The Data General One

Bob Parsonage, intranet technology leader at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group writes fondly about his old computer.

Bob Parsonage, intranet technology leader at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group writes fondly about his old computer.

In the technology dawn of the mid-1980s, I was working for one of the emerging PC dealers in the South Midlands. Batches of new PCs sporting the exciting new 5Mbyte and 10Mbyte Winchester discs were starting to trickle into the stores, and as we loaded our tiny storeroom with piles of boxes from IBM, Compaq, and other, now defunct, suppliers, three flat, buff-coloured machines were unearthed - DG1s. No-one could say how long they had been there, owing to one or two rapid personnel changes among the sales people.

An inspection of the books revealed a current value of £1,500 each, favourably compared with the well known Luggable, which used 5.25in drives instead of the compact 720Kbyte 3.5in ones, and weighed what seemed like 100 times more. The sales team was given the mission to sell these machines and thus free-up room for another PC. They failed, dismally.

A year later, the machines were still collecting dust and the DG1s were deemed by the new accountant to be worthless (full price to zero in three years). I put in a bid of £5, which was gratefully accepted.

But the story didn't end there, because the DG1, despite its battery life of one hour, the fact it couldn't be used while the battery was charging and the tendency of the screen to go blank when heated up, moved me from a typewriter-written novel that had taken me two years to write half, to completion in six months, including a number of rewrites. A second novel was started on it, and only moved on to hard disc when I purchased an obsolete IBM ATX, also for £5.

This article has been typed on another laptop, a Dell, with a list price of £1,500. Is it so very different? The use of a tool can be measured by what you can do with it. For basic word processing, the DG1 still works. But now it has found a permanent resting-place at Bletchley Park.

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