Thursday, February 11, 2016

Quickies: On Digital Memory Lane

     The esteemed Charles Hill has a recollection from 1988:

     Seven hundred American dollars for a 40-meg hard drive! Then again, this was quite a deal, considering what was on offer not that long before.

     I can’t help remembering the first computer I ever purchased. It was a Cromemco box – very highly regarded at the time – that had a Z-80 processor, ran CP/M 2.2, had dual 8” floppy disks for storage, and a whopping 64 kilobytes of RAM. Without a terminal or printer, it cost me nearly $4000 – in 1981, that was normal – with about $1100 of the cost being for that 64 Kbyte RAM card.

     I remember marveling over that RAM card. Squeezing that much memory onto a single S-100 bus card struck me as near to miraculous. And it was...then.

     Truly, for those of us who bleed 1s and 0s, these are the good old days.


Tim Turner said...

"In 1977, Terrell sold his chain of 58 Byte Shops to John Peers of Logical Machine Corporation." (From "Byte Shops" Wikipedia)

I worked for John Peers from '76 to '81. Logical Machine made a computer for small businesses which could be "taught" by secretaries familiar with a company's payroll, accounts receivables, etc. I helped write the assembler language operating system.

ANYWAY, after we took over Byte Shops I got an Exidy Sorcerer Z80 micro at a discount from it's $895 price in 1978. It was kinda cool playing around with the chip, but the machine was a pig. No sound, no graphics, no color.

Fran, I lusted for 64K! But as far as I know, you couldn't get it on the Sorcerer's internal S100 bus.

CGHill said...

The last time I saw 8-inch floppies was on IBM Medium Iron: a System/36, circa 1990, which had about 200 MB of DASD. I think about that contraption, and I think: "Geez, I have files bigger than that."

Tim Turner said...

Dear Fran;

Please delete my earlier comment! Not only did I (as usual) go off on a tangent. But upon re-reading it, it sounds horribly

Yeah, the end-user product that Gerard Horgan (and the salesman, John Peers) made available in the mid-70's put other computers to shame in term of understandability and affordabilty. And the "language" that the end user used to do math, logic operations, create and manipulate files and data put BASIC to shame.

But that wasn't my invention. And my comment bore little regard to your main point that . . . we've come a long way baby.

As an aside, things were so exciting in the mid-70s. The Z80 wasn't a volcano because of what it could do on it's own. It was a tsunami because of what that technology promised. And it was explosive because at that time and in that place America put dollars, people and markets in a synergy that created one of the most creative, productive and beneficial leaps forward ever known to man.

Of course, Bell Labs, Shockley and others deserve credit. But the point is, government or a central plan couldn't have created CPM, Atari, IBM-DOS, MS-DOS, the Apple II and all those games and experimenters that then went on to creatively implement the digital world (and products) we know now.

And what everybody seems to want to forget now is that for every chip manufacturer, hard drive manufacturer, computer manufacturer, language proponent, bus proponent and network proposal (I LOVED DECNET) there were two, three or more companies that absolutely lost their shirts and went bust because they failed.

Having lived through that, and being part of a company that had a great idea that went bust, I believe that people were better served by that chaotic, market-based and consumer-lead UPSET than the alternative of a planned, centrally-managed R&D program governed by "experts" and bureaucracies that would have tried to minimize damage and touted minimal advances in an effort to justify their existence.

Nothing is too big to fail. Galaxies collide.

Nothing is too small to make a difference.

What matters is what we make of it.

Col. B. Bunny said...

I bought an Apple II+ for $2,000 dollars and two external drives for $450 apiece. I think each drive worked with 400K 5-1/4" floppies, or was it that there were 115K of available space on the disk? I dropped $15K on a project to write and market some tax software which over which I had many sugarplums dancing in my head. I even got audited by the IRS who said it was all a hobby expense. I didn't buy that theory and there was ultimately a happy ending on that score. Wonderful times.