Laptop, We Hardly Knew Ye

Back in 1998, I had the opportunity to buy my first laptop.

This is it’s eulogy.It was June, and the local CompUSA (remember them?) was having a clearance sale on those computers used as floor models, as well as those deemed “obsolete.”  Being young and dumb, I raced out and picked up a Hitachi Pentium laptop.  The thing ran Windows 95, had a whopping 100 MB HD, and a 3.5″ disk drive.  It was top of the line because the 56.6k modem was built into the unit.

Now, it might sound as if I’m making fun of this unit, but I’m not.  I was thrilled to finally have a laptop, even if it was the floor model, and I got it for the then-unheard of price of $645.  Yessiree, I raced out to CompUSA during my lunch hour, snagged this unit (which conversely, was also the cheapest thing there), and raced back to my office.  I was like a giddy child with my new toy – I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could play with it.

I was in grad school at the time and I truly believed that a laptop would make me more productive.  It would grant me a sense of freedom and mobility that a conventional desktop lacked, and it would allow me access to a machine when there was none otherwise available.  Today’s college student takes for granted that there’s a bevy of available desktops in the campus computer lab; that wasn’t the case back in 1998; it was nothing to have a top-tier college or university with a computer lab that hosted just twenty or thirty computers for the entire campus.  So having my own?  Yeah, this was going to be great!

The first problem – one I hadn’t anticipated (remember, this was my first laptop) – was that instead of increasing my mobility, a laptop actually limits what you can do.  I thought it’d be great to get up while in the middle of typing to go find other resources, but nothing could be further from the truth.  A laptop’s mobility cuts both ways; while it’s easy for you to carry in and set it up, it’s just as easy for someone else to snatch it if you’re off roaming some far off library stack.  It seemed like each time I set it up on in a computer cubby, I had to load it all back up into my bag to take it with me.  It got to be so aggravating that I stopped carrying the Hitachi to school.  And let me tell you, back in 1998, a laptop weighed almost as much as a modern desktop.  You probably weren’t going to throw your back out if you toted this puppy around, but you knew you were carrying that thing.

With its primary purpose deemed impractical, I had little use for the Hitachi.  It’s small HD meant that I could only load the basics for fear of running out of space, and by 1998, more applications were arriving on CD-ROM, making it more difficult to keep the laptop current, as it had no CD drive.  I could not upgrade beyond the smattering of Win95/98 patches that Microsoft periodically blessed us with.  Then there was CompUSA itself – the support warranty proved useless (that was about 1/3 of that $645), and their financing was so screwy that I literally paid for this paperweight three times before I could claim that I truly owned it.  I purchased four computers from them, and while my experience was generally good, it was this deal that broke my heart and ended our relationship.

If I were to talk all of the time I used the Hitachi and place it back to back, I strongly doubt that it would exceed 200 hours.  That’s a little more than eight days.  I figured that one day it would come in handy, so I put the Hitachi on a shelf in a closet and walked away, only periodically powering it up to read some long-forgotten file – and remembering why I put it away in the first place.

When I pulled it out today, it finally died.  Well, not died; it told me that it could not find the operating system.  It wouldn’t engage beyond that screen, and seeing as I have no Win95/98 diskettes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Hitachi has hit the end of the road.  I’ll not toss it; despite the short amount of use I gained from it, there’s no reason to treat it like trash.  So it’ll go back to where it spent most of its existence: On a shelf in my closet.  Maybe one day I’ll stumble across some OS diskettes somewhere.  Then again, maybe I won’t.  At the very least, it makes a nice prop, so maybe I’ll offer it to a local school’s computer museum.

We’ll see…


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