What Was Your First Computer?

The Ars Technica staff looks fondly back at the computers that turned them into nerds.

The first computer I owned was a slightly-used Commodore VIC-20, purchased in 1981 for 100 of my own hard-earned dollars. It featured a screaming 1mhz 6502 processor, and 4k of useable memory. I loaded games and saved my (tiny) programs to a cassette. It plugged into the back of the den television with one of those little RF selector boxes. A single OSX icon has many more pixels and far more colors than the VIC could put up on an 15-inch TV screen.

But that wasn’t the first computer I used. For that we have to go back to the late ’70s.

Whenever I found myself stuck on a Saturday morning at the office with Dad and Grandpa, I’d kill time playing with the steel tension strength tester or one of the dumb terminals in the main office. There were probably seven or eight of them at the time, wired in (at something less than modern network speeds) to a CP/M machine the size of a refrigerator custom-built and hand-coded by Dad’s friend Bob Wagner. The entire system — keep in mind there could be seven or eight people all logged in at once — wielded a mighty 128k of memory.

If memory serves (heh), that’s less than the buffer in an obsolete 2007 iPhone.

Games? You could flip the switch on the monitor to change it from an ugly white-text-on-black to a hideous black-text-on-white. And then back again. But that was really only fun the first few dozen times. (Did I mention I got stuck at the office on an awful lot of Saturdays?) There’s a good chance your car stereo has many multiples the graphics power of a late-70s office computer.