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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Buying a computer in the ‘90s

©Mark Ollig

Back in the mid-1990s, when the excitement and wonderment of the internet, Web, and personal computing was popular, a local Winsted resident started writing a column in his hometown newspaper.

This person was able to dabble in his favorite pastime, learn some new and exciting technology, and share the information with his readers.

Of course, this fellow was me, and with my new 1995 HP Omnibook notebook personal computer, I set out to explore and explain this cyber-spaced landscape – from my perspective – to the reading masses.

Back in the ‘90s, trying to figure out what type of home computer a person should purchase was something one needed to research before aimlessly walking into the computer electronics store.

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes.

In 1995, I recall walking into a computer store just west of my hometown; it was quiet; with the exception of sounds from computer cooling fans, and a matrix dot printer operating.

My eyes wandered as they took in all the modern computers on display; some were operating with information from a software program showing on their monitors.

It may sound corny, but there was a feeling of serenity in the air; as if I was looking into the future while being surrounded by all those computers, monitors, and printers; along with the software disks, and hardware and software manuals displayed.

Eventually, the salesperson breaks my tranquil ambiance by asking, “Can I help you find anything?”

“I’m looking to buy a home computer,” I replied.

The salesperson smiles (I could see the dollar signs in his eyes). He then politely inquires what I want to use the computer for.

I gave the standard response; I wanted to have the latest Windows operating system, which was Windows 3.0; a word processor, a spreadsheet program, games, communication software, and a dialup modem.

The salesperson then asks the “Do you want an internal or external modem?” question.

I was purchasing a Tower PC model and thought it would be best to have an external modem in case I needed to replace or set any of the modem chip’s dual in-line package (dip) switches.

Having an external modem meant I needn’t open up the computer and plug in a printed wiring card.

Besides, I liked seeing what I was paying for.

Remember, this was 1995.

In addition to my home computer model, I needed a more portable computer I could take with me.

So, which notebook computer did I end up purchasing in 1995?

You’re right. It was the HP Omnibook 4000 equipped with the Intel 100 MHz – 486DX4 processor, 520 MB hard drive, 10.4-inch thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display screen, tactile keyboard, internal modem, external floppy drive, a battery lasting around three hours, and a few ancillary connection ports and devices.

The price for the HP Omnibook 4000 was a little over $3,000, which, in 1995, was a lot of money – in fact; it’s still a lot of money.

For those of you out there not up on your mega: a megahertz (MHz) processor performs one million calculations per second.

In 1995, I thought having 520MB (megabytes) hard drive installed on my computer was more than enough disk storage space.

I can see today’s millennials smiling at the thought of my having MB disk storage, and then taking another sip of their favorite beverage.

Even a 1 MHz processor was “Star Trek” compared to what was used for processing information used on the onboard guidance computer systems of the 1960s and early ‘70s Apollo spacecraft.

In fairness, NASA did most of the heavy number-crunching here on Earth, using rows of IBM mainframe computers. This information was relayed by satellites to the spacecraft.

You might remember the IBM computer “Big Blue” playing a few games of chess against a human grandmaster. At first, the human chess grandmasters proved why a computer should not be playing chess. The machine would lose.

Today, the computer is winning because of better-written software with improved analytical processes; it operates much faster and with faster processing power than in years past.

Back in the late ‘90s, much computing news centered on developing faster computing processor chips for processing complex software programs.

In 2007, software programs used millions of lines of code for video gaming and computer movie making graphics. Anyone else remember playing the early 1970’s video game using a console box connected to a television called Pong?

By 2007, Computer Graphical Interfaced (CGI) technology available on computers had created amazingly lifelike computer-animated visual effects movies such as “The Polar Express” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” without having to use real actors or sets.

Although today’s computers are far more advanced than those from the ‘90s, I still miss my old 1995 HP Omnibook.
1995 Omnibook notebook personal computer