My Home System - Desktop Systems I have Owned
5 min read

My Home System - Desktop Systems I have Owned

This is a short history of the computer systems I have used as my "desktop" computers.  It got longer than I intended, but I enjoyed writing it.

First Computers

Altair 8800

I built my first computer in about 1975 (not real sure anymore).  I built an Altair 8800 from a kit.  I was in the Air Force and stationed on a radar site in Germany.  I found an article about the Altair in a Radio Electronics magazine.  I had worked with computers in collage before I joined the Air Force.  I read about them all the time and the chance to own one and have it to play with was just too good to be true.  It was also very expensive.  The kit was $600 (adjusted for inflation that's $2900 in 2020).  

Over the next few years I built other stuff from kits.  An ADM-3A terminal and a Heathkit printer.  I still have all this stuff.  But only because I am a pack rat, not because I take good care of my things.  I doubt if any of it would work if I found it.

I kept and worked (played) with that stuff for years.  Knowing 8080 assembly helped me get my first civilian job.

Commodore 64

Sometime in the '80s I got a Commodore 64.  It was even more of a toy than the Altair was.  By that time I was working for Datapoint and working with eight bit assembly language full time.  So, at home I would play with Basic and Logo and play video games.

While I never did much useful with the Commodore, I played with it a lot.  I do remember getting a checking account program to use with it.  It was awful and I never managed to do much with it.

Desktop Systems

First PCs

Really, my first PC was a PS-2 Model 80 that was loaned to me by the place I worked at the time (Datapoint).  This monster weighed in at about 80 lbs and cost almost $10,000 in about 1986 (about $23000 in 2020 dollars).  The company bought it to evaluate the machine and OS and found nothing particularly interesting and gave it to me to take home. It had the big 320 MB disk a 386 processor and 4 MB of memory.  I replaced it with my own system after just a year or so, but I loaned it to a neighbor who wrote his master's thesis on it.

I think it while using the PS-2 that I started using Quicken.  (Quicken is an OK bit of software, though I don't like their new marketing model.)  I have records in Quicken back to May of 1992.  Much of the details in the rest of this is due to the records I have kept in Quicken.

The machine I bought to replaced it was a 486 system with a 120 megabyte disk and 4 MB of memory.  I bought this system from a company named Digitron in San Antonio that built small systems to specification.  I got this one in September of 1992 and paid about $1900 for it ($3,500 adjusted for inflation to 2020).  (I am just aghast at how much I paid for my early systems.)

More PCs

I eventually replaced this system and gave it to my daughter and her husband.

The next computer in my records is just "686 System" so it probably ran a Cyrix 6x86 processor (I remember having one).  I bought the parts from PC Wholesale in San Antonio and assembled it myself. I paid, again, about $1900 for it (down to $3,100 adjusted for inflation).  I bought it in April of 1996. I really don't remember much of the specifications on this system.  I do think I eventually upgraded it to have 16 MB of memory.

My records say I bought a "New Computer" from PC Wholesale in June of 1999, but the cost was just $280 ($440 in 2020), so maybe it was just a new motherboard; I don't remember this at all.  I had been buying parts all along, so the system was probably fairly up to date and just needed a new motherboard.

I replaced the motherboard in that system again in December of 2002.  Again I bought it from PC Wholesale.  I paid about $200 for it ($290 in 2020).  I think at this point I was mostly buying AMD processors.  I have found them competitive performance wise at a very good price.

My next system was a Shuttle computer.  I bought the parts from Fry's electronics in Austin for $1250 in February of 2006.  I still have this system, upstairs in the wiring closet.  I turned it on about a year ago and it still boots windows Vista (not bad for 14 years old).  This was nice for a desktop system since it was very small and did not take up much room on the desk. Unfortunately, it has a unique raid controller; the manufacturer of which escapes me, but the company was acquired for their line of video chips and the RAID controller was abandoned; so, there are no drivers for Windows after Vista and none I can find for Linux.  Even after I replaced this as my desktop, it became my first server system.

So when I wanted to upgrade to Windows 7, I needed a new computer.  That was December of 2010.  This time I spent only about $950 for it.  It was a compact home theater PC case made by SilverStone the processor was an AMD part.  The chassis was not as small as the Shuttle but still fit on my desk nicely and it was quieter than the shuttle.  It had an HP Blu-Ray drive that could write on the label side of special media.  It was a cool idea, but the writing all faded if the disks got hot.  So disks I made to use in my car all faded out.  This drive did not last long.  I replaced it in March of 2013.  I have had now three Blu-Ray drives that have failed by having the tray stick and refuse to eject the disk.  One of them the little belt that drove the tray broke.  This system worked fairly well for about five years and I used it a lot including learning how to design things using a CAD program.

Current System

I bought one more desktop computer, which is the one I use now.  In April of 2015 the desktop computer I described above died.  Either the mother board or the processor died, and the only way to find out which it was would be to replace the processor.  So, rather than send money down that rat hole, I replaced the mother board.  I had been buying stuff at Fry's in Austin for years and so I went there.  I wanted an AMD system, but this was when AMD was at their nadir and the choices were limited.  I went ahead and got what they had, but I had to add a new case and a graphics card.  Still it was all pretty cheap at about $400.  I got another SilverStone case.  I used the power supply, disk drive and some other parts from the old system.

The processor in this system is an AMD FX-8350; an "8-core" processor using "Bulldozer" technology.  If you have ever heard bad things about this processor, they are true.  First, it's really a 4 core part with two threads per core.  Second it produces astonishing amounts of heat.  It would overheat and shut down any time I ran Handbreak, even after I slowed down the clock.  I tried several different coolers, finally I put a water cooler on it and that let it survive running high load processes.

I continue to run it because I have my server system which I will describe later.  And this has become mostly a terminal system for the server VMs.  I may replace it someday (it'll probably die eventually).  When I replace it, I will probably get something that really is just a terminal with good display hardware.

Right now on the desk top I have:

  • An ASUS M5A99X EVO R2.0 mother board.
  • An AMD FX-8350 Processor.
  • 8 GB of memory
  • A Patriot Ignite  500 GB SDD drive that I boot from.
  • A WDC 2 TB scratch drive
  • An NVIDIA GF108 [GeForce GT 730] Graphics card.

It's running Linux Mint version 20.  I get Geekbench scores of 596 single core and 2415 multicore.

Next I will describe my server system.