My First Gaming PC: A Love Story

In 1992, my father drove me to a nondescript computer store in Alpharetta, Georgia, and changed my life. Amidst the hum and buzz of countless white and beige boxes I found my first gaming PC.

I wasn't a newcomer to keyboard set, but my experience up until that point had been limited by my own poor decisions. I had owned three machines that could, if one squinted and tilted their head sideways, be mistaken for actual computing devices.

One was the Intellivision Aquarius, a rubber-keyed under-performer that can bundled with a thermal printer -- the same sort of device still used today to produce receipts at low-end fast food joints. I once attempted to turn in my maths homework as a printout from this ridiculous device. As I recall, my teacher laughed in my face. I mostly used it to play Tron Deadly Discs.

Then I upgraded to the Colecovision Adam, a gleaming white beast with an actual dot matrix printer, a real mechanical keyboard, and the cutting-edge turbo tape drive, allowing for an unprecedented Buck Rogers gameplay experience. I dabbled with BASIC programming on this computer, but mainly I used Colecovision's cheeky Atari 2600 adaptor to play older games.

My next attempt at computing came with an Apple II compatible Franklin computer, which hooked up to my television and allowed me to play Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Temple of Apshai before suddenly dying on me nearly a year after it was gifted to me. Seeing as it was purchased in a period of Apple decline, it was probably for the best.

Which leads me to that computer store in Alpharetta, Georgia. It was a Computerland, or Computerworld; possibly even a Microcenter. I can't remember the name, but I remember the crisp red golf shirt worn by the man that helped us. I remember the smell of circuits being soldered in the back room.

I also remember being completely overwhelmed. Row upon row of machines were on display, each topped by a monitor, almost every one of which displayed with flying windows default screensaver from Windows 3.1. Each system had a mouse attached, and I had no idea how to use them. It's hard to believe that was ever the case.

After looking around for what felt like an hour, both my father, then the CEO of software company, and myself, were completely confused. So when the customer service rep attending us suggested the Compaq Prolinea 4/25 SX, we knew it was the one. Quite frankly anything he said would have been the one. If he had pointed to a cardboard box with Christmas lights strung over it we would have dropped $US2,000 on the spot.

Luckily it wasn't quite that expensive. Between the system, the monitor, a 9600 baud internal modem and the $US800 laser printer my father insisted we purchase (he'd read an article), we walked out of the store for under $US1,500.

A week later I returned to the shop to pick up my fully-configured computer. It was a true beast of a machine: an Intel 80486 processor; four megabytes of ram; super VGA graphics; and a 20 megabyte hard drive. We could have gone for the DX processor instead of the SX, but it was more expensive and who needed to mess with floating point integers anyway?

Months later I would add a SoundBlaster card to the system, a procedure I had to take the computer into the shop for because damn if I had a clue what was going on in there.

Nowadays I'm so confident inside a computer case that I often times just leave the covers off so I can idly poke around when I'm bored, but back then? Back then this was top secret alien technology.

The Compaq machine lasted me four years.

It's the computer I first played Doom, Diablo and Jazz Jackrabbit on.

It was the computer I first downloaded porn onto, waiting a half-hour for a single image to arrive, hoping it was a good one.

It was the computer that hosted Atlanta By Night, a popular local BBS based on White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game, regularly taken down so the Sysop could play Wizardry.

Most of all it was the computer that taught me how much more complex and mature PC gaming could be, free from the restraints and restrictions of console gaming. How it was a platform in which small, independent developers like Epic Games could thrive, offering its product in pieces and asking players to pay for the rest.

It also taught me how to take those Shareware gems and unlock them illegally, but I'm way over that now.

The PCs of today might make that old beige box look like the relic of some ancient civilisation, but if that relic hadn't fallen into my hands I probably wouldn't be here telling you about it today.

Feeling nostalgic? Tell your own first PC story in the comments section, and later we'll all group hug.

Images of the Compaq Prolinea 4/33 DX (close enough) courtesy of Total Geekdom.


    I think it's amazing how PC architecture hasn't change all that much.

      Ever tried building a box that old? :D

      Pray you never loose track of the manuals, gotta set those jumper and dip switch's correctly.

        Far more chance of frying components if you forgot to plug that static strap on. Oh, and I loved the turbo boost button on the front :D

    Can't imagine a 486 coming with a 20mb hdd. You wouldn't have gotten dos + windows 3.1 + soundcard drivers installed on 20mb. I think 20mb hdd's were around the 286 timeframe.

      Agreed. My first computer was a 286 - had 640k ram and a 20 mb hdd. DOS all the way!

    Nice read :D

    First gaming computer was an IBM PC JX that couldn't even run most of the games we would play at school on the old XT computers. I had a math castle game where you had to find the exit to the castle through a maze, and a wireframe combat flight sim.

    After that it was an Amstrad 5286, 286 @ 16mhz, 40MB HDD, 1MB Ram (640k conventional, 384k Extended) VGA 256 colours. I could play Leisure Suit Larry 5 on it, and Mixed Up Fairy Tales!

      We had the same computer! Dad bumped the ram up to 4mb and got the 80mb hdd. Played Wolf3D, Leaderboard Golf (with realsound), Prince of Persia, Golden Axe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Manhattan Missions.

    My old mans work upgraded to 386's so we went with a trailer and picked up 10 or so XT's (I had a CPC at the time) Needless to say I tore them all apart, built some good ones, doublespaced the hdd's, filled them full of games and word processing applications, put in a sexy boot menu and sold them.

    First gaming computer (if you can call it that) was the Amstrad CPC464. My family members would all take turns typing out these pages and pages of code and then save them onto a cassette tape so it could be played later only to find a compiling error which meant, at least to us, lets just start from scratch and be extra careful. No named games I remember, however a F1 style racer in basic colours had many many hours of my attention. That was when I was 6-7 years old, around 1997, well after the computers 1984 release date. We were slow with tech..Haha.

    Should have got an Amiga in 1992.

    Aaah... I remember my friends being very jealous... I think it was an Amstrad, it had an EGA video card (woo, 16 whole colours), it also came with a 20M harddrive... Yep, I didn't need to boot it from a floppy!

    Christmas 1982, Commodore 64. At the time I was not happy since my mate had a Vic 20. It cost $800, and the floppy drive was $900! We NEVER had a Tape drive.

    Of course absolutely no-one had a floppy drive in those early days and for three years I was "learning to program" by typing in games from books & magazines before I was allowed to actually buy any.

    In retrospect my Dad was a very wise man.

    I don't know the brand or specs of our first computer, but it was a 486 and it HAD A CD-ROM DRIVE. It was like $5,000 and was absolutely bleeding edge at the time. It came with all the Microsoft education cosftware (Encarta, Dinosaurs, etc) and would play anything I put on it. Doom, Hexen, a flight sim called Overlord ... My friends hated playing Doom on it because they all had shitty 386's and couldn't adapt to the higher frame rate I could play it at.
    It's the only time our family has ever had a top-of-the-line computer.

    From what I can remember... 1985. Victor branded beige box with an 8086 running at 4.77Mhz. 1MB RAM, 20MB HD. 5.25" Floppy Drive (which was actually faster than the HD). I think those floppies only held 360KB each. Hercules graphics card. Amber monochrome monitor.

      8088 @ 10MHz | EGA 16 colours | 20MB HD.

    My first computer came in a boxe full of little resistors, condensors, chips, and a printed circuit and a soldering iron.
    It was a Dick Smith Super 80 with 16kb of memory (note: Kb not megs) It booted to machine code and you had to type the Hex address of the audio tape to load BASICA
    I later upgraded it with an extra board to get upper/lower case on the keyboard.

    My first PC was 486 SX 33mhz, Had 4MB Ram, 200MB Hard drive, and a 4x CDRom which if I remember rightly plugged into an IDE channel on the soundcard in order to work.

    Windows 3.11 all the way, First game I ever bought was Indycar racing by Papyrus

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