Computers and Education: Modern Era

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

Dell Inspiron 4100

The computer I went to college with. Once I decided I was going to the University of Denver, with its requirement that every incoming student have a laptop computer, I started eagerly poring through the various Dell catalogs that kept getting delivered to our house. In a fortuitous development, my parents decided they would sell the upright piano (that had been practically untouched since elementary school) in order to pay for my new computer. In other words, I was trading one computer for another.

I had a ton of fun customizing various options and configurations on the Dell website. I remember being quite excited that I could customize the color of my laptop. Unfortunately, the green panels ended up costing extra, so I went with a quite outlandish School Bus Yellow (this was also during my phase of wearing obnoxiously loud Hawaiian shirts as often as possible).

I actually still have this computer sitting on a shelf in my office. It was quite the beast when it was purchased in 2002, and actually aged fairly well. It had a whopping 512 MB of RAM, a GeForce 2 graphics card, and a native resolution of 1600×1200. The front bays were adjustable, meaning you could replace the floppy drive with a DVD-ROM or even an extra battery. Unfortunately, it did not have a built-in WiFi antenna, so I had to add an external one through the built-in PC Card slot.

I ended up using this computer for about six years, until I went back to grad school. It traveled to France with me. The battery is long dead, and the DVD drive tends to crash the computer if it’s not seated just so, but it still holds a soft spot in my heart. It was even the source of my first hard drive crash scare (TL;DR, I lost all my pictures from France, but years later was finally able to recover them).

Man, good times. Good times.

Dell XPS M1530


Still my current system, and the first one I had to pay for outright with my own money. I bought this one when I decided to go back to grad school, as I figured I would need a more robust system for doing things like running AutoCAD and modeling in SketchUp (to say nothing about the new games I was itching to play). Plus, I still had money at the time. So back I went to the Dell website, tweaking and customizing the specs to get the best computer I could for my money.

I think I did a pretty good job. I was able to get a staggering (at the time) 4 GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a 320 GB hard drive (how would I ever manage to fill that up?), and a nice, fast Geforce 8600 graphics card (my current gaming bottleneck). The only downside was that it came pre-loaded with Windows Vista. So the first thing I did, once it came in the mail, was take my Windows XP disc from my old laptop, format the hard drive, and install the old OS on it. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that XP didn’t have the proper audio drivers for my system hardware. I begrudgingly re-installed Vista, but XP SP3 eventually fixed that issue. I have since upgraded to Windows 7 (64-bit, to take full advantage of my RAM and GPU memory), and it’s been working great.

But like its predecessors, it’s beginning to show its age. While I definitely got my use out of the 4-year warranty (which I can heartily recommend), my hard drive started giving up the ghost. Luckily the failure wasn’t catastrophic this time, but it was still too close for comfort. I ended up replacing it with a solid state drive (which I’ve written about previously), and it feels a lot faster, which should let me squeeze a bit more life out of it. But I can feel the new tech itch already starting to build.

* * *

So there you have it: a brief account of my history of using computers for school. I know I didn’t go into much detail as to what I used each platform for, but I imagine you’ll be able to fill in the blanks. Just try to keep your mind out of the gutter, alright? I’m pretty sure my parents read this blog.

Anyway, to me, it’s less important what was done with each technological iteration as the feelings and memories each one invokes. For instance, I hadn’t thought about that Brother computer in years, and once I finally found a picture of it online, the memories came flooding back. Same with the AlphaSmart and IBM laptop.

Also interesting is how my technological upgrades have, in the past, been primarily motivated by educational needs and opportunities. Now that I’m done with grad school (and have no intentions to go back [for the moment]), it’s going to be a bit different. I’m going to be upgrading because I want to, not because I have to. As someone who sometimes has trouble doing nice things for himself, this will take some getting used to.

Does anyone else chronicle their computing history like this?