This actually get a bit hazy here for actual computer models, and I spent a bit of time browsing through Vintage Packard Bell machines to see if I could figure out which machines cover this era of my computing. This would have been somewhere between 1991 and 1995, give or take a bit, after we moved across town when I was 11-12-ish and before we moved to Indiana for a bit when I was 14-15ish. I am not positive if there were one or two PCs in this era, there was either one 286 (for sure, for reasons I’ll touch on) and possibly later a 486. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to refer to this as one PC, that was a 286. If for some reason you’re keeping score, and notice something that doesn’t match for a 286, then well, assume there was a 486 in there.
I am pretty sure it was this PC though (not my picture, and that PC is filthy.).
Why am I so confident there was a 286?
That’s simple, Doom. At one point during this time frame, and for some weird reason, I have a lot of strong memories of this whole night and event, a bunch of my friends and I spent the night over at one of their homes. I know we played a lot of Jurassic Park on the SEGA Genesis because it was way cool that you could play as a Raptor and go around killing dudes. I remember we played a lot of Hero’s Quest, because we were super into Hero’s Quest at this time. I remember that they all got stoned, though I did not because I wasn’t really into that, though it’s likely I ended up “secondhand stoned” if that’s even a thing. Whatever the case, I remember that at one point someone got a bit upset at me because they were using a Bob Dylan CD I had brought for “rosin” which I still don’t know what that is, but I noticed my CD was dirty so I cleaned it off.
And the next day, we all went to the mall for a few hours, because that’s what you did when malls were still popular. After some careful thought and consideration, I decided to spend some of my allowance money on this cool looking game, Doom, or at least, the shareware Doom. It was basically like Wolfenstein 3D, except better, and I loved playing Wolfenstein. Then later, when I went to play it, I discovered the concept of “minimum computer requirements”. Because Doom needed a 386 PC. In the store I had decided that “Eh, it’ll work anyway.” Then it did not. Maybe if I were more computer savvy at the time I could have managed to make it work somehow, but in the end I think I just gave it to a friend who did have a better computer, or at least, let him install and use it.
Speaking of buying computer games. Though I had played plenty of computer games, it was around this time (possibly before actually) that I bought, with my own money, my first computer game. I had bought some console and handheld games, but this would be my first personal purchase of a PC game, with a game called War Eagles. War Eagles was a World War 1 plane dogfight simulator. No take-offs or landings, just fly in a biplane around shooting machine guns at biplanes.
This time period was also my first experience with Windows and a computer with a Hard Drive. I am pretty sure it was 20 or 40mb. That’s MEGA with an M, not GIGA with a G. Just enough to install a few games, so they didn’t need to be run off of floppy drives. I don’t know the details, but I remember my dad installed some program called Stacker that would increase the drive space. But I still had to go through hoops occasionally of installing and uninstalling games. I believe the largest single game I had around this time was one of the Interplay Star Trek games, which had several install disks.
Windows would have been 3.0 and maybe later 3.11 for Workgroups. It was neat but you still had to dump back out to DOS to run a lot of games. The main thing I remember about Windows was playing around in Paint drawing things.
I also got my first experience with computer hardware and upgrades around this time frame. I can’t imagine why, I must have asked for it at the time, because at least one of my friends had a better computer, but for Christmas one year I got a SoundBlaster soundcard. So everything would sound cool with actual speakers. It also came with this super neat (for the time) talking parrot program.
This time period also had some exposure to Apple computers and the Apple IIe (which was quite data at the time). We started having computer classes in Middle School, which had these in the classroom. Most of this time was spent playing educational games, like Number Munchers and Word Munchers. We also had a typing speed program and I remember finding a bug in it where you could basically hold a key, I forget which, maybe like + or = or something, and it would count the letter as correct, so you could just, hold in that key and get something ridiculous like 200 words per minute.
Eventually, after we moved to Indiana sometime, when my parents upgraded the home PC to a Pentium (spoilers for next week), this machine became my first “in my room personal pc”. It also at some point gained an external dial-up modem. I’ll get more into all that next week though, because dialing in on this computer would be secondary to using the other PC.