My Computing History - All the Computers I've Owned

For quite some time, I've been thinking about posting an article with a broad overview of all the computers I've owned—Mac, PC, Linux, Handheld, etc. Well, I finally decided I'd start on that article. Here goes!

Condensed Summary

If the rest of this article is tl;dr, here's the short history:

Desktop/Laptop Computers

Handheld/Tablet Computers/Smartphones

  • Handspring Visor
  • Handspring Visor Deluxe
  • Palm m100
  • Palm m505
  • Palm Tungsten E
  • Apple iPod Touch (1st gen)
  • Apple iPhone (1st gen)
  • Apple iPhone 3G
  • Apple iPhone 3Gs
  • Apple iPad
  • Motorola Droid
  • Apple iPhone 4
  • Apple iPad 2
  • Apple iPhone 4S
  • Apple iPad with Retina display
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Apple iPhone 5s
  • Apple iPhone 6
  • Apple iPad Air 2
  • Apple iPhone 7
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Apple iPad Pro 11" (2018)

SBCs / Other

  • Basically all the Raspberry Pis
  • Orange Pi (original)
  • ASUS Tinkerboard

Family Computing

When I was a child (up until my late teens), computers were a family affair (if a family had one at all!). I was lucky enough to have a 'geek' Dad who brought home various computers and peripherals throughout my childhood. He started with a used IBM PC (one of the second or third models). You know, one of those 4 KB computers with no hard drive and a huge truly-floppy disk drive? I was too young to remember that.

Instead of hopping online, we kids would go up to the local ballfield and play a pickup game of soccer, baseball, roller hockey, or whatever the heck we wanted—the world was ours, and the Internet didn't yet have a stranglehold on our minds!

The first computer of which I have any memory is the family's Macintosh SE/30. I think my Dad bought one new, and let us kids use MacPaint or other various and sundry early Mac apps. Here's me, pointing at the thing:

Jeff points at a Mac SE/30

I have my Dad to thank for most of my love of all things tech. He would often bring home little tech gadgets that most of the public at large hadn't even heard of, as he was a national director of engineering for a large radio station network. (He studied and taught electrical engineering, and also is a great handyman!). Here we are together at the home computer:

Jeff and Dad at Home Computer

The DOS Days of Summer

The first computer I could truly call my own was not a Mac, but an MS-DOS PC. It started as a pile of scrap parts that worked or didn't work depending on the time of day. I got parts wherever I could find them–my Dad, one of his friends, a 512KB stick of RAM here, an old 5 1/2" floppy drive there, and BINGO! An 8 Mhz monster DOS machine, that allowed me to cd all over the filesystem!

My brother somehow snagged a copy of Doom that ran on the PC, albeit slowly. I played it through once or twice, but was more interested in hardware hacking—see how this board works with DOS 5.1, how this video card works with Windows 3.1 (ooh! color graphics), and how much faster things ran with 4 MB of RAM as opposed to 1.

I have a very vivid memory of New Year's Eve in the mid 90s, when I was downstairs trying out a new video card, getting the IRQ settings just right with Windows 95 (I had since upgraded the processor to a 33 Mhz 486, and put in 8 MB of RAM!). Somebody upstairs said "Happy New Year!", and I was like, 'oh, yeah, that's tonight, isn't it?'

386 PC bare metal during upgrade operations

I managed to give myself a heck of a shock one time, when I was hot swapping a floppy drive that wasn't working. Don't reach inside an old bare metal PC and unplug one of the 12v power connectors from the motherboard while it's powered up. Oops.

That was all well and fun, but I really did like the family IIci (with it's beautiful 256 color display, and some killer games, like Oregon Trail 2, Math Blasters, and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? (my Mom always bought the educational games...). This leads me into phase two of my computing history:

Hand-Me-Down Macs

At some point, I realized that the few 386 and 486 PCs I was building and selling for a few bucks to friends or local schools weren't worth the trouble. Used Macs would sell for a much higher price, and from that point in my life on, I decided to drop the whole PC thing (Macs were more fun to use, anyways, and I spent a heck of a lot less time worrying about IRQ requests and blue screens of death).

Aside: This was right around the time of the Gil Amelio reign at apple, during the rise of the clones, and the fall of the AAPL stock. I asked my Mom if I could put $50 of my money into Apple stock, because I was a believer. She convinced me it was probably a bad idea (heck, I wasn't even in my teens yet!), as the stock was selling for something like $13/share. If I would've bought $50 of stock then, I'd have more than $2,000 now. Oh well...

My Dad let me work to use a Macintosh LC II, with a 12" color monitor and an Apple Extended Keyboard (as an aside, that was probably my favorite keyboard ever—great key feel and a solid 'thwack' on every key hit!).

1998 - Mac LC II on Workbench

There's even a nice old ImageWriter II in the mix!

I started playing around with software more than hardware (though I did love popping the top of the LC (so well designed!) and admiring the simple elegance of the Mac's internals), and I dove in head first learning Mac OS 7.0 and 7.1. I grabbed any floppy-disk based software I could grab, and played as many games as I could find. I even got a 200MB SCSI external hard drive to load up with pictures I'd scan in with my Dad's work scanner (a loud, heavy machine).

I soon sold the LC II to a friend, and used that money to get ahold of my brother's old Macintosh IIci, which was eons more amazing than the LC II; it had expansion capabilities inside beyond my wildest Mac dreams (it was more like a PC in this regard)!

Macintosh IIci

I upgraded the heck out of the IIci, installing more Video RAM (and eventually a NuBus Video expansion card), a 66 Mhz Sonnet 68040 processor upgrade, a whopping 500 MB hard drive, and even a 10 base T Ethernet card! This machine was a beast! I found a copy of Claris Home Page and built my first table-based website (which lived at some random IP address—on my Dad's Whistle InterJet), which was a collection of my favorite quotes and a couple pictures of me and my family (all on two pages). I've since written a longer post about the IIci that was featured on 512 Pixels: Old Mac of the Month: Macintosh IIci. I really liked the IIci.

The Burgeoning Internet Era

In the mid-90s, my Dad brought home a few amazing things that opened my eyes to the wider world of computing: he brought home a color inkjet printer (HP DeskJet 500c), a 2x CD-ROM drive (which introduced us to the world of 'multimedia' via a BMW demo video running in QuickTime), and a 28.8kbps modem along with Netscape Navigator 2.0. He demoed all these amazing tech marvels to the family (well, mostly my brother and I) on his PowerBook 180c, along with the After Dark screen savers (I couldn't get over the flying toasters!). However, the Internet was still a geeky domain without such attractions as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace (remember that?). Even amazing sites like Geocities were barely getting off the ground. Static HTML pages with zero (maybe 1) images were slowly popping up here and there, and was my most-visited site.

But I got to see it all, from the ground level, and I even had a full 5-page website on the internet (still on that Whistle Interjet, and only accessible via the IP address directly) before the site was launched.

My parents wanted to get a new family computer at this time, so I sold my IIci and bought their Performa 637 CD, with a 14" 640x480 color monitor. This Mac (with its base configuration) would serve me for over a year, and would be connected to the first printer I ever owned, a brand-new StyleWriter 1500c (I remember impressing the teacher with color printouts for my book reports!).

1998 - Performa 637 CD with StyleWriter 1500c
Printing in color! Multimedia! IR Port! Awesome!

It was the first Mac I owned with a CD-ROM, and I devoured the contents of the included Encyclopedia Brittanica and any other CD with 'multimedia' content I could find. I also played Myst on this computer, and used a copy of Photoshop 2.5.1 (which I would use until about 1998!) to do crazy things with digital images, and make fancy text-overlayed web graphics.

After using the Performa for about a year, I sold it and used the money to buy my Dad's old (and broken) PowerBook 180c. I fixed the problematic power supply (my first laptop repair!), and added some RAM. This was the first portable Mac I owned, and I usually used it in clamshell mode with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse:

PowerBook 180c clamshell mode
Dilbert book, Dilbert calendar... I was addicted!

Video Editing, Fast Macs, and Linux

After a brief stint with a newer-model Performa 6360 (with a comparatively fast PowerPC processor), and being desirous of something with a bit more beef (and RAM), I finally purchased my first new computer—a Blue-and-White Power Mac G3 (Yosemite) with a 300 Mhz processor, 6 GB hard drive, and FireWire!

With all this new computing horsepower, I started borrowing my Dad's video camera (with i.Link/1394) and recording little clips, then importing them into the computer using some digital video importing shareware. It was awesome, being able to use a non-linear editor like that!

Power Mac G3 and Gateway 2000 Linux
Notice the monstrous Gateway 2000 server?

It was also around this time that my Dad brought home an old Gateway 2000 4DX2-66v (remember them? the ones with the cow-like boxes?). He also brought home a CD containing Red Hat Linux 6, and I spent some time reading every Linux book I could get my hands on. I was intrigued by linux and its more rooted computing experience (get it, 'rooted'?), but I still stuck with the Mac for my day-to-day computing. Linux was a side project for me.

Power Mac G3 Tower with Printer and Scanner
Remember the Epson Stylus 740? Might've been the best-selling consumer inkjet of the decade!

I also picked up a used PowerBook 190 (greyscale) at this time, and was glad to be able to edit Word documents on the go. The 190 had an Ethernet card, and could network with my other Macs. I used the 190 for a few years (I actually still have it in a box, and it runs), just for mobile computing needs. I even bought a used Color StyleWriter 2200 so I could bring a color printer with me wherever I went (the ink was incredibly expensive, but it gave me awesome bragging rights!). Here's the dynamic duo, along with a GeoPort GV modem I used for Internet connectivity!:

PowerBook 190 and Color StyleWriter 2200

After upgrading my G3 with another 128 MB of RAM and a second 10 GB hard drive, as well as a used Zip drive, I sold it two years later and upgraded to a G4 / 400 Mhz. I just had to have one, after watching the G4 Tanks ad. Apple's marketing department had me hook, line and sinker, but it wasn't hard to plunk down money on a new computer, because I was always able to sell my old one for about 70% of it's purchase price (Macs have higher resale value, remember?).

Power Mac G4 Desk Setup
The astute may also spot a Microtek scanner, an Epson Stylus 880, Altec-Lansing speakers, and a Handspring Visor, among other oddities.

I think I was the only one at my high school walking around with a hip-holstered Handspring Visor (on which I kept my assignments, took notes, and even read through a few books in the then-new ePub format). I owned a variety of Palm products, including a Handspring Visor Deluxe (pictured above), a Palm m100, and a Palm m505. I finished off my Palm usage with a Palm Tungsten E2.

I pimped out the G4 by taking off the side, bathing it in alcohol, and rubbing off the paint from the inside. Can you guess what I put in its place?

Flame Sided G4 Power Mac
It was cool back in the day. Really...

College Days

I entered the Seminary in 2004, and decided to get a computer that would serve me for a while, and allow me to be more portable. I sold my G4, and bought a white iBook G4/933, which would become the Mac I used for the longest stretch of time in my life.

iBook G4 Audio Production
I had a soccer ball for a hard drive icon. Spiffy!

This Mac accompanied me through classes, video production (example: Duel of the Seminarians), music production (example: Priestie Boyz), and tons of other adventures. Even a crazy halloween costume, involving the shell of the first Mac I ever experienced (the back of my shirt was inspired by the infamous line, "Help, computer!"):

Jeff is a Computer Mac SE/30 halloween costume
You know you wanted to do the same thing! NERD!

I also started dabbling in other Apple devices during this era, starting with a clickwheel iPod:

Clickwheel iPod 4th gen with Altec Lansing speakers
Remember when the screens were this small... and black and white?

And I bought an iPod shuffle to use when running—back in those days, I had the stamina to run a few 5K races in decent time, and it was brilliant being able to clip on a little device to listen to a few CD's worth of songs on a run. It's still a neat device in its own right, and one of my favorite Apple hardware designs:

iPod Shuffle - grey metal with round control dial

I also received a few Macs from relatives and friends that had lived their lives well, but were broken and either needed repair—or in the case of the bondi-blue iBook G3 ('toilet seat edition') below, dismemberment!

Bondi Blue iBook G3 dismembered on bed
One of Apple's most iconic—and strange—designs.

Bondi Blue iMac G3 with hockey puck mouse
Although I never owned one myself, many of the original iMac G3/233 models passed through my repair bench.

But we should get back to my own Macs, so here's a shot of the last laptop I used during my time in Seminary, a 15" MacBook Pro (one of the early Intel models):

2007 MacBook Pro 15"
No, I'm not a priest. I was in the seminary, remember?

Post-seminary, early iOS days

I decided to leave the Seminary (I discerned that fatherhood—and not spiritual/priestly fatherhood—was my calling), and chose to take up web development full-time, so I needed to make sure my hardware (both for desk work and on the go) could support both graphic and web design, as well as programming and the occasional photo or video work.

When the original iPhone was introduced in 2007, I balked slightly at the price ($599??), and decided to wait a while before picking one up. I was used to carrying a feature phone, camera, iPod, and Handspring PDA everywhere, and hadn't yet experienced the 'digital convergence'. But as I tried out the iPhone a couple times, I was hooked, and bought a used iPhone in 2008:

Original iPhone 2G in front of 24" Intel iMac
The original iPhone, docked in front of my newish 24" Core 2 Duo iMac.

To be continued...