25 Years, 21 Machines

My IBM PCs (and fully compatibles) 1982-2007

  1. 1982    IBM PC, Intel 8088 CPU running at 4.77 MHz, 64 KB RAM, dual 320K floppies, Monochrome Display Adapter with the IBM Monochrome Display, all running under PC DOS 1.1.  The little machine from Boca that started it all.  I eventually got a Color Graphics Adapter (CGA), more memory, and even a 5 MB Davong hard disk on it. [Davong--now there's a company you don't hear much about anymore.]  I used this computer to write The Visible Computer: 8088.  I plugged in a $200 8087 chip at one point, literally, just for fun.  Talk about your nerds.  I got my money's worth out of this investment—I got an entire career.

  2. 1984    IBM PC AT, 6 MHz 80286 CPU, probably 256 KB RAM.  A cream dream!  Heavy, well-built, lockable fast 20 MB hard disk, the 1.2 MB floppy, the huge, clacky keyboard... It ran DOS 2.0 with its wonderful hierarchical file system.  Carrying the PC product line in the mid-1980s was like a license to print money for favored companies like ComputerLand.  Its 6 MHz 286 processor was three times faster at compiling and linking my Visible Computer project than PC #1  (two minutes vs. six minutes).  IBM's last great machine as the PC leader; expensive and worth it. At the time, I never dreamed this would be my last IBM machine.

  3. 1987    Acer 286, 12 MHz 286 CPU, 1 MB RAM.  This was my first Borland computer.  A perfectly functional box, I suppose, but kind of underwhelming—I guess because it didn't say IBM.  I thought I was too good for a clone.   At the time, Big Blue was embarking on their market-share-vaporizing PS/2—OS/2 fiasco. (We had a couple of the new machines locked in a secret room at Borland.  IBM was serious about secrecy.)  This was the first machine I ever used to noodle around with Windows development (Windows 2.0).

  4. 1988    Compaq Portable 386, 20 MHz, 4 MB RAM, 40 MB hard disk. "Lunchbox" style, red plasma screen. It may have been a hand-me-down from Adam Bosworth and the Hungarian Quattro 1.0 team, but I was glad to have it. It was really only quasi-portable--"luggable," as we used to say. The 386 CPU meant virtual-mode debugging—with sufficient memory, it could hold a huge real mode application like Quattro Pro DOS like a bug under a microscope.  It survived a royal dousing when sprinkler pipes in our building let go during the Loma Prieta Quake of October 1989.  In its day, the most desirable machine in the world—and priced like it at more than $10,000.  In December 1988 I began to run the Windows 3.0 beta SDK on this computer.

  5. 1990    Dell 486 Pizza Box.  The first of many Dells to come: a sturdy, low-profile box with three expansion slots, which was just enough.  Easy to unplug and carry home slung under an arm like an organic chemistry textbook. CPU speed? Memory? Probably 33 MHz, 8 MB, but I really don't remember.  Intel was stuck in a 33-66 MHz rut for several years in this period.  The 486 was the first chip to integrate x87 coprocessor functionality.  Somewhere in here PC manufacturers moved en mass from the 5.25" floppy to the 3.5" drive.

  6. 1991    Dell 486 DX, 33 MHz, 16 MB RAM.  My primary machine during the mattress years of Quattro Pro for Windows.  It's funny, but I'm not recalling the disk capacity of machines of this era as well as their other attributes.

  7. 1993    Floppy-only Toshiba 8086 Laptop.  I picked this up for peanuts used at CompUSA.  I thought it would be machine enough for keeping a journal on my motor home trip.  I was right, but just barely.  [Note to self: Don't buy any more used laptops.]

  8. 1994    Dell 486 running at 66 MHz, with 16 MB of RAM and a 400 MB hard disk. A solid box that was my home machine for a couple of years.  It's around here somewhere and I'm sure still works if I could find it to plug it in.  Until recently, I was still using this machine's massive 17" NEC monitor.  The very significant Windows 95 release eventually made it onto this transitional box.

  9. 1994    Everex 75 MHz 486 DX4 Laptop.  It's got a woefully small, slow hard disk, the screen hinge is loose to the point of being floppy, and the battery won't hold a charge, but it still works.** Talk about turning $5000 into almost nothing in a couple of years—I wish I'd bought $5000 worth of Yahoo instead.

  10. 1995    Gateway 166 Pentium.  32  MB RAM; 2 GB hard disk.  My Eloquent machine.  Not a bad box, but my experience with this and other Gateways at Eloquent made me a Dell man. As a trivial example, the machining of the case was such that once you took the cover off, it was impossible to put it back on correctly again.  Intel decided to call this processor "Pentium" instead of "586" for legal and marchitecture considerations.

  11. 1997    Dell Pentium 200 MHz Pentium ("with MMX"), 64 MB RAM, 4 GB hard disk.  Fast and stable.  I added a second hard disk after the first year and kept it going for another year.  I started this website with it.

  12. 1998    Dell 266 MHz Pentium II Laptop, 64 MB RAM, 4 GB hard disk.  I shopped hard to find the most high-end machine for the money, but depreciation is brutal on laptops.  Six months later the price of the same box had dropped 40%. Wish I'd bought $4000 worth of eBay instead.  Robbin used this Windows 98 machine for a year until it was so riddled with worms and viruses that it hardly ran.  The display has gotten really dim as well.

  13. 1998    Dell Dual 450 MHz Pentium II, 256 MB RAM, 9 GB fast SCSI hard disk, USB ports, 21-inch monitor, 8 MB graphics card.  My iMiner/PriceRadar development machine; my first Windows NT machine.  Except for the ongoing struggle with security features hell bent on keeping me from using my own computer, I liked NT more than I thought I would.

  14. 2000    Dell 700 MHz Pentium III.  A 256 MB RAM, 20 GB hard disk home machine running Windows 2000 Professional.  A routine PC by that era's standards, I spiced it up with a 17 inch flat panel display. Charlie's rule of peripherals: A monitor lasts as long as three computers;  a printer about four. 

  15. 2000    Dell Dual 733 MHz Dual Pentium III, 512 MB RAM, two 18 GB SCSI drives configured as a 32 GB stripe set, all running Windows 2000 Server. My primary Rebop Media development machine, I often ran it from home using Terminal Server.  This worked surprisingly well.

  16. 2001    Dell 850 MHz Pentium III laptop.  512 MB RAM, 20 GB hard disk. There's more: 15 inch, 1400x1050 pixel display; built-in modem and Ethernet support; S-Video in (or is it out?), Infrared port, Firewire port, USB ports, PC card slots, sound card ports, CD/RW drive, integrated touch pad, stereo speakers, yada yada yada.  OS: 2000 Professional.  If I could go back in time 15 years and show this machine to the Charlie Anderson of 1986 it would surely seem to him like magic.  Talk about hot! It can hold two batteries at once and runs a good five hours if both are charged up.  Talk about hot!  It needs two noisy cooling fans.  You can tell when this machine is working hard on something because the fans go on.  I must say, it's nice having a laptop again. I like to use it downstairs on the kitchen table.

  17. 2002    Dell 2.4 GHz Pentium IV.  512 MB RAM; 80 GB hard disk;  XP Professional;  GeForce3 graphics card (a card so cool it has its own little fan).  Theoretically, I am doing .NET development on this machine.  I am amazed at how good the plasic $70 speaker/subwoofer set sounds on this machine.  Better than any stereo I've ever owned, I think. 

  18. 2003    Dell Dual 2.0 GHz Pentium Xeon.  1 GB RAM; Dual 36 GB SCSI hard drives organized as a RAID 0 array. Dual processors and Dual 18" flat panel monitors;  XP Professional;  A big, fast box. The drives can never be too fast. My Detigo development machine.  Runs like a champ year after year.

  19. 2003    Compaq Presario 2100 laptop .  512 MB RAM; 60 GB hard disk. Its Mobile Athlon 1.25 GHz processor is the only non-Intel CPU on this list.   I walked the mile from the house on Green St. to Costco one day in 2003 and picked up this competent laptop for $1000.  Like most laptops, it gets warm on your lap, and the battery life has degraded over the years.  But I still use it almost daily and is (barely) fast enough for what I do with it: run media player, web surf, and run machine #18 via Remote Desktop.  XP Home.

  20. 2004    Shuttle 3.0 GHz Pentium P4.  1 GB RAM; 10000 RPM 72 GB Raptor SATA drive. Put it together myself, in a couple of hours with parts delivered by UPS from NewEgg.com for the express purpose of playing Doom 3.  Not a Dell. It was pretty damn quiet until I put an nVidia 5900 graphics card in there. Cheap, fast, and usefully compact.  [Editor's note: machine 19 failed after about two years, I think because the boot drive overheated when I installed a second hard disk.  Neither drive had much ventilation in the tiny chassis.]

  21. 2007    Dell XPS 720, Intel X6800 Quad-Core Extreme Edition.   At some point in the last few years Intel apparently lost the knack of CPU chip naming.  Fortunately they're still pretty good at making them.  2 GB RAM; dual 10000 RPM 160 GB SATA drives in a Raid 0 configuration;. Not one but two Nvidia 8800 GTX graphics cards, with one fan and and an 680,000 transistor GPU on each--not to mention the 768 MB of RAM.  All housed in a scary black aluminum case, water-cooled, overclocked and ready for action.  OS: Windows Vista.

Moore's Law and the PC Platform: A Silver Anniversary 

Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel, once speculated that the number of transistors that could be fabricated on a single chip would double every 18 to 24 months.  Proven more or less right over the past 40 years, Moore's Law is sometimes stated as: The amount of computing power you can buy with a given amount of money doubles every 18 to 24 months. 

In the 25 years that have elapsed since my seminal PC and machine #21, Moore's Law predicts a power per dollar improvement in the range of 5000-10,000X.  How did the PC industry perform?  Pretty damn well, as this table I have created by the seat of my pants shows. 

Machine 1 vs. Machine 21

1982 2007 Improvement
RAM 64 KB 2 GB 32,000x
Disk Capacity 640 KB 320 GB 14,000x
Disk Speed

Copy 300K File

60 seconds 0.03 seconds 2000x


Double Precision Divisions/Sec

4.87 MHz 8088



Four 3.7 GHz cores






Video Display


Memory on Card  



16 KB

Dual Nvidia 8800


1.5 GB




Transistors* 600,000 > 30 billion 52,000x

2007 Dollars

$6000 $6000 --

*includes memory devices



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