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Hardware Highlights
Software Highlights

Last updated on 10/10/2009

Areas of Interest: Computers

Computer Ownership Chronology

(*) All underlined items are still in use as of the latest update

Listed from newest to oldest

  • Apple Mac Pro: Dual Intel Xeon quad core E5520 running at 2.26Ghz, 16GB of RAM, Dual DVD-RW (dual-layer capable), 2-1TB HDD, NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 1.5GB VRAM, 2-Dual-Link (2560x1600) and 1 stereographic ports. The actual displays connected are one 22" widescreen at 1920x1200 and one 20" at 1600x1200. Connectivity consists of 5 USB 2.0 & 4 Firewire 800 ports, Bluetooth, Dual Gigabit Ethernet, analog and digital optical input/output.

  • Netgear ReadyNAS Pro Series 6000: File/Printer Server, Intel multi-core processor, 1GB RAM, 128MB Flash RAM for OS, 4-1.5TB HDD configured in X-RAID2, 3 USB 2.0 ports, Dual Gigabit Ethernet.

  • Dell OptiPlex 330: Intel Pentium Dual Core processor running at 2.0GHz, 2GB RAM, DVD-RW, 160GB HDD, ATI Radeon HD 2400 PRO 256MB VRAM single display, Dual-Link capable of 2560x1200. This CPU shares the 22" widescreen monitor with the 8-core Mac Pro, 8 USB 2.0 ports, Parallel port, Gigabit Ethernet, analog audio input/output.

  • IBM Thinkpad R50p: Pentium Centrino processor running at 1.7Ghz, 1.5 GB of RAM, 60 GB HDD, DVD-RW, Gigabit Ethernet, 128MB VRAM hardware accelerated graphics, 15" display capable of 1600x1200, S-video out.

  • Apple PowerMAC G5: PowerPC processor running at 1.8 GHz, 1 GB RAM, latter expanded to 3 and now to 5, DVD-R, 160 GB HDD, latter added a second 300 GB unit, low cost 64MB VRAM graphics card latter upgraded to ATI Radeon X800XT with 256MB VRAM capable of dual display, one Single-Link at 1920x1200 and one Dual-Link at 2560x1600. Currently, this CPU shares the 20" at 1600x1200 with the 8-core Mac Pro. Connectivity consists of several USB ports, 400 & 800 Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet, analog and digital optical input/output.

  • IBM Thinkpad A21p: Pentium III running at 850Mhz, 512MB of RAM, 32 GB HDD, DVD ROM/CD-RW, 15" display, 32MB VRAM video adapter capable of 1600x1200 with 16 million colors, S-Video In & Out and 100-base Ethernet. The system was capable of dual display in extended desktop mode with an external monitor. I don't mention the modem because I also signed up for now defunct Ricochet and its mobile broadband.

  • IBM Aptiva S series (I don’t recall the model number): Pentium processor running at 128 MHz with 128MB of RAM, close to 1GB of HDD (I don't quite remember the size) and 16-bit graphics capable of displaying over 65K colors. I had to say goodbye to the faithful Cobra card due to hardware incompatibility.

  • IBM PS/ValuePoint 466DX2: Intel 80486 DX2 processor running at 66 MHz, 24 MB RAM and the HDD surpassed the triple digit MB mark (may be 250 or 300). The math coprocessor demanded by AutoCAD & Autoshade was either already integrated or added and I transferred the 17” Monitor along with the Cobra graphics card from my old system, bypassing the integrated SVGA adapter.

  • IBM PS/2 35: 80386SX processor running at 16 MHz, 80387 math coprocessor (required for AutoCAD), and 6MB of RAM, 15” XGA IBM monitor, XGA graphics (1024x768x256 colors), latter upgraded to a higher color Cobra card, 60 or 80 MB HDD (I don’t remember the exact figure). Although it was a PS/2 system, it used industry standard ISA bus instead of the proprietary micro channel bus. This meant I could expand it with regular components.

  • IBM AT-compatible: 80286 processor running at 12 MHz, 1MB RAM (latter expanded to 4), 40 MB HDD, 12” VGA monitor, VGA graphics (640x480x16 colors or 320x240x256 colors) and 80287 math coprocessor (in the "ancient times" only advanced applications demanded this).

  • Radio Shack TRS-80: It was a console-type unit which connected to a standard TV and its storage medium was a regular cassette tape. It had 64K of RAM and a ROM port for application’s cartridges or to plug a proprietary floppy (which I added latter on). It was capable of displaying colors (I believe it was a 4-bit 16-color system), although the resolution was lower than 320x240.

Peripherals Listing

(*) All underlined items are still in use as of the latest update

Listed from newest to oldest

  • iOmega UltraMax Pro 2TB HDD: RAID 0, 1 capable, attached to ReadyNAS for backup.
  • iOmega mobile 160GB HDD
  • ION TTUSB10 USB Turntable
  • Canopus ADCV-110 Audio/Video Capture Device
  • Pinnacle e800 USB HD-TV Receiver
  • Canon i9900 Photo Printer
  • Hewlett Packard Scanjet 4600 Color Scanner
  • Canon BJC-50 mobile Printer
  • Hewlett Packard Design Jet cut sheet Plotter
  • Pinnacle Micro Internal CD-R
  • Houston Instruments cut sheet Pen Plotter
  • IBM Cut-sheet feeder Color Scanner
  • IBM Color Inkjet Printer.
  • Summagraphics Summasketch 12" Digitizing Tablet with 16-button cursor.
  • IBM Dot Matrix Printer.
  • Epson Dot Matrix Printer.
  • Summagraphics Summasketch 12" Digitizing Tablet with pen stylus and a 4-button cursor.

My computing history almost mirrors that of the personal computer itself. IBM introduced the original PC in 1984; the same year I had my introduction to the computing world, but I was started on the HP 41-C series of programmable calculators. It was a very advance model that allowed the use of alphanumeric characters; provided ample memory space and it had several ports into which input pre-programmed modules (applications). I was hooked and it wasn’t my property at all! It became almost a pastime trying to figure out how to program all the formulas and algorithms I learned in my structural and other civil engineering courses. See sidebar at the right for a chronological listing of all the computers I had  owned.

My passion for computing has evolved slowly from the early days of programming as an end in itself, to using applications developed by others as a means to an end. While in college, not needing to generate income, computing was an exciting field to showcase my intellectual powers. Having a boatload of study exercises upon which to test the results of my programs, I indulged in programming mainly for fun.

My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 which I latter upgraded from cassette tape to floppy drive storage. Using the floppy drive as cache memory, I was able to write "ambitious" software to solve hyper static frames and separate modules for internal forces analysis with some rudimentary graphical display.

At the time I landed my first job all my experience had been on my TRS-80 and interpreted BASIC, therefore, I had to learn fast the world of mainstream computing (IBM standard). I quickly became a wizard of DOS (Disk Operating System), the text based thing you see if you ever open a Windows’ command prompt. It was the time of the Hercules graphics card 720x348 with its 1-bit (monochrome screen, either green or beige). Color adapters were very expensive and lacking in features. The CGA was almost a joke with resolutions of 320x200x16 colors or 640x200x1 color; and the EGA was only marginally better at 640x350. However, its 16 colors offered a substantial quality increase over the Hercules monochrome. 5-1/4” floppy drives were ubiquitous. 10 or 20 MB HDD was something you could brag about. Math coprocessors were chips required only by a very small number of applications and therefore, it was a premium option. Graphical user interfaces and mice were luxuries only Apple owners enjoyed fully. MS Windows was still a novel but limited software.

Because of the nature of the TRS-80, I had basically no experience handling hardware, and since my job duties did not involve hardware setup, I remained only aware of devices’ features.

It was after I decided to become an independent consultant and therefore, I had to buy my first business computer, that I also became a hardware jockey. It was also the time when the term price/performance took real meaning for me…

I had to buy that computer on payments and I even had to get a loan for the down payment... Needless to say that I had to compromise somewhere and I picked the computer display as the piece of hardware where the corners were going to be cut. Logically, the monitor started to behave funny as soon as the 1-year warranty expired L and I had to repair it as I had no money for a new one.

I acquired a good working knowledge of memory cards and chips; how to physically set it up and how to configure the device drivers for optimum performance. As my interest in rendering started to develop and my financial resources began to develop, I also became acquainted with higher end graphic cards.

The 90's brought a new buzzword to the mainstream of computing: Remote connections, which included both, LAN & WAN (Local Area Network and Wide Area Network). These concepts predate the PC of course; but until the 90's it remained the domain of super high-end computing or hard-core computer freaks. The advent of the Internet expanded my hardware interest to something called "Modem". My going back to being an employee in a team of professionals at the end of the 90's introduced me fully to the concept of Networked Computers. Until that time I had only heard of it but never showed any interest at all. The company had a network system based on coaxial cable and DOS-based Novell. By the time I was through learning the new concepts I had revamped the system to a workgroup-based system running on Windows NT and Ethernet cable. I latter migrated the workgroup to a domain connected to the Internet via DSL modem.

My next paradigm shift came in 2001 when I jumped with both feet into the concept of high-performance mobile computing. Money was less of an obstacle at this point and I could afford to buy the best hardware available at the time (at least the best on the most important elements).

The most recent development in my hardware evolution was the embracing of the MAC platform. Since 1996 I had been curious about computing platforms other than IBM which offered levels of performance you often read about in magazines but never had the chance to touch. Sun's Sparc UNIX workstations and Silicon Graphics arose my interest at one time but I never had any chance to really act upon it. Looking back, it was all for good. With its new G5 computers, Apple was claiming to offer workstation-class computing for PC price. Hype notwithstanding, my experience on the MAC platform has been so positive that now that they run on Intel chips capable of running Windows in dual boot mode, coupled with the departure of IBM from the personal computing market, I might consolidate systems by purchasing a MAC and a copy of Windows; although, my recent experience with hardware failure taught me the importance of having a second computer for backup of critical applications (that's the Dell computer shown on the sidebar).

On the software side; after the TRS-80, I got immersed in DOS, first the MS version and latter, when I owned an IBM computer, the PC version. Besides my main application (AutoCAD), I also learned some other basic packages such as spreadsheets and word processors. I saw Windows evolve from a novel DOS application that allowed users to have more than one program running concurrently and to operate in a friendlier interface to become a true operating system; although I didn't participate in the Windows phenomenon until the end of this cycle. Previous to Windows 95, the software was only an operating environment that ran on top of DOS. IBM tried to implement their own system (OS/2), introduced at the time they launched the PS/2 systems and their proprietary micro channel bus. Around 1990-1991, being now an IBM system owner, I tried the second version of it, running it in parallel to DOS (with the dual boot feature). It was a technologically superior product to Windows but, with little support from software vendors, it died rather quickly. Refusing to “do windows” on my breadwinning applications, I became a die-hard DOS user until 1998 when, being able to afford some high-end graphic hardware (no emulations this time), I found out that the hardware vendors were discontinuing support for such hardware on the DOS platform, thereby “forcing” me to jump on the Windows bandwagon. I had been running some Windows 95 applications such as CD burning, backup, Internet browsing and e-mailing while still on DOS, but that was it. No high power applications on “shaky” Windows software.

Up to this moment, video games had been an integral part of my computing environment; starting with my TRS-80 and “Polaris” where you defend your islands against an array of missiles and bombs raining from above, and reaching its climax with Origin’s Wing Commander, the space arcade with incredible graphics, cinematic sequences and musical score which broke ground in their time.

The only reason I abandoned DOS was my desire to exploit Autodesk’s 3D Studio which by 1998 was in its second iteration as 3D Studio MAX for Windows. Knowing full well both, the software demands and the technical wants of Windows 95 vs. Windows NT 3.5, I jumped directly to NT. Alas, gaming was not on Microsoft’s engineers developing the business version of the operating system. Today, gaming is only a peripheral aspect of my computing experience, even though Windows XP Professional is almost as supportive of games as the Home version is.

Today, the fields of computing that attract me the most are 3D modeling & animation, photo & video editing, music storage & cataloguing and the Internet (web development, on-line research and education, electronic shopping, and trading).


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