Ah, the college years! Who doesn’t remember them fondly? When it comes to computing, these were some of the most important years of my life, bar none! Allow me to explain.
First, we can start with the nostalgia part. I much enjoyed the Pentium 166 that I brought to college for my freshman year, and after a shipping mishap, it did get a nice new Enlight case an an eventual upgrade to a Pentium 233 MMX as discussed in the last chapter. During my sophomore year, I built a Pentium II 300 MHz system, and that to me really felt like the pinnacle of computers! What a fast and capable machine!! And since it was the pinnacle, the Pentium II would come to be known as my “cutoff” for retro systems, and despite having an Athlon XP, Pentium III, and Pentium 4 in the collection, all of my Pentium II and prior systems do have a special place in my heart (I have a Pentium III system because it was dirt cheap to pick up, and the Athlon XP and Pentium 4 systems do have significance, more on that later here on in a future chapter).
Moving from an area where technology was less prevalent to the university, I was very impressed with the labs full of shiny Dell Pentium systems where I learned how to program using a very early version of Java! These machines were fast and were great to use. It was fun to see the evolution in the labs as they progressed from Pentiums to Pentium II and finally Pentium III systems before I graduated. And when I changed my major from Computer Science to Computer Engineering, it was HP Vectra and HP 9000 systems.. the latter which ran HP Unix! Those machines were amazingly powerful and great for a digital circuit design course I took!
College was also the first time that my computer truly participated in a network. This was during the Windows ’95 and ’98 era, so security was non-existent! Sharing my HP LaserJet 5L with others who wanted to do occasional printing was fast and easy! And I might have enjoyed sending printouts to printers that were shared but not password protected 🙂 At the beginning of the semester, I went around and helped people get their computers working with cheap ISA network cards issued by the university. They did not work flawlessly!! My next-door dorm mate had a Compaq Presario 2200. You could imagine my surprise when I opened it up and saw it had zero expansion!! Ergo, I learned about how Ethernet pocket adapters worked!! And I do now own a Compaq Presario 2200, what a fascinating machine!
Having spent a lot of time helping people get their computers set up, word spread fast throughout the community that I had computer skills. In one case, there was a female in the next dorm building over who needed some computer assistance. While we were waiting for a program to install, I struck up a conversation with this female’s roommate, whose name was Cathleen. And this year, we will be celebrating 20 years of marriage! That’s right: I met my wife my freshman year of college through fixing her roommate’s computer!
Over one summer, I went to work at a place back home called The Data Place. This was an authorized business to business Compaq reseller. I spent a good chunk of the summer repairing Compaq Deskpros, including the Deskpro 2000, 5/75, and other members of the series. And, I spent a lot of time fixing Compaq LTE 5000 laptops!! This was also during a time where the Armada laptops started to become popular, and they were equally beautiful machines. But, to me, the LTE 5000 series always had this degree of “business utility and finesse” that intrigued me. Hence the reason why I have so many of these wonderful little machines today. Although it was only for a summer, I really enjoyed my time at The Data Place: I felt I was hot stuff going on service calls driving company cars and repairing Compaq systems. I wish I could have done this job for more than a summer, but sadly it would only be available for one summer.
During my junior year, Cathleen and I got married. We were poor college students, so I looked for an alternative to an Intel computer since I wanted a new system. I built an AMD Athlon XP system, based on one of my favorite motherboards of all time, the Soyo K7VTA Pro. Oh, how I wish I had never given away that system… it was installed in a blue plastic case ATX case which I believe was an attempt to channel the iMacs. That system actually survived two moves and was used as a “Linux server” at some point. And during one summer at college, I would pick it up by its handle and bring it to my software internship job every day! I’ve since tried to create a K7 based system with an MSI motherboard, but bad caps have gotten the best of them!! The K7 is not particularly nostalgic for me, but it does hold a special place in my heart. And, yes, Cathleen did get a matching K7 system at some point!!
Some other exciting happenings during the college year: during my junior year, I got broadband! It’s something we take for granted today, but it was sure nice to have high speed internet. And, well, it was cable internet and worked MOST of the time. Let’s just say that I now have FIOS, and it has been rock solid 🙂
And, finally, during the college years, I did own a series of laptops, including a Toshiba T2000SX, IBM Thinkpad 755CX, Compaq Armada M700, and I believe a Compaq Armada 7800. It’s terrible that I can’t 100% remember if I had an Armada 7800… I seem to think I did… and it was super clunky to haul around campus. And the Armada M700? It was plagued with problems as I recall, so I don’t have fond memories there! I do remember having a very long CAT5 cable that I dragged around our modest little apartment to stay connected… and later getting a D-Link router and D-Link wireless card that gave me 22 Mbps due to the fact that it was D-Link paired with D-Link!
Okay, well this chapter has gotten long enough!! In the next chapter, we’ll probably finally explore why the Dell Optiplex SX270 is so special as we talk about early marriage and parenthood!