My first computer

I recently found this old photo when I was sorting through my stuff and was stirred by nostalgia to write something about it.

My family bought this, our first personal computer*, in the early 1980's when I was just entering my teenage years. It was incredibly exciting at the time and we all went into a fever of programming and playing with it to the extent that we wrote up a roster and stuck it to the wall next to the computer.

This impressive machine was actually labelled "CBM 4016". The CBM stood for Commodore Business Machines, the 40 mean it could display 40 characters across a row on the screen, and the 16 meant it had 16KB of memory. We upgraded our 4016 to 32K, hence it was a CBM 4032 really. It was similar to the Commodore PET computer but with a more business-like keyboard.

The processor was a 6502 running at about 1MHz. The green-screen and keyboard were built into the one robust die-cast metal case which even had a bonnet stand like a car. Storage was via an external tape drive (really just a Commodore branded cassette player), or if you were rich, a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive that could store about 170KB of data. Not much, but when your main RAM was only 32KB, quite enough really.

The first upgrades we bought were a hi-res graphics card (still only monochrome of course - any colour as long as it was green!), and an EPROM which plugged into a spare socket on the main board and contained the Friend Word Processor program.

Programming the CBM was pretty difficult since it came with a built in BASIC interpreter, but to do anything interesting you needed to call the peek, poke, and sys functions to interact with port chips and graphics card memory directly or to execute machine code so you could get better performance. I soon tired of using the limited and slow BASIC and switched to writing directly in 6502 machine code. I had soon memorised most of the limited instruction codes for this processor and could sit down with a pad of paper and write a complex program such as a version of Space Invaders entirely from hex numbers. I must have had a lot of time on my hands back in those days!

After the CBM, we next went to the Commodore 64. This was more of a games machine than a serious PC because the only output device has a TV and the resolution was pretty poor for text.

Next I bought myself an IBM compatible Commodore PC running DOS, then a Toshiba Laptop, still running DOS, then gradually progressed to a Windows 3.1 PC, Windows 95, Windows 98, and XP. My current home PC runs Windows 7.

*The CBM was not actually our first computer because my dad had built a "mini-scamp" computer from a kit which was a computer about as primitive as you can imagine. To program the mini-scamp you had to enter binary data and addresses by flipping a set of switches in a row and then press "Deposit" to store it in the meagre memory. The output consisted of a row of LEDs and, later, a speaker.