June 19, 2004

Back In The Day

A couple of folks have responded to my last DSL post with comments about how archaic their communications hardware is; one of them said,

bah, in my day, i had to pick-up a handset, dial a number and utter screeching sounds into it: "psheeeeewwwweeeeeeeschrreeeeeeee bzoooiiiing bzoooiiiiiinnng schreeeeeeeee".

I never had to use an acoustic coupler modem myself, but my first computer came with a 300 bps modem. Three-Zero-Zero, 300.

The computer was a Kaypro 4+88, which cost me $2495 IIRC. It was a Z80-based 8-bit machine which ran CP/M-80. It had dual 5.25" floppy drives, a monitor with green letters, a VT-100 style keyboard (very nice feel to it, as I recall) and it all came in a package the size of a suitcase that you could carry around with you if you didn't mind your arms lengthening by an inch or so each time. It had 64K of memory, plus a daughterboard with an 8088 chip and 256K of memory that you could run MS-DOS on; that was the "+88" in the name. The only MS-DOS software that came with it, though, was dBase II (anybody else remember dBase II?), and this particular version of dBase II was too buggy to use. On the other hand, the 256K of RAM on the daughterboard could be used as a RAM disk (anybody else remember RAM disks?); I used that all the time--I had my WordStar disk set up to copy WordStar and its overlay files to the RAM disk automatically for me, which made WordStar run ever so much faster. (Anybody else remember WordStar? Or overlay files?)

This was back in 1984, and a 300 bps modem was not too quick even then. I shortly went out and spent $750 on a new external modem, and was in heaven. It was a Hayes 1200bps SmartModem, and it was Four Times Faster than the internal modem! Wow!

IIRC, the last time I actually went out and bought a modem it was a 28.8K Zoom modem that cost me less than $100. That was (I'm guessing) about 8 years ago; let's call it 1996.

And the DSL modem I got from Earthlink? It didn't cost me a penny on its own; it's rolled into the monthly service fee, and if I cancel I get to keep it. I'm not sure how much faster it is, but it's a lot.

Year bps Cost bps/$
1984 1200 $700 1.6
1996 28800 $100 288
2004 ??? $0 Infinite

That's some progression, that is.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 19, 2004 07:22 AM

steve h said:

Say, I finally found someone else who has used a Kaypro!

(Admittedly, I was under 10 at the time...but I played games on the thing, when Dad wasn't playing around with dBaseII...)

But I can't remember my Dad ever taking the thing near a phone...he might not have got a modem with his.

I like the mathematical progression at the bottom. It almost reminds me of the good old days (early 1990's) when upgrade-RAM cost roughly $50 per MegaByte.

My last memory upgrade cost me approximately $50, for 512 MB!! But that's not as good as your modem-cost history.

Will Duquette said:

Disk storage has done the same thing. I remember buying an 80MB upgrade drive for one of my first computers; it was around $750 bucks, and worth every penny. Yesterday I bought a 256MB "keychain" USB drive for $70. Over three times as much storage for 1/10 the price--and if I were buying a conventional harddrive instead of a teeny-tiny keychain drive, the difference would be greater by at least an order of magnitude.