25 years ago I was just finishing up my senior year of college. I was just as much a nerd then as I am today so of course I had quite a bit of tech in my on-campus apartment. I recently found an old video from that time with some of the gear visible. Check it out:
The PC pictured began its journey as a Pentium 166, assembled with parts procured from local computer fairs. It was the first PC I built myself. By the time I graduated, the PC had undergone an upgrade to a Pentium 233 MMX that was just a simple CPU swap.
My PC was pretty decked out – it had a Creative Labs Voodoo2 GPU which was lightyears beyond what game consoles could do at the time. This is when the PC really started to prove itself as a gaming platform with Quake II and many other games really pushing the graphical hardware available at the time.
You’ll notice on the front of the case that I had both a 3.5″ floppy drive and an IDE Zip drive. Thanks to its IDE interface the Zip drive ran much faster than than the external parallel version that was more widely used at the time. I recall that this particular zip drive required a version of Windows 95 that was only sold with OEM computers which took a little bit of work to acquire!
The CD-ROM drive was actually one of the first DVD drives available for PCs also from Creative Labs. The drive came bundled with an interface card that included an MPEG 2 decoder for watching DVD movies. It also came with a custom version of Wing Commander IV which had DVD quality cut scenes that were a major step up from the regular DOS version.
My video also caught the computer’s screen running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4 and Winamp that was playing some tunes while my girlfriend was reading her email.
Earlier that year I discovered the wonder of MP3s. The fact that such a small file could produce such high fidelity sound was nothing short of miraculous. Remember, this was a time when storing uncompressed CD wav files on a hard drive was an impractical endeavor due to file sizes and high storage costs. The advent of MP3s represented a significant leap in music technology, enabling us to enjoy our favorite tunes without worrying about running out of disk space.
That year my campus rolled out a residential ethernet network for all of the on-campus housing. That gave us a direct pipe into the University’s T1 line running at a whopping 1.5 megabits per second. It was a huge step up from the dialup modems we were using up until that point. Transitioning back to dialup after graduation was a major bummer – it would be another three years before DSL service was available at my house.
It was scary too because there were zero security safeguards with many student computers openly exposed to others on campus and the rest of the Internet for that matter. Personal firewalls were still a long ways off.
My Cell Phone
1998 was also the year that saw the introduction of digital cellular phones. I owned a Qualcomm QCP-820 phone that operated on Bell Atlantic’s CDMA network. Fun fact: Bell Atlantic later became Verizon. The QCP-820 was a dual band phone meaning it could operate in digital or analog mode. Digital coverage was few and far between when I first got the phone. But when I was lucky enough to find myself in a digital zone the quality of the call was substantially better.
Here’s another shot of the phone next to the iconic solo cup design of the late 90’s:
The Living Room
Despite the PC Powerhouse in my bedroom we still had a few game consoles on hand which were more fun for local multiplayer games. At this point in 1998 the Sony Playstation had become the dominant home video game console. You can see it sharing space with our VHS VCR that we used as our DVR to record our favorite shows when we were out and about and of course for Blockbuster rentals.
Also on hand, but sadly less frequently used, was my Sega Genesis (the very same one you’ll see on my YouTube set!) along with the Sega 32X attached. A year earlier the 32X add on was discontinued and liquidated so I picked it up for only about $30. The Genesis underneath was purchased in 1989 right when it came out and was almost 9 years old when this video was taken.
What’s remarkable is how many technologies came to be in the short span of time between my freshmen and senior year (1994-1998). Today’s technology is certainly better than it was back then but what we have today has mostly evolved from all of this 90’s innovation.