Our First Computers

Check out these enlightening and entertaining ‘first computer’ experiences from our staff and regular contributors.

Dave Methvin (PC Pitstop)

The first computer I ever used was an HP 2100 minicomputer, at our high school in 1974. I took a class in Basic and we used a TTY and acoustic coupler to connect to it.

The lights on the front panel were also buttons; in college I wrote an assembly language game that flashed the lights in different patterns and if you predicted the next light to go on you won.

The first computer I owned at home was an AT&T 6300, in 1984. It was basically an nice looking IBM PC clone but it had twice the hard drive space — 20MB, woo hoo!

Harry McCracken

The first computer that I used was my dad’s Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I in 1978–with 4KB of RAM (later upgraded to 32KB) and Level I BASIC, the world’s worst programming language. I knew that machine inside and out.

The first one I bought with my own money was an Atari 400 in 1982–the one with the famously terrible flat keyboard. I mostly used it connected to a black-and-white TV.

Leo Notenboom

My first computer? An Apple II Plus, circa 1979.
I’d been learning things like Fortran and assembly
language (using punch cards, thank you) on the University
of Washington’s CDC 6400 mainframe, so loading software
from audio tape seemed like a huge improvement! (I
eventually did get a disk drive for it – a floppy
disk drive.)

That Apple introduced me to both Basic and the 6502
assembly language and allowed me to play “Apple Trek”,
a version of the Star Trek game that was very popular
in the late 70’s.

I can’t say that I ever did anything “serious” with the
II – it was my curiosity and excitement with my newfound
profession that lead me to purchase it. I learned from
it more that I used it, examining the hardware and
software and fumbling with my own first attempts at
software for a personal computer.

School work and eventually my first job – using other
hardware – lead me to leave it behind.

Ultimately it’s kind of ironic given how long I ended
up at Microsoft that it was an Apple computer that I
started with at home.

Augusto Matos (PC Pitstop)

My first computer was an TK90X, in… 1987 I guess.

It used a tape recorder to store the data, like any regular cassete, it used a 70 min audio tape, it was in color and uses the tv as monitor.

Processor: Z80A, de 8 bits 3.5 Mhz

Ram: 16 Kb

Rom: 16 Kb

8 colors

Steve Bass

I first learned about computers in 1982 when I bought an IBM-PC from Computerland. The PC cost me $4000 — and that didn’t include the video adapter or monitor. There were two big, 5 1/4 floppy drives (I had to buy a box of Elephant Memory Systems floppies) and the display was an eye-soothing green monochrome.

At a garage sale the next day I bought a time management software program — and when I tried it, I got my first computer error message: “not enough memory.” LOL — with a whopping 128K of RAM on the PC, the program didn’t have a chance at loading.

When I called Computerland and asked for advice, they cheerfully said, “don’t use your PC in the shower.” The following day, I got my own support system cooking — I founded the Pasadena IBM Users Group.

John Dodge

The first computer I used was a Teleram portable word processing terminal when I was a newspaper correspondent filing from a bureau of the Lowell Sun. It weighed upward of 50 pounds and to send stuff, I used an acoustic coupler for a 300 baud connection over a telephone. That was 1977…..Computerworld used the same thing in the early 80s and called them Telebubbles.

Ironically, I entered the IT trade press in early 1980 at a publication called MIS Week (RIP) and went back on a manual Royal typewriter.

The second computer I used was a Shadio Rack (sic) TRS-80 Model III….different from Harry’s in that computer, keyboard and display were all one piece and resembled a minicomputer or mainframe computer terminal. To do any function, you had to usually press the ctrl key and as I recall, it only worked when you timed it right in concert with the actual letter or number key. That was 1981.

After that, we used an Apple II for word processing and sent the text to our typesetter, which used CompuGraphic pagination equipment – state of the art in its day (1981-82).

When I went to PC Week in 1983 for my 16 year run, I started out with a Compaq luggable (30 lbs.)….5.25 inch floppy disk drives and 8088. We quickly went on an the Atex newspaper system and few of us had PCs at home although portables were starting to show up.

First computer I bought was an 80286 PC AT clone around 1985-86 (might have been an Everex or one the Dell mail order clones w brand names like Bentley).

Chris Pirillo

My first computer didn’t even have a hard drive in it! The first one I purchased with my own money cost me around $200.00 and it had a couple of 5 1/4″ floppy drives. When I bought it back in 1993, it seemed relatively outdated even then.

I then worked to save around $2200.00 and bought my first real computer. I got a machine with 8MB of RAM and 4MB of video RAM. I think it had 420MB worth of storage! It even had a CD drive that could read at double-speed. Back in the day, that was a pretty good system. It was the best that was out there.

I still have binaries (executables) and media that I downloaded from the newsgroups back then that I had to decode and ultimately put on my system. I remember when I’d see a 100k file and think how big it was. I’d wonder if it would even work on my system. Yes… 100 K. Anything 1MB or more was considered “killer” back then.

Mark Lussier (PC Pitstop)

My first computer was an Apple II (1983 or so)
I also had the z80 board (microsoft) and it could do 40 as well as 80 column!
I even had 2 floppy drives!

$900 used

The guy I bought it from did give me a ton of software

Ralf Biesemeier (PC Pitstop)

Has nobody ever owned a Commodore C64? Was that not big in the U.S.? Everybody in my generation in Germany started with a C64 (or an Atari … It must have been 1983 when I got mine.

My first configuration was:

Has nobody ever owned a Commodore C64? Was that not big in the U.S.? Everybody in my generation in Germany started with a C64 (or an Atari … It must have been 1983 when I got mine.

My first configuration was a C64 computer, a tape recorder (which was called “Datasette” over here) to store data and a very small sized TV as a display.
I upgraded from the “Datasette” to a 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive at one time – an external hardware device so big it basically occupied all the desk space.

I used my C64 for gaming (take a look at one of my favorites games back then: http://www.c64-wiki.com/index.php/Impossible_Mission) and I was a very active “Basic”-programmer. I actually established my first business on this PC (while still going to school, aged 16 or so), offering printing services to my classmates (business cards, for example).

Ah … good old times 😉

Keith Linden (PC Pitstop)

Mine was a Commodore 64. I still have ours but the video adapter is broken so I cannot use it. I had the 5 1/4 “ floppy disk and wrote many simple programs in basic. I remember one time for the 4th of July writing a program that played the national anthem and animated a us flag being raised.

Sandra Strand (PC Pitstop)

I think my dad had one kind of like the one pictured below…

…that we played pong, pong with bricks, and things like trajectory and tank games with abstract shapes. I remember mostly that the screen was always all black and the lines, etc were orange. And they ran off of floppies 🙂

We want to know more about the machines that brought you into the wonderful world of computing. Please share in the comments below.

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29 thoughts on “Our First Computers

  1. Il mio primo PC? Un HP 87, con un driver the due floppy the 5" formato valigia, 48k di RAM. E ci facevo girare un laboratorio di geotecnica, oltre a usarlo per il word processing e per il VisiCalc e il successivo TK! Solver. Tutto basato su un BASIC fantastico la cui grafica cartesiana non sono più riuscito, fatte le debite proporzioni, a eguagliare.

  2. My first computer (ca. 1983) was a Coleco Adam. I still have it and sometimes use it, mostly for addressing envelopes. The remnants of the old user groups still exist and meet annually – this year in Laval, Quebec and next year (23rd !!!) in Cleveland.
    There’s even a website (Adamcon.org) about it, with links.

  3. The first computer I programmed was a Ferranti Mercury in 1961; see website ref.; input and output was on 5 hole paper tape and a program of any size had to be fed to the machine in modules. I programmed for a team of Rocket Scientists and some of the programs had in excess of twenty modules and took nearly 5 hours to run using the whole machine. We programmed in Mercury autocode and machine language.
    I bought my first PC in 1981 and that was a 64k BBC B to which programs had to be saved to and loaded from audio cassettes. My children used to get me to change certain aspects of some programs; unthinkable today.
    Helcyon Days.

  4. I inherited my first computer. It was called an Osbourne. It ran on CPM-1. It assembled into a case the size, shape and weight of a portable Singer sewing machine. Lying on its side, the rectangular base was actually a detachable keyboard. It ran on two 5 1/4″ floppies, left and right with a 4″ green monochrome monitor in the middle. No harddrive. I heard the inventor was making a killing until he appeared on TV and told the world about the new improved model coming out the next year, prompting the buying public to delay their plans to purchase. The resulting zero cash flow killed the Osbourne.

  5. I’m in the USA and my first computer was a C64 that I got for Christmas around 1984. I also received a Datassette, which is a computer torture device pretending to be a storage medium. I started typing in magazine programs, but even small files took forever and a day to load from tape. The following Christmas I received a 1541 disk drive and the Datassette was permanently retired. Later accessories included an Epyx Fastload cartridge, a 300 baud modem, then a 1200 baud one and eventually a Super Snapshot V3 cartridge. I learned BASIC and some 6502 ML, although not enough to get truly good at it. Still, there used to be a few small utility programs floating around with my name on them.

    When the C64’s popularity waned, I moved on to the Amiga, a fantastic system that was flushed down the toilet by Commodore’s mis-management.

    Eventually I was given a 233Mhz Windows 98 system by a friend and started using that around 2000 or so. Windows may have more features and be more advanced than the Amiga OS, but in many ways, it seems like it was designed by people who have never touched a computer before.

  6. A Bendix G15 B. Some Digital (NOT Digital Group!) PDP-8, IBM 1130 and others. First home computer was a Digital Group kit that had audio input. Then I put together a 4K board. Data lines were separate and did not have the problems of the S-100 Buss. More and more memory was added with four 8″ drives and four digital cassette drives later, my English, Latin, and Spanish speaking computer added voice recognition for controlling stuff around the home. I ultimately could shift to 6800, 6502, 8080 or Z-80 on start-up. That computer is in a museum and I understand still works. I settled on Z-80 and have stuck with its descendants since. I edited a newsletter on the 1802 chip (Club 1802) for a while. (I thought that I had given away all my 1802 stuff, but while cleaning up recently came across some audio programs with some past newsletters and a binder with the commands imprinted on the binder. Anyone interested?)

  7. My first computer was a Commodore VIC 20 w/ about 5KB of memory. I made a “biorythm” program on it. Very basic, but it changed my life! Rich, famous, etc. Thanks Commodore!! I wish! Still it was fun.

  8. My first computer was an Atari half meg memory. I bought this when I first retired, My next computer was an Atari with two meg memory which I upgraded to a maximum 4 meg, added a 100kb exernal hard drive, and a sketch pad.
    Atari issued a series of Flight Simulator discs and I still have their first series of the USA.

  9. My first ‘puter was a VIC 20 and first laptop was a Toshiba T1600. The Tos is gone but I still have the VIC 20 and all the peripherals including the manual and original packaging. A collectors item some day ???

  10. My first computer was the Texas Instruments TI64 and that was followed by an EPSON, running CPM. Great computer came bundled with WP, SS,DB. It had 2-5 1/4 floppys and the word processor had WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Ahead of its time..by the way, still runs!

  11. My first was an IMB 5100 – size of a suitcase, 55 pounds, an IBM dialect of BASIC, and 32K of memory. But, since the system claimed memory, the user had access to only 16001 bytes. I got the optional second tape drive, giving a total of just over 400K of tape storage. The printer was a 132 column dot matrix that weighed about as much as a VW, and was almost as fast. Strings could contain a maximum of (I think I recall) 25 characters, and the maximum number of elements in an array was 255. It came with absolutely no application software, not even a sort, and cost a bit over $17,000. With this, I wrote an inventory control system for a family-owned three store clothing business, a payroll system, an accounts payable and receivable, and even translated some Fortran programs for an engineer who did paper industry machine efficiency analysis – it was easier to pay me to turn around his results in a few hours than to send the data to the home office to punch and run on their mainframe and get the results back in 7-10 days.

  12. My first computer was a VIC-20, which came out before the Commodore 64. In the first months I had it, there was no way to store the programs, so I had to type them in every time I ran the computer, which helped me learn BASIC. Then I got a C-64, eventually graduated to a C-128, and then an Amiga-1000. I ran a computer bulletin boartd with a friend for ten years on a C-64, and I loved those days.

  13. After using the behemoth IBM mainframe in college, around 1969 or so, I thought my Commodore VIC 20 in 1977 was state-of-the-art. The Dataset tape player was the only memory, the CRT was..gasp.. in color! And no punch-cards to bring in and wait two days to see if you left out a comma. When someone warned about virus and malware, yes even back then, I was smug in knowing that a tape drive coundn’t harbor them, or infect a memory-less coumputer. How much memory does YOUR computer have: none! LOfriggin L! Does anyone know if the VIC had the first GUI for pc? Would like to know.

  14. I’ve followed the nostalgia thread on your website for several months hoping to find someone else who had a Kaypro. For those who never heard of them, they were CPM machines sold through a dealer network in the earily ’80’s, primarily designed to be “portable” since the whole system and periperials were enclosed in a single stamped steel case. They seemed almost indestructible, weighing probably 30 pounds and larger than a book carton. I guess they were considered portable because they had a luggage handle on the back.

  15. Yes, you do still remember your first computer, back in 1977 there was no way I could afford to buy a personal computer, so I built my own. It came as a kit of components recommended by a UK computer magazine, a single pre-drilled PC board, a circuit diagram on a sheet of A4 and a moulded plastic box to put it all in. The kit was based on a US design, called an Ohio, but over here it was called a UK 101 (Hi Oh Hi). On board was 500K of RAM (10 x 1K0 nibble DILs), storage was a tape recorder which ran at 110 Baud, and the display could be either a TV via an onboard converter (for PAL of course) or via a 1V p-p video signal. Soldering all the component onto the board took a couple of hours, but the PC worked first time once it was tuned in. There was an EPROM containing the BASIC language or it could be programmed in 6502 machine code.
    I had a lot of fun with this machine, which I still have, but TVs have moved on these days and my monitor needs a good coat of looking at. I used to write games for my son and his cousins and friends. Being a home build I could do any modification I wanted, the first of which was to increase the baud rate, first to 220 baud and then via a separate Vero board device to 4K or 8K (Yeah, odd numbers but it worked fine.) I also added 6K of extra RAM (3 x 2k0 ROMs) and a DIL containing a 6502 assembler which could assemble in one pass as the code came in from the tape.
    I eventually had permission from my wife to purchase a BBC B machine on the understanding that I programmed the same game of patience (solitaire) for her first thing! (This I did, and sold the program to the publishers of the BBC computer magazine and it was still on sale from them many years later when the magazine finished publication.)
    I still enjoy my computer (according to PC Matic, in the top 28% worldwide) and I still write programmes for little jobs I want it to do for me, I’m still using BASIC… the latest version of Visual Basic from Microsoft.

  16. Hey Ralf Biesemeier……I started with a Vic 20 and my second computer was a Commodore 64. I was surprised that no one mentioned the Vic 20.

  17. My first computer in the late 70’s (I think) was a Texas Instrument TI 64 keyboard type with a small cartridge drive that hooked into a conventional TV. Had lot’s of fun using this and developed an inventory program where I was able to catalog and track usage of business machines for my employer.

  18. We had Timex Sinclair at home with a tape deck for extra program storage. We played a moon lander game on it. In high school we had a Wang with punch cards and in my senior year we got four TRS-80 (trash 80s) in the library.

    When I started at Clarkson College in ’83 every freshman got a Zenith Z87 computer with one sided floppy drive (we made the national news as the 1st to required a pc). Some of the real geeks upgraded to a 8088 math co-processor, a second floppy and later Winchester hard drives.

  19. my 1st pc was a old timex sinclear for 3 months then my brother gotme commodore 64 wtih 2 hard drives.. and moderm…was a blast backthen i did basic, games (jumpman was my fav) and then q-link when found that out….

  20. Like many, my first was a commodore 64. At one point I tried to put our business books on it. By the time I had all the journals feeding into the general ledger, I had 1k of memory left for data so couldn’t be quite so automatic. Later my daughter used it at university. I had a lot of fun with that machine.

    At the Commodore users group I belonged to one 74 yr old gentleman said he wished they had developed them years ago because he was “having a ball”.

  21. My first computer was around 1982. I was attending ITT Technical Institute and we were writing programs for a Motorola 6800 CPU Trainer. It was so difficult to get a PC at school to write the programs I bought a computer to write them at home. It was a “Turbo” XT with a 20MB hard drive and 1MB of RAM. It would do 15MHz in Turbo MOde. It cost me $1500 with a CGA Monitor. My first decent computer was a 386SX – I forget the size hard drive. It was much nicer for about half the price of my first one. That is when 8MB of RAM would run you about $300-400. I sold a computer to buy more RAM for another one. Those were the days.

  22. My first computer in 1978 was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I with a huge 16K of RAM. It used cassettes for loading and saving programs and data. Later, I bought an “expansion interface,” using which I could upgrade to a gigantic 32K RAM plus floppy disks, which were–even at single-sided single-density, 160K–exponentially faster than tapes. When I finally bought a 15mb hard drive the size of a shoebox, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
    I never went for the 16-bit Model II, or the one-piece, 8-bit Model III. Instead, I made the gigantic leap to the IBM-compatible side, to a Leading Edge with a 20mb hard drive, 640K RAM, and a then-standard IBM keyboard with the function keys on the left. I believe I added some Expanded or Extended RAM (I still don’t know the difference) before upgrading to a Gateway computer running DOS 3.2.
    Nowadays I use an HP a6800z Pavilion with 4tb RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and a DVD drive. I’m still amazed that it has no parallel port and no serial point, and that it doesn’t recognize the fax modem board I inserted into one of its slots. Luckily, my printer hooks up via USB, as do many other items. At 67, I may well be on my last computer. For other purposes, such as running my ancient Epson scanner, I use my XP laptop. I still think that XP, with service packs 1, 2, and 3, is the best OS Microsoft has ever produced.

  23. It wasn’t actually mine, but I was 100% responsible for it, since it was used for Top Secret military research.

    I was the night operator at a think tank of the next-to-last IBM 709, predecessor of the 7094. It had 8 or 10 of those gigantic vertical tape drives you can see on SciFi movies of the 1950s, plus a disk drive with 18-inch platters over an inch apart, and drum storage for high speed access, twice the size of the bass drum of the UT marching band.

    If I found a fault when running a diagnosis, I could turn the lights off, go behind the mainframe, open two giant doors and look for a tube that didn’t have two bright filaments. I could hot swap with a new one the IBM engineers thoughtfully left us, and that would usually fix it.

    Top that, whippersnappers!

  24. Our first was a Timex Sinclair 1000. 4K ram and no storage. I bought it for our daughters in grade school at the time.Upgraded to TRS 64K Coco. Then PC Jr. then a 286 homebrew. Now use Compaq laptop.

  25. I cut my teeth on the famous Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. Ascii language. I wrote a road sign test for my wife and she got a 100% on the test. LOL, that was in 1980.

  26. my first computer was a packerd bell that my father bought in 95 I remember playing doom, day of the tenticle, and duke nukem while the first computer I bouught was actully two years ago I bought a hp phenome for 50% off at compusa so I bought a 900 for like $450 then I bought a $500 video card and it works great

  27. My first PC (well, dad bought it for all of us!) was a ZX81, in 1981. I loved it (I didn’t know any better!) I remember more than once spending 2 hours typing in masses of BASIC, basically to play a game of ‘Pong’, only to have the power supply crash, or I missed out a comma somewhere, 300 lines back…lol! Those were the days!!

  28. My use of computers has had two distinct phases. The first was using institutionally owned computers in research; the second phase was when I acquired my own home computer.

    I began using computers in 1956 when I wrote code for a research project using the Univac I at Harvard. I continued to use mainframes as a research tool for some years. Of course, I never actually got to touch a computer in those days. You handed your deck of punch cards to an operator and didn’t know for a day or two if your program worked.

    I first got my hands on a computer i could operate myself in 1976 when my resesrch lab got a gift of an HP minicomputer. I didn’t own a personal computer until 1986 when I bought a NEC with the Intel 386 processor and a magnificent 2 MB of RAM. It cost over $4000.

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