My First Computer - Atari 800XL

As we debate whether we need 8GB or 16GB in our new M1 Macs, I thought it would be interesting to compare with where I started.

My first computer was an Atari 800XL purchased in 1983. I don’t remember the cost, but I know it was more than my teenage wallet could afford. It was connected to a 13-inch black and white portable TV (portable color televisions were too expensive) and I had a cassette data drive connected to the computer. (This was basically an audio cassette recorder that recorded the data as sound files similar to what you would hear if a modem connected to another computer. Atari used a proprietary interface similar to a serial interface, so the drive was specially made for the Atari computer and was pretty expensive by itself.)

Choosing an Atari was not the mainstream thing to do in 1983. The “cool” computer was the Commodore 64. I liked the Atari because it could play Atari games, and coming from an Atari game console, these were the games I was playing. My favorite was Missle Command.

Eventually, I saved up enough money to add an Epson dot matrix “24-pin letter-quality” printer to my setup and I was good to go.

Software for the Atari came in cartridges that you inserted into the slot on the top of the computer. I purchased a word processing program and a spreadsheet program. The data files were stored on cassette tape.

This computer got me through college.

After purchasing the Atari, I can remember seeing a display set up at my university showing off a new Apple Macintosh computer. This was probably Fall 1984 or maybe Spring 1985. It looked so cool and it seemed light years ahead of my Atari, BUT, it was expensive, way too expensive for a financially broke college student.

My first post-college computer purchased in 1987 was an Epson QX-16, which was state-of-the-art. It was a dual-processor, 16-bit Intel processor that could run both CP/M and MS-DOS. Moreover, it sported dual 5.25-inch floppy drives, one for the program disk and another for the data disk so you didn’t have to constantly switch out disks.

It is incredible to think that previous generations used a single typewriter for decades. When my grandparents died in the early 1980s (they were born around the turn of the century), they had an old typewriter sitting on their desk they still used that was from the 1930s. It was going on 50 years old. How many of us today have technology around our house that is 50 years old? If a tech device is 5 years old we refer to at as “long in the tooth.”


Let’s see. I’ve got a safe that belonged to my great-grandfather that’s well over 100 years old. That’s more of an antique/conversation piece than something that gets used for its intended purpose though.

For technology in actual use, I’ve got a rifle and a couple of shotguns that are well past 50.


My first computer is going on 40 years old.

I had an Atari 400 (never let anyone talk you into getting rid of things you loved). Added real keyboard, 64k memory, etc. Spent HOURS programming it, wrote a basic compiler, a dBase II clone, etc. Never dawned on me I could have sold those :slightly_smiling_face:


My first computers were the IBM PC XT (model 5160) and the Commodore 64. I can’t remember which one we got first in the calendar year. The idea of having a computer in the house was excitement enough. I remember when my Dad walked in and started setting them up. The old days were simpler.


The first computer I used was an Apple II that read it’s data off a cassette tape. First one my family owned was a Apple IIe, with the luxury of a pair of 5.25” disk drives.


My first computer was an Atari 130XE. It was a bundle at Sears and came with a daisy wheel printer! I think the oldest piece of tech I still own and use are a pair of headphones that are perhaps 20 years old.


Ahh, dBase. You could make a good living if you really knew your way around dBase.


Sinclair z80 was my first, magical and painful at the same time (press a key a bit too hard and you would lose connection with external ram module).

Then i had a period of experimenting with friends’ computers; vic20, TRS80 and Acorn Atom before arriving at my all time best the Amiga 1000 and later 4000. Made lots of hardware mods to the amigas, still have them though the little PCB soldered battery leaked and ate some tracks.

I remember paying 18 bucks for a 3.5 floppy (!)

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I still have mine too. What an excellent machine, and so far ahead of its time. People thought because it had a color display, it was just for games.

Also had a Timex/Sinclair , that tiny membrane keyboard, and the display going blank when you press a key, ugh!


I went to the store and stared at the Timex/Sinclair so many times, but I could never get up the nerve to spend the cash on it.

My brother had a TRS-80 Model III that I’d been using for a couple of years, but the first computer I ever bought for myself was a TI-99/4A in 1984, just after it was discontinued and went on sale for $50 at the Kmart where I worked. Never really did anything truly productive with it, but I have fond memories of learning TI Extended BASIC instead of doing my homework. I still have it, and it still works, but the cassette drive is long gone. (I also still have the Intellivision I got in, I believe, 1982, and that still works too.)


First was an IBM PC with two floppies. Eventually added a hard drive. Replaced with a 80286 barebones system then a few other clones until I went with a laptop at work and could use it for personal use too. Stayed with them until I retired then went with my first Mac.

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My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 with 1kB of RAM. After a while I moved to the Commodore 64. At school I watched the “computer room” being built, with Apple II’s.


All-in-one with monitor and thermal printer and cassette tape reader. The thermal paper was the same width as the monitor so it was easy to do a screen dump of the contents of the screen to the paper. Came with HP-Basic, and I knew of no sources of third-party software. But I was just programming for my own purposes. It would be 40 years old now. I did not keep it, but I would not be surprised if it still ran. It was extremely well-built.

Inflation calculator pegs it as $9,900. in 2018 dollars.


I still have my first computer - a ZX Spectrum 48K+ - but it unfortunately stopped booting up around a decade ago. I’ve got an Amiga 500 from 1989, and that’s the oldest working but my pride and joy is my Amiga 1200 that I still use at least weekly for some retro fun, although it’s been heavily modified so I can load any disk using an SD card. That had a whooping 2MB RAM, at the time that seemed like enough for life!


My First computer was a Sinclair ZX81, with a high 8KB Extension board :slight_smile:
It was fun to learn programming Basic on it for the first time.
The next one was also an Atari 800XL with a tape deck, I remember sitting for hours with the ‘Compute!’ magazine typing obscure binary code to load games into it

My first was a TRS-80 Model III. It’s still in my mom’s basement, I need to steal it and see if will power up.

The only ‘technology’ I still have in use? A hand mixer that’s gotta be sixty plus years old, a jigsaw from around 1950 and a radial arm saw from the late 60s.

Oh, and my Coleco Electronic Quarterback.

Or does a wall clock circa 1890 count as technology?

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My first was a TRS-80, purchased in 1979 and then added to over time. Here it is with my then 2 year old son at the keyboard:

I actually designed and built an analog computer in 1970. Still have it but am afraid to power it up.


You might let the magic smoke out.

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I was thinking I went way back on HP till I saw your post. I had the HP 110 “Portable.” 272k RAM, divided between user data and an “electronic disk.” Lotus 1-2-3 release 1A was built in (after VisiCalc, but before Excel). 300 baud - connected to CompuServe and some other terminal services. The printer was separate, but was also battery operated. Pretty sweet setup at the time - back when I actually thought receiving email was fun and exciting!hp-110-portable


Apparently someone at Apple saw fit to include this in SF Symbols:


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