486 PC Doom: The Fate Of My First Ever PC (Packard Bell 486 DX2)

intel 486 DX2 CPUI once raved on to a friend about my new “Super Computer” running a game with “the best graphics ever”, and insisted he came round to my house to see it as this was the best thing he surely would have ever seen.  What I showed to him was my newly purchased (for an absolutely extortionate price) pre-Pentium Packard Bell 486 PC (DX2 66), running a certain first person shooter (more about that later).  This being my first PC, I named it the “Super Computer” because I had become so accustomed to the Amiga for years previously; just to run games on something with notable processing power (at the time) and the capability to run CD-ROM’s was certainly something to get excited about.  For instance, before the internet it was an amazing novelty to browse the “Encarta ’95” encyclopedia CD-ROM.  Even when I wasn’t actually interested in learning about any particular subject, it was just amazing to be able to search for things and be given the answer at the click of a button (plus a small waiting time as the “double-speed” CD-ROM drive whirred in to action).


I left comprehensive school in 1995 which of course was a pre-mainstream internet era, and so PC’s were not widely used.  Nobody really looked forward to computer classes at school, even the big computer users at home (who were mainly using Amiga’s, not PC’s) thought they were a waste of time, because the computers at school were either BBC Micro’s or Acorn Electron’s (I can’t even remember which, but they were dreadful).

bbc micro

BBC Micro’s at School … yuck.

When PC’s eventually arrived, nobody had any experience with them.  So at this point nobody even thought to load up Microsoft Paint and draw a willy (I can’t believe I just wrote “willy”) or write a rude word and leave it on the screen, because PC’s and Windows was such a new concept that not even the kids knew how to work them – even the teachers who were supposed to be teaching “Desktop Publishing” classes were vague on their usage.  But why would any kid even bother with them – at home they were all playing games on their Amiga – the best gaming computer ever!

After leaving school (with a GCSE “B” in IT) I started on a youth training scheme to learn how to build circuit boards.  This was at the time when the internet and PC’s were just appearing in colleges and at this training scheme they had an IT suite which was filled with PENTIUM PC’s or were they 486 PC’s.. I can’t quite remember but the point is you could use them on your break.  So what did a group of young lads sitting with no supervision in a room full of computers do…? They used their computers to engage in something fun that is usually done alone… they played Solitaire, of course.  Solitaire was the only game installed on these machines as part of Windows 95, and everyone would just sit moving cards around on the screen in complete silence, apart from the sound of repetitive mouse clicking.

solitaire, not quite doom

Solitaire – what you play when you’re bored.


One day this all changed, somebody brought in the pirated (naughty naughty) floppy disks of the most amazing, scary, realistic gaming experience ever to be had.  This was not Solitaire.  To someone who was used to playing the 2D cartoon-like graphics of an Amiga; seeing this smooth, fast, ultra-violent shooter in 3D from the perspective of the player, was completely mind-blowing.  That game was the incredible DOOM.  Nobody wanted to build circuit boards any more, everyone wanted to blow demons away with a shotgun.

Doom

The first, first-person shooter I played

Was this a 486 PC, or an Arcade Machine??

Getting hold of the disks that were being passed around, and making my own copy of them (using some primitive DOS commands that I can’t quite recall now) drummed up a giddy excitement as I knew that very soon I’d be having this same experience at home.  As only ever knowing the capabilities of the ZX Spectrum and then the Commodore Amiga, this was the dream every game fan dreamt of – it was like playing a game better than an arcade game, in your home!?  What a feeling.

doom t-shirt

Of course, as the years went by my craving for extra ram and processing power increased and it was almost impossible to hold on to a 486 PC with 8mb of RAM – the fast times and ever improving games required a PC gamer to upgrade frequently and although once proclaimed as my “super computer”, now in comparison to all systems owned it sticks in my mind as the worst computer I ever owned (however, I had amazing gaming experiences with it).  Packard Bell 486 PCIt had none-standard components so was very difficult (and expensive) to upgrade, it had Windows installed weirdly on a strange partition that really put the block on the user hacking in and doing what they really wanted to do.  It was noisy, cumbersome, the list goes on.  As a “desktop” case rather than a “Tower”, it had to sit on your desk and the heavy and clunky looking cathode ray tube monitor would sit upon it and creak as it rocked from side to side if you accidentally brushed it with your hand or applied any amount of pressure to it as you turned the volume dial on its fixed speakers.  At a time when corporations were insistent on producing and selling their own branded PC’s with no real expectations or regard for the upcoming and unavoidable upgrade culture that would happen as improved software and games became more hungry for resources; the people in the know were instead buying components and unbranded cases and building their own PC’s in their bedrooms, which were completely upgradeable.  In the end I couldn’t wait to get rid of it.  Looking back, I do have fond memories of it and was my introduction to PC gaming; but bought on how it looked rather than taking an interest in it’s specification, my 486 PC was Doomed from the outset.

What are your best memories of your introduction to PC gaming? Let me know in the comments below!

  • This was actually a really interesting history lesson to me – I was only five years old at the time so I remember my older brother having a computer at the time but it’s all really vague. I didn’t have my own until 1999 and I think I did spend my first month playing solitaire. Everything about the pre-mainstream Internet era astonishes me. Good read 🙂

    • Dave

      Thanks Jennard! The computers in school were something very scary and avoidable at all costs as they were difficult to use, and could only really be used if certain text commands were known, which of course was pointless to anyone. If you were “lucky” enough to spend time on the rubbish computer they had (yes, just one. You were usually sent to use it in pairs), you would ask “Does it have any games?” because kids at the time who had ZX Spectrums etc, just thought computers were for games. But these computers were for typing commands, to add numbers together, and really boring unengaging stuff like that. Nobody had the internet or knew what it was because nobody had a PC yet. I remember when PC’s first arrived at school, just sitting there staring at the screen not knowing how to import a picture (or what “Importing a picture” really was) and saying to the teacher “I would like this picture that I’ve scanned to go on the screen and I want to write around it to make a poster..?” (yes, we had to “scan” them in, there was no Google images or emailing a picture from your phone etc).. and the teacher was absolutely flummoxed – “I don’t know how to do it either”. LOL.
      Times have changed of course 🙂

  • mattl

    Two years younger, we finally got limited net access in 94. We used it to download GCC and emulators. Later, we’d even try to get a Red Hat (3? 4?) box online. I don’t even remember if we did.

    We wrote HTML and sent email all over the place. We tried to make games in BASIC.

    Around 95 on a school trip to Bath, we tried to visit the Amstrad Action offices. I remember trying to email them ahead of time, but I don’t think they ever received it.

    • Dave

      Great story Mattl, and I wonder if they treasure that email as the first they ever received! I can imagine it coming through when they eventually installed a dialup modem a few months later or whatever, and they got really excited lol

  • James Parkinson

    My family had the exact same PC growing up. I remember it been somewhat a power house of a PC at the time. Eating game disks; floppy and CD-ROM alike, then spitting out graphics the C64 and Amiga could only dream of.

    Then one day the Pentium class was released and it stopped been the powerhouse. It simply became obsolete.

    Thanks to the easily and readily available supply of now budget titles, games which were considered top class mere months ago, I was able to game on it for a long time after the 486 class died.

    • I know how you feel, James! The Pentium came out very soon after I (actually, my Mam) had bought this – and all the games were being advertised as “made for Pentium” or something – so I was gutted and was desperate to upgrade! (Unfortunately you couldn’t upgrade the CPU on the Packard Bell, and believe me I tried!)

      • James Parkinson

        We managed to upgrade the RAM to the limit it would take. But the last games it would play were Theme Hospital and Quake. Though Quake really did push the system to it’s limits.

        My dad recalls it costing a fortune from PC World back when it was released. But it was pretty much the pinical of what a 486 could do. With that Soundblaster card and CD-ROM.