My computers

I started using computers very early – in 1991. Through all those years I acquired a lot of new machines, upgraded old ones, switched hardware vendors and changed paradigms. It was a lot of fun! Some details and/or years might not be very accurate, but a lot of information got lost through time. 🙂

IBM PC XT clones

1991: Pravetz 16: Intel 8088, 512KB RAM, 10MB HDD

In 1991 my parents brought home a PC XT clone known in Bulgaria as Pravetz 16. It had a green CRT screen and looked exactly like this:

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The CPU was Intel 8088@4.77MHz and it had 512KB RAM and 10MB HDD. It was a nice machine and initially came installed with MS-DOS 3.22! Of course, later it was updated to MS-DOS 4.01, MS-DOS 5.0, MS-DOS 6.0, MS-DOS 6.22. I’m not sure when I changed COMMAND.COM shell interpreter for 4DOS/NDOS, but this happened eventually.

It had a fatal flaw unfortunately. The dreaded PARITY CHECK 2:

This was a faulty RAM module. Later I think that a friend from the neighborhood offered a working 640KB one, but it was quite expensive. PARITY CHECK 2 happened randomly and kicked me out of my favorite games, but I quickly realized that shuffling around different combinations of TSR programs and/or Norton Commander before running the game, my chances of playing for hours improved.

The hard drive was compressed with Stacker and later I experimented with MS-DOS’s DoubleSpace/DriveSpace.

The CRT was awful, probably radioactive and very demanding on your eyes. Screen protectors were the norm back then. There were 2 types – a glass one with a cable for grounding electrostatic charges (I’m not kidding) and a mesh-like ones which made reading text even more difficult.

Pravetz 16 E, NEC V20@8MHz, 640KB RAM, 20MB HDD

This one was improved with a NEC V20 CPU at 8MHz. I remember that it had visual artifacts when running DOS’s dir command. 🙂

It also had a 20MB HDD and 640KB RAM. Generally, it was a much faster machine than the original.

Intel 286/386SX/386DX, 486DX2

Although not exactly mine, I used several such machines for years. A friend in my neighborhood had a 286. It even had Windows, but a 286 being 286, once entered protected mode, couldn’t revert to real mode and had to be restarted if you wanted to exit back in MS-DOS. This was the first machine on which I played Prehistorik 2. 🙂

I worked and played games on a couple of 386 and 486s. They had something like 1MB-4MB of RAM and up to 80MB HDDs. Mortal Kombat II was great!

1995: AMD Am486 DX4-100, 8MB RAM, 612MB HDD, Trident TGUI9440

This was a very serious machine for its time. I think I got it in 1995 or so. The CPU was much cheaper than Intel and could be overclocked by changing the FSB (with a jumper of course) from 33MHz to 40MHz. It got 8MB of EDO RAM initially and was later extended to 16MB if I’m not mistaken. The HDD was 612MB.

Ahhh, VGA graphics adapter! Finally! The video card was a Trident TGUI9440 with 512KB VRAM if I’m not mistaken. Later it was probably upgraded, but I’m not sure.

The case had a TURBO button of course. 🙂 I loved this machine.

This was the machine that started some of my computer hobbies.

Years later I played Starcraft, but even overclocked to 120MHz, it was slow for more complex battles. A friend’s Pentium 90MHz had no problems. I was jealous.

I was so jealous that for years I was dreaming of a Pentium CPU. And then… the day came!

2001: Intel Celeron 300A, 128MB RAM, 3,2GB HDD, Voodoo Banshee 16MB

Starting from this machine I don’t think I ever did an upgrade entirely. Some parts were leftovers, some were new and some were upgraded gradually when possible. I really liked to buy cheap CPUs/MBs and RAM modules second hand. 🙂

Oh yeah, baby! The real P6 microarchitecture, Covington core! What a beast! Of course, it had a secret trick up its sleeve. FSB 66MHz->75MHz = Celeron 300A@328MHz! It was a super fast machine. Unfortunately, it was the first Celeron without any L2 cache.

128MB SDRAM RAM felt like heaven! The video card was a 3dfx Voodoo Banshee with 16MB VRAM. HDD: 3,2GB Quantum. MB: Acorp 6LX86, chipset i440LX

This CPU+video card combo played a big role for some of my computer hobbies as well.

Later in 2004, the CPU was upgraded to a Mendocino based Celeron@333 with 128KB L2 cache, which overclocked with FSB 75MHz at 375MHz. It did cost 10 BGN / 5 EUR.

If I had a i440BX chipset, I probably could have clocked those Celerons at 100MHz FSB 🙂

2004: AMD Athlon XP 2500+, 256MB RAM, GeForce 4 MX440

The next machine was again a giant leap forward. It also the first I bought myself with the money I earned myself this summer.

Intel’s Pentium 4 was a big failure initially (really, read this series). So I jumped ship to my beloved AMD again. 🙂

CPU: Athlon XP 2500+ Barton@1833MHz with 333MHz FSB, 512KB L2 cache
MB: ASUS A7N8X-X, chipset NVIDIA nForce2-400
RAM: 256MB DDR400
HDD: Probably around 80GB

The Video card was the Voodoo Banshee from the previous machine. Later I upgraded the Voodoo Banshee to a GeForce 4 MX440 64MB for 30 BGN / 15 EUR 🙂

This video card was so much faster and better than the Voodoo Banshee, that I was in a euphoria a couple of days. It was a glorified GeForce 2 MX and lacked proper DirectX 8 support like the GeForce 3 series, but featured Nvidia’s (once nVidia) Video Processing Engine.

2006: AMD Athlon 64 3200+, 512MB RAM, 160GB HDD, LCD screen

64 bit for the masses! The motherboard was ASUS K8N nForce 3, the CPU had 512KB cache, Seagate 160GB HDD at 7200 RPM, probably my first DVD+/-RW NEC, 512MB DDR400 RAM and a leftover video card: GeForce 4 MX 440 128MB, DVI, TVOUT. I never cared too much about games.

In 2007 the video card was upgraded to an nVidia GeForce 6200 for one sole purpose – to enable Windows Vista’s new Aero desktop composition! It turned out inadequate and was replaced to 7600GS.

Those video card upgrades triggered a really cool software development as part of my computer hobbies.

Year 2006 marked my switch from CRTs to LCDs. My first one was a Samsung SM-730BF: 17 inch, 1280 x 1024. I never looked back!

2008: Intel Core 2 Duo E2160 @ 2,88GHz, 4GB RAM, 512GB HDD

Dual core for the masses! 4 years later Intel took over the performance crown again and two CPU upgrades later I finally got a Core 2 Duo E2160 @ 2,88GHz. I think this was the point at which I stopped caring so much about CPU performance. In a way, this became a solved problem from now on. Well, until 2020 that is, but read on. 🙂

I do not really remember the other parameters of this system, but it was my last desktop for a lot of years as you’ll see. The CPU was eventually upgraded to Intel Core Quad Q6600 and the video card to a cheap Palit GeForce 210 1GB with passive cooling for 17 EUR from eBay in 2014. I was never a gamer, but the inclusion of 4th generation PureVideo was of great interest for me.

In 2012 I still didn’t have an SSD – the single biggest upgrade in the last decade.

This was my last desktop machine for a couple of years as I moved in Germany in 2013 with a laptop. It worked 24/7 as a remote server and eventually the motherboard died and I literally trashed it, saving and selling the CPU.

2011: Laptop Acer Aspire 5610 15,6″, T2050@1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 128GB SSD

I found it under a bed of a friend of mine. She haven’t used it for a long time. It wasn’t working. She literally said “take it and do whatever you like with it”. I fixed it, bought a new battery for it and saved it. Worked like a charm for a couple of years.

The CPU was an Intel Core Duo T2050 / 1.6 GHz and I upgraded the RAM to the maximum supported of 2GB. The display was superb. I took it with me in Germany in 2013 for a home machine and it worked surprisingly well for a 6-year-old laptop from 2007 received as a gift found under a bed.

This machine received the first SSD I bought in my life – Samsung EVO 750 128GB. The difference was night and day. Since then I decided that I won’t buy another HDD ever, except for NAS storage.

2014: Laptop Acer Aspire 5349 15,6″ i3-2310M, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD

A lovely machine. I had it until 2018. It was very reliable, faster and more polished than the previous one. Naturally, it received the SSD from the previous laptop.

2014: Laptop Macbook Pro 15, i7-4870HQ, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina Display

macOS FTW! The smoothest and the most refined piece of hardware and software I’ve ever used. This laptop was near perfect. I used it for a year or so and I loved it. The display was gorgeous and the battery lasted almost a full working day developing and deploying in Android Studio and an Android Emulator.

As much as I liked macOS, I never got really used to it. I’ve been using Windows and Linux for a very, very long time and the switch just couldn’t happen. I’m super picky about my working environment and productivity and the software I use. I missed many excellent applications I was used to. I also didn’t like Apple’s walled garden approach. Sure, it has a lot of advantages, but drawing the line, I decided that Apple/macOS just isn’t my thing.

I had the option to return this machine to the company I worked for and I did, reverting back to my old and trusted Acer Aspire 5349.

2018: Laptop Lenovo Thinkpad L480 14″, i7-8550U, 24GB RAM, 512GB SSD

I’ve always wanted a ThinkPad. After careful analysis, L480 ticked all the right boxes at a still reasonable price (some would disagree). I wanted a 14″ matte display without PWM as my eyes are flicker sensitive. I wanted a very powerful, but efficient mobile CPU, lots of RAM and a blazing fast SSD. The CPU is 4C/8T, clocks up to 4GHz and is efficient when power constrained. The SSD is a Samsung EVO 970 512GB NVMe. The GPU is the Intel HD Graphics 630 – good enough.

I thought that this machine will replace a proper desktop for a power user like me. I wanted to do Android development, to run virtual machines and to have power on the go as well as 2 monitors and an external keyboard on a desk. I wanted a one size fits all. I was wrong.

The fan noise was a problem. I adore quiet machines and I somehow missed the fact that a laptop is always going to be noisy when used as a desktop machine. Some people aren’t bothered by noises, but I am. It also wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be. Some heavy Android projects still needed too much time to compile. The CPU is fast, but it is still constrained at 15W. Unfortunately 45W mobile CPU laptops were too bulky and heavy, compromising portability.

The warranty was only 1 year and for some odd reason the motherboard went bad after 1 year and 3 months. The machine stopped recognizing its battery and CPU fan. It also displayed an odd CMOS checksum error when starting. Fortunately for me, the official service in Sofia decided to change the motherboard free of charge even outside warranty. I was very grateful! The laptop is working great right now.

In hindsight this purchase was a mistake. I should have bought a lighter and slower machine with better battery life without planning to use it as a desktop machine. The battery life sucks and it’s a bit too heavy (1.7kg) for my taste. I still love it!

2019: HP EliteDesk 800 G1, i7-4790@3.60GHz, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD

Considering my last desktop machine was bought 11 years earlier, this purchase was refreshing. I got sick of the ThinkPad’s fans during development and I needed something quiet. This HP EliteBook is a wonderful machine. I got it really cheap when I was switching apartments, so it was a quick call. Worked like a charm! I changed the fans with Noctuas and it became super quiet. Definitely the best desktop computer I’ve ever had. So compact, so well integrated, so quiet and so fast! I thought I won’t need anything faster for years.

I was wrong.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I needed to work from home. During this time I was working on a very demanding AOSP compilation project. I needed virtual machines, lots of RAM (16GB wasn’t enough), a super-fast CPU and a lot of fast SSD storage. Compilation times took over an hour with this 4C/8T CPU at 3.6GHz. This was definitely not fast enough. Also for a couple of years, I had my own 3 monitors at my workplace. Naturally, while working from home, I bought a third monitor as well. The EliteDesk’s integrated Intel GPU supports 3 monitors, but the machine has only 2 digital outputs and 1 analog. The last one’s quality left something to be desired on 1920×1200@60Hz.

BTW, I like Dell U2415 for their 16:10 aspect ratio, lack of PWM and thin bezels.

The RAM was upgraded to 32GB, I bought another 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD and the third monitor was connected with an analog VGA. Suboptimal, but still worked. I decided that I will keep this computer, but I needed something much, much better to be really productive on this demanding project.

2020: AMD Ryzen 9 3950x 16C/32T@3.5GHz, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

Welcome to the future.

No, 4C/8T wasn’t enough. No, 32GB RAM wasn’t enough. And no, I don’t play games, but I actually need to connect 4 digital displays (3 monitors and a TV). I want it to be quiet. I want it to be really, really fast.

Asus X570 Pro motherboard rocking a super fast Ryzen 9 3950x with 16 cores and 32 threads with massive 1MB L1, 8MB L2 and 64MB L3 caches. Noctua NH-D15 cooler. Corsair VENGEANCE LPX 64GB with free slots for another 64GB in the future. Seasonic PSU. be quiet! Silent Base 601 case. Additionally, I have 6 very slow Silent Wings 2 fans for silent, but good airflow. The CPU is reaching ~3.6GHz all core and ~4.7GHz single-core boost. Literally, more than 4x raw CPU speed increase compared to the already fast EliteBook.

All this power comes in a super quiet package too! This was the thing I didn’t anticipate when I made plans to use the ThinkPad as a desktop machine. This machine is insanely fast and quiet and I really like both fast hardware and as little distractions as possible while coding.

Notable hardware that got transferred to this machine: Logitech C920 webcam, Microsoft Sculpt mouse and keyboard.

The NVMe SSD was bought just a couple of months ago for the EliteBook and got transferred here. The GeForce wasn’t brand new, but as I said earlier I don’t play games and I need it for multiple-display connectivity. I choose MSI Gaming X for its massive cooling approach and silent operation.

This time I think I’ve done my homework and I really do not expect to upgrade for the next 10 years. Time will tell if I’m right.

For this first time in my life, I was able to use a GPU for something besides games. You can read about it in my computer hobbies page.

Conclusion

Whoa! This was a great journey. I actually never knew that I had so many computers throughout all these years. If someone would have asked me, the count inside my head would have been probably 3x shorter. It took a lot of digging in old emails but was enlightening to see how fast the technology has advanced.

If you are interested, I’ve written my thoughts on hardware progress in another blog post.

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