Silicon I have loved

“Finished” Fable 2 last night. Slightly disappointing ending itself, but the buildup to that ending… by Saint Meier, it’s magistral. Of course I say “finished” because it’s not really-really The End(tm). Now I got a bunch of post-ending quests that opened up, so we’ll see how that goes.

That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I’m still in a reminiscing mood this week, so after talking about games, I started thinking of all the little and not so little machines I owned throughout the years. It struck me as amazing how in only two decades and change the available power at our fingertips increased so much. I know we know this, but it helps to map it out and visualize it.

The first ever home computer I called my own was a CZ Spectrum 2000. No, not the ZX. The CZ, which was a ZX clone licensed by Sinclair to be manufactured in Brazil (I think) for the Latin American market. It was essentially the same as the ZX Spectrum 48k, with some extremely minor differences in video output. 48k RAM, 8 colors (could do 16 with some dithering techniques). Composite straight out to a TV for an amazing 256×192 resolution. Games loaded from audio tape. All running on top of a trusty Z80A CPU at 3.5 MHz. This was 1985. I enjoyed way too many games and spent way too many afternoons with this little beastie. Too many to mention, but just as a sample: Pretty much all the Ultimate games (Knight Lore, Alien 8, Sabre Wulf, Pentagram, etc…), Batman, Head over Heels, International Karate +, Fairlight, Pyjamarama, Everyone’s a Wally.

In 1987 I got a Commodore 64 (like everybody else) because everybody else apparently had it, but I kept the old ZX until 1989. The 80s in home computing are pretty much defined by the Spectrum and the C64 by themselves, depending on where you lived. The C64 was a little workhorse; I swear it resisted with gallantry everything this 11-year old threw at it daily. I’m counting physical objects like joysticks. 64k RAM, and a 6501 CPU which curiously ran slower than the Z80A (not that it mattered). 320×200 resolution. I enjoyed this machine well, playing things like: Commando, Ultima IV and V, Arkanoid, Pirates!, Gauntlet, Barbarian, Impossible Mission, Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders, The Last Ninja, etc.

1989 came and I got a Commodore 128D for some reason I can’t remember. A bit faster, able to do higher resolutions than the old 64, but no games I ever came across used those capabilities. Games: The same as the 64, really. These two machines blur together in my mind for some reason.

In 1990 I oficially entered The Future(tm) when I got my Amiga 500. What an amazing machine this was. Had tons and tons of fun with it. Up to 640×400 resolution and 4096 colors, 512k RAM, all driven by a trusty 68000 CPU chugging along at 7 MHz. A proper beast. I was already well underway into the lifestyle of a gaming geek back then, so I was in game nerd heaven with this one. It seemed it could pretty much do anything I wanted. It was so good and so complex it even locked up more often than its predecessors. Games I have loved? Way too many: Defender of the Crown, Battle Squadron, Alien Breed, Sensible Soccer, Championship Manager 2, Civilization, Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings, Supercars 2, Nitro, etc.

1993 came and I upgraded to an Amiga 1200, which was a nice machine. Just nice. Of course it was better than the 500. It had a 68020 CPU and 2Mb RAM. It was also able to display higher resolutions and more colors, but this was about the time of Commodore’s demise and the 1200, to me, was the company’s true swan song. Games slowly and surely began to trickle and, while some looking nicer, they failed to recapture the magic of olden days. Also, for some reason I think I got a semi-defective unit. I was plagued with hardware issues all the time I had it.

1995 I made the jump to the PC compatible world. I got the mid-90’s equivalent of a tiny silicon deity in the shape of a 486dx2/66 MHz with 8 Mb RAM and a large (really it was huge) VESA video card. It was a a sweet clone machine scavenged from parts obtained from places unknown. But who cared! It could run Doom and it had a 14.4k modem. I also got an unheard of fifteen-inch monitor. One more inch. Bigger. Better. That one extra inch made all the difference, I swear it. Games from that time included the aforementioned Doom as well as Duke Nukem, Carmageddon, Civilization II, Colonization, System Shock, Rise of the Triad, etc.

1996/97 saw upgrades in quick succesion as I moved first to a Pentium 100 with 16Mb, then got my first truly, really, honestly 3D video card – a Diamond Stealth 2000. Later on I replaced the head honcho with a Pentium 166. All this was done to play Quake. Look, we’re amongst friends here and I don’t mind admitting it. This type of single-minded upgrade is the kind of thing we gamers do and it’s fine. Of course I didn’t play just Quake, but by now we’re entering more or less modern times and most people have an idea of the kind of games that were around, it’d be silly to make a list.

Starting in the early 2000’s I decided, as money permitted, since I was married already, to try and upgrade every 12 or 18 months. This didn’t always come into fruition since as we all know marriage is the bane of gaming, and this is doubly so for gaming geeks. Long story short and to avoid typing a laundry list of upgrades, right now my rig has an AMD X2 4800+ with 2Gb RAM and a video card that has more video memory than all the RAM in all my previous computers put together. It can put crap on the screen that just five years ago would have been thought impossibly ridiculous. Fifteen years ago an engineer would have cracked open the CPU and thought it was alien technology from Roswell.

The worst thing is, we’ll be saying the same thing five, ten and fifteen years from now.

3 thoughts on “Silicon I have loved”

  1. Fun write up!

    I went:

    Vic 20
    C 64
    386 sx-16 (cost me 3500 bucks)
    To upgrade land. I spend ~300 a year to stay “current”, using a C2D 3.0 with 4 gigs ram and a 512 mB nvidia.

    Haven’t spent my 300 this yearbyet though :)

  2. Pretty much the same progression I had with my computers, right down to the Voodoo card, except add a few more Amigas and PCs.

  3. I grew up on an original Macintosh and subsequent Apple upgrades. Concurrently I was also playing on Nintendo consoles starting with the NES. I can remember one of the first PCs I had being a Compaq with a 200mhz Pentium MMX chip. That thing was the epitome of bad OEM practices when it came to crap/bloatware, build quality, and customer support, but it lasted a few years and had enough oomph that I could play the old Janes Defense flight sims and some PC adventure games from the early 90s.

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