Computer Devices I Have Owned over the Years

A list of the various computers, PDA’s and smartphones that have helped organise my life and fuel my passion for IT

NIBL (National Industrial Basic Language) chip based computer built on a wire-wrapped circuit board which my cousin built for a university project before there were even computer courses. I bought it from him around 1979. It had a massive stand alone power supply with which you used a multi-meter to adjust each power output for 12V DC, 5V DC etc before you actually connected the power to the board. The “display driver” was a separate circuit board RF modulator which I fitted into a small metal cigarette tin and it connected to a black and white TV which you tuned to the correct frequency. I could not do much with it except write some short lines in Basic to add and subtract, etc. No storage either to even store anything.

Sinclair ZX-81 was the first real home computer I bought in around 1981. It came in kit form (self-assemble) but I think I found it as already assembled. It also connected to the TV to display but its parts  were at least all self-contained. It was operated by a membrane keyboard and had 1Kb of RAM memory. Storage was on a cassette tape  with the cassette player connected by its audio jack. Everything had to be typed in by hand and then stored on tape if you wanted to reload that program later. Basic language was quite easy to type but if you programmed it in Hex you had to really concentrate. Once a family member bumped the power cable and I lost an hours worth of Hex that I had been inputting – just had to start all over again. Graphics were basic block and text characters. I remember programming a skiing game that used only < > * characters and each line drew on the screen to give the impression of a skier skiing down a slope. The advantage of having to work like this in BASIC is that it taught me how basic computer programming worked and I could make changes to the code to see what affect it had on the running program. It was this computer that taught me how to use BASIC to write games and basic programs.

Commodore 64 was a computer I acquired in around 1982/3 and had colour graphics and even sound. I still have a music synthesizer program for it. I seem to recall I had an external 5.25″ floppy drive for this machine. Another major plus was the addition of an externally mounted modem – I still have my modem and it uploaded at 300 baud and downloaded at 1200 baud. This opened up the world of online bulletin boards services where you could dial in and exchange programs or leave messages on the discussion boards. You could dial into any bulletin board if you knew the phone number and got an ID and password. It was difficult to find out where these BBS‘s were as there was no list of sites, an Internet, or even a search engine to help (long before Google and even Yahoo!). They were stand alone and not even connected to other sites. One of my BBS’s (Ilink where I got my very first e-mail address as [email protected] and I found a Google record still on the Internet where I posted a message in 1998 – I had this mail address for a few years) eventually hooked up to something that was called the Internet. I seem to vaguely recall you actually connected to Beltel service run by Telkom and from there broke out to the Internet on a per minute cost basis. The Internet was all text based and still no powerful search engines. Alta Vista was one of the first real search engines that  I used later on. So I got going on the text based Internet in the mid-1980’s.

Commodore Amiga 500 was my next computer and this machine was a real jump forward (I still think more advanced than the IBM PC) for it had an integrated 3.5″ stiffy drive, really good PAL colour as well as stereo sound and a multi-tasking windows based operating system (long before Microsoft) controlled with a  mouse. Now I could play real games! This machine I would have acquired around 1987. It could take joysticks, had a serial port to connect a “proper” modem, and also had a RCA plug for video to a TV. I vividly remember games such as Defender of the Crown, Flight Simulator, music synthesizer, etc on this machine. There is also an interesting Chrome extension that allows you to run a basic Amiga OS in your browser window today.

Then I really took a step “back” by buying a IBM compatible XT computer from a guy I met called Eric Joffe. Eric was building XT’s up from parts that he bought long before there were proper computer shops. I was friendly with Eric for a number of years as I upgraded my XT to an AT, then a 386, 486, etc and I also got the passion for buying my own parts and upgrading my computer rather than just buying a complete computer. I used to buy computers from Eric and go and install them for friends and family who had no clue how to use them. The XT really was a step back as it was black and white graphics with a Hercules graphics card and monitor (starting with a green screen, then orange, and finally white), only a DOS operating system and no mouse. Sound was only beeped through a speaker. I painfully worked my way up to CGA, EGA and finally VGA graphics which got better, and with the later addition of add-on sound cards I got some sound, and I explored DOS systems such as DR-DOS, MS-DOS etc in a quest to also break the 640Kb RAM barrier into extended memory (which was then 1024Kb). These were heady days in which you could tweak and tune to your heart’s desire. I went through every iteration of improvement in graphics, sounds, memory, etc as they came out. It was also in the late 1980’s that I got a taste of programming in BASIC and really started to enjoy writing programs to calculate bullet drop compensation, etc. In 1990 I went professionally into IT and started with PC installations and hardware field support.

I then also started programming in Clipper database language and got really good at it. I progressed on to use Pascal, Borland C++, Clarion, Visual Basic, and others.  My work expanded later in Novell LAN administration before I moved more into the business areas of IT.

US Robotics PalmPilot PDA around 1997 which I used to sync my mail, contacts and calendar from my desktop. This was a powerful little machine with lots of applications.

Psion 5 which I think I owned after the PalmPilot so was probably around 1998 or 1999 even before I realised the Psion was not really going anywhere. Its claim to fame though was that its EPOC OS was the forerunner of the Symbian OS for todays Nokia phones.

I got a Compaq iPaq probably around 1999 or 2000 which had the Microsoft Pocket PC OS on it with beautiful colour etc. It was a bit slow though and was not 100% stable. Prior to getting a cellphone, I used to be on standby duty for work, and used to use a voice pager, which only later migrated to a digital text pager. It was pretty embarrassing, as the only way to hear it was it screamed out the message in audio to you. The digital pager at least allowed for more discrete beeping, and you could read the message later. I used Dixon’s Paging Service and still remember the number to contact me was 23-3333 code 654.  After the pager I received one of SA’s first proper cellphones – it was a flip-open Motorola with an antennae that extended and a battery that was about three times the size of the phone. I then moved off dedicated PDA’s to smartphones from around 2003 starting with a Nokia 9210 which had the best buttons of all the Nokias, then a Nokia 9300 with which you could browse the Internet, although the browser was not so good, and ending up with a Nokia E90 in 2007 which had a fantastic colour screen and browser, WiFi, HSDPA speed, camera, GPS, etc. See some comments on what I used on my E90.

Chumby arrived in early 2009 and is a bit difficult to describe. It looks a bit like a bedside alarm clock with a touch screen. It runs Linux and connects via WiFi to the Internet. It has lots of widgets you can choose from that provide Twitter feeds, weather, News, Flickr photos, etc. It is really unfortunate that early in 2013 the Chumby service was finally discontinued.

I bought an iPhone 3GS 32GB at the end of 2009.  I jailbroke the iPhone in order for it to multitask and to be able to run some apps that Apple would not let us run.  Overall I was happy with it but a smartphone must allow more freedom and must have widgets….. See my experiences with the iPhone.

So in September 2010 I bought a Samsung Galaxy S i9000 Android based phone….. Although iPhone had at this time around 200,000 apps available and Android only had about 70,000, Android had built up this app collection in only about a year or so.  Predictions from Gartner and others are that Android is on the way up very fast. And I was pretty impressed with the phone. By January 2011 the iPhone had around 300,000 apps and the Android had 200,000 so both markets were growing quickly whilst Blackberry and Nokia had both started losing market share (hence my move away from Nokia and me never trying the Blackberry). I still have the Galaxy S1 phone and was running Jelly Bean on it, but I now am using it to test out Ubuntu Touch OS. In December 2010 I got a Samsung Galaxy Tab Android based tablet with a 7″ screen. Definitely far more usable for browser work and games than the Galaxy S. From 2012 onwards I installed Jelly Bean (using a custom ROM) on this tablet, and it was working fine. In about August 2012 (as soon as they launched) I got a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone… what a mind-blowing phone (speed, camera, display, etc) as soon after that a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10″ tablet (in hindsight I now would rather have waited two months and got the Galaxy Note 10″ tablet as I love its stylus with the touch sensitive screen)… So I did, in about December 2012 I sent and bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 10″ Tablet – I am really happy with this tablet and use it to take handwritten notes with the stylus.

I continued progressing through Android phones to the Google Nexus 6P. It was a great phone but developed the dreaded battery issue. I tried replacing the battery myslef, but that battery also gave out, and it effectively became a brick. Although Google and Huawei had settled the class action suite in the USA and offered to replace the phones, that did not extend to me in South Africa. I tried to claim via Orange (who sold it in SA originally, and had shut down here) but no luck with them or Huawei.  I then boughta  Google Pixel 2 XL and that actually has been working just fine, and I gave it to my wife after it passed 3 years of use.

From 2021 I moved back to an iPhone again, getting the iPhone 12 Pro, which I’ve also been happy with. Reasons were mainly for ease of repairing, better privacy, and way longer OS and security updates and patching.