First computer shows how far we’ve come

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Kenna Peters

My parents cleaned out a closet a couple weeks ago that hadn’t been explored in years, and they found some really interesting items.

The most interesting was the box from my first computer, a Timex Sinclair 1000. My father was a computer technician, and when an affordable computer became available, he was one of the first to buy one. It cost about $100 in 1982, when the minimum wage was $3.35.

The selling points for the Timex Sinclair 1000?

“The Timex Sinclair 1000 is the first personal computer featuring our new microchip design. The design utilizes four powerful microchips, including a unique Master Chip that replaces as many as 18 chips on other personal computers. The Timex Sinclair 1000, with the optional 16K RAM Pack accessory, is a compact computer with all the power and high-performance capacity you are likely to need for personal use.”

Wait. “…Optional 16K RAM Pack accessory?”  No, that isn’t a typo. The computer, without the optional pack, actually only had two kilobytes of memory.  According to the website unitconversion.org, that is equal to 0.000001907 gigabyte. The cheapest laptop currently on Walmart.com, an Acer for $248, has 1GB memory and a 160GB hard drive. If I did my math correctly, it would take 524,383.85 times the memory of the Timex Sinclair 1000 to equal just the 1GB memory available on the Acer.

The box also states the computer is “Complete, ready to use.” Just connect it to your black and white or color TV (ours was black and white) and your audiocassette recorder. Without the connection to the recorder, there was no way to store information long term.

So, what could you actually DO with the Timex Sinclair 1000? Play games, but you had to program the computer first, using BASIC, the easiest program language to understand, according to the box. If you didn’t have it connected to a cassette recorder, you would have to reprogram the computer every time you turned it on.  My dad thought it was important that I learn BASIC, so although there were preprogrammed cassettes available, I didn’t know about them.

The last time I was in the electronics department of the local big-box store, I noticed computers with 1TB memory. Using the same converter as I did before, I would need 536,870,912 Timex Sinclair 1000 units to get that 1TB.

My dad, Ken Turley, the retired computer technician, tried to explain the difference between 1KB and 1GB, to my daughter by comparing it to containers of water.

“If 1KB was a glass of water, and you poured it out on Main Street in Joplin, no one would notice. But,” he continued, “if you poured out 1GB worth of water in the same place, it would flood the whole town.”

In 1982, that 2KB computer was the latest and greatest. We really couldn’t imagine needing more storage than it plus the optional accessory pack offered. I can’t wait to see what we are using in another 20 years or so.