Sunday, August 06, 2006

Back in the Day

Back in the day...

Remember back in the day when the cheapest tower you could buy was still about $1800? When I bought my blazing 166 MHz Pentium with 32 MB of RAM, a 2 MB video card, Sound Blaster AWE 32 (which was a 16 bit card but with a software upgrade worked like a 32 bit) and 3 GB hard drive in 1996, it was the machine everyone wanted to use in Crawford Hall. Well, they wanted to use it to play Worms or NHL '96 on the 17" monitor or listen to the same dozen or so MP3's I had, plus it was one of the few machines that could do all of that plus "blast" the sound from the 20 watt powered speaker system complete with a subwoofer (Altec Lansing something or other). Occasionally we would telnet into OU's system to finish our chemistry homework on CAPA and on extremely rare occasions, use Word to type up a paper. It was a computer built for entertainment and put the several 133 MHz machines to shame. Its ability to ward off more than one spilled beer was simply remarkable.

That machine set me back $2500. Considering the 200 MHz processor with the same setup cost $2900, it was a deal.

That machine served as my primary computer for five more years. It saw a classic game of NHL '97 where I led Ed 3-2 heading into the third period. I passed out after the puck was dropped. When I woke up we were in OT and the game finished tied at 3. Only later did Ed admit to pulling my goaltender with a minute left because he said he could not lose to someone who was passed out for the entire third period. It was UPGRADED to include a 10 Mbps Ethernet card in 1997 when we moved to Wilson Hall and got access to OU's network. It ran the first game controller system to allow four players and to allow all players to access eight buttons. Shortly thereafter, it ran the first TV tuner card on the market and served as my television when I moved to New South Green (the first TIVO?). It ran perfectly when I upgraded to OS to Win 98. When I got my 400 MHz blue laptop, the old tower streamed MP3s (at a screaming 1 Mbps) and shared its dialup connection to Wright State's modem pool with it. Of course, who can forget all of the audio editing with Goldwave and graphic editing with Photoshop 3.0-5.0. Even after my move to NC, it still ran my NES and SNES emulators and more.

Did I mention the eclectic collection of stickers on the case? Everything from the nWo Wolfpack to the Mine Safety and Health Administration's "It's Not Just Dust, It's Silica". If you ever need to escape a collapsed mine, you'll find directions on how to signal rescuers. Hopefully you remembered to take the computer with you.

However, the old girl was showing her age. When I got my 1.7 GHz with 512 MB RAM laptop, I used the tower less and less. When I bought the house, I didn't even bother to set it up after I moved in.

That is, until today. I expected to it to fire up right away, and I was not disappointed. After all, except for one incident when I didn't seat the video card properly and didn't realize it until after Dell was kind enough to send a replacement motherboard (back when you got 3 year parts replacement warranties standard), it hasn't let me down.

I knew it was time to do something with it. After all, not too many apps will run on a 166. So, I happened to have an old 500 MHz machine that was replaced at work. As it should happen, it was the same exact case as my 166. I decided that while most of the hardware would be different and essentially the 166 was going to have to be put down, I could at least salvage the plastic shell. Not many apps will run on a 500 either, but XP runs pretty well. I decided it could at least be a file server, beta tester, or play music off the network. So, I took the RAM, 52x CD burner, and 3 GB hard drive from the old tower and plugged them in the new machine. I took the plastic shell off of the case and replaced it with the old, sticker-covered shell. My tower was back.

It's funny how something like a 10 year old computer can bring back so many memories. My first instinct was to put it in the trash and move on. Then I got to looking at all of those damn stickers. There were so many good times shared around that computer. Parties in 14x10 dorm rooms with enough people it had to be a fire code violation, chatting on IM, listening to music and watching the Geiss visualizations until you got ill to your stomach. Rigging a peer-to-peer network at Chad's so we could trade MP3s. Suddenly I couldn't let it go.

Ultimately most people will call it a waste of an afternoon, salvaging a few computer parts that are completely obsolete and putting them in a machine that is 90% obsolete. Stripping some plastic of a metal frame and putting it on another metal frame. Nearly all of the original parts of the old tower aren't even in the "new" tower. But my Dell with the blue Dimension XPS P166s faceplate and dozens of random stickers has been with me from Athens to Bellaire to Athens again to Bellaire again to Dayton to Cary and now to Fuquay. Now I get to keep it for a little while longer. Time well spent.

I thnk I'll try and hook it up to the 50" DLP HDTV and 1000 watt 7.1 Dolby Digital setup... after all, the TV does have a computer input jack. Amy's gonna love that thing sitting in the living room.


Mike T said...

The old tower is where we discovered "the move" on NHL 98 or 99. That's the only time I remember having a 20 goal game. Skate right at the goalie then break 90 degrees and take the impossible angle shot while the goalie is lying on his back. Worked every time. You forgot to add that it also became the first machine to connect to Milli's machine for some 2 on 2 NHL games usually resulting in beating on the wall when a goal was scored.

Anonymous said...

Here are my top 5 memories of the old tower:

5) That homerun derby game where T had the record of 10 out of 10 homeruns, and nobody could ever duplicate it.

4) Running over the Hare Krishnas in the original Grant Theft Auto.

3) Seeing hot girls in the cafeteria named Libby, then using the computer to figure out her name, room number, etc.

2) The Guinness screen saver with the big band music and guy riding the pony.

1) Destruction Drinking Derby 2