June 20th, 2010

The Performa of my Childhood

Sometimes you see something that you absolutely must have. The reason might be stupid, but the instant you see this thing you know you have to have it in your life. A few days ago I saw something on eBay that had just that effect on me. Thankfully, I won the auction for only £10 — making it the least expensive "must have" item ever.

Allow me to present...

Performa 5400/180

The Macintosh Performa 5400/180 in black — 180Mhz 603e CPU, 1.6Gb hard drive, 16Mb RAM and an 8x CD-ROM drive.

This machine — or one just like it, at least — was the first computer I used for any length of time as a kid. It was originally purchased as a machine for my father's journalist work — I'd mainly use it to help him at his office. Eventually the machine came home, and although its main use was still Dad's work, I'd get to play with it in the evenings.

This compter taught me so much. It taught me how to build a city in SimCity. It taught me how to write a letter properly in WordPerfect. How to edit images in whatever hellish software came with the SCSI scanner we had. It taught me the internet with its 33.6kbps modem. Eventually, it taught me how to program.

To this day I think this machine is beautiful and I prefer it to the original iMac. The design is compact, sleek and still practical — the front panel below the monitor unclips to access the floppy and optical drives. Undo two screws at the back and the whole motherboard slides out, also giving access to the hard drive.

Our original machine was upgraded far beyond its means — it had a USB 1.1 PCI card, a G3 processor upgrade and 96Mb of RAM. Eventually it blew up when my mother switched it on one day. By then, sourcing a replacement power supply was futile and it got replaced with a G4 Cube.

This machine reminds me how far technology has progressed in my own short lifetime. This machine, shipped in an era when users still needed to be taught how to use a mouse, was a powerhouse in its time. Now, the phone in my pocket is several hundred times more powerful.

When I went to collect the machine, the guy selling it to me listened to my story of our original Performa and smiled. He understood my daft attachment to an old, obsolete computer, and spoke of recently buying a crappy old motorbike for similar reasons. This computer will remain with me for as long as I can, causing arguments with my future wife when she wants to throw it away to make room for our second kid's bedroom toys.

That day is a long way ahead. On that day, I can foresee me trawling eBay on my iHoloPad, saddened by the loss of my childhood friend. I'll light up, seeing a Mid-2009 MacBook Pro — the machine I'm writing this blog post on right now — for the future-equivalent of £10. My wife will sigh, and we'll start this cycle all over again.