Computers: The Early Days

The other day I came across an old CompuAdd magazine from the summer of 1992. One word: wow. Guess how much hard drive space you’d get for $2000 back then: only 630MB. Today I get about 12 times that amount for free with GMail. But back then, the average user couldn’t even buy 1GB in a single drive. If it were possible, such a drive would’ve cost about $2500. Today, you’ll pay about $0.10/GB for a drive with platters. And people complain about the cost of solid-state drives! They’re still 800 times less expensive than standard drives from 18 years ago – and ludicrously fast by comparison.

CompuAdd Magazine Cover - Summer 1992
Yes, the early 90s, the era of 486 power and built-in math coprocessors – I barely remember it anymore. This was a time when “Realtime clock/calendar” was included in a PC’s list of features, right alongside “4MB DRAM – expandable to 64MB!” This was a time before USB, before digital cameras, and before high-speed internet. There was dial-up though, but back in 1992 most computers could only handle connections at 9600bps – that’s 1.17KB/second. Just downloading the header image on this blog would’ve taken about one minute and twenty seconds.

CompuAdd Catalog Pages 24-25Intel Overdrive ProcessorMy family’s very first computer was bought from this old magazine – a rugged 486 box complete with a blazing-fast 33Mhz processor. That’s fully 6% of the clock speed of my current cell phone’s CPU! Ah, but never fear, with the Intel OverDrive Processor, “obsolescence is a thing of the past!” Just snap this baby in when you’re ready to upgrade and boost performance by up to 70%. And for the right price you could even take your 486 powerhouse on the road. Just $2600 would make you the proud owner of a CompuAdd 425TFX laptop, complete with an 80MB hard drive, 25Mhz processor, 4MB DRAM, and a 64-level grayscale display! Now I’m not sure what the battery life might have be on one of these devices, but I doubt it was all that impressive. Most of the desktops back in ’92 were shipping with 300W power supplies – still not an uncommon size in today’s PCs.

CompuAdd Catalog Pages 12-13Want to hear something really interesting? None of the prices I’ve listed so far have been adjusted for inflation. So paying $2600 for a laptop back in 1992 would be about like spending $4000 today. Well, it’s tough to live on the bleeding edge.

And whatever became of CompuAdd? After a less than successful foray into retail superstores in the late 80s and early 90s, CompuAdd shut its doors in 1993 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They did briefly continue product development, but in 1994 were acquired by a private investment group. Based on one article, it sounds like they failed because of pressure from competitors like CompUSA (who’s now struggling to keep its own stores open) and Dell. While Dell was raking in money from its public launch in 1988, CompuAdd was struggling with loans to pay for expansion. Interesting stuff if you’re into business and economics (my minor as an undergrad).

One thought on “Computers: The Early Days”

  1. I scour the local thrift stores, looking for elusive jewels to resell online. I recently came across one of these mini PC’s, and wondered just what the heck it was! It sort of, kind of like, LOOKED like, MAYBE, some kind of a PC. There wasn’t much in markings to identify it, and I was afraid of buying another white elephant, so I passed it by. I think they were asking $5 or less. Who knows, it may have been worth $Hundreds! I have never seen one before. It wasn’t there this morning. I DID find an unopened box by Compuadd with the title of CD Knowledge Bank II. Brand new, never even been opened! There is no UPC or ISBN number. I can’t find it anywhere on Google or Amazon. I suspect it may have a high value, but since I can’t identify it, how can I sell it? There truly are treasures to be had, out there in all those thrift stores, if you have a discerning eye!

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