I just purchased a new computer. That might not seem like a big deal and why are you posting about it, but it really is in a way (and not just because of the wad of dough I just laid out). This is the first one I’ve bought in like 10 years for one. For another, it’s almost 30 years since I bought my first one. So I thought I’d do a little comparison.
In raw dollar amounts, I spent about the same: around $1500. That seems to be the same amount I spend every time, btw. There was an old saying in computer circles, the computer you really want always costs $3000; the one you actually buy always costs $1500. So in some way I spent the same amount of money in 1987 and 2014. But:
Adjusting for inflation, the $1500 I spent today is, in 1987 dollars, only $716.
Put another way, that $1500 I spent in 1987 now has the same buying power as $3141 in 2014 dollars. So I guess I got the computer I really wanted!
At the time I thought the Macs available then were expensive toys, with a little toy screen and a little toy keyboard and a cutesy little ‘desktop’ for people too dim to figure out a command line interface. Actually, I still think that (about the originals), so flame away if you must.
PC-XT: 12-inch phosphor green monochrome CRT screen with 80 columns by 25 lines resolution.
They were also available in phosphor orange/amber, but I liked the green better. Almost as good as the phosphor white on mainframe/mini terminals.
Airbook: 13″ color LED screen with 1440 by 900 pixel resolution.
PC-XT: 8088 at 4.77-7.16 Mhz. It had 29,000 transistors and operated at 0.33-1 million instructions per second.
Airbook: 1.4 gigahertz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 etc. That means 1400 million transistors and operates at around 6.6 billion instructions per second.
PC-XT: 640kb = 655,360 bytes = 655 thousand (.00065 billion) bytes
Airbook: 8 gigabytes = 8,589,934,592 bytes = 8.5 billion bytes or 13,107 times the RAM of the XT
PC-XT: 20 megabytes = 20,971,520 bytes = 0.021 billion bytes
Airbook: 512 gigabytes flash memory = 549,755,813,888 bytes = 550 billion bytes or 26,214 times the drive space of the XT
PC-XT: 102-key clicky keyboard.
Airbook: Built-in. Have to say, I liked the Leading Edge’s keyboard. Wow.
Airbook: Dual stereo speakers and microphones. And a headphone port. And a camera.
PC-XT: Hard to say. CPU housing was probably 14×5x18 inches or so and weighed maybe 7 pounds. CRT was probably another 10 pounds and the keyboard was bigger than the Airbook itself and probably weighed as much.
Height: 0.11-0.68 inch
Width: 12.8 inches
Depth: 8.94 inches
Weight: 2.96 pounds
PC-XT: WordPerfect 5.1 (bootleg), Lotus 1-2-3 (bootleg), SPSS for DOS (bootleg; can you see a pattern here?), some sort of menu system (don’t remember the name), and everyone’s favorite Leather Goddesses of Phobos (it is both naughtier and tamer than you probably imagine).
Airbook: What don’t I have on here? A huge pig of a Word for Mac has replaced the fast and efficient WP 5.1, a huge pig of an SPSS for Mac has replaced a slightly less huge pig of an SPSS for DOS, and I don’t have Leather Goddesses.
PC-XT: Could be connected to a 300-baud audio modem for what that was worth.
Airbook: 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking;4 IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible, Bluetooth 4.0 wireless
Admittedly, the Leading Edge looks pretty pathetic. Relatively speaking, yes it was. OTOH, that may be the single most productive computer I’ve ever owned, except perhaps for the last Airbook. I did numerous papers on it, lecture notes, all of the material for my comprehensive exams, and my master’s thesis. The latter included running statistics in SPSS that often took 45 minutes to run a single cluster analysis on a fairly small data set. There was something almost inherently productive about a monochrome screen; no Internet to go twaddle on to waste time, no videos, no email (well there was, with the modem attached), no texting, no video, no sound except that provided by an external system, etc. Despite all of the layout capabilities of modern “word processors”, the almost blank screen of WordPerfect kind of lent itself to concentrating on the written word. Yes, including graphics was a PITA — you had to leave appropriate space, print it out, physically tape the graphic on the paper, and then photocopy it — but for the most part you had primarily text to get your meaning across and you used that to maximum extent simply because the graphics took so much time and effort — you had to make those count.
Every now and then I think maybe I should go out and buy an old XT and use it for writing, but that never really comes of anything. Cutting and pasting text is fairly difficult, as is any navigation, and then you still have to export it somewhere so someone else can actually read it. Supposedly you can still run it on both Windows and Macs but I’ll pass. As much as I hate Word — both then and now — it’s about the only game in town, much to my dismay. That is, if you want to be able to share documents with anyone.
Then again, I often wonder how much we’ve progressed. Last week I spent two hours fighting with a printer just to print a couple of pages. Hellooooo!? Back in the ’80s I was fighting with printers to print out correctly and here it is 2014 and I’m still fighting with printers to print out correctly. Seems like it still takes the same amount of time for an application to load as well. Yeah, they’re far more capable, but they still foul up and bomb a lot. No rose-colored glasses here, but I’m not a Luddite either: I’ll take the modern computer with its connectivity, speed, memory, etc. Do I want to march down to the library every time I need a journal article, only to find it checked out? No. Or spend half an hour copying a graphic, cutting it out to size, pasting it onto a document, and photocopying it again several times until no lines appear? No.
But sometimes I think a bit wistfully about maybe sitting down at a computer for a while just to work on something and then go seek entertainment elsewhere. And that pale green phosphor sure was easy on the eyes. . . . .