90s computer brands

90s computer brands

Some 90s computer brands are the same as today, but a lot more companies played in the field than now. Profit margins were higher then, so industry consolidation wasn’t the matter of survival that it is now.

Here’s a look back at some of the brands of old, including some famous PC brands, some not-so-famous, and some notorious. The 1990s were certainly a make or break time for many of them.

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The IBM PS/1 (or IBM PS1)

The IBM PS/1 (or IBM PS1)

The IBM PS/1, sometimes called the IBM PS1, was a line of 1990s personal computer systems, not to be confused with the Sony Playstation video game console that’s also often called the PS1. The PS/1 was IBM’s second attempt at a mass market consumer PC, after the ill-fated PCjr.

You can neatly divide the PS/1 into two generations. While they ran the same software, they had major philosophical differences. Perhaps more than any other computer line, they represent IBM’s change of heart in the early 1990s as it tried to survive in an extremely competitive and crowded market.

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What is a game cartridge?

What is a game cartridge?

What is a game cartridge? If you’re asking, you must not have grown up in the 1980s. But that’s OK. We’re happy to share our generation’s fun with you.

A game cartridge is a plastic case containing a circuit board, a connector, and a ROM chip. CDs and DVDs ultimately displaced them because they offered higher capacity at a lower cost. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the only lasers our game consoles had were the ones they drew on the screens in games about aliens. We liked our cartridges, even if we called them tapes sometimes.

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What happened to Packard Bell?

What happened to Packard Bell?

What happened to Packard Bell? It ceased operations in the United States in 2000, after a 14-year reign of terror on the consumer market.

But there’s more to the story than that. The Packard Bell story is a brilliant piece of marketing. The computers were terrible, but the marketing was as good as it gets. And that’s one of the reasons people remember it as one of the more prominent of the 90s computer brands, even if they don’t usually remember it fondly.

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What to look for in a monitor

What to look for in a monitor

Most buying guides for monitors assume you’re buying a really expensive monitor for gaming. But there’s a lot more to look for than refresh rate and response time.

A good monitor can last 10 years and multiple computers, so it pays to make a good decision when buying one, even when you’re not spending $500. There can be a significant difference even between two $100 models, or between a $60 model and a $70 model, that will save you money in the long run.

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Buy as much computer as you need

Veteran IT journalist Guy Wright advises not to buy any more computer than you need. Wright was a prominent Commodore journalist, so he’s been thinking this way for literally decades. I grew up reading the magazines he edited in the 1980s and 1990s–yes, really–so it’s not surprising that I would agree with him.

I saw a couple of points worth clarifying.

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The joy of monitors

One of my monitors died this week. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to, which is a good thing. Flat panel LCDs are more reliable than CRTs were. The dead monitor is an LCD, but it was a cheap and nasty Dell 15-inch made in 2001. I bought it used, and for much less than it was worth (even if it was made for the modern-day equivalent of Packard Bell), so I got my money’s worth out of it.

This weekend I went monitor shopping, with a budget of one hundred bucks.When buying new or semi-new, $100 is pretty much the lower limit. Nobody wants to sell a monitor for any less than that. Historically that’s usually been the case anyway. What’s amazing is what $100 will buy. 19 inches is pretty standard, although you’ll have to shop around a bit, and what you’ll buy will probably be a closeout.

Still, that’s remarkable. I remember paying more than $400 for a 19-inch CRT that dominated a desk. This would have been in 2001 or 2002.

And I remember talking with a champion Black Friday shopper several years ago bragging about how many LCDs he was able to scoop up for $200 apiece. These would have been 15-inch models, at best.

My timing turned out to be good though, as woot.com was selling a refurbished, debranded HP 20-inch LCD for $99 yesterday. I picked one up. I would have been satisfied with a 19-inch model, but the local stores had sold out of their 19-inch HP monitors. I’m not terribly picky about monitors, but I’ve really come to like the current generation of HP displays.

Will this monitor still work in 2017? I don’t know. But I have two other LCDs from 2001, both of which work fine. So it might.

Back in the CRT days, I wouldn’t buy anything but an NEC, because I’d never seen any other brand consistently last 8 years. It’s nice to be able to buy any old brand and expect that kind of lifespan today.

Is this Apple a surprise to anyone?

So, Apple unveiled its new Imac today. (I’m sick of improper capitalization. We speak English, not C++.) To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, it has a bigger screen. And I’m sure it’s not too surprising that they crammed everything into the unit next to the screen. It’s the next logical step, after the lamp-shaped Imac.

So how’s it gonna do?I think it has potential. Do people really want laptops because they can carry them everywhere they go, or do they want laptops because they can move them about the house freely and don’t have to have a dedicated “computer room”?

I suspect to most people, the latter is more important. Most people have better things to do with their lives than surf the ‘net at Starbucks or Panera Bread.

This new Imac can go on a small desk in a study or spare bedroom and not take over an entire wall the way computers have been doing since the late 1970s. As long as there’s a way to add some memory, and there are ports for people to plug in their digital cameras and their portable MP3 players and a printer, they’ll be happy.

Who knows, maybe demand for wireless printers will increase too.

Some analysts have said they don’t think all-in-one is the slam dunk it was in 1998. I agree it isn’t, but small is a slam dunk. Witness the explosive popularity of cube PCs. Yes, it flopped for Apple, but Apple’s cubes lacked the flexibility, there was too much confusion about their expandability and what exactly they were compatibile with–I designed a Mac network for a client right around the time the Cube was released, but the rumor was it would only work with Apple monitors. That alone killed the deal. They bought G4 towers instead, which would work with NEC and Viewsonic monitors.

But the other problem with the Cube was the price. Yes, it was cheaper than a G4 tower. But the price difference wasn’t enough to make people willing to take a chance on it. And besides, if it was cheapness you wanted, there were at least four companies willing to sell you a PC for half the price of a Cube. Emachines would even sell you a PC for half the price of an Imac.

And that’s the biggest problem I see with this new Imac: price. $1299 gets you in the game. Ten years ago, that was cheap. But this isn’t 1994. Emachines didn’t exist in 1994, and while a Mac would cost you more than a Packard Bell, there wasn’t much price difference between a Mac and a Compaq or an IBM. Compaq or IBM usually had one model that sold for a hundred or two less than the cheapest Apple, and Apple usually wouldn’t give you quite as much CPU speed or quite as much disk space, but if you walked into the store with $1500 in your pocket, which was pretty much the selling price of an average PC, you could walk out with a Mac just as easily as you could walk out with something that ran Windows.

What will Dell give you today for $800? 2.8 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 40 GB hard drive, CD burner, printer, 17-inch monitor, and some software.

For the same money, Apple gives you 1.25 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 40 GB HD, CD burner, and a 17-inch display. No printer.

For $1,299, the price of the new Imac, Dell gives you twice the CPU power and twice the memory. Just not as much wow factor.

Yes, I know the Pentium 4 is a horribly inefficient processor but the design does scale surprisingly well, and efficiency alone won’t make up a 1.6 GHz speed deficit. Besides, if you’re willing to spend four figures, you can get an AMD Opteron. Just not from Dell.

Will this Imac sell? Yes. Will it do much to increase Apple’s 2.2 percent market share? I doubt it. The main audience is going to be people with aging CRT-based Imacs who’ve been holding out for something with a G5 in it. They’ll buy it, find it’s a lot faster than their old one and takes up less space. Of course they’ll like it. But it’s still the Amiga problem. The Amiga didn’t take over the market because it it only sold 6 million units. The Amiga was a commercial failure because those 6 million units sold to 1.5 million people.

People will ooh and ah over how little space this new Imac takes and how convenient its wireless keyboards are. But most of them will buy a Dell because it’s faster. Or cheaper. Or both. Maybe they’ll complain about how much less convenient it is, but it’s just as likely they’ll forget about it.

It happened with the first Imac and it happened with the Cube and it happened with the dual G4 and it happened with the G5. Who are we kidding? To some extent, it’s been happening since 1983 when the Lisa came out. People see the machine and it knocks their socks off until they see the price tag. The classes buy it anyway, while the masses figure out how to get by with something cheaper.

History is going to repeat itself one other way too. Somewhere in the Far East, I guarantee you a no-name maker of whitebox PCs is designing a box that puts the brains of the outfit behind the LCD, just like this Imac. Maybe the thought didn’t occur to the designer until this week. Maybe the designer has been working on it for months already.

It will look a lot like this new Imac, only it will have an AMD or Intel processor in it, and it will run Windows. It might be three months before we see it. It might even be six. But it will appear, and it will be priced under $1,000.

It will sell. And within another six months, everyone will be doing it. This new form factor may not come to dominate the market, but it won’t take much for it to outsell this new Imac. A small percentage of 97.8 percent is likely to be a lot bigger than even a large percentage of 2.2 percent. Compared to the new Imac, these clones will look like a runaway success.

And Mac fanatics will be screaming about another Apple innovation stolen by someone else.

Laptop or desktop?

All this talk today about cheap notebooks like the Sotec 3120x begs another question: Who should buy one?
Nearly six years ago, I published a column in the Columbia Missourian newspaper. My working title was 101 Reasons NOT to Buy a Laptop but a cooler-headed editor toned it down. I pointed out that you can buy twice the computer for the same amount of money, and laptops are hard to upgrade and they break a lot and you shouldn’t buy one without an extended warranty. (I was shocked to read that I’d said that way back then.)

All of that’s still true today. Except for the twice as much computer for the same amount of money bit. Thank goodness that’s changed.

Now you can buy twice as much computer for half the money.

Back then my job was to set up and fix laptops. I didn’t actually use one very much. I’ve been using one nearly every day for the past year and I’ve found some things to like about laptops now.

Portability. Duh. But this means not only can you take it with you, but you can stash it easily when company’s coming over.

Small size. A desktop computer’s going to take up most of the desk. My current computer desk has more usable space on it than my kitchen counter, which is nice because that gives me some room to work. Or put more computers on it. Guess which I do? But anyway, I can set up a laptop on a small desk and still have space to work.

Quiet. A lot of desktop PCs have three, even four fans in them. They make a lot of noise. Laptops have one fan and it doesn’t always even go all the time. Go back to a desktop and you’ll discover you’ve forgotten how much you like quiet. (Apologies to Charlie for stealing one of his lines.)

Gorgeous display. Another coworker came in today to work on my laptop (more on that in a bit) and to complain about another coworker. He was griping about how his laptop display looked when he hooked it up to an external monitor. I asked why anyone would hook up a laptop to a CRT. I guess it makes you look important.

Flat-panel LCD displays are gorgeous. No flicker, great color saturation, perfect focus, really easy on the eyes. They don’t update fast enough to be good for 120-fps 3D gaming, but for everything else, they’re fabulous. Staring at a CRT for 8 hours wears me out. Staring at an LCD for 8 hours has no effect on me. I’ve got a nice 19-inch CRT–an NEC, and it’s one of the professional line, not the consumer line–and it’s great. But I’ll take my laptop’s 13″ LCD.

You can get a similar effect by connecting an LCD to a desktop, but you’ll get digital converted to analog and back on an inexpensive one, which will affect display quality ever so slightly. A laptop is all digital, from video chip to screen.

The downside. After living with one, I’ve changed my tune a little. It used to be when someone said they were getting a laptop, I’d cringe the same way I would if they told me they were getting a sex change. I don’t do that anymore.

But there are still issues. I’ve broken my laptop twice in the past four months. And I treat mine well. The first was a hard drive. The second was the power connector–a piece of plastic snapped off. You’re looking at a motherboard swap to fix that one, in this age of people not knowing how to solder.

Laptop keyboards and mice take getting used to. Every time my girlfriend comes over and needs to use a computer, she sits down at the laptop and asks me for a “real mouse.”

And I miss my IBM clackety keyboards when I’m using a laptop. (I suspect Charlie would get really annoyed if I used one of those at work though, since he’s in the cube next to me, and the way I type, those keyboards can overpower fan noise. Or phone conversations. Or earthquakes.)

Upgrades remain a problem. I’ve got an IBM Thinkpad 600. Great display, great keyboard, and it’s small and light. But it’s slow. The memory tops out at some weird amount–I don’t think I can put 256 megs in it. CPU upgrades are all but out of the question. I can put a faster hard drive in it, but desktops give a lot more options. Even in my old original IBM AT case I can shoehorn a newer motherboard with an 800 MHz VIA C3 processor, and I can put in a 15K SCSI hard drive if I really want to. And that’s a 17-year-old case. I’ve got better upgrade options with a 17-year-old IBM PC/AT than I do with a four-year-old IBM Thinkpad!

So should anyone buy this new generation of cheap laptops? Well, remember, “cheap” is relative. Even when you can finagle into buying one for $800 through creative use of coupons, that’s still a pretty serious chunk of change.

And because they break as much as ever, I have trouble recommending a laptop as an only computer. If you’ve already got a desktop and plan to keep it and can afford a cheap snazzy laptop, then by all means go for it. You’ll love the freedom to move around. If you can’t afford $800 plus the extended warranty, wait a month or six. They’ll come down. I believe you’ll be able to buy a budget laptop for $599 by this time next year. Possibly even $499.

But if you’re buying your first computer, I think you’re better off with a low-end desktop and a nice flat-panel LCD display. The LCD will outlive the desktop PC, and the desktop PC will give you a lot more upgrade options. And as someone who’s been playing with these things for 20 years, trust me: You’ll want upgrade options.

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