Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Far Personal Computing Has Come

In reading Unit 2 on digital devices in the textbook New Perspectives on Computer Concepts 2016: Comprehensive by June Parsons for my graduate studies for my MLIS (masters in library and information science), I could not help but be reminded of how far personal computing has come in my own lifetime.

Back in 1984 I received my first personal computer for my nineteenth birthday. The Commodore 64, released two years prior, was a very cutting-edge piece of technology.

The newly developed 8-bit central processor by MOS Technology ran a standard 1.023 MHz. The SID 6581 sound chip, the best on the market, could play up to three different "voices" at a time. The display output was a dazzling 320x200 in 16 colors. The computer got its name from the fact that it had 64K of RAM memory. All this computing power was housed in the sleek keyboard integrated unit and weighed 3 pounds 15 ounces. The price tag was just under $600.

The Commodore 64 did need additional things to be useful. Output was achieved using an RCA connector (red, yellow and white plugs) to attach to a television or monitor. As there was no native hard-drive on the system, all software programs were loaded through an external cassette or 5 1/4 inch floppy drive; I was lucky to have the latter.

Let's compare this to the HP laptop I am writing this post on today.

My laptop runs a 64-bit Intel Core i3-6100U processor at 2.30 GHz. The stereo sound and HD picture quality are as rich and vivid as many televisions on the market. The laptop contains 6GB of memory and 1TB hard-drive. Although it has a built-in keyboard, tracking mouse pad, touch-screen display, and DVD/CD-ROM drive, additional peripheral devices can optionally be attached but are not required for operation. Unlike the Commodore 64 which was a standalone unit, the HP laptop can network with other devices and the Internet via either an Ethernet or wireless connection.

All of this fits into a 4.74 pounds package with a price tag of $400.

Where will personal computing take us in the next thirty-two years of my life? With the rapidly changing rate of technology, the sky is the limit.

For more information on the classic Commodore 64 computer look no further than the historical information that can be found on their website .

1 comment:

HERC said...

Late last year, the wife came across a picture of a huge machine being loaded onto an airplane in the Fifties and sent it to me with this query - Guess what this is? Maybe you've seen that pic. Turns out it was a state of the art five-megabyte hard drive!

Shortly thereafter, while deciding on Christmas gifts for the immediate family, we ordered an Amazon Echo and an Apple Watch for the kids and that started a whole other conversation on how far things have come including the first IBM PC we bought as a married couple in 1987 or 1988. OS/2 was the operating system, Netscape Navigator was the browser and Prodigy was how we connected to the web. We looked for the specs of the machine but could not find our paperwork but I know the hard drive was less than a 5GB and the RAM was in the megabytes. We did upgrade the unit right there in the showroom storefront with a "math" chip so her brother could use it as he worked towards his engineering degree.

My Dad always wanted to build his own PC - he had built a TV and a stereo receiver using HeathKits(?) but never built a PC. He did get a Commodore 64 shortly after they were released, though. Anyway, Dad somehow found another guy with a C-64 and together they started a user's club, meeting twice a week, that grew and grew until there were well over 100 members. Dad was elected software librarian which meant members gave him a copy of every new piece of software they acquired and he passed copies on as requested by other members - a very localized peer to peer group. He had thousands of programs on cassettes and floppy drives of varying sizes. Once he retired and moved back to Missouri in the early Nineties, his office was covered wall to wall with shelves of media storage which he didn't get rid of, despite not using any of it, until about twelve years ago. After his passing in 2015, I found tons of floppy discs still stashed behind stacks of vintage PC magazines and threw all of it in the trash. (Sorry, collectors.) He also collected every free CD-ROM those vintage PC magazines came with and had nearly a thousand of them tucked away in a cabinet.

Dad also brought home an Intellivision (our second video game console after the awesomely primitive Fairchild) for Christmas 1981 or 1982 and a couple years later, picked up the Aquarius, which was a computer-like expansion or attachment for the Intellivision. I still have both units boxed up in the garage, recently rediscovering their whereabouts while putting away boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of Xmas.

So yes, I agree, personal computing has come a long way.