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August 02, 2006

Happy 2/8/6

Someone pointed out that today is 2/8/6, so I thought I'd reminisce about my old 286.

I bought my 286 in 1989. I can't really remember why; I think I'd caught the upgrade bug. My old Epson 8086 machine felt a little slow for Turbo C and Ultima IV or V, though realistically it was probably fine--I just wanted to upgrade.

So I sold it to a classmate and started reading every page of Computer Shopper (back then it was as thick as a phone book). Finally found the absolute cheapest price and bought a 286 from an outfit called Syntax Computers in California. It was junk: froze up randomly and was generally built very shoddily. I returned it and waited a month to get my cash back. The world is a better place without Syntax Computers.

While waiting for my refund I read some reviews of PC clone makers and ended up buying a 286 machine from a place in Chicago. It ran at a blazing 12MHz, had a full 1MB of RAM and a 256K VGA card. I bought my own 65MB hard drive and a 2400 baud Cardinal modem and installed them myself, then loaded DOS 5 or 6.2.

I probably got more use out of that 286 than any other computer I've ever had. It ran without a problem or a change for at least 6 years. During that time I used it for a lot of C programming, a lot of Ultima and Wing Commander, Civilization I and Might & Magic III, F-15 Strike Eagle II and F-19 Stealth Fighter and the SSI Gold Box AD&D games and many other PC game classics.

Then there were the hours spent on the local BBS systems in Milwaukee, on ExecPC (are they still around) and even on the Internet in 1992. I remember going to yahoo.com back when you could look at all the new websites listed every day. I didn't have any form of Windows, so it was all text-based browsing. I used gopher more than www. And I remember seeing a notice about a little homebrew Unix-alike called Linux, but was disappointed that it required at least a 386. I'd always wanted to try Unix.

More than all of those combined were the hours spent running WordPerfect 5.1. The 286 took me through college with my own papers and the papers I typed for others (at $1 per page), all the way through seminary with many, many papers, and through at least my first year of my first church. It never quit.

In 1996 or so I started replacing parts and the motherboard was one of the first to go (I still have it packed away in a box, though), but I used the case for up until 2002 or so: over the years it held a 386, a 486SX and various Pentia. It's still sitting in my basement with a 100 or 200 MHz motherboard and CPU.

So I bought the 286 out of the pointless desire to upgrade for the sake of upgrading, and ended up learning that the specifications of your computer are far less important than getting real use from it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at August 2, 2006 10:24 AM


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