Buying a PC in 1995

I just found this article - a couple of documents written back in 94/95 intended as a buyer’s guide to PCs:

Continuing the discussion from The Forgotten Operating System That Keeps the NYC Subway System Alive:

I’m reminded of my first PC, a white-box P75. Shortly before buying it, I think - and this would be mid-95 - ESCOM made a big new presence in the UK high street, and IIRC sold machines which dual-booted OS/2 WARP and Windows 95. I very nearly bought, but the machines came ready-installed without any reinstallation CD and that made me nervous. As I recall, the available options included P60, P75 and P90, and for some reason I’d concluded that the P75 was the best choice. Perhaps because of possible upgrade paths? Or some idea of the true relative performance? I no longer remember! Anyhow, the route I took meant I probably saw a demo but never got to run OS/2 for myself.


Maybe a new thread: My First PC, however… The article has reminded me of the first one I bought in (I think 1994) when I was living in the US.

Up until then, PCs were not used much in the place I worked - the company was working well on Sun Unix system and Macs in the admin office, however the board designers did use PCs - Running a version of DOS that supported PC-NFS to talk to the LAN. This was to run ORCAD for PCB layout.

However then, a desire for a home Unix system was there (for me), and a Sun was far too expensive, so when Linux looked like it might be usable I got one. $1000 was my budget… (I was living in the US at that point in time). So I found a local box-shifter and got one. I think it was a DX4/75 (I remember the saying; DX - Delux, SX - Sucks) It has 32MB of RAM and a 210MB IDE drive. I also got an NE2000 Ethernet card and a 15" monitor and some graphics card - which I had to take back and change for a different one as it wasn’t supported by Linux at that point. (The shop thought I was nuts wanting an older, slower graphics card!) It came with Win3.11, mouse and keyboard.

Someone had brought over from the UK a Linux install tape, so we copied that to one of the Sun fileservers and extracted a couple of floppys to boot the PC with and do the install from. I don’t recall the exact steps, but I remember NFS mounting the Sun fileserver to do the install. Very quickly it was installed, myself and friend Mike (the sysadmin at the time) had joined it to the local NIS server, automounted /home and I logged in and had my familiar (work) desktop running right there. (fvwm1 I think)

It was faster than a Sparcstation by several factors, cheaper by $lots, had more memory, better disks and “just worked” I think our thoughts then were: “Well, that about wraps it up for Sun” …

When I returned to the UK, I brought it with me when I upgraded it as far as it would eventually go (133Mhz) before going through the usual triggers broom process of upgrades to my current desktop.

Where today I use it to help me write code for my 8-bit 6502 system. Such is progress!




Linux was the big hook for me, but dual-boot was important too - looks like we installed Works pretty early, and then I installed a few floppies’ worth of Slackware (A, AP, and X) on day 4 of the new PC. And I see a starred note in the logbook: “Mouse must be power cycled with B1 pressed to work in X.”

This new PC was also our first CD player, and our only CD player for quite a long time.

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In order to keep this on topic, my ZEOS P90 had 16 megs (!) of RAM, a SCSI 1 gig drive, and Diamond Stealth 64 video card with enough video RAM to display 1024x768 at 24 bit on my Sony Trini 17" monitor. This was a hugely expensive system in a day when no “stock” machines were shipping with 16 megs of RAM or 1 gig HDs. I kinda went all out.

Another memory of my first (good) PC purchase, was Chris, the rep who handled my sale. She was fantastic. She would call with every detail so I was always in the loop. She was super cool. I think I still love her. :slight_smile:

ZEOS was based out of St Paul Minnesota. Every year I go out to Minneapolis for this Con (I mentioned in another thread) and I secretly hope I run into her. Hasn’t happened yet. :frowning:

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Yup… Linux was something fresh and magical to me too in 1995. I installed a version of slackware on my dx2-66 that I had at that time. Yet it was not that user friendly, so all I did, was to play with it for a day or two. Then I went back to Win95, Dos-6.22 and Os2-Warp in a tripple boot setup.

That dx2-66 was one I actually bought in 1995. And it was the first machine that I build from scratch. And because of low funding at that time, I used 2 or 3 month’s to get it done. I clearly remember asking around and investigating what was for sale at the 3 or 4 shops in that city.

I ended up with the following machine:

  • Edom 486 VLB motherboard (128k cache)
  • Intel 486 Dx2-66 CPU.
  • 8mb 30pin Ram (8x1mb modules).
  • CL-5428-VLB 1mb
  • Iwill Side-JR Pro VLB Controller.
  • Conner 128/256mb QIC-80 Tape Drive.
  • 800mb Quantum Trailblazer HDD.
  • 3.5 inch 1.44mb Floppy Disk Drive.
  • Creative Soundblaster 16 Value edition (CT2770).

It was a decent machine, and served me well into 1998/99. I ran anything from Dos games to productivity software on that machine. (Still miss that machine)

A shame you did not get a chance of using Os/2 back in the 90’s. It was such a sweet system, and it was way better than Win95 (first edition). By the time the third and last Win95 came or Win98 was launched, then Os/2 was not really that perfect anymore. Sure the system was nice and still ok. It was just, that there were so many more programs, tools, games and software in general for Windows at that time. Yet from 1993 to 1996, Os/2 was a clear winner over anything else on the PC for the home market. To date, I still use it from time to time, just to relive the old days. More or less a hobby OS like so many other. Like BeOS, AmigaOS, Dos and so on.

I started working in a local computer store in about 1995, back when local computer stores could actually compete. It had gotten its start making custom cables, and then over time morphed into a PC shop. We sold custom built PCs, and provided repair and maintenance services, as well as limited technical support and commercial installation services. I have a lot of fond memories of those days!

I particularly remember that the AMD 486 DX4 100 (then later the 5x86 133) and the Pentium MMX 133 were favorite processors of ours, because we shipped them by the tray load and almost never had problems with them. We would recommend the 133MMX over the 166MMX to many customers for that reason. I built a number of PCs for myself back then, since I could get parts at wholesale price.

I still have the final PC I built working that job – an ASUS P2B-D motherboard with dual PIII 500MHz CPUs (it had a single PII 350 and then dual PII 350s shortly after, when I built it, but I later bought a pair of 500 MHz CPUs on eBay to upgrade it). I ran that machine as my primary workstation from the end of the summer in 1998 until some time around 2005 or 2006, when I “upgraded” to an Atom machine. (I needed 64-bit userspace processes for some work I was doing.)

I worked in that store during the transition from mostly-discrete machines with things like sound cards, video chipsets, and ATA controllers in card slots, to the more modern world of everything-on-the-chipset. It was an interesting time to be in retail computers.

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I started with Linux on Red Hat 5.2 .

Fun stuff.

Building computers were also one of my favorite jobs of all time, yet I think you have different CPU’s mixed up there. The MMX CPU’s from Intel, started at 166mhz and not 133mhz. There were an 133, yet that was without the MMX extensions. The MMX came in 166 to 233 mhz variants, and the previous non-MMX came in 75 to 200 mhz. At least that is what CPU-World is telling me. If the 133-MMX did exist, then it must be a really rare CPU.

As an aside, I note with amusement that IBM’s “6x86MX PR166” - surely a splendid CPU - was clocked at 133MHz. But presumably felt to offer the performance of a 166MHz part from Intel. (I also note with amusement that AMD claimed MMX was an initialism, and therefore not subject for trademark protection, was subsequently sued, and settled for the right to use “MMX” in their marketing in exchange for conceding that it was after all a valid trademark.)

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You may be right; perhaps we recommended the 166 over the 200. I may be confusing my love for the AMD 5x86-133 with the clock speed of my favorite Pentium!

It surely was a job and experience that I still cherish, though. I recently put together a socket 7 with a 166MMX for old times’ sake.

What are the spec’s for the machine? For refarence, I will list mine on my P-166-.

  • Shuttle HOT-555 Socket7 motherboard.
  • Pentium-166 (non-MMX).
  • 32mb Ram.
  • 4gb CF Card in CF-to-IDE adaptor.
  • 1.44 mb Floppy Disk Drive.
  • 32xSpeed CD-Rom Drive.
  • S3-Virge325 2mb PCI VGA card.
  • Orchid Voodoo1.
  • Audician32-Plus ISA-Soundcard.
  • Dreamblaster-S1 MIDI Daughterboard.

I am running pure Dos in the form of MS-Dos-6.22 on this machine, because I want a fast pure Dos machine. No Win9x or something to slow down stuff, hence the need for no more than 32mb of Ram.

It is:

  • Gigabyte Intel 430VX Motherboard (not sure of model)
  • Pentium 166 MMX
  • 128MB RAM (originally 32, but I have a LOT of DIMMS)
  • 1.44 MB 3.5" Floppy
  • 1.2 MB 5.25" Floppy
  • 4X CDROM (intermittent troubles, substituted 20X ASUS temporarily during some installs)
  • STB Velocity 3D S3 ViRGE VX w/ 4MB RAM
  • ProAudioSpectrum 16
  • Intel EtherExpress 100 PCI (anachronistic)

I have Windows NT 4.0, BeOS 4.5.2, Slackware Linux 3.5, and FreeDOS 1.2 installed on it. BeOS runs only in grayscale as it does not have ViRGE VX drivers, I need to get a ViRGE DX or other supported video card for correct operation.

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Those are nice spec’s. :stuck_out_tongue: