The first computer I ever purchased: a Dell Dimension 4400

Some recent posts about new laptops had me thinking about the very first computer I ever purchased. Way back in 2002 (damn, 20 years ago?!) I was 18, and I purchased a brand new computer. I thought that was a pretty big deal back then, and was really proud to have my very own computer. Growing up in the 90s, we of course had the “family computer” – a familiar household appliance at the time. At my house, this was a computer a purchased by my parents and shared by everyone. Up until the turn of the millennium, computers were prohibitively expensive for some, and having more than one computer in the house was a luxury most could not afford. I was very grateful to have a father who was also interested in computers, as growing up with one in the house available for me to use certainly helped shape my future career as a programmer. But in 2002, I had just graduated high school, was about to ship off to college at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and needed a computer of my own.

I went with a Dell machine, as they offered a product with decent specs at a price I could afford. Dell had huge brand recognition back then – maybe those “dude, you’re getting a Dell” commercials worked on me…

This was by far the biggest online purchase I had ever made at 18 years old. Buying things online had only recently become commonplace with the emergence of eBay and online retailers in the mid to late 90s. I had never spent anything close to $1000 on any online purchase, and part of my decision to go with Dell was the peace of mind from customer service and warranty. So I headed over to dell.com to customize a new machine – here’s what the site looked like in June 2002:

dell.com as it appeared in June, 2002 [archive.org]

The machine I selected was a Dimension 4400 desktop, a middle-tier desktop system with a couple extra options added by myself.

Dell desktop offerings from June, 2002

I don’t recall the exact final price, but I think it was just under $1000 after the sale price and discounts applied. I was working for the summer at a Pontiac & Saturn car dealership (which was so long ago, neither of those brands exist anymore…) and managed not to spend all my funds on partying that summer. Since I was working within a budget, I couldn’t go all-out with upgrades, but I did select a few things. Mp3s and digital music was just taking off, so I elected to have my machine shipped with the upgraded Harmon/Kardon speakers and subwoofer.

Harman/Kardon HK395 speakers + subwoofer. These things sounded amazing!

These speakers and subwoofer were actually really great. I used them for over 10 years without issue on a wide array of devices before tiring of lugging them around apartments and gave them away. In addition to the speakers, I also upgraded to a CD-RW drive, the ATI Rage Ultra graphics card, and added a 10/100 Ethernet card. Many CDs were burned for my car and Discman, and many hours of Counter Strike were logged on this machine. Everything else was kept in the stock configuration: Pentium 4 CPU, 128MB RAM, 20 GB HDD, 56K modem, and the standard 17″ Dell CRT monitor. After receiving the machine, I upgraded the RAM, quadrupling it to 512 MB (and upgrading again several years later to the motherboard’s maximum supported 1 GB). The small 20 GB disk really became a pain as digital content like music and movies started requiring larger and larger file sizes. Over the years I eventually added various second-hand hard drives of increasing size for additional storage.

This machine lasted quite a long time. It was my main PC from 2002 – 2011, when I finally upgraded to a Sony Vaio Intel Core 2 Duo laptop. The old Dimension 4400 did not have quite enough horsepower to run Windows 7 when it was released, so I threw Ubuntu on there and continued to use it as a server and secondary machine for several more years. I’ve since owned another Dell desktop, and have had a few Dell laptops. They have all been high quality, and would still consider purchasing hardware from Dell in the future.

Here is the machine as equipped (to the best of my memory) when I purchased it in 2002:

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