More nostalgia – Technology – the PC Clone

After my Atari 8 bit and 16 bit days, I tacked hard into PC clone land.  My first build was a Mylex motherboard, with 640K ram, and a 286 CPU.  I remember buying the components from a variety of sources, but since this was pre-internet (probably 1986 or so) I didn’t mail order anything.  Probably got much of it at Fry’s Electronics.

My first foray into the PC world
My first foray into the PC world

Added to this was an PC AT case and power supply, a 5 1/4″ floppy drive, an ISA RLL disk controller card, and a simple CGA display card.  A 40 (or was it 60) megabyte HD that was the most expensive part of the build was added to the mix. (It was a 5 & 1/4″ full height disk that was frightfully loud). I remember it having a turbo button (almost always in fast mode) that slowed it down to standard PC XT speed for compatibility – mostly games.

My good friend Mike Davis helped me assemble it, and got me started with a selection of software for use on it.  I did use the heck out of that system, and subsequently upgraded a few times over the years.  I remember going to a 386 board, with a 16MHz cpu, and a whopping 4 megs of ram. I learned a lot about things that we no longer worry about. IRQ lines and conflicts, UART’s for serial communication (which ones could support the faster 19.2K baud modems).  In those days, there weren’t robust BIOS systems to let you interrupt the boot process and change the settings, you had to open the case and set jumpers on the motherboard or expansion cards. Really annoying to hunt down an odd conflict.

The main driver for upgrading was to play games better.  CGA was replaced with EGA, and finally with VGA.  Using more than 640K of RAM required the use of fiddly memory manager applications. I was fond of DesqVIEW and QEMM386.  They both worked together to give you some true multitasking on the 386 chip.

Of course, I used these machines to run a bulletin board system, but it lost much of the Atari charm.  I did discover the online systems, and was a member of Delphi. The one thing that I remember from this time was that the PC world, while it had better, and more powerful hardware, lacked some of the soul of the Atari’s I cut my teeth on. But it was a good stepping stone in my technology education and evolution.

Sometime in 1989, I got the itch to try something new.  Still in university, I was able to get student pricing on a Mac, and I jumped at a Mac SE, with a 20 megabyte HD.  This was the all in one system, with the small monochrome monitor built in. But that is for another tale.

Leave a Comment