Buying a computer like it is 1995


Paul Thurrott from winsupersite.com posted last week an old document he wrote to a friend / family member to help them to buy a computer. The interesting part of all this is that it was written in January 1995 (or so the circumstantial evidence suggest).

Reading it was like opening a time capsule…and a rather big contrast to computers today. The reason why this resonated so much with me is that we got a computer for the first time that year. It was a 486 DX2-66, just like Paul recommended. It did have a sound card, but a SoundBlaster 16 clone (which there was plenty of; this was before the days of EAX). It did have a CD Rom, can’t remember how it was connected. My self-building computer skills came later. It had 8 megabytes of RAM, which was by far the biggest cost of the system.

A couple of thoughts about the article:

Paul mentioned the Pentium and he rightfully pointed out that a 486 is sufficient since there is nothing taxing the Pentium, and looking at his prices he quoted, those systems were definitely premium. Well, turns out 1995 introduced a couple of things to tax the Pentium and it became the processor of choice. Windows 95 was a pain on a 486. Quake also screamed on a Pentium compared to the crawl on the 486. Two massive moments for the PC in one year. (Note to self, must write about my thoughts about Windows 8 and my hopes that Microsoft will again build a proper  consumer OS.)

The biggest thing however that I took away from the article is how much better computers are today. Standardisation being the key, from how hard dives connect to how peripherals attach. USB, SATA, PCI-express, you no longer care about these things. You just know that these things are there. It is just custom builders that are worried about these things these days and you can almost bet that most builders will end up with more slots and ports that they need.

I used to stress about how much PCI slots I need, I had a 3D accelerator, sound card and TV card, and those would be a tight fit on some motherboards. The need for those things have almost completely disappeared. All motherboards come with good on-board sound. The collapse of the PC gaming as the premier gaming platform has made things like EAX irrelevant. Nobody code for these things anymore. So what is the point of buying a dedicated add-in card?

What parts of the article are still relevant today? PC resellers are still crap at advertising and specifying what you buy at the “great” price that they advertise. This is even more painful these days, because buying anything high tech these days are problematic, from TV’s to tablets. They don’t specify model numbers which make it difficult to do an apples to apples comparison.

Head over to winsupersite.com and do enjoy a blast from a distant past.

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