My First Time

Remember your first time? Endlessly talking with your friends about it; lapping up every detail from your friend who finally did it; the anticipation that builds; the excitement just thinking about when and where it would happen and under what circumstances. The emotional roller coaster you go through: Will there be fireworks? Will I see flashing lights? Will I know the right moves? Will I know what goes where and when to do it?

Yes, building your first computer can be a real emotional experience. I built my first computer almost by accident and just kept on going from there.

I had been going to bankruptcy auctions as a cheap way to acquire expensive woodworking tools for 20-30 cents on the dollar. As I rounded out my tool inventory and scanned the paper for auctions, I saw one for a computer store. I had an IBM PS2-80 (a 386) and managed to upgrade it to a 486-50, but I knew this was old technology and wanted better. Maybe I could get something for a song.

I wound up at the computer store auction along with a bunch of other folks I would get to know better. When you go to these auctions, the same guys pretty much show up all the time. I walked around the store before the auction started and saw two motherboards. Hey, why not build a new machine? I opened the box and started reading the manual – did not look all that difficult.

I had not gone to this auction with building a machine in mind, but I quickly determined that was the way I wanted to go. Now, frantically, I start looking around – what else do I need? A box, some cards etc. I make a note ot what to bid on and the auction starts.

Luckily the motherboards are early in the auction, and I get one (the only one with the all important manual) for $95. What a beauty – State of the Art – an Amptron! Now I start to bid on the other items I need – a CD ROM ($35), a case ($30), and some kind of card I knew I would probably need ($25 – a PCI card – never used it).

I take my booty home and begin to do some research in earnest about what to do. I find stuff on the internet about building computers, I go to the bookstore and get a “Twelve Easy Steps to Build a Computer” type book.

Hmmm…I need EDO RAM, a hard drive, a floppy drive, a CPU and a video card. I look at the CD ROM – what’s a SCSI? More research – my bargain drive needs a SCSI card to work. Add it to the list.

Now to acquire my other items: I go to another auction and see someone I know from other auctions. I tell him what I am doing and he has 16 MB of EDO RAM cheap – $400. Need the ram, so I buy it. At that time, RAM was expensive so in fact it was not a bad deal, but not a great deal either. I pick up a floppy for $20 – used. I see an ad for an Adaptec SCSI for $99 – Staples. I get it.

Still need a hard drive; I see an ad in the paper: Egghead is having a sale – 1.2 G for $225, a steal! Got my hard drive. Now I need video and a CPU. Next I see an ad for a computer show – what’s that about? Go to the show and discover a wonderful world where dozens of computer parts vendors hawk all kinds of stuff at prices that make Egghead and COMP USA look like Rolls Royce dealers.

Get my video card – Diamond Stealth 3000 ($100) and the fastest CPU I can find – a Pentium 133 ($250) with fan. I am blessed!

Now I have all the parts, just have to put them together. I have a Windows 3.1 disk so that’s what the OS will be. Now I assemble $1254 worth of parts on the living room table, slowly, deliberately, with much checking, rechecking and check once more, just in case. Set the jumpers on the board. Check everything again. Now I think “Will there be a blue flash or what?”

Time to power up – the real moment of truth. I have visions of $1254 worth of electronic parts becoming door stops and paper weights. My family looks at me – I’m sweating. I hit the switch, the speaker goes “Beep” and this mass of cables, boards, chips and drives comes alive.


What a rush! The rest of it goes not too badly – into BIOS to set things up, reboot, find the drives and I proceed to load DOS and then Windows 3.1 with multiple floppies.

Once it was actually working, the quest for better performance begins and incrementally I build a knowledge base through the internet, books and other folks with the same interests. And that’s pretty much how I got started, learned and launched into a fascinating hobby that continues to amaze me.

Best of all, I have become part of a community of great folks united by a common interest which transcends politics, countries and other boundaries, and for that I am especially grateful.

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