Taking a Stroll Down 16Kb Memory Lane

by Hap Aziz

On this day of Peace and Goodwill, one of the traditions that our family shares is that of gift giving. And while that’s certainly not the point of the day, it’s a fun tradition, especially when there are children in the house. Over the years, I’ve gotten quite a few “high-tech” gifts, as that’s what my family knows I particularly enjoy. This morning we opened our presents to each other, and now as we’re getting ready for Christmas dinner, I have a few moments to relax and reflect. So what better way to spend the time than to write a blog entry, right?

Today I started thinking about how much various technology items cost when I first got them; that’s a game I like playing with myself from time to time. For much of my life, I was a dedicated early adopter of all sorts of gadgets. Computers, CD players, PocketPCs, the Apple Newton… I was always looking for the newest tech invention to add to my collection. Well, as the gadgets have become more complicated and more expensive, I’ve become much more comfortable waiting a little bit before picking up the latest and greatest. It may not be the latest anymore when I get it, but the significant price drop is always appreciated. Sometimes I’ll even wait long enough to find a cool piece of tech gear on eBay at a fraction of the original price.

Here are some of the devices I’ve picked up over the years:

  • The original IBM PC (in the picture above) – this machine came with a whopping 16kb of RAM, a single sided floppy drive with a 160kb storage capacity, and a green monochrome monitor. The CPU ran at a blistering 4.77 MHz speed. The total cost to me, monitor included, was about $2700 in 1981.
  • Sanyo CD audio player – my first entrance into the world of digital music, when my entire collection was still all in vinyl. It played a single CD at a time, had no remote control, and cost $800 in 1985.
  • 10 Mb hard drive – when it came time to upgrade my IBM PC, I found a great deal on a hard drive. 10 Mb of storage space (I’d never fill that up!), and only about 5 pounds. I got it cheap at $600 in the late 1980s. (Yes, that was 10 megabytes of storage space.)
  • Hewlett Packard fax machine – in 1988, the communications consulting partnership I had needed to receive and send documents by fax. We considered leasing a machine, but we decided to make a purchase for the long-term instead, picking up the machine for a cool $2800. (By the way, the original cost of fax machines was so high, FedEx–“Federal Express” at the time–started its Zap Mail service which was based on using fax machines in FedEx offices to get mail between locations within two hours.)
  • NEC 3D Multisync monitor – Sometime in the early ’90s (though I can’t recall the exact date), I was so thrilled to get this $700 video monitor. It gave me an incredible 1024 x 768 interlaced resolution on an expansive 14″ CRT. (Last year I just bought a 24″ LCD monitor capable of a full 1920 x 1200 resolution for about a third of that cost.)
  • Dell Pentium computer – this was the first generation before Pentiums had any numbers, and it ran at a blazing 75 megahertz. The computer (not even including a monitor) set me back a whopping $5000, and that was in 1994 dollars.
  • Yamaha CD R/W drive – this was a tool necessary for my game company to burn master disks for reproduction. The drive had a 4x read speed and a blazing 2x write speed, and I got the drive for the bargain basement price of $3,000 in 1995. By the way, each recordable disk was a gold master, and they ran $10 apiece. This was about 17 years ago in 1995.
  • Online BBS service – before the ubiquitous Internet and World Wide Web, I paid an hourly rate of $12.95 for my blazing 1200 baud connection (I could dial it back to 300 baud for $9.95 per hour). Ah, the good old days of getting a $400 montly bill to get an online text service in the mid-1990s.

There’s a whole lot more, and I’m afraid to do a full inventory–I don’t need to think about how much money I’ve spent to stay in the hi-tech club, especially now with my 401k taking a beating. But the more important point is the fact that the cost of technology has dropped so dramatically over the years, and it continues to do so. Free market innovation and competition takes the lion’s share of the credit in that regard. All I can say is, keep the gadgets coming!

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Filed under technology, vintage technology

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