Last updated Sunday, May 4, 2008
Copyright ©1997-2011 Glenn Fleishman except as noted otherwise. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact Glenn Fleishman at glenn at glennf.com.
I've always been somewhat technical, and I've seemingly always had a computer. Here's all the computers I've known and owned. I first wrote this in mid-1997, and have since added updates as I've bought newer machines. It's in reverse chronological order, so those of you who want to know about my 1980 machine, skip to the bottom. This doesn't include all the servers...there is a limit to how many machines can be listed. I've noted the disposal of each machine where that's available.
In late 2010, I worked to start shedding computers, as I switched from having servers in a co-location facility to using virtual private servers (VPSes), which are virtual machines hosted on a company's hardware. This allowed me to pull four machines out of service (which I have yet to prep for sale!).
The page is now mostly out of date, and having gone through so many machines, I no longer plan to update it. (2/2011)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2.4 GHz), April 2010
I never adjusted to the screen space of the MacBook, and finally bumped up when I needed to use the laptop for more serious work out of the office. It was a good move, as later in 2010, I wrote a book and needed the screen size and processor power of the MacBook Pro to pull it off. I started with 4 GB RAM, but had to bump to 8 GB to use InDesign CS5 and a number of other programs effectively at the same time.
MacBook (Core 2 Duo), March 2008
My PowerBook G4 finally seemed to become a slug after 4 1/2 years when I installed Leopard on it and tried to run Adobe Creative Suite 3--it was just too much for the old dog to bear. (I even pushed its RAM to the maximum 2 GB, and that helped just a little bit.) I opted for a MacBook after Apple released the new models with gesture-based touchpad support and boosted the specs. I bought the 2.4 GHz model with a SuperDrive, and opted to spend $90 for a 2 GB upgrade (for a total of 4 GB) instead of the laughable $400 that Apple charges.
Mac Pro (Intel), April 2007
My Power Mac G4 is just fine, but it doesn't have an Intel chip. I waited until Apple announced its 8-core models, and then bought the next-to-lowest-end 4-core unit, putting a 500 GB drive in and 4 GB of RAM.
I should note that my personal update cycle is running longer and longer as the machines get better and better. I hadn't bought a new desktop Mac for four years, and if it weren't for the Intel transition and my need to have a Mac that I use regularly have the modern infrastructure in it, I'd still be using the Power Mac.
Ditto, I still have my Sept. 2003 PowerBook G4. It's been to the shop--under a now-lapsed warranty--about four times, and I had to replace the keyboard myself a few weeks ago. But it's still ticking away.
Dell Inspiron running Windows Vista, March 2007
Because I write so much about Wi-Fi, I needed a modern Windows computer that I could use for testing and screen captures. I bought this relatively affordable Vista model with a downmarket Intel Core Duo chip (half the Level 2 cache), an ExpressCard slot, and a DVD burner. So far, I like Vista, although there's a bit of the pig-with-lipstick phenomenon. They didn't so much overhaul everything as fix some of the top-level problems, write a few new programs, and put a fancy gloss on dialog boxes. Dig a little anywhere, and you find the old dialog boxes and old underlying problems.
I wrote an article about this for TidBITS, a Macintosh journal.
Mac mini (Intel), March 2006
So I was in the market for a cheap Mac to handle backups at my co-location rack. The problem? My systems generate too much data to work with the co-lo's backup system. And I don't have direct access to their backup libraries, but have to request files. I decided last year to get a 1 terabyte (TB) rack-mounted drive system from WiebeTech, a veteran Mac storage company. Unfortunately, it came only with FireWire, which became a problem when the colleague to whom I sold my Xserve and I experienced continuous Retrospect backup software failure. Retrospect's makers suggested memory was the problem, so we replaced the Xserve's RAM. Now Retrospect crashes the machine.
Enough. I bought the cheapest Mac mini announced in February using the new Intel Core chips and had it installed within days. It now handles backups for my three critical Linux systems with aplomb--even though Retrospect is still based on PowerPC code and it's running under emulation.
The poor Mac mini, though, designed for Front Row media playing and such--doomed to be monitorless in a cold, loud room.
Mac mini, March 2005
The Mac mini is plugged into a TV set via a DVI-to-video adapter (S-Video and component) and also has Timbuktu Pro running. We've used it with an iSight camera to have remote calls with my parents and friends on the east coast. It's been a lot of fun to use Jetsons' technology to share our little boy with others who aren't in town.
What I'm really waiting for is a USB or FireWire-based TV box that will use an infrared blaster (to produce the right channel changing signals) so that I can dump my ReplayTV 4000 in favor of just using the mini. There are a lot of products that are close, but the best one for this purpose is available in PCI form factor only.
I needed a dedicated MySQL server for isbn.nu, so this baby is getting racked in early November to offer huge amounts of raw power. It's running Red Hat Linux 9.
A couple of months later, I bought a second similar model to handle Web queries and take load off the Xserve. They hum along.
Update: In March 2005, I added the third Linux box (a Relion 140 with much higher specs and memory) as a dedicated database server. The Xserve was migrated to an in-office server role, and then later sold to a colleague, but still remains in my co-location rack.
I'd been waiting to upgrade from my May 2001 iBook to a G4-based PowerBook, but didn't want to compromise for that much money. The newer iBooks were faster, but not enough so. The Titanium PowerBook lacked several features I wanted. The original aluminum 12-inch was too underpowered and underfeatured, and the 17-inch too huge and expensive. Apple finally granted my wish by releasing the 15-inch aluminum PowerBook in September 2003, and I placed an order the same day. Wireless performance is less than I'd hoped -- worse range than the iBook -- but it's better than the Titanium model.
In reading back through about previous laptops I've owned, the biggest change between then and now isn't the cost (although this is one of the more expensive laptops I've owned), but the amount of after-market gear you used to have to buy. Plug-in modem cards. Extra batteries. Extra memory. All kinds of adapters. Different power supplies. On this puppy, I plugged in a full gig of RAM, and that was the whole situation.
Panther (Mac OS X 10.3) shipped almost immediately after I received the machine, and I couldn't upgrade the computer successfully. It turned out that the RAM was the culprit: I bought another set of RAM (brand name, from Kingston) and that solved the problem.
This machine suffered the dread "white spots" problem, but Apple repaired it cheerfully and quickly--I waited long enough that the issue was well founded instead of from scattered reports. Later versions of this same model were redesigned to prevent the spots from forming on the display. (Update: As of 2008, I still have this machine, but am planning to sell it when I have a chance to wipe it clean. Leopard definitely drags its performance down; I will likely install Tiger on it for resale.)
You know, I never really set out to buy another Windows laptop, even though I thought I would need one for testing a variety of new wireless equipment that has Windows-only drivers or comes in PC Card format. Then this beauty came into my life.
The eMachines was sent to me on loan and I bought the puppy because I liked it so much. It's got a great screen and a great set of features, and its integration with Windows XP Home is so good that I never seem to have to mess with drivers or weird settings. Everything works. It reboots fast. It's my favorite Windows machine ever. (Update: The CD drive stopped working in about 2005, and I tried to sell it to a friend, but after messing with it, we realized that it just wasn't up to snuff. I eventually donated it in 2007 to InterConnection, a local computer recycling firm; they thought they might be able to get it back into shape to use.)
This machine sits on a server rack at digital.forest, running my book-comparison site isbn.nu. I wasn't sure if I was ready to leap from Linux to Mac OS X Server, but it's worked generally very well and very fast. One problem: virtual memory swap files seem to grow out of control every few days. It's almost certainly a problem with my code, but this never happened under Red Hat Linux 7.3. (Somewhere in late 2003, I solved the swap problem by changing the dynamic_pager settings so it makes bigger swap files.)
I migrated some parts of the system to a Red Hat Linux 9 box in fall 2003, and upgraded the Xserve to OS X Server 10.3, which made a world of difference in both reliability and ease of use. (Update: This machine is an office server running backups and other miscellaneous tasks as of March 2005. 2008 Update: I actually sold this system a couple years ago to Joe Kissell, who runs alt.cc and other sites from it in my co-lo space.)
I consider myself very restrained in having held out for nearly three years in getting a new desktop machine for my office. Or, in fact any Mac since getting the iBook (which I'm still relatively happy with, especially after spending a couple months with the 12-inch aluminum PowerBook G4, which I didn't find hugely superior). I was finally pushed over the edge by the hardware discount offered with the Apple Software Developer program that I joined to keep up to date on the software side of Apple's world.
The dual 1.25 GHz machine doesn't always seem five times faster than the Cube it replaced (see below). But it is a big step up whenever I work with audio, video, copy files between local drives, compile software, work with images, or otherwise enjoy the massive computational benefits. Also, it has integral Bluetooth, AirPort Extreme, FireWire 800, and other goodies.
I write so much about wireless, not owning a machine with the latest, greatest was already becoming a problem. (Added a USB 2.0 PCI card in 2005. In 2008, it's sitting under my desk acting as a Leopard testing system. I'm planning on selling it eventually.)
A mere six months after my January entry below, I finally got sick of my Sony Vaio. Despite its small size, I got fed up with the limitations: battery life is too short, performance is not great, hard to reboot when it crashes, doesn't work well with wireless networks, etc. And it's Windows based. So I opted for one of the new Apple iBooks, which have a small form factor, great battery life, and good memory and hard drive options. I bought the unit with a DVD-ROM so I can watch movies when I travel. (May keep for testing, 2003; nope, sold it in 2004.)
I wanted to refresh my home machine with an iMac that had FireWire (for digital video and external storage) as well as AirPort wireless networking. I waited until Apple shipped its latest series which sports an internal CD-RW drive as well for backup. I'm still lusting after the Titanium PowerBook, but I'm holding my breath for another few months until the price drops or features improve. A DVD-ROM/DVD player/CD-RW would be great and worth waiting for. (Sold in April 2003 to a relative who called it "Blue.")
Those of you who know me well might have suspected that with the introduction of Apple's new G4-based Titanium laptops, which have a 15+ inch screen, 5-hour battery, FireWire and USB, and a front-loading DVD, not to mention a fast G4 processor and lots of memory - well, you might have suspected that I'd already placed an order for one. Nope! Not this cowpoke. The G4 Cube gives me enough office power, and it fits nicely on the desk. Since I just spent full retail on it a few months ago and invested in more RAM, it's not going anywhere. Likewise, the Sony Vaio (see below) is still a great lightweight and minimally featured travelling companion. I used it all week this last week (Jan. 8-12) at the Macworld Expo, and no one attempted to beat me with it.
Yeah, I bought into the sexy sleekness of it. Honestly, it was research - I just started writing this month (9/00) about the Macintosh for The Seattle Times. It really is quite fast, beautiful, and quiet, and is certainly one of the best machines I've ever owned for its beauty and performance combined. Okay, it cost a bit too much, but the quiet is worth it. (This machine was retired to home in fall 2003, but later in the fall is returning to the office as a music and fax server. It returned, served its duty, and was sold in spring 2005.)
As a dedicated computer junkie, there's nothing better than buying a new machine. I had a lot of travel planned for this year, although some has evaporated. And the PowerBook is not a great machine for working on planes and in hotel rooms. It's too bulky for the short haul. It's a great commuting machine and it's been a great desktop unit. But I wanted something smaller and lighter.
So I bought a used Sony Vaio 505 laptop for about $1,300. It has other numbers associated with it, to be sure, but this is the bottom of the line unit from six months ago: 64 Mb RAM, 4 Gb hard drive, 10-inch display (small enough to use in coach on a plane!), USB, FireWire, external port replication, 56 kbps internal modem, floppy disk. Pretty sweet little package. It's tiny and light: under 4 lbs. I have a USB CD burner that I can use for loading software, instead of buying the $300 CD-ROM (PC Card based) that you need for the Vaio. But I did buy the long-life battery ($250) and a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet PC Card (< $100).
I took it on a recent 9 day trip, and it was the perfect machine. Easy to use and setup. Good in tight quarters. So far, so good. (Update 11/00: on two recent cross-country trips, it was a godsend. Great battery life. Easy to use. Lightweight. Works well in cramped quarters on a plane. Pretty fast. Two thumbs way up.) (Sold in 2001 for good fraction of what I paid for it, but replaced with a better model a couple years later for testing for much less money than I sold this unit for.)
There's always a faster machine. As I worked to finish Real World Adobe GoLive 4, I found myself more and more frustrated with the speed and portability of my formerly fastest-ever machine. So I gritted my teeth and bought a G3 1999 series PowerBook: 400 Mhz, 4 Gb hard drive, added memory for a total of 192 Mb RAM, USB and SCSI support, added a removable Zip drive. Unbelievable. Not only incredibly fast, but it's so damn light and it has everything I need in it. So no heavy extra stuff to lug around. On a recent trip, I brought the unit with two batteries in it, and I really could have gone an entire weekend without recharging. Spectacular. I sold the other G3 on eBay, getting a very decent price for it: almost half of what the new unit cost. (Sold at some point, but I can't recall when!)
So I'm an inveterate equipment buyer. I was thinking about getting a better machine, finally being frustrated with the speed of the 3400c for some of the work I'm doing, and trying to have a better road machine for the upcoming months, and found a great deal on a refurbished Apple warrantied G3. (I sold my 3400c after doing some system cleansing and reinstallation to my girlfriend Lynn. She gave me her old PC laptop, which I then donated to a good cause for a tax writeoff.) It's a 233 Mhz model from the Wall Street series (the first full series of models). It has 4 Mb of video RAM, and I upped regular RAM to 96 Mb. It has only a 2 Gb hard drive, which has been fine up to now anyway, and it didn't come with an internal modem. But I had a Global Village PC Card lying around which didn't work well on the 3400c, but with a clean software install and System 8.5, it works without crashes or any hitches on the G3. In pricing the G3 notebooks, I had just about given up before finding this machine: I didn't need even the current new bottom-of-the-line model, nor do I need a 14 inch screen. But this unit was $1750 (not including sales tax), so even with memory, a ZIP drive, an extra battery, an a year of additional AppleCare extended warranty service, it's still under $2,500, which is incredible. Virtual PC runs incredibly fast on it; not too much slower than my tower PC. I'm satisfied again for a while, but if you read above remarks, you'll see that doesn't last too long. I managed to hold out for 18 months between machines this last time, so perhaps they really are getting a lot faster. (Sold on eBay in 1999.)
Shortly after I wrote the below words about the 5300c, a deal to get a 3400c/200 through an Apple employee discount came along and I pounced. The 3400c runs at 200 Mhz (603e) and has a built-in 33.6 kpbs modem and built-in 10Base-T Ethernet. It also has a huge screen (800 x 600 or 12.1" diagonal) at 16-bit color. Finally, and amazingly, it has a hot-swappable 6x CD-ROM player, which can be upgraded to a 12x unit. Yow. The only problem so far is that a bug in the CD-ROM player software causes a crash when an audio CD is ejected and the player is open. Yikes. The main reason for this upgrade was to be able to run VirtualPC at some reasonable speed. But this machine actually seems...fast. [fade to months gone by] With 80Mb of RAM in it now, an external monitor, and still using a Global Village PPPP PC Card, it rocks.
Update 8/24/98: After updating to System 8.1 months ago and installing a number of new software packages and updates, the Global Village card stopped working correctly. Lots of crashes. I switched to internal modem and Ethernet, and no problems. I covet a G3, but don't need one, and I'll wait until the G3s are available used.
Update 11/12/98: I updated to Mac OS 8.5 several days ago, and have seen some improvement, but the whole thing is definitely more tolerable. A G3 is not in the cards for the next several months, but a Sony Vaio - I covet! We'll see. If I get a book contract in the works, a Vaio will be winging its way over.
(Finally sold in April 2005.)
After committing to a lot of travel in 1996, I decided to take a friend of my old housemate, Adam, up on an offer to get one of these at $2,200 (list was over $3K) because this friend of Adam's was an Apple employee. Best choice ever. This is my favorite computer of all time, and one I am working on at the moment. Sure it needed a firmware upgrade. Sure it wasn't always fine. But tweaking and tuning put it right. With a Global Village PowerPort Platinum Pro PC Card, 40Mb of RAM, and a gig hard drive, and a whole handful of adapters (monitor, SCSI, etc.), this machine can go anywhere, do anything. It can even do Ethernet with the GV card at the same time you're dialed in to a PPP connection over its modem. Not my last machine, but certainly my favorite. It does 100 million instructions per second, but, you know, it hardly feels like it...maybe it's time to upgrade. (Sold the next year.)
The price plunged on these, so I bought one for myself, moved the old PowerMacs into server roles or sold them, and got a 7100/80 for my employee. The 7200 was smoking - very fast, supported lots of monitor options, RAM and VRAM were cheap. Wee-ha! When I sold POPCO, the machine (and lots of others) went along with the deal.
Actually, I should probably list a whole bunch of machines here: Sun Sparc 1, Sparc 2, three IPXs, Performa 6116, Quadra 950, Intel Pentium 133, etc., etc. But these were all machines owned by Point of Presence Company; the 6100 was the machine I used personally. Eventually, rotated this one out (sold it to Film.com, Inc., a client of my former company's).
You can see a trend as computer purchases start to get closer together. The Duo was a small, light, perfect machine for me to use as I traveled around and got my career together. (Think it did 25 Mhz.) In the summer, I moved from Maine to Seattle to take a job at a book firm, and my Duo was my primary machine there for a couple years until we finally got a PowerMac 6100. I continued to use the Duo at home and work for a long time, until I started getting seriously acquisitive in my web development company. My old boss, Steve Roth, advised me to point out that the Duo once had the full seven possible SCSI devices attached, including a CD-ROM, a SyQuest, and a one gigabyte drive. The Duo was "acquired" by Point of Presence Company when I co-founded that firm and later sold to a colleague as a lightweight terminal emulator!
Okay, so I thought I was going to get into multimedia production. And I didn't. Didn't work out to be the right move. I did have some fun with this system, but mostly played around with it. In spring 1993, I decided to get a PowerBook, since I knew I'd be moving, and sold the Quadra system to my friend Caty Bartholomew, who used it through much of the 90s. (See an Atlantic Monthly story for a couple of her illustrations.)
My first "real" machine - color, nice monitor; even got a laser printer. It paid for itself with freelance work I was able to do because of it, and I even figured out depreciation and how to write it off that year. I originally had 8Mb of RAM, and I think it was a while before that changed. When I moved to Maine in Fall 1991, I sold the machine to my father, who still has it today. The monitor even still works and works well! (He, of course, upgraded to a 7200/75 with a ton of memory, but the cx is still around. And he upgraded again to a refurbished StarMax 604e-based machine.) (Wait, another update in 1998 - he gave the cx away and is trying to sell the 7200/75.)
With a whopping one megabyte of RAM, this was out of control; 1 Mhz clock speed. Little 9" monitor. Tiny, crappy keyboard. My roommate of the time and I went in on a dot matrix printer. We screwed up and bought a wide carriage one! We had no idea. It took months to arrive, and we were somewhat, uh, flabbergasted when it showed up. I can't recall what happened to it. The Mac Plus, though, was a fine machine, and though I never got as deep into its innards, it lasted a long while. I bought my first hard drive for it ÷a 60 Mb one for like $500 or $600 from Ehman. I had it through graduation and beyond, even, while I was working on Mac II's and IIx's at the Yale University Printing Service. Eventually, i was even able to sell it to my friend Stephen Turner who used it for years. It survived being entirely doused with water in a freak Brooklyn basement apartment accident, apparently.
Kind of a step down in some ways, although, geez, 64K of memory! Think it also used an MOS chip: the 6510, which I never heard of until I poked around on the Web to found out. I had this machine all through high school, along with a dot matrix printer, and even managed to bring it to college and use it all freshman year. It was faster, easier, less prone to do weird stuff, but none of the charm of the OSI. My dad and I sold this in part to finance my cousin's purchase of a computer.
Mmm, my first computer. 8,192 bytes of RAM. It ran at a blazing million instructions per second. An 8K ROM with one of the first Microsoft BASIC's built-in. I remember seeing Bill Gates name and wondering who the hell he was. There was an easter egg: hit "L" at the boot menu and you got his name and some Microsoft details. With the help of local computer enthusiasts, I built my own joystick port and had an RS-232C interface installed. Got a modem with an acoustic coupler. Was using CompuServe and other stuff back when there was nobody out there. Bad idea, though. As a 12-year-old, didn't really have the maturity to deal with phone bills and moderation. This machine eventually burned itself out -- no heat sink, and something finally fried. Used an RF box to output video to a TV set. I wrote several games for it in assembly language and machine code. It used a 6502 processor, just like the Apple II did shortly after, and I memorized the hex codes. After it died, we got a $100 trade-in on a Commodore 64 - any machine, dead or alive, would qualify. (Amazingly, others remember the glory of the OSI C1P, as well, though the machine at that link was more advanced than my model. A fellow aficionado sent me the photo above; click on the screen to get a special surprise - his machine has more memory than mine did. And, yes, his still works, too!)