I built my first computer in 1992, when I was around eight years old. Since then I have built hundreds of computers, some for me, but mostly for others. I have always found the process of designing, building and tweaking computers to be great fun!
At eight I obviously didn’t have any money of my own, but was lucky enough to have parents that were willing to fund my hobby, as well as a willingness to ask businesses for any old components.
The system I build was an Intel i486SX (Intel 80486SX), running at 25MHz. At the time I wanted Intel’s new 486DX, but unfortunately it was outside of my budget. The 486SX provided a lower cost of entry, thanks to the disabled floating-point unit, a capability that wasn’t widely utilized at the time.
I did fairly quickly upgrade the CPU, with an Intel i486 OverDrive. This chip was really designed for individuals who couldn’t afford a new computer with Intel’s latest silicon (the Pentium range). This was my first component upgrade and thankfully it was incredibly simple, although I still remember spending an incredible amount of time ensuring my anti-static band was connected correctly.
When looking at RAM, I had 4MB of Extended Data Out (EDO) Memory. This was fairly average for the time and met the minimum requirements of most software.
Persistent storage was delivered via a 120MB Parallel ATA (PATA) Hard Disk Drive, which connected via an Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) interface. This capacity is obviously laughable by todays standards, but at the time was fairly decent (the shareware version of Doom was 2.3MB).
Regarding graphics, initially the system only included 2D Graphics, as a dedicated 3D Graphics Card was a premium product. I did however eventually persuade my parents to buy me a 3DFX Voodoo Banshee PCI 16MB.
This card was special to me as it unlocked a world of 3D games that were previously unplayable (not through a lack of trying). I was drawn to the Voodoo Banshee because it was one of the first combined 2D/3D graphics solutions. This is obviously the standard today, but in the early 90’s you generally had two graphics cards (adding cost and complexity to the build).
The Voodoo Banshee was similar to the legendary Voodoo 2, except it was running at higher clocks and only had one texture unit. A major advantage to the Voodoo Banshee was its flexibility, as it could run the majority of Direct3D games faster than a single Voodoo 2 card, supported Glide (e.g. Unreal) and could even run multi-texturing games (only slower than the Voodoo 2, due to the single texture unit).
The system originally ran DOS, where I spent the majority of my time writing simple programs and playing games like Wolfenstein, Doom, Ultima and Little Big Adventure. However I eventually upgraded to Windows 3.1, which opened an entirely new world of graphical user interface driven applications.
This system certainly wasn’t cutting edge or even good to look at (a classic beige box), but it did start my obsession with technology, something that has become a core part of my life.