About three weeks ago, my nine year old Dell tower started to act up. I rebooted it and it took over 30 minutes to start running again. Several days later it did a couple of more odd things, which indicated that perhaps it is in the last stages of its slow and ponderous life, bringing a digital meaning to the phrase, the oxen is slow, but the Earth is patient. So I decided to look into another computer while the Dell was still working. Being retired now, I have no need to be compatible with the rest of the world so I decided to look into a Mac. Through various arcane winnowings based mostly on a perceived sense of penury and a desire to buy an Apple, I came to the conclusion that the cheapy model of the latest iMac would be more than adequate to serve my needs. So there it stood, and I more or less decided to hell with it, I would run the Dell into the grave and then buy the Apple. Oh but I will lose all my files. Hooray! Start fresh with a clean house.
|2011 iMac 21.5|
Then the Dell acted up again. Hmmm! Am I sure that I don’t care if I lose everything? What about those 15,000 photos of wild flowers? OK, what can it hurt to go take look at it in a brick and mortar store? You know, just to make sure that it is what I really want for when the Dell dies. Big mistake of course. There is still enough testosterone running in my worn out system that a flashy toy in a minimalist cool aluminum housing that close to Christmas can make the “I want to play” hairs stand up on the back of my neck and say woo woo woo. Then I start talking to the salesman. Another big mistake. I let him talk me into buying the damn thing right there in the store. "We will help you get it set up right now. It will take 20 minutes!" Uh huh. I think I spent 90 minutes setting the damn thing up while roasting in a crowded store with people constantly brushing past me, all the while with my credit card number prominently displayed in 190 font on this giant screen. Never again will I attempt to setup a computer in a busy store 2 weeks before Christmas. But they did throw in a scanner/printer for free (well free with a rebate). So I walked out of the store with two boxes and 1200 1300 (not including the extended warranty and tax) bucks less in my wallet. I’ll get $100 back probably in June for the printer!
As I am huffing and puffing my way back to my car, parked 17 miles away in the parking lot--I love my fenders more than my knees, I got to thinking about my first computer, a used Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) that I bought in November of 1980 for $1000. A few weeks later I bought a Centronics 9 wire dot matrix printer for $700. Shall we compare my two purchases.
In 1980, I bought a used Commodore PET Series 2001 computer and a Datasette mass storage unit for $1000. I also bought a printer for $700. Total expenditure $1700 not counting shipping and tax.
In 2011, I bought a new Apple iMac 21.5 computer for $1200 and they threw in a printer/scanner unit for free. Total expenditure was $1200 not including warranty and tax.
1980 PET: MOS 6502 running 1 megahertz clock speed. Single core processor using an 8 bit word length.
2011 iMac: Intel Core i5 running 2.5 gigahertz clock speed. Four core processor using a 64 bit word length. It has a 6 megabyte on chip cache.
Comparing these two processors is like comparing a spear to a nuclear bomb. The Intel Core i5 runs 4 extremely advanced cores, using a word length 8 times larger, 2,500 times faster than the MOS 6502. Another way of looking at it in a simplified fashion is that in the time it took the 6502 to do one 8 bit operation, the Core i5 will do 2500 operations on 4 cores on 64 bits of data. So the improvement is 2500 X 4 X 8 = 80,000. So in very crude terms we can say that the Core i5 is doing 80,000 operations in the time it took the 6502 to do 1 operation. I would imagine that the improvement is far greater than even that due to on board cache, built in math co-processors and faster transit times.
|1980 PET 2001 Series Professional Computer|
1980 PET: 32 kilobytes of memory, not expandable.
2011 iMac: 4.0 gigabytes of memory expandable to 8 gigabytes.
That is 32 thousand bytes verses 4 billion bytes of memory. Hmmmm. That is
4,000,000,000 / 32,000 = 125,000
The iMac has 125,000 times the amount of memory, and it runs 1,333 times faster than the memory in the PET. Word length is a huge efficiency here also. The iMac is feeding and retracting 8 times the amount of data for each memory access. If I so desire I can expand the memory to 250,000 times the memory that the PET had.
Internal Mass Storage
1980 PET: none.
2011 iMac: 500 gigabyte hard drive.
The PET had no way to work beyond the capacity of its memory. The program plus the data had to fit within the 32,000 bytes of on board memory. If it exceeded the memory, the program crashed. The hard drive in the iMac allows the system to temporarily or permanently store programming or data on the hard drive and rapidly retract it when the memory is available again. The hard drive contains all of the iMac’s programming and data and has it available almost instantly. The PET did have an available external dual single sided 5 1/4 inch floppy drives which allowed some flexibility during a program run. Each floppy held about 100 kilobyte of data. The drive was exorbitantly expensive. I am not sure but $1,400 or $2,400 sticks in my mind. It was well beyond my means (thank God, what a waste of money!)
External Mass Storage
1980 PET: Dattasette, audio cassette recorder configured to handle digital data.
2011 iMac: Slot-loading 8x SuperDrive with 4x double-layer burning (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
I have no idea how much data a cassette could hold. I think the optimum length was 30 minute tapes. If I remember correctly, 60 minute cassettes were prone to errors because the tape was too thin. The data was stored in a linear fashion just like songs on an audio tape. I don’t believe that the unit had a fast forward search. It would only find the correct file in play mode. You could fast forward manually and then search for the file, but if you passed the beginning, the computer would never find it. Transit rate was abysmal, 750 baud. A double layered DVD can store 8 Gigabytes, 250,000 times the PET’s memory. Speed is slower than a hard drive, but much faster than any previous method.
1980 PET: None. The mouse had not been invented yet.
2011 iMac: Magic mouse or Magic Trackpad capable of detecting finger gestures.
All cursor movements on the PET had to be done with the keyboard arrow keys. There were no screen buttons to click. All commands were executed with the return key.
1980 PET: Built in nine inch diagonal monochromatic (green characters on a blank screen) cathode ray tube. Character resolution was 7 X 9 pixels allowing true descenders! 40 columns by 25 lines. The normal mode was defined characters. “High resolution” graphics could be accomplished with machine language programing, not using the resident Basic programming language. Screen resolution was 280 X 225 or 63000 pixels total. There was no separate graphics processor.
2011 iMac: 21.5 inch LED-backlit widescreen with support for millions of colors. Resolution is 1920 by 1080 HD pixels per inch, roughly 403 million pixels total. The graphics is driven by an AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics processor with 512 MB of memory.
1980 PET: Commodore Basic 2.0.
2011 iMac: OS X Lion.
1980 PET: None.
2011 iMac: 24 applications, 22 utilities.
Here is an area in which a huge difference exists. When a PET was started it could only do one of two things: receive a program via the Datasette, or input a Basic program or machine code program through the keyboard. The computer had no inherent capability other than to receive a program. Between the iMac’s advanced operating system and the bundled software, the iMac can browse the web, play music, videos, process photos and movies, do simple word processing, do simple calculations on the calculator, translate foreign languages, has a dictionary, sticky notes, a fairly advanced music program, an email program, an appointment calendar, and a chat application with a webcam.
One of the things I remember about the PET was the lack of software. Besides a Basic language coded word processor and some lame video games, there was very little software available. I did two things on my PET, some elementary word processing at which I marveled, and I taught myself how to program in Basic. I wrote some educational programs, check book balancing program, a budget program, and various household inventory programs. I think I actually bought two pieces of software for the PET, the word processor and a very lame computer game.
1980 PET: There was two specialized 6502 ports, two dattasette ports, and 1 IEEE 488 (sort of) port. I say sort of because if I remember correctly the port was not a true physical IEEE 488 port, but rather a set of contacts printed on the mother board which would require an adapter to make it a true port.
2011iMac: To save typing, a copy and paste from the Apple Store Web site:
- One Thunderbolt port on 21.5-inch iMac
- Mini DisplayPort output with support for DVI, VGA, and dual-link DVI (adapters sold separately)
- One FireWire 800 port; 7 watts
- Four USB 2.0 ports
- SDXC card slot
- Slot-loading 8x SuperDrive with 4x double-layer burning (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
- Audio in/out
- 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
- IR receiver
1980 PET: None except built in beeper.
2011 iMac: Again to save typing a copy and past from the Apple Store:
- Built-in stereo speakers
- Two internal 20-watt high-efficiency amplifiers
- Headphone/optical digital audio output (minijack)
- Audio line in/optical digital audio input (minijack)
- Built-in microphone
- Support for Apple iPhone headset with microphone
1980 PET: None.
2011 iMac: WiFi and Bluetooth.
|Audio Coupled Modem. Yes it could communicate!|
1980 PET: The Internet did not exist. The US Department of Defense had ARPANET which connected the military establishments with defense contractors and universities conducting military research. It was possible to get a telephone modem to connect with an external machine but the communication protocols and compatibility were problematic. Data transfer was glacial. But who the hell did you connect with, and why?
2011 iMac: Plug in the connector or enable the WiFi and off you go surfing the net.
1980 PET: I bought a word processor for I believe $40. It was written in Basic, and had about 250 lines of programming. I made some corrections and improvements in the program. It was fabulous! Wow, you can correct mistakes on the screen, edit or insert entire paragraphs...even pages without retyping. It even keeps track of page numbers automatically. Wow, you can save your work on the datasette and reload it later. Wow! When you are happy with your text, you can send it to the printer and get “hard copy”! This thing is fabulous. Spell checker? Search and replace? What is that? You checked spelling the same way you did on a typewriter, but you corrected the screen copy. No white out or correction tape required! No retyping your entire document because you decided to insert a new sentence. I kept a small paper back dictionary and a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style close to the computer. You couldn’t multi-task on a PET, but I believe you could append portions of a document on the end of document from the Datasette. I don’t recall of being able to copy and paste within a document. I believe that one could chop up a document into a series of small files and then append in the correct order the smaller files to create on large file in order to insert text in a different spot. Caution! Your document plus the program can not exceed the computer’s RAM memory. A very good argument for buying the 32 K machine verses the 4, 8 or 16K versions. Also what you saw was not what you got. The screen only had 40 columns, the printer would support 80 columns. So you had to print your document to see what it really looked like. There was no tables or image capabilities. But wow! How fabulous it was to be able to correct mistakes and edit documents on the screen. You could save your document on the Datasette and load it again next year. You could print hundreds of copies (ear protection suggested).
2011 iMac: I downloaded Apple’s Pages Word Processor for $20. For me, it will principally do everything Microsoft Word can do, but it does not seem to have a grammar checker. I just bought a copy of Elements of Style for the Kindle, $2.99 that I can use on Kindle for Mac. The only thing I miss is the Old English font.
1980 PET: None available. Visicalc had been released for the Apple II but it was not yet available for the PET. When it did become available, I could not justify the cost. I was able to write my own Basic programs to perform any household math functions.
2011 iMac: Apple’s Numbers is available for $20. I haven’t downloaded it yet, but I will. Again it can’t do everything that Excel can do, but for my use, it will be beyond what I need.
2011 iMac: Apple’s Numbers is available for $20. I haven’t downloaded it yet, but I will. Again it can’t do everything that Excel can do, but for my use, it will be beyond what I need.
Of course I can get Microsoft Office for Mac for a variety of prices all exceeding $100, but I don’t need PowerPoint or Outlook so why bother with it? The Apple software will do every thing I need.
|Centronics 739 With Proportional Spacing!|
1980 Centronics 739, 18 X 9 dot matrix with proportion spacing! Only $700! Straight right edge and high resolution graphics (if your computer had the drivers to do it--which seemed to not exist for the PET or probably any other computer at the time). I paid through the snout for that stupid proportional spacing. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but I thought it was the best thing since canned beer. The elite fancy font supposedly approached the quality of the fabled daisy wheel printers in that age. I suppose, but it still looked dotty as hell to me. The printer supported both friction drive or a pinned platen sort of tractor drive that was murder to start the paper with the holes aligned to the pins. I remember buying huge boxes of perforated tractor drive paper for vast sums. I used to steal rolls of cheap yellow telletype paper from work so that I could run a rough draft of my work without costing an arm and an leg. Color? Whatever the color of ribbon (yes ribbon) that you stuck in. You got that single color. I only really remember of black being available. That was another murderous and expensive proposition. The ribbon came in a box that you fitted into a magazine and then tore away the cardboard. Of course only Centronics made the ribbon so it was expensive. The ribbon was compressed in the box and flew out like a slinky. Then you spent an hour trying to get the ribbon in the magazine with no kinks or wrinkles. It was an offset mobius strip so the printer would use both sides of the ribbon top and bottom for longer life. When you used the printer, ear protection should have been required. The thing screamed. My wife would go out side in the summer when I printed anything. It sounded similar to a circular saw. I believe it only printed in one direction due to the proportional spacing. That printer was a total pain in the ass to use and I came to hate it with a passion.
2011 iMac: Apple “gave” me a “free” printer. It is a HP 3504 A photo color inkjet with a built in scanner. I had to buy the printer for $100 which will be rebated. Cool. When I got home I checked the price of the printer on Amazon. $50. So Apple sold and will rebate a $50 printer to me for $100. So eventually, after I receive my $100 dollar rebate check probably next summer, I will have a free $50 printer. Very cool. Why not charge me $50 and rebate $50 for a $50 dollar printer. I am so excited about this printer, it is still sitting in the box unopened. My printing needs don’t seem to be as urgent as they were in 1980.
1980 Used PET, Datasette, and printer: $1700 total.
2011 New iMac and printer / scanner (after rebate): $1200 total.
|79 Monte Carlo, mine had stock wheels.|
But wait a second, let’s put this in perspective. In 1979, I bought a new Chevy Monte Carlo for $5400. In 2007, I bought a new Honda CRV for $25 grand. So let's revisit these prices, corrected for inflation.
My PET and the amazing Centronics printer would cost $4,857 in 2011 dollars.
My iMac and $50 printer / scanner would cost $420 in 1980 dollars.
What a phenomenal ass I was in 1980. No wonder I was the only person at work that owned a personal computer. Just a little ahead of my time. But I learned far more on that PET than I have on any computer since. I spent hours programming it. I wrote about a half dozen articles that were published in the computer magazines at the time. All for naught, but I didn’t know that at the time.
So what could I do with my PET? Play some very lame games which I had no interest, word processing for which I had an inordinate interest for reasons that are beyond me today, and do my own programming. Like a carpenter with a new hammer, I used my new toy for things that were unnecessary. I wrote programs out the wazoo. I calculated prime numbers. I took out Pi to some extraordinarily small number of digits defined by the Basic using some weird method of calculating Pi. I wrote educational programs that were boring as hell, some that got published in a magazine, but none that would have ever sold. Home finance programs for balancing check books, doing taxes, budgets which we never paid any attention to, grocery lists which my wife could not be bothered with. Never used home inventories for the insurance company in case we got robbed--ha! They wouldn’t have even taken the computer. I could do my taxes by hand in about 30 minutes once I gathered the documents--or I could do them on the computer in 25 minutes after I gathered the documents, but due to the fact that I didn’t trust the program for taxes involved with the IRS, I rechecked it with a calculator spending and additional 10 minutes. Either way the computer only did the calculations, it did not print acceptable forms. Wow a real time saver! What my PET really did for me was to convince myself that I was far smarter than I actually am and that if I got laid off from work, I would be able to find a computer related job with ease. The fact that I had neither a heart attack or a nervous breakdown over worries about employment in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s would justify the cost of the computer. I was, of course, a naive ass. God, fate, or the US Government saved me from unemployment not the PET, but it was a nice fantasy.
Well the PET was only the beginning of a 31 year stint in wasting money on computers. Here is a quick list with pricing as best as I can remember.
1981 Commodore VIC 20 and Dattasette $350. Wow color and sound!
1982 Commodore 64 and floppy Disk Drive $800. Wow 64 K of memory and the disk drive was heaven.
1982 Timex Sinclair $49 (bought it for curiosity). Commodore would rebate you for trading up to a Commodore. They used the turned in wedge shaped Timex computers for door stops.
|Kaypro II Vaguely Portable|
1983 Kaypro II. Darth Vader’s lunch box, with twin floppies and a software suite. $1700. It was portable...somewhat.
In 1984 I had a MS attack and I suddenly lost interest in computers. That was a bit of a wake-up call. I got more interested in doing things with my wife and son, and less interested in spending hours in front of a computer.
1988 Tandy PC-6 Pocket Computer. $120 + $20 for 8K memory expansion. More of a programmable calculator, but what a handy little computer. It had a big enough memory 16K to store many small programs that I used at work. It was about the size of two deck of cards set end to end. It still works but I don’t have that much use for it since I retired.
There are collectors for everything. I found a PC6 on sale at Ebay for $79. Here is an interesting writeup on the PC-6:
|Tandy PC6 Circa 1988 and still kicking.|
1990 Magnavox 286 with 110 meg hard drive. $700.
1992 Zenith 386 with a 150 meg hard drive. $600. To put software in perspective, somewhere in this time period, I bought WordPerfect 4.5 for DOS for $495 and a Dictionary for $90. Sometime around 1993 - 94 I remember the electronic version of Encyclopedia Britannica selling for $1200. I told myself when that breaks $500, I am going to buy a copy. Wow. Imagine having the Encyclopedia Brittanica (over $3 grand in the print version) for $500 and to be able to use the computer’s search function.
1996 Micron Pentium with a 2 gigabyte hard drive fully loaded with Windows 95 Professional and Microsoft Office Professional. $2800. Six months later a guy at work bought a computer that doubled everything I had for half the price. My Zenith broke down right at the end of a long price / function plateau. I was pissed! If that damned computer would have only lasted another 6 months. Then I spent hundreds on Autocad Lite and Visual Basic (using student discounts) and never did a damn thing with either of them.
2002 Dell Pentium 4 with a 120 gigabyte hard drive again loaded with XP professional and Microsoft Office Professional. $2200.
2011 Apple iMac Core i 5, with a 500 gigabyte drive. No Microsoft anything. $1200, with a free $50 printer, that I had to pay $100 for, but will be rebated hopefully sometime before 2013.
So what can I do with my iMac? Computers are very anti-climatic purchases. After you get it all set up and running, it does everything the old computer did--only instantaneously. The new computer high lasts for about an hour! I don’t type any faster than I used to, so like the old computer I can use my iMac to sit around for hours writing dumb blog posts. I still need a life.
|Click Image To See Expanded Image|
Image Credit: The Atlantic.com
The Atlantic. com, Why Steve Ballmer Failed, Derek Thompson, 8/23/13
Kaypro !!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaypro
Centronics 739: http://www.thepcmuseum.net/details.php?RECORD_KEY%28museum%29=id&id(museum)=371&PHPSESSID=4ca9e625938bead4c202881e44870452
79 Monte Carlo: http://www.maliburacing.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=89200
Flood Gap, Retrobits: TPM: Tandy Radio Shack Pocket Computer PC-4 and Tandy Pocket Scientific Computer PC-5, PC-6, PC-7