On the DEC 320sx PC Circa 1991

The Digital Equipment Corp 320sx and Windows 3.1 installation disksAn ode to the gone-but-not-forgotten DEC 320sx.

The Digital Equipment Corp 320sx and Windows 3.1 installation disks

The DEC 320sx came with either a 16mHZ or 20mHZprocessor with the option for a second 1.44MB floppy drive.

My first computer was a Commodore 64. But my first true computer, one that I could actually work on more than play on, was a DEC 320sx.

When I dug this remnant of technology history out of my workshop while searching for something completely different, I re-experienced the feeling I had when I first pushed the power button all those years ago.

This was state-of-the-art in PCs when I brought it home in circa 1991 because its processor was running at an incredible 20 MHz and it had a 210 MB hard drive.

The Windows 3.1.1 operating system took up approximately 20 MB of space and having two floppy drives was especially cool because it was easier and quicker to back up and save stuff — something that occupied too much time for many early computer users.

Inside a DEC 320sx

Tiny, fast processors like this 20mHz one made people believe personal computers might just be useful.

I still have the original 1.44 MB floppies that came with the machine: That’s seven Windows 3.1 disks, five MS-DOS 5.0 disks, plus a tutorial disk and a supplemental drivers disk.

Remember loading drivers?

As I scanned through the contents of the old floppies and read the installation notes it all came back to me. I recalled those hours of tweaking CONFIG.SYS files and AUTOEXEC.BAT and the thrill of tracking down TSR terminate and stay resident) programs, all to eliminate conflicts when installing new programs.

Then there were those already-installed programs that required work arounds, or that flat didn’t work when loading up a new, or upgraded Windows OS.

Ken Olson, DEC’s CEO, was widely quoted in 1978 saying, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” . And although Olson explained the context of the words in later interviews, saying he was referring to computers that control everything about a home, the literal sense of his words stuck.

Olson was replaced in 1992. But the company that once sported 100,000 employees never did get its footing in the PC market.

Olson died last year on February 6, and he is fondly remembered by many as a great boss who treated each employee like a VIP, and as one of the computer company founders who laid the groundwork for the industry.

The backside of a DEC 320sx provides a glimpse of technology history

The DEC 320sx, like most computers of its day, relied on plugs that have largely disappeared from the computer landscape.

I replaced the 320sx with another DEC machine just about three years later. I still have that piece of technology history too.

DEC was eventually purchased by Compaq, which was subsequently bought by HP.

Yes, personal computers have come a long way, especially in ease-of-use. Some days I miss trying to figure out how to get one to work. But, those days are very few and far between.

1 Comment

  • Impressed you had a 210MB drive back in 1991. My 486SX UNIX server in 1992 only had 80MB if I recall correctly. Had a DEC running Ultrix with a mammoth 1.8GB of storage a few years earlier though. Twin washing machine sized devices with three 300MB drives in each one. :-)