What Was Your First Computer?

Last Thursday when I was in New York I swung by Steve Rubel’s office and hung out with him for an hour.  We caught up on a bunch of stuff but managed to squeeze in a short riff about our first computers (yes – we were talking about how old we were – which is not that old, but it feels like it now that we have Facebook accounts.)


That’s me – as a 40 year old – with my first computer – an Apple ][. The actual one – with some software that I wrote running on it (yes – those are five menu options, numbered “1. “ to “5. “)  It cost about $3,000 total, which included two floppy drives, an Integer Card, memory (it had 64k), Pascal, Visicalc, and a couple of games.)  I eventually got a copy of Beer Run to go with Choplifter.

My second computer was an original IBM PC.


I can’t remember how much memory it has (not much) but it came with two floppy disks.  Again, $3,000 or so.  One day I got a Tandon 10MB hard disk (ST506 compatible – anyone remember that?) and thought for about 24 hours that my life was complete.

My first laptop (er – portable) was a Compaq. 

Compaq1 Compaq2

I also had a Mac 128k and a Lisa.  Reflecting on the whole thing is a little scary to me.  Especially since each of them seemed to cost about $3,000 (except the Lisa which was closer to $10,000.)

  • Hmmm. you had an Apple II, and Mac 128 and a Lisa. and you have Apple hardware in your office.

    it’s time you faced facts Brad

    you are part of the apple cult

    welcome 🙂

  • Mine was a Commodore 64. To be more precise it was 3 of them. They often fried so you had to have a few so you could rotate them out. Service was alike 8 weeks or something like that. A couple of times it was due to unauthorized modifications 🙂 but most of the time it just broke.

    All assembly programming, loved it.

  • My first computer was an Apple ][+ that I bought after mowing all the neighbors lawns for two summers. It had a language card with 16k of RAM, a modem card, a single disk drive, the Apple III phosphor green monitor (color Amdek monitors were something like $700), an Apple dot matrix printer.

    That machine helped me learn programming, hacking (good and bad) and introduced me to people from around the world on the BBSs. Everyone from physicists at CERN to professors at Stanford were sharing information in a relatively small community where the signal to noise ratio was incredibly high. There was even this very patient guy who seemed to know *everything* about the Apple ][ and would always be happy to answer questions from a 12 year old about how to do things. I figured out years later that I had been talking routinely to Steve Wozniak. Nice guy.

  • Exidy Sorcerer, 8K memory, cassette tape storage (later we got a floppy drive).

    I think it’s in my dad’s basement, I’ll look for it the next time I’m there.

  • Whoa… when I first read this: “That

  • My first computer was a Tandy 1000 SX. It was a semi-IBM compatible with an 8088 processor (50% faster than the original PC!), 256k memory and dual floppies. I eventually added a 30mb hard drive, upped the memory to 640k and installed a 1200 baud modem. It was heaven.

    I also added a Microsoft mouse. Windows 2.0 was included with the mouse. I actually ran Windows 2.0 on an 8088. Of course, when I had to do “reai” work (i.e. term papers), I used DOS applications.

  • @Bijan: I am one of Apple’s all time favorite customers. Every time a new piece of Apple hardware comes out (Silentype anyone? Apple ///? Mac 512. Mac SE. Newton. ipod 5mb, 10mb, 20mb, 30mb, Shuffle, Nano, even the iBrick) I’m right there in line at the store, online, or once again inline at the store buying it. The only things I’ve consistently used are the iPods and the beautiful monitors which kind of breaks my mind. Someday I’ll use a Mac for more than just turning it on once a week to see it update all its software.

  • ZX81. Not enough memory to fill the screen with characters, but it taught me how to code ultra-efficiently.

  • Hah!

    It wasn’t mine, but I felt like it was. Our high school in Oak Ridge TN had an IBM 1620 used for attendance and some accounting (this was 1972-73). An industrial shop teacher started teaching an evening adult education course in computer programming using the 1620. A buddy of mine and I (both of us ended up at MIT) took the adult course and started getting into assembly and machine code on this machine. This computer had 25,000 BCD (binary coded decimal) digits of core magnetic memory, a typewriter for console input, an IBM 024 keypunch and a card reader/punch. It’s nickname was CADET (Can’t Add, Doesn’t Even Try) since it used a lookup table to add, instead of hardware adders.

    My favorite experience was with the 4 “sense switches” on the console. You would set the switches to a combination of ons and offs to enable options in your program, since your program could ‘sense” the on/off position of the switches with a IF (SENSESWITCH 1) THEN… line of Fortran.

    I wrote an assembly code program to watch SENSESWITCH 1 and pulled the front panel down to attach a Morse Code key of a Ham radio buddy. Wrote a Morse Code translator. I didn’t understand the concept of Make-then-break switch connections and fried the entire power supply. Got to meet the IBM service guy (yes, they wore white shirts and ties) and Jesus.

    The service guy gave us an under-the-table tip on the switch circuit and we later got the Morse Code program running.

    My goal in life was to have an IBM 1620 in my basement when I grew up. Of course my iPhone has 32000 times more memory and takes up 7.5 cubic inches instead of 80 cubic feet (not counting the punch and reader which triple that). And I think the processor speed was measured in KHz (probably cycles, not Hz) not GHz.

    Aaaaaaaah, back in the days when you measured code productivity in pounds of cards, not lines.


  • Mine was a Sinclar ZX80:


    1KB RAM!!! And no, 1KB RAM wasn’t enough! Storage was to audio cassette tape. And no, storage on audio cassette wasn’t good enough!

    Well, I say all this wasn’t enough. Actually, it was more than enough to learn how to program, and to learn to love programming.

  • Breeno

    I had a Timex/Sinclair 1000 for my first.


    The coolest thing I remember about that box was they included the instruction set in the back of the manual (Zilog Z80 processor) so I first learned machine code (eventually writing my own assembler assembler [in basic]) on that chip.

    I guess even at a young age I intuitively knew basic sucked. 🙂

  • The first computer I purchased was a Leading Edge Model D. 8088, 4.77MHz, 512KB of RAM. I upgraded to the 20MB harddrive and added a 2400 baud modem to dial into a VAX.

  • Jack

    BBC B. 32k, with ancillary tape player.

  • Hans

    At the recommendation of my 4th grade teacher (in 1983), my parents bought me a Franklin Ace 1200… the Apple II clone with built-in dual floppy drives. I still wonder if Apple wouldn’t be better off today had they not sued Franklin out of existence. Would a thriving community of Apple clones have been enough to prevent Windows from dominating the desktop? Who knows.

  • Don

    A Tandy TRS 80 with the cassette drive. Those were the days.

  • Back in 1985, my dad bought us our first home computer. It was the same Compaq you had up there and I heard it cost around $6k. Being a kid at the time (age 5), the computer helped me learn spelling, multiplications tables, and how to play minigolf. I remember how cool I thought the game Centipede was with that green and black screen. That was until I saw our minigolf game on my buddy’s COLOR (8 colors) monitor in 1990. Minigolf never looked so good!! I can’t even imagine now how proficient teenagers these days will be with computers by they reach their 20’s. How did I get around without google maps, or write research papers without search engines??

    Bryan Daigle
    Founder of IdeaTango.com: online forums that help inventors bring new invention ideas to market.
    My Personal Blog on being an inventor and internet entrepreneur.

  • TRS-80 Model I! We followed that with the IBM PC when it first came out; when I went to college in 1987, I toted along the same Compaq you pictured above.

  • My first computer was a Tandy Color Computer 2 with 64k of memory complete with TV connection and cassette tape storage (which never worked quite right after I took it apart). Later I got an Apple ][c in all it’s greenscale glory. Ah, the good ole days.

  • I programmed this INMOS Hex card back in the day — but first real one was a TI 99/4, then moved to Apple II Plus and original Mac. First computer I ever used regularly was the TI Silent 700 to play Star Trek on in the late 70s early 80s. Lots of paper!

    Build an external circuit on so I could count in binary on 8 LEDs by peeking and poking, programming in BASIC, through the apple interfaces – which would work until the whole system would crash. Why I was an EE vs a CS.

  • My first computer was an Apple IIc… 128K memory, one floppy drive, and a sweet little monochrome monitor.

  • Coleco Adam…cue the violins.

  • The Sinclair ZX Spectrum


    I learned BASIC on it, wrote games for it, and opened what could have been Turkey’s first Arcade in the kitchen of my dad’s office.

    Loved computers ever since.

  • The Apple-based computers I used in the high school lab don’t count. My very first computer was almost certainly the TRS-80 PC-2 pocket computer that intrigued my dad so much that he got one for me my first or second year in college. I programmed it to do all sorts of aviation-related things but never had the money to spend on a printer or more memory.

    I was hooked on computers by the time I got my BS (actually, had been even earlier but leaving school meant I didn’t have easy access anymore!), so used the student purchase program to buy as much iron as I could get for $2000. I believe it was a Heathkit.

    Funny thing is, like you, I keep buying computers for somewhere in the neighborhood of the same price I paid the first time. I wonder how that happens?

  • Trash-80 with no floppy drive. Then my dad got an Osbourne (later upgraded to a 286), an original mac (still at my parents house, thinking about making an aquarium out of it), and a couple other home brewed machines. When I went to college, I had an amber screen that was etched to reduce glare, and I got yelled at every time I touched it (for fear of leaving oily prints). To this day, I dont touch my computer monitors.

    First language I learned to program in was LOGO…

  • APL time-sharing system running on an IBM 360/50:


    Wrote many High School Science Fair Projects using APL.

    First hands-on computer was an IBM 1620-II:


    Computer History Museum has a running IBM 1620-I. Very nice machine…decimal, arbitrary precision arithmetic, core memory, sense switches. Many satisfying geek hours spent with that system.

  • Jack Sinclair

    Apple IIe and I still remember being really good at Karateka

  • My first computer, in 1983, was an IBM PC just like the one you pictured and all I used it for was Lotus 1-2-3.
    Thanks for the nostalgia!

  • Vic 20! My parents got it when I was 5. I used to play Snakman off a cassette tape.

  • I cooked with it, created with it, telecommunicated with it…. my Commodore 64!

  • My first computer was a Commodore SuperPET in the late 1970s. There was loads of stuff to learn on either the 6502 or 6809 (CPUs selectable by toggle). It was co-designed by the University of Waterloo for teaching languages and came with APL, BASIC, Fortran, Pascal, COBOL and an Assembler/Disassembler — Programming Nirvana. I have it and all the peripherals in my garage. 🙂

    Then the Commodore Vic-20, the CP/M-based Gemini Zorba suitcase from hell, the tiny Radio Shack PC-1 (more like a calculator) I picked up at Tysons Corner during a Grade 8 trip to DC, and a Commodore 64.

    My first professional computer was the Atari 1040STe for my recording studio which I backed up with a PC-jr for office/online stuff in 1989. I upgraded the 1040 to a Mega-4STe with a built in 40MB hard drive. Good times!

    I’m a tiny bit of a geek.

  • Lucy Sanders

    I learned Basic on an Olivetti from the high school advanced math teacher and cheerleading squad sponsor – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivetti. She also taught us Fortran when she wasn’t scaring us to death.

    My very first, very own computer, was an early Sun workstation, and all us Bell Labs folks sent email around. I had one of the first Macs. I wish I had saved it, although I do have a Silent 700 in my attic.

  • Bruce

    Let’s see… learned my times tables on a DoD mainframe with an acoustic coupler around 1976. I’m sure it was a good use of resources — missile trajectories vs times tables. Started programming a TRS80 a year or two later. Did a bunch of stuff with Apple ][s the next few years but never owned one (yay applesoft (the mysteries of peek and poke)).

    First computer at home was an Atari 800 with a cassette drive. Sadly (in retrospect), I’d spend hours on the weekends tediously typing in stuff from Compute! magazine. Shortly thereafter was a Leading Edge Model D that served throughout high school and hours of TurboPascal and hacking Ultima (we’d modify the data files to create passageways more to our convenience).

    In college, I got a Mac SE30 the moment it came out — we had steep discounts at school and at the same time we were installing fiber to everyone’s dorm room to access the nascent Internets (CWRU – first school in the country; I’ve had a working legitimate email address for 20 years).

    From there on, I’ve owned mostly macs, but have always had a unix account somewhere (LCS at MIT for a long time and world.std.com). There’s also been a smattering of PC rigs, but never as a primary workhorse (lots of games, though).

  • Sean Daken

    The Coleco Adam… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coleco_Adam

    Still have it and it still works.

  • The Radio Shack (ok, Tandy of you must) TRS-100, I think it was called. A true laptop, it had a 4-line LCD screen and full keyboard, weighed just a few pounds, and you could transmit over the phone with acoustic couplers. For journalists in the early 1980s that machine was a revelation; my colleagues in the Paris bureau of Fairchild Publications sent their stories to NY via Telex (i’m not kidding), but I was wired!!

  • kip

    we started off with a punch card machine in the basement. trs80,commodore 64. been there. viva tape drives.

  • IBM PC Jr!!

  • My first computer was a Scientific Data Systems Model 92 (4k 24-bit words, paper tape input, multi-level interrupt system for real time data acquisition), where as part of a new-hire sales class in 1966 I learned LDA/STA, etc, in preparation for selling the things. The first computer I was able to actually work on through a terminal was a DEC PDP-10 time-sharing machine at Computer Center Corporation in Seattle in the early 70’s – the same computer Bill Gates learned on when he was at Lakeside School. The two experiences convinced me that I was better suited for sales than for programming, launching me on a 40-year high-tech sales career.

  • When I was 4 (in 1977) my father built a Uk101


    I used to play this fantastic game called taxi, there I moved a little stick man up and down and he had to wave his arms to stop a taxi. Even at 4 I found it easy

  • Apple IIGS – in color! with a wonderful sounding dot matrix printer.

  • Steve Bergstein

    I learned so much from my TRS-80 Model I. I started out with just the cassette drive but eventually added the expansion unit and a couple of floppy drives. I had the solder-on gold edge connectors b/c the tin-plated edge connectors stopped working properly when the tin oxidized.

    I also upgraded the character generator ROM so that I had descenders on my p’s, g’s, and q’s.

    I still have the keyboard unit but I think that the monitor and expansion unit got left at the fraternity house.

    After that, it was a “Standard Brand” XT clone with a whopping 20 meg harddrive.

  • Steve Zweig

    I had exactly the same first three computers in almost the same order.

    Apple II+
    Apple IIe (Apple had a low-cost upgrade promotion)
    Original IBM PC

    Unfortunately I sold both when I bought my original Compaq.

  • Mike Frye

    It seems to me 3k +/- got you the latest/greatest in 82,84,85 & today. Given the trend, I guess in 2027, a computer will cost 3k and have 125000 gigs of memory, 16000 terabytes of disk and perform 96000 million ops/sec and do it with 10000 cores….. Kids will freak and feel sorry for us when they go to the Smithsonian and see a dell XPS with 4 core extreme processor.

    I remember my boss yelling at me in 82 because I spent 5k on a used 1meg card for a Burroughs.

  • geoffgo

    GE_FPS-7 radar with 2K drum storage unit(ca. 1961)- weighed 280 pounds. Had to replace failed units frequently. Ugh. They were about $78K each.

    During school (summers 1965-6) worked second-shift testing IBM CCROS storage units, bout the size of your avgerage desk. 48K. Mylar bags, etched with copper traces. Inflate with argon, and create 48K capacitive read-outs bits. Faster than that “cross-hairs in the donut” stuff.

    Next computer time (1972) was on the world’s fastest IBM-compatible mainframe (for about 5-years anyway), which turned out to be everyone’s introduction to “cloning” at the $5 million pricepoint: Amdahl. FCS – August 10, 1975 was the first time in the history of computing that it got cheaper.

    Then on to your pictured luggable clones (anyone remember Osborne, the market leader?)at the $5K pricepoint, and here we are at the $500 pricepoint. It appears in retrospect, we’ve been playing with magic all along.

  • geoffgo

    PIMF, I forgot to mention that my first real intro to personal computers was a “black Apple.” Very early on (1982-3), Bell & Howell got an OEM agreement from Apple to produce Apple IIs in all black cases, and become Apple’s reseller to the Gov’t, with B&H and Apple sharing the logo bar. Apple being pulled-to-market by B&H. Funny. Wish I’d kept a few of those now really-really rare beasts. B^(

  • I had the same reaction as Marman… must be something in the Bay Ridge water.

    IBM PS/2… third grade, which would be 1987. 20MB Hard Drive. Me and my dad were like, “Wow, that’s like…35 disks! Why would you ever need that much space?

  • Brad, thanks for spurring the walk down memory lane! Wow, Choplifter… I had forgotten how much I used to dig that game. Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple II was a favorite, as well.

    Being an avid player of computer games, I had been campaigning to convince my Dad to get an Apple. It was a success!

    But, I had won the battle and lost the war. Was completely unaware the Apple III had just been introduced. That’s what he got. A “business” Apple seemed easier for him to justify as a first-time buyer. So, the Apple III was my first computer. It played few games.

    The next computers to enter our home were Epson QX-10s running Valdocs. They were followed by an early-version Epson laptop that also ran Valdocs.

    I don’t remember what came next, but it was some sort of Windows laptop.

    Didn’t get to come back and do the MacHead thing right until a few years ago, since for many years it was easier to go with the flow and run Windows. I’m glad Apple survived to become the company they are today. LOVE every one of my Macs!!

  • Truly, the computer evolution has vastly evolved in such a fast pace. The specs we were so used to in the past was now an impractical choice for computing experience. Now we aren't contented with how fast our computer processes an application.These demands put a rise for the need of computer development and research which is offered by huge computer companies all over the world.

  • My first computer was IBM 5150, my father bought it for me when i was 6 years old. As you can guess, it is not working anymore but i still keep it in my warehouse.

  • My very first, very own computer, was an early Sun workstation, and all us Bell Labs folks sent email around. I had one of the first Macs.Wow! This post is really very appreciable. I think some new things if you add to your post like current affairs will increase It is popularity. your post is very advantageous for me and very good. Thanks a lot.

  • Atari was my very first computer, and do you know that it is still working up to now.