First 16 or 32 bit personal computing, share your stories

I’ll start off… my first post-6502 computer was an Amiga 500. I deliberated for a bit, to choose between an Atari ST and the Amiga, which seemed at the time to be very comparable. I think I chose Amiga for the software architecture - I used to visit bookshops and read what they had. I might even have bought a book before the machine. I liked the apparent modularity of AmigaOS and I remember reading about the Intuition library - putting my own graphics on the screen was definitely a desire.


Image from nosher.net article.

At some point, not sure how early in the story, but perhaps a year or two later, I bought a C compiler, halving the cost by sharing with a friend - Matt Dillon’s DICE (apparently it was shareware.) I’m pretty sure programming in C, or the possibility of it, was one of the main attractions of the machine. Inevitably I also had some games - a couple bought, and many copied.

I did end up writing a few very small C programs - 2D and 3D puzzle solvers (soma cube being one), some image processing, some mild number theory. Only did trivial graphics, as it turned out. I wrote a little AREXX, a little awk. A little raytracing with POVray. I did briefly run a 68k linux, maybe also an early NetBSD. There’s evidence of a web browser, and evidence of linking up by SLIP with a friend. But much of this is a bit later, when I got an Amiga 1200, with a hard drive. I even bought an internal accelerator card for the 1200 - a MicroBotics M1230XA, with 50MHz '030 and 40MHz FPU. (I recently sold, but was kindly sent back a disk image, which I’ve scraped for evidence of what I was up to.)

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Image from AmigaAlive

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After my Beeb was stolen (house burglary), I decided to go for an Acorn Archimedes… I think it was the A410/1 model with 1MB RAM and on-board ST506 interface but no actual hard drive supplier, but I did have a 20MB drive which I fitted internally.

I probably never really used it to its full potential - life then was somewhat fast-paced and I was working for a supercomputer company at the time, so I already had other 32-bit systems at work to play with which kept me busy and after spending a few years in the US I decided to give it away when I came home (a foolish move, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!) but my new PC I brought back from the US could run a Unix (Linux, but good enough at the time) and, almost as importantly, Doom …

I think if I’d had a C compiler and Ethernet for the Arc, I might have held onto it for longer, but who knows.

I was also a fan of the Apple II and I did lust (for a short while) after the Apple //gs - an almost 16-bit system, but the Arc just seemed so much better (and cheaper).

The Atari ST and early Amigas passed me by although some friends had them.

-Gordon

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I miss my Amiga, it was a wonderful machine.

I recently learned that there were two different Little Smalltalk ports to it. I so wish I’d known about them back then.

I had an A500+ (sort of, it had the ECS chips but kickstart 1.3 for some weird reason) and an A1200 with an accelerator card scsi port with a zip drive. I also did the NetBSD thing :slight_smile:

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For a 16 bit computer I had a COCO III running OS/9 level II with 128K of memory once.
I was hoping to expand it to something like the GMX 6809 with a printer and HD but RS dropped all support after I got one here in Canada. I think I had just one flakey floppy.

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The 6809 is an 8-bit CPU.

-Gordon

The first computer I bought was an Apricot PC that I bought at a closeout sale at Dixon’s, for the princely sum of £399. At some point, the LCD display on the keyboard failed, and I returned it to Dixon’s for a full refund.

I then bought an Atari 1040 with the B/W monitor, which I sold after a year.

Then, I found somebody selling a Sage II (1MB RAM, 12MB HD), which I used for some time, with a Wyse 60 terminal.

A few years later I learned about the PC532 (NS32532-based kit computer). I was too late to join in on the group buy, but bought one second-hand later. My employer was in the process of upgrading some of the servers, so I snagged two obsolete 760MB SCSI drives that I used with the PC532, along with a 150MB QIC tape. I think I used Minix initially, but at some point I switched to NetBSD. I used the Wyse 60 with this, too, but at some point I replaced that with a Tandberg TDV-1200 terminal.

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I was fascinated by icons and the Macintosh, but only imagined what it was like from print books until first experiencing a Mac-like GUI on some Atari STs used as VT52 emulators, ironically. So I experienced the “busy bee” before the “wristwatch”, or Amiga “zz”.

After that, I experienced using school Macs and even NeXT cubes before finally getting my own Amiga. This Amiga 2000 was ridiculously overpowered - 28MHz 68030 and 3MB of RAM, 40MB hard drive. I thought I needed those specs based on my experience with NeXT, but I didn’t know AmigaOS was ridiculously more efficient than *nix.

At some point, my dad got a 286 with Hercules graphics, on which I played Sopwith (emulated CGA) and Moria (classic roguelike). That was pretty fun. But I didn’t really have a very strong familiarity with the ins and outs of DOS computing compared to the 68000 GUI trio of Atari ST, Mac, and Amiga.

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Amiga 500 for me too. Had entered the university by then, so was exposed to a ton of programming languages, like C and Pascal (had been assembler/basic fiend until then). Got the SAS C and Aztec C, but the guru meditation in Amiga was a bit slower-down, compared with the UNIX workstations and servers in the university that had proper MMU.

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My first machine was a wirewrapped 68000 prototype in 1982 that I designed myself. But it depended on an Intel chip for interfacing to the DRAMs that ended up never being actually released so it never ran anything other than trivial loops from the EPROMs so we could look at stuff on an oscilloscope.

So the Fortune 32:16 machine my father brought home from work in late 1984 (I think) was the first usable one for me. Brazil had just made the “reserved market policy” into law and my father’s company got scared of getting caught with an imported machine. And I don’t think they were actually doing anything with it anyway. So my father brought it home to avoid any problems.

The most impressive feature was the smooth scrolling of the text screen. You could go through long chunks of text at high speed while still being able to read it. I don’t think even modern PCs quite match that experience.

It had a C compiler and 68000 assembler. I seem to remember the latter not quite using the standard Motorola syntax. I planned to use the machine the write a Smalltalk virtual machine in C and generate code for my prototypes. But after three months my father’s company decided that the best option was to simply ship the machine back to the US so I lost all the work I had done (it wasn’t yet that much at that point, but it was still annoying).

In 1986 one of my father’s coworker was moving back to the US and was taking everything he had brought in his move to Brazil. That included an original 128KB Apple Macintosh that he had declared as a “children’s toy”. My father convinced him to sell it to us instead of taking it back - with the money he would be able to buy a new Mac Plus in the US. He was afraid he would get into trouble even though it would be 100% legal, but eventually did sell it. We used it for a couple of weeks before opening it up and upgrading it to 512KB.

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My first and only 16-bit computer was an Atari Mega STe I got in 1992. I started out with 1 MB of memory and a floppy drive. I upgraded it to 4 MB and a 35 MB hard drive.

I mainly used it for school, for writing school papers, and as a terminal, so I could log in to my school’s systems to do my programming assignments, and use the internet.

I got it mainly because I saw it as a continuation of the Atari line. I didn’t learn until years later that it really wasn’t (that was the Amiga). Nevertheless, what computer you had largely determined the computing community where you hung out. I liked the Atari crowd. I kind of "grew up’ with them. Still, the STe filled the bill for what I needed.

I had owned an 8-bit Atari 130XE for a few years before that (also using it for school).

My most ambitious project with it was installing MiNT, an open source Unix-like operating system for the ST that ran alongside TOS/GEM. The reason it was such an undertaking was, as I remember, there was no binary to download. You had to install it from source. I don’t remember why I did it this way. It may have had to do with wanting to migrate to a MiNT file system, but I used GCC as a cross-compiler for it, which meant that I had to have a Unix account. I don’t think I would’ve been able to pull this off without that.

I configured a 68000 version of GCC, compiled that (with the host’s GCC compiler), used 68000-GCC to compile the MiNT kernel, downloaded the binary, and booted it. It worked. :slight_smile: After that, I was able to download a pretty complete set of GNU tools for MiNT, which was a set of binaries, and man pages, and install that.

I did very little programming on the STe. I got a version of Sozobon C for TOS, which was free. I had GCC on MiNT.

I ported a couple semester projects to the STe, a simple 3D wireframe graphics system written in C (which I compiled for TOS), and a Pascal-like compiler I wrote, written in C, Flex, and Bison (which I compiled for MiNT). It all worked, which was nice to see.

I knew about the Atari Archive, an FTP site at the University of Michigan, and I got a lot of my 8-bit software from it. It had a ton of free/shareware software for the 8-bit and ST.

BTW, the Atari Archive remained operational through about 2020, when it was finally shut down. An archive of it exists on the Internet Archive.

I was looking at what I could get from the AA for the STe, and I had a large number of “new file” sets from it. They were hard to use, since they were just naked listings of new files to the archive, no paths (as I remember), and no descriptions. They were cataloged I think each week, since new stuff was coming in all the time. The AA had a second “complete catalog” file you could get that contained a complete listing of the files in the whole archive, along with short descriptions of what they were, and where they were located. It was taking me a lot of time to go through each file in the “new file” sets, and then try to locate them in the “full directory.” So, I wrote a shell script in MiNT, using sed and awk, that went through each file in the “new files” sets, found it in the “full directory,” and created new files that just contained the new file names, their location, and description. I used that script a lot. :slight_smile:

All of the non-MiNT programming I did was in TOS, not GEM. As time passed, I was using GEM less and less, which was an interesting experience. It was making my STe feel more like a “generic” computer, since I wasn’t using much of what made the STe special, anymore. In fact, I met a friend of a friend who also had a 68000-based computer that was running OS9. Seeing him use that felt a lot like what I was doing with my computer.

A few years later, I got my first 32-bit computer through work. They were getting rid of an old 33 Mhz 386 PC. They offered to give it to me, and I accepted. They gave me their copies of MS-DOS, Windows 3.11, and Borland C++ to go with it.

I had been working on a simple particle simulator written in C on my STe (in TOS), but I was running up against its speed limits. I wanted to have more objects in it, but it was really bogging. So, I ported it to the PC, and was pleased that it was able to handle what I wanted to do with the simulator, without breaking a sweat.

Around the same time, I was starting to get on the web at work, and I was getting more interested in it. I set up Netscape on Windows on my PC at home, and got an ISP account, bringing over a 28.8Kbps modem I had gotten for the STe, and started surfing the web from home.

It got to a point that I was using the PC more, and my Atari less, and I finally got a Windows PC in 1997 (I forget the speed, maybe 266 Mhz), and didn’t look back.

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A few years ago, I saw Georg Heeg demo a full 68000 version of Smalltalk-80 on an emulated Atari Mega ST. It was sold by ParcPlace Systems.

It was a thrill to see that. I had been exposed to GNU Smalltalk in college for a little bit, and, had I known of this, I would’ve loved to run it on my Mega STe. Seeing that an 8 Mhz ST ran ST-80 at 44% the speed of a Durado, I’d be curious to see the speed increase on a Mega STe, since it was switchable to 16 Mhz; maybe ~80%?

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OS-9 was ported to the 68000, called OS-9/68K, or OS-9000.

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They have a OS/9 archive. Looks to have good stuff for the 68000.

I had a Watford A410/1 that was upgraded with extra RAM; added a SCSI hard disk as I had few back then. Learned ARM machine code, BBC BASIC and played with BCPL. Had quite a few friends back then with Archimedes machines, we all used to hang out in a shop in Reading.

The next machine was a 486 DX2 beast running Windows 3.1

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I skipped straight from 8-bit (65C02 Apple //c) to 32-bit (80486 DX @ 50 MHz), somewhere in the current life of the 486 (I’m not entirely sure, but I think somewhere around the end of 1992). That first PC was a Laser branded desktop (manufactured by V-Tech) with 8 MB of RAM, both 3.5" and 5.25" floppy drives, and 100 MB of hard disk. I believe it had 1 MB of video RAM, which was rather limiting at any resolution higher than 640x480 – not that the 14" monitor it came with was capable of anything over 800x600 or a quite flickery 1024x768.

That was quite a technological leap. We had a fairly capable set of peripherals for the //c (ImageWriter II, Apple Composite Color monitor, external 5.25" drive), but it was ultimately a 1 MHz 65C02 with 128 kB of RAM and rather severe graphics and sound limitations. The PC-compatible didn’t have sound at that time (we later put a Pro Audio Spectrum 16 with an attached proprietary 1x CD-ROM drive in it) but 32k colors at 640x480 was like magic. When DOOM was released relatively shortly thereafter (I think it took a bit to arrive in my home, as we didn’t yet have a modem at that time), followed by the sound card, it Changed Things in my understanding of what a computer could be.

My early computing on the PC platform was all in DOS (MS-DOS 5.0) and Windows (3.1, then 3.1 (not 3.11!) for Workgroups), but I found Linux in the Spring or Summer of 1994 and basically never looked back.

I never encountered an Amiga until much later, somehow, and I have still never used an Atari ST. I had used Macs in school (both classics from around the SE era and somewhat later LC or LCII with color displays), but not really had any experience with the PC before we got one.

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V-Tech made desktops? I only knew them as maker of toys.

Indeed so, there’s a thread on vogons which suggests wikipedia is also informative on this point.

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Same! They didn’t make them under the V-Tech brand (at least, that I know of), but at the time that that computer was manufactured, Laser was a mark of V-Tech. It is also the same Laser that made the Laser 128 clone of the Apple //c (mentioned in @EdS’s post), which was also (it turns out) a V-Tech product, and is the only other Laser computer product that I had been aware of.

Laser was apparently moderately popular in the United States, and carried at one time in Micro Center stores, but at the time I didn’t know anyone else who owned a Laser-branded PC. I was able to find another PC of the same model (sadly, a DX 33 MHz rather than 50 MHz) a year or so ago, however, so there must have been some number sold.

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Well, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, companies do make interesting forays like Sony NEWS