My Computer Museum, Part 2: a 486

Another reflection on computer hardware and software stretching back 35 years. Most of it is still in my possession. This follows on from My Computer Museum, Part 1: The Amstrad PC1640.

The Amstrad PC1640 that I bought in 1988, along with loan PCs from various places where I worked, was good enough for my needs right through to the summer of 1994. It is the only computer that I used for any length of time that is no longer in my possession.

On the last two Bank Holiday Mondays (1 and 8 May 2023)  I dug out the components of the 486 PC that I bought in the summer of 1994. It still works. By nightfall on 8 May I had copied every file from that PC that I might ever want to look at gain, a laborious process requiring over a dozen floppy disks.

Like its predecessor, the 486 Tower PC that I bought in 1994 cost around £1,000. I bought it from Morgan Computers on Tottenham Court Road. Morgan had two branches in the West End. The other was on New Oxford Street. The company specialized in liquidation stock. Typically if a firm went into liquidation Morgan might buy their inventory for 10% of its original list price and sell it to the public at 30% of that price. There were major bargains to be had, but they also sold own-brand hardware at reasonable prices, and my first Tower PC was one of theirs.

It came with Windows 3.1 pre-loaded. As someone who respects copyright, I bought legitimate copies of all the software that I needed. Microsoft Office retailed at something like £400, but the bundled version (Office 4.3, if I remember correctly) was significantly cheaper than buying the individual components (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Publisher) separately.

The PC had a 400Mb hard drive, two floppy drives (3.5” and 5¼”) and a CD drive (read-only). It was the first CD player I ever owned, and I bought my first music CD to celebrate the fact: Elvis Presley’s Sun Collection for around £12.99, from the local Our Price Records store. They didn’t stock many CDs that I wanted to buy, but I ordered something that I knew I would play: The Soft Boys 1976-1981, £25 for a double CD collection.

Unfortunately all the software that I installed came on floppy disks rather than a CD (CD drives in PCs were not standard at the time). I have recorded elsewhere, in this piece (“World Cup viewing, with distractions”), how long it took it took to install Microsoft Office:

… Four years later (USA 94) was the first time that I was sat at a computer while some of the games played out in the background. This was before any of us had access to the Internet, so I was performing more mundane tasks on my newly-acquired 486 PC, running Windows 3.1. During one game I was installing the first properly bundled version of Microsoft Office (Office 4.3, if memory serves me right) from no less than 24 (yes, twenty four) 3.5” floppy disks. Each disk would take between 3 and 5 minutes, at the end of which the screen would display something like, “Remove Disk x / Insert Disk x+1 / Press any key when ready”. I had assumed that the whole process would be finished within the course of one group game, but we were well into the next one before the installation was complete.

I also had a legitimate copy of AmiPro, the Lotus word processor that was still being used by many of the companies that I had dealings with, and a work colleague gave me a surplus-to-requirements laser printers, so that saved me a few quid.

For the next three years this PC was more than adequate for my needs. I bought a new PC sooner than I would have liked, but the world had changed. Rather than upgrade (install a modem, install a more powerful graphics card) I bought another new PC in 1997. That will feature in the next piece about My Computer Museum.

To be continued.


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