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Computers: The 1990’s – You paid how much?

Black and White laser printer. A bargain in 1994 at $1000

Recently I found a couple of old catalogues in our filing cabinet that I had kept for some unknown reason. I was looking at the prices of computers and was reminded what an expensive hobby it used to be. The catalogue was from July 1996. There were 14 desktop computers ranging from A$2999 to A$4099 with an average price of a whopping A$3412. The $4099 one was described as “Unprecedented power & storage for small business and accounting needs”. Its specs were:

  • 100MHz Processor
  • 1.2Gb HD
  • 12Mb RAM
  • 4X CD ROM
  • 15” Monitor
  • MYOB software

It’s hard to believe that was enough power for a business, but I remember using something similar at the time where I worked and it seemed fine for what we did.

There is also seven laptops listed ranging from A$2999 to A$4699 with an average price of A$3541. For $4699 you could have:

  • 75MHz Pentium processor
  • 8Mb RAM
  • 9.5” Active Matrix TFT display
  • Removable 810Mb HD
  • Lithium-Ion battery,
  • BitBLT Video Accelerator
  • Windows 95

I don’t think that these prices were particularly high for that time, not around here anyway. At that time the Australian dollar was valued much lower than the US dollar which accounts for some of the price difference we now have. According to the RBA Inflation calculator that calculates increases of “baskets of goods and services”, that average price of $3541 back in 2006 would now (or at least in 2011) be an incredible $5,274

Examples of my excessive spending

Here are some of the things that I purchased around that time:

  • Microsoft Office, purchased in July 94. This was version 4.3 and came out for windows 3.1? Fortunately it also worked with Windows 95. I got a discount because it was an upgrade from Works. Price: A$525
  • Diamond CD reader and software kit. Purchased in March 95, this kit had a 4x CD reader (not writer) and a few games and other software including Compton’s Encyclopaedia. Price: A$799
  • 8Mb RAM, yes that’s correct 8Mb, not 8Gb. August 94. Price: A$620
  • B&W desktop Laser Printer. July 94. Price A$1000. It was ok, but not as good as my current laser printer which were selling recently for $49.

Other than making me feel sick at the thought of having wasted so much money, I can at least take comfort that computing is more affordable now.

Redundant faster?

Back in those days second hand items were expensive too. I don’t know if it is my imagination, but there seemed to be a bigger performance difference between new computers then and those 12 months older, and not just for intensive software like games, but even for basic things such as word processing. Because people paid so much for new equipment many expected to sell them for a high price a year or two later, often asking as much as an equivalent new one with the same specs.

I bought a second hand tower in 1994 that had 386SX CPU, 4Mb RAM, 80Mb hard drive, 14” Monitor for $1500. That price was typical around here. Now I would have to pay our local recycling centre to accept it. It did come with a large solid case which had lots of room for expansion, but I never made use of it as extra bits cost so much. It had flip out feet on the bottom that I had to remove just to make it fit under my desk.

386SX PC. $1500 in 1994

386SX PC. $1500 in 1994

It’s not just that hardware is cheaper. A lot of software is cheaper or free too. I remember being quite excited when I purchased Cinemania on CD. Now IMDb  contains everything and more that I want to know about movies and is available online. The quality of software that I paid $70 or $80 was no better than those that are available online for free now.

We now pay for the internet

I do now have an ongoing internet access cost that I did not have. I have been paying more each year for that, but that’s because I now have a family of four that all love to use it. I still feel I’m much better off now, but it’s worth considering this cost.

It’s good though, isn’t it?

When I think of the cost of my iPad, I remember I paid less for it than the floppy drive for my Commodore 64, which was over $1000 if you take inflation into account. When someone displays a look of horror when I hear someone mention they have actually paid a few dollars for an App, I remember what it used to be like. I guess it’s still easy enough to spend lots of money on computers, but it no longer needs to be that way. I can’t help thinking how much better it is now.