, and then a Commodore 128, then an Amiga 500, then I started building my own PC's…ah, the good ol' days!

  18. Timex Sinclair 1000 here as well, Followed by an Atari 800XL, and then a Commodore 128, then an Amiga 500, then I started building my own PC’s…ah, the good ol’ days!

  19. TI-99/4A with a speech synthesizer sidecar add-on. I also still the the cassette drive. I remember waiting 4 minutes waiting for a program to load.

    Now get off my lawn you damn kids!

  20. TI-99/4A with a speech synthesizer sidecar add-on. I also still the the cassette drive. I remember waiting 4 minutes waiting for a program to load.

    Now get off my lawn you damn kids!

  21. My first one was a Commodore VIC 32 with color monitor.

    Remembering these days, I can see how computer have evolved

    Good ol' days :)

  22. My first one was a Commodore VIC 32 with color monitor.
    Remembering these days, I can see how computer have evolved
    Good ol’ days :)

  23. My first computer (or rather my fathers) was a Luxor ABC80 (16k), a Swedish computer based on a lot of discrete logic gates and a Z80 w. tape recorder and a monochrome screen.

    My first real (owned by myself) computer was a Sinclair ZX81 that I modified beyond recognition.

  24. My first computer (or rather my fathers) was a Luxor ABC80 (16k), a Swedish computer based on a lot of discrete logic gates and a Z80 w. tape recorder and a monochrome screen.
    My first real (owned by myself) computer was a Sinclair ZX81 that I modified beyond recognition.

  25. My very first was a Commodore PET that was put in my elementary school for some introductory teaching. The first computer I owned was an Apple //c, used primarily for gaming and (with the addition of a 300 baud modem) BBSing in my pre-teen years.

    Anyone who ever dialed into a FidoNET board knows that "social networking" existed loooong before Facebook.

  26. My very first was a Commodore PET that was put in my elementary school for some introductory teaching. The first computer I owned was an Apple //c, used primarily for gaming and (with the addition of a 300 baud modem) BBSing in my pre-teen years.

    Anyone who ever dialed into a FidoNET board knows that “social networking” existed loooong before Facebook.

  27. Well I guess it depends what you want to call a computer really,

    My first was a toy called the M.A.C. (it stood for Multifunction Advanced Computer and had nothing to do with Apple!). It's display was an LED matrix and it would take up to 99 programme steps as well as play some educational games.

    My first 'real' computer would be the commodore Vic 20 which had a huge 4k of RAM, I remember spending many happy hours typing in listings from magazines. I also remember that you got most of your 'special effects' on the Vic 20 by poking directly into memory, for a while there I knew the whole memory map! :-)

    Like the other Vic owners I remember the super slow tape drive but I also remember, after I got my 16k RAM pack, spending ages typing in data statements for a machine code program which made the tape drive perform faster than the commodore disk drive that was available at the time!

    This little machine is what got me into programming and thus my career, so I have very fond memories of it.

  28. Well I guess it depends what you want to call a computer really,

    My first was a toy called the M.A.C. (it stood for Multifunction Advanced Computer and had nothing to do with Apple!). It’s display was an LED matrix and it would take up to 99 programme steps as well as play some educational games.

    My first ‘real’ computer would be the commodore Vic 20 which had a huge 4k of RAM, I remember spending many happy hours typing in listings from magazines. I also remember that you got most of your ‘special effects’ on the Vic 20 by poking directly into memory, for a while there I knew the whole memory map! :-)

    Like the other Vic owners I remember the super slow tape drive but I also remember, after I got my 16k RAM pack, spending ages typing in data statements for a machine code program which made the tape drive perform faster than the commodore disk drive that was available at the time!

    This little machine is what got me into programming and thus my career, so I have very fond memories of it.

  29. My first was an Atari 520ST. It ran STOS and it was great. No hard drive. Loaded the OS from floppy. I traded up from there and got the precursor to the Mac, it was an Apple IIgs system fully loaded with dual floppys, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and loads of software. Ah, those were the days.

  30. My first was an Atari 520ST. It ran STOS and it was great. No hard drive. Loaded the OS from floppy. I traded up from there and got the precursor to the Mac, it was an Apple IIgs system fully loaded with dual floppys, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and loads of software. Ah, those were the days.

  31. My first was an Packard Bell 286. It ran a whole 16MHz (compared to my phone which has a 400MHz processor). Man, I remember the grand 'ole days of DOS and when Windows 3.11 was slow to boot. After that, I had a Compaq Presario with a 486SX running 33MHz with 32MBs of RAM and a 120MB hard drive (I overclocked it to 36 once, but it was unstable). After that, we jumped to a 200MHz PII custom-built rig with 128MBs of RAM and an 8GB hard drive. Since then we've had a conglomeration of computers (over 5 which, with the exception of 1, are still working and used today), of which I was given for school a 2.66GHz P4 laptop with 512MB RAM and 60GB hard drive and I bought recently a Lenovo X41 Tablet (1.66GHz with 1GB RAM and 60GB hard drive) – both of which I still use today. Man, those were the days!

  32. My first was an Packard Bell 286. It ran a whole 16MHz (compared to my phone which has a 400MHz processor). Man, I remember the grand ‘ole days of DOS and when Windows 3.11 was slow to boot. After that, I had a Compaq Presario with a 486SX running 33MHz with 32MBs of RAM and a 120MB hard drive (I overclocked it to 36 once, but it was unstable). After that, we jumped to a 200MHz PII custom-built rig with 128MBs of RAM and an 8GB hard drive. Since then we’ve had a conglomeration of computers (over 5 which, with the exception of 1, are still working and used today), of which I was given for school a 2.66GHz P4 laptop with 512MB RAM and 60GB hard drive and I bought recently a Lenovo X41 Tablet (1.66GHz with 1GB RAM and 60GB hard drive) – both of which I still use today. Man, those were the days!

  33. I got my first computer for my 5th birthday. It was a Tandy 1000. I didn't even know what it was when I opened it. I said "wow, a TV!" My dad said, "no, that's a computer." I said "Oh. What do I do with it?" My dad said, "No idea. Here's the book." At that point he handed me the manual for DOS 2.11. Remember, I just turned 5. That's pretty much how I learned to read, though, using the manual for DOS.

    • Learned to read using a DOS manual? Now THAT's scary :)

      If I remember correctly, DOS was included in the BIOS on those machines right?

  34. I got my first computer for my 5th birthday. It was a Tandy 1000. I didn’t even know what it was when I opened it. I said “wow, a TV!” My dad said, “no, that’s a computer.” I said “Oh. What do I do with it?” My dad said, “No idea. Here’s the book.” At that point he handed me the manual for DOS 2.11. Remember, I just turned 5. That’s pretty much how I learned to read, though, using the manual for DOS.

    • Learned to read using a DOS manual? Now THAT’s scary :)

      If I remember correctly, DOS was included in the BIOS on those machines right?

  35. I don't remember correctly what was my 1st comp's specs. Maybe p3 128 mb RAM, I think?

    It helped me alot learning MS WORD and EXCEL at that time. And when I graduated from High School, I sold it and got shiny p4. >_> Such ungrateful bastard I was…

  36. I don’t remember correctly what was my 1st comp’s specs. Maybe p3 128 mb RAM, I think?

    It helped me alot learning MS WORD and EXCEL at that time. And when I graduated from High School, I sold it and got shiny p4. >_> Such ungrateful bastard I was…

  37. The first computer I ever used was the VIC-20, at school – we also had a Dragon 32 – but the first I ever owned was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K, which we later upgraded to the 48K and by the time I left home my brother had the model with the proper keyboard that looked like the QL, but wasn't. (128K maybe?)

    Sinclair BASIC was a doddle to use an in no time at all I was writing half-decent games, and even had a couple published in the monthly Sinclar Programs magazine.

    The Spectrum, of course, was THE games machine of its day. I still have very fond nostalgic memories of the excitement created around each new Ultimate (who became Rare) release. Good times.

  38. The first computer I ever used was the VIC-20, at school – we also had a Dragon 32 – but the first I ever owned was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K, which we later upgraded to the 48K and by the time I left home my brother had the model with the proper keyboard that looked like the QL, but wasn’t. (128K maybe?)

    Sinclair BASIC was a doddle to use an in no time at all I was writing half-decent games, and even had a couple published in the monthly Sinclar Programs magazine.

    The Spectrum, of course, was THE games machine of its day. I still have very fond nostalgic memories of the excitement created around each new Ultimate (who became Rare) release. Good times.

  39. Acorn Electron!!! Totally unreliable, only loaded games 50% of the time but programming (if you can call it that) in BASIC was dead easy and when you're 10 having the screen flashing blue and yellow after typing a few lines was soooooo cool….lol

  40. Acorn Electron!!! Totally unreliable, only loaded games 50% of the time but programming (if you can call it that) in BASIC was dead easy and when you’re 10 having the screen flashing blue and yellow after typing a few lines was soooooo cool….lol

  41. TI 99/4A with tape drive and basic on a cartridge. Used to sit for hours copying programs from the back of Compute magazine. I can still hear the chirp and buzz from the tape drive loading programs.

  42. TI 99/4A with tape drive and basic on a cartridge. Used to sit for hours copying programs from the back of Compute magazine. I can still hear the chirp and buzz from the tape drive loading programs.

  43. Atari 520 St. Yes, the 520 was the amount of KB internal mem. No HDD, only a 3.5" floppy, double side :-) I was 12 years old then, BASIC was THE language to program in, Breakout THE game to waste time…

  44. Atari 520 St. Yes, the 520 was the amount of KB internal mem. No HDD, only a 3.5″ floppy, double side :-) I was 12 years old then, BASIC was THE language to program in, Breakout THE game to waste time…

  45. I bet most of us oldies could still tell whether a programme has loaded properly or not just by listening to the whistles and burps from the tape drive! :-D

  46. I bet most of us oldies could still tell whether a programme has loaded properly or not just by listening to the whistles and burps from the tape drive! :-D

  47. I bet most of us oldies could still tell whether a programme has loaded properly or not just by listening to the whistles and burps from the tape drive! :-D

  48. The first computer I ever used as an Apple II in elementary school (and my parents kept humming and hawing about buying us one) The first computer we actually owned was a n "IBM Clone" a 286 running at a whopping 12Mhz and a whopping 256K of RAM and a 65 MB hard Drive.

  49. The first computer I ever used as an Apple II in elementary school (and my parents kept humming and hawing about buying us one) The first computer we actually owned was a n “IBM Clone” a 286 running at a whopping 12Mhz and a whopping 256K of RAM and a 65 MB hard Drive.

  50. First computer I ever store bought was the Commodore Vic-20. 5k of RAM. Tape drive. Started to learn BASIC on it then moved over to 6502 assembler. Easy transition over to the Apple ][+ clone that my buddy's dad bought as a kit form from Hong Kong back in the early 80's. Spent a few weeks building it (bare motherboard with bags of IC's, resistors, capacitors, etc.) and then started hacking anti-copy security for games. Oh those were the days. :) I still have a Laser 128 and an Apple //c with games that I cracked back then.

  51. First computer I ever store bought was the Commodore Vic-20. 5k of RAM. Tape drive. Started to learn BASIC on it then moved over to 6502 assembler. Easy transition over to the Apple ][+ clone that my buddy’s dad bought as a kit form from Hong Kong back in the early 80’s. Spent a few weeks building it (bare motherboard with bags of IC’s, resistors, capacitors, etc.) and then started hacking anti-copy security for games. Oh those were the days. :) I still have a Laser 128 and an Apple //c with games that I cracked back then.

  52. The Commodore Pet computer was the first computer I worked on at school, but I didn't own one. Also, like most other computer geeks at the time, I used to go to Radio Shack and write annoying programs on the TRS-80's.

    The Commodore 64 was the first computer I owned. I didn't have the money for a tape drive right away so I used to write BASIC programs, play with them for a while, and then shut off the computer and lose everything!

  53. The Commodore Pet computer was the first computer I worked on at school, but I didn’t own one. Also, like most other computer geeks at the time, I used to go to Radio Shack and write annoying programs on the TRS-80’s.

    The Commodore 64 was the first computer I owned. I didn’t have the money for a tape drive right away so I used to write BASIC programs, play with them for a while, and then shut off the computer and lose everything!

  54. My first computer is P3 processor ,Intel 810E mother board and 128 RAM ,40GB HDD and 15 CRT monitor I still using it as a server to share my printers and files I don't want to leave it.

  55. My first computer is P3 processor ,Intel 810E mother board and 128 RAM ,40GB HDD and 15 CRT monitor I still using it as a server to share my printers and files I don’t want to leave it.

  56. DEC Rainbow 100. In 1996. Good luck finding the right disks for it when you just know "the big black disks make games happen" and your parents know computers need electricity and have wires and stuff. Yeah, that didn't work so well.

    • For a short while, we used DEC Rainbow 100B as desktop workstations (ca. 1985). With a 10MB hard drive and 192KB of memory, you could dual-boot CP/M or DOS. We had C compilers available for both OS's, and used PolyTerm to act like a terminal on Unix and VMS systems (moving the RS-232 cable by hand to the desired computer ;) ).

  57. DEC Rainbow 100. In 1996. Good luck finding the right disks for it when you just know “the big black disks make games happen” and your parents know computers need electricity and have wires and stuff. Yeah, that didn’t work so well.

    • For a short while, we used DEC Rainbow 100B as desktop workstations (ca. 1985). With a 10MB hard drive and 192KB of memory, you could dual-boot CP/M or DOS. We had C compilers available for both OS’s, and used PolyTerm to act like a terminal on Unix and VMS systems (moving the RS-232 cable by hand to the desired computer ;) ).

  58. Back in the late 70's or early 80's I bought an Osborne, something like a suitcase containing an oscilloscope. The keyboard was built into the lid, and it was very heavy. I fell in love with it immediately and while exploring its capabilities began to fantasize that someone would design an astrology program and an i ching program so I could do research more effectively (that's my field, paranormal and prophecy). One day I called a programmer friend and tried to sell him on the idea. He took it to another friend and they came up with the first versatile, all-purpose astrology program. I happily played with it for several years. The idea took fire and now there are sophisticated programs everywhere providing everything imaginable in the world of astrology and psychic phenomena. Many are available free on the internet. I'm having the time of my life with them. (One instnce of wishes coming true).

  59. Back in the late 70’s or early 80’s I bought an Osborne, something like a suitcase containing an oscilloscope. The keyboard was built into the lid, and it was very heavy. I fell in love with it immediately and while exploring its capabilities began to fantasize that someone would design an astrology program and an i ching program so I could do research more effectively (that’s my field, paranormal and prophecy). One day I called a programmer friend and tried to sell him on the idea. He took it to another friend and they came up with the first versatile, all-purpose astrology program. I happily played with it for several years. The idea took fire and now there are sophisticated programs everywhere providing everything imaginable in the world of astrology and psychic phenomena. Many are available free on the internet. I’m having the time of my life with them. (One instnce of wishes coming true).

  60. windows 95, doom and sim city.

    oh, and sim ant, the greatest game in the ever. Old folk, i was only 4.

  61. windows 95, doom and sim city.

    oh, and sim ant, the greatest game in the ever. Old folk, i was only 4.

  62. My first computer was an IBM 360 – the size of a schoolbus. I still fondly remember that unique shade of orange plastic…

  63. My first computer was an IBM 360 – the size of a schoolbus. I still fondly remember that unique shade of orange plastic…