Coolest computers from the early days of computing
If you are like me, you have been a geek since you were a kid. I started out with gadgets and gaming with Pong, moved to the Atari, then to a old school TI-99 computer sort of like the Commodore 64 and then on to the Nintendo and real PC gaming later in life. I can remember being so mad that I didn’t have a Commodore 64 because the graphics of the games on that Commodore looked so much better than what they had on my Atari. I still remember the jingle to the Commodore commercial that played constantly around the holidays as a kid, "I adore my 64, my Commodore 64." That will now be stuck in my head all day. The Commodore 64 is no more, but the Commodore name lives on today with a new generation of Commodore computers using Atom power.
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I never did get one of those commodore 64 computers as a kid, but my first computer came home about 1983. It was an old school TI-99/4A that I begged my mom for that I saw the first time at a local drug store. It used cartridges for games like my Atari did at the time. The only game I remember ever being able to play from a cartridge since the TI-99 games were hard to find was some sort of mountain climbing game. You had a horribly pixilated character that climbed up the mountain and you had to dodge the rocks and other things that were falling towards you.
I can also remember getting my first peripheral of the thing for my birthday, the Speech Synthesizer. I thought I was awesome having a computer that could talk to you rather than just making basic sounds. That mountain climbing game would say things like "watch for falling rocks." What I remember most about that old school computer was the thick BASIC book that came with it.
I was ten when I got the TI-99/4A and I would thumb through that thick book and find games that you had to program before you could play them. I remember sitting there for hours programming a game to guess numbers only to mess up the syntax at some point and have to go back through and find my mistake. All that work for a game that let me guess a number between 1 and 10. Thank goodness for modern tech! If you have been around and messing with computers since the 80's as I have, you will remember some of those old machines in my list below. These are by no means the best or highest performing machines you could get, they are the ones I remember from my youth and always wanted to own.
1. TI-99/4A - This is the computer I cut my geek teeth on. I guess I qualify for early childhood geekiness considering I programmed BASIC for the thing at ten just to play simple games. Oh, the good old days! I even had the speech synthesizer! It has a 3MHz processor, used my TV for a screen and packed in 16k RAM and 26K ROM. Games were on cartridges and it had a number of peripherals, most of which I never knew existed.
2. Apple Macintosh - My grade school had one of these and it was a seriously lucky day when we got to use it. I don’t recall much about using the first Mac other than my teacher threatening to flunk me back to pre-school if I broke it. Back then, this thing sold for about $2500 and used a 7.83MHz processor. It has a 9-inch monochrome screen and 400k of internal storage. To think my smartphone is more powerful than this really shows how far we have come since I was a kid.
3. Commodore 64 - This is the computer we all wanted when I was a kid. I remember it had come of the coolest games including some flight games that I wanted bad enough to sell my brother. The C64 hit the market in 1982 and cost about $595. It ran a 1MHz processor and had 64K of RAM. It used the TV as the monitor and has a cartridge port and joysticks for games. It had a printer and a floppy drive for accessories. I seem to recall most of the cool games I wanted were on floppy discs.
4. Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 - I remember going into RadioShack to play the TRS-80 as a kid. This thing came out in 1977 and cost about $599. The CPU had a Zilog Z-80A 1.77Mhz processor, 4K of RAM and the screen was a 12-inch monochrome unit.
5. Atari 520ST - I just about stroked out back in 85 when this computer hit the market. I remember spending as much time as the store clerks would let me playing games on this thing. I thought the graphics were the best in history and I guess at the time they might have been. The 520ST cost $599 and uses an 8MHz Motorola 68000 CPU and has 512K RAM. The real trick version used a color screen with a 320 x 200 resolution and it had a mouse and a joystick.
6. Atari 800 - My cousins had an Atari 800 long after the things were obsolete that they picked up at a flea market. It has missing its flip up door that covered the cartridges, but we still had some fun with it. We played the heck out of Centipede, which was the only game we had, on some lazy summer days. When new this was about $1000 and used a MOS 6502 1.8MHz CPU and had 8K of RAM. You could even get some software on cassette tapes for this thing.
7. Commodore 128D - Years down the road the Commodore name was still around and in 1987, the 128D landed and looked much like the computers we are familiar with today. The machine sold for about $500 and had a 2MHz CPU, 3-channel sound, 640 x 200 resolution, and 16-color screen. It also had a floppy drive. My school had a couple of these and I still remember the threats if we lost or bent our floppies.