VodkaPundit

These Are a Few of My Favorite PCs

Are you ready to get seriously, deeply geeky with me?

This month marks my 30th anniversary of personal computing with “real” Intel-based desktop machines — a brand spankin’ new custom-built 286, sitting under my inventory control desk at Southwest Steel Supply.

Too often we think of these high-power tools/toys as forgettable beige boxes, because all too often, that’s exactly what PC-makers sell us. But over these three decades, a few models have stuck in my memory for seeming to have real personalities — computers which I’ll never forget.

That first PC — which wasn’t even mine — was one of the forgettable ones. There were no games on the office network, and managing inventory all summer long on an orange monochrome display didn’t exactly tickle the imagination. But in the years since, four computers bring back (mostly) fond memories.

Here they are, from least-most favorite to most-most favorite.

Compaq Presario 850 with screamin' Intel 486DX/50 inside.  (Image courtesy RecycledGoods.com)

Compaq Presario 850 with screamin’ Intel 486DX/50 inside.
(Image courtesy RecycledGoods.com)

The best thing this 1994 Compaq Presario had going for it is that it was the first real PC that was mine, all mine.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

It was also an educational experience.

For example, I learned that if you wanted to upgrade the storage in a Presario, you had to pay double or more for speciality drive rails that only Compaq made. Also, I discovered that you should never buy a 486 when there were Pentiums to be had. But do take Circuit City’s package deal on the Sony Trinitron monitor.

My wallet might have suffered for buying Compaq, but that glorious Trinitron screen kept my eyes happy the whole time.

But mostly what I remember is: Don’t buy Compaq.

If only Hewlett-Packard had been so wise…

Apple Mac Pro (Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

Apple Mac Pro (Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

Like a lot of Apple’s gear, the totally-redesigned 2013 Mac Pro is polarizing. The previous Pro workstation was a big, heavy aluminum tower (47 pounds!) into which one could add the usual assortment of upgrade cards and hard drives. The new model is an 11-pound “thermal core” cylinder — with zero moving parts and zero internal expansion. Anything you want to add other than extra memory or a faster CPU has to be plugged into the generous array of Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 ports in back.

Some say it looks like a trash can. Others say it looks like an SR-71 engine nacelle. Looks aside, the Mac Pro easily handles every tough video ripping job I throw at it, and the single internal fan is barely audible from no more than two feet away from my ear.

Silent, but deadly! What’s not to love?

2006 Intel iMac. (Image courtesy AppleMacPart.co.uk)

2006 Intel iMac. (Image courtesy AppleMacPart.co.uk)

By 2005, I was ready to make the switch from Windows to Mac. That was partly because Microsoft (just like Apple in the mid-’90s) couldn’t seem to release a fully modern operating system. Windows XP was getting long in the tooth, not to mention being a security nightmare. Also I was getting deep into digital photography, and most of the best photo software was either Mac-only or Mac-optimized.

So as soon as Apple switched from the aging PowerPC platform to Intel CPUs, I switched too.

The 2006 iMac’s original Core Duo processor was nice for its time, but its time didn’t last very long — it was the last gasp of 32-bit processing, quickly obsolesced by the 64-bit Core 2 Duo. And while the white plastic all-in-one iMac seemed sleek when it was first released, unlike the iconic G3 and G4 iMacs, it was only a short while before this one seemed chunky and dated. Dated or not, it remains in service all these years later for my kids to play Minecraft on.

What really sticks in my memory though is that launching legacy PowerPC apps through the Rosetta emulator took forever.

But that iMac was a fine introduction to Apple computing at a time when Microsoft had tried the last of my patience.

But my all-time favorite? A Pentium Pro from late 1996 made by a defunct company so obscure that I couldn’t locate it anywhere on the interwebs, despite surfing for nearly an hour on equally obscure hobbyist sites. I want to say it was an acronym like “SAG” or “SAP,” but seriously the internet is being of no help for once.

That machine though…

Words can’t capture the thrill of moving from a consumer-grade Compaq Presario (into which I’d wedged Intel’s semi-Pentium 486-replacement upgrade processor) to a workstation powerhouse Pentium Pro.

But the CPU was only the start.

At the time, the aging IDE disk handler was slow and processor-hungry. But that Pro was an all-SCSI screamer, which drastically sped up load times and kept the CPU free for important business like playing Civ 2 and TIE Fighter. And TIE Fighter really flew after overclocking the 200mhz CPU to 266mhz.

But the best part? Microsoft clunkers Windows 3.1 and Windows ME never touched that 10,000rpm Cheetah hard drive. It ran pure Win95 or Win97 only.

I’d used PCs before that one, and plenty more after it — but that no-name machine was the first one I ever loved.

So I hate to ask this, but like that one girl from that club that one night in 1998, can anyone help me remember its name? I swear it was short and started with an S.

But more importantly, was there ever a computer you fell in love with?