The first computer I owned was a Packard Bell 486sx. I believe it was a Legend 120. It was poorly designed, barely upgradable, and its hardware was already well outdated at the time of purchase. It served its purpose, though, and served it well for many years. I never had a problem with that computer until I attempted to upgrade it. Much like a taco from a roadside vendor, everything was cool till I opened it up and looked inside.

As the years went on I continued to upgrade it. I eventually got different computers, and I gave the old Packard Bell to some friends, upgrading it once more so that they could receive email at home. Last year they got a new computer and returned the old one to me. By this point there was little of the original computer left. I think the floppy drive and power supply were all that remained. I flirted withe idea of upgrading it again, but eventually I realised it was pointless and let the old girl out to pasture. Which is to say, I smashed it with a 2x4 during a drunken orgy of violence and then dumped the remains in the garbage without ceremony.

Yes, Packard Bell makes horrible PC's. Some people don't want a tricked out computer though, and as long as it starts and continues to work, those users remain pleased. Of course, it could be worse, it could be a Compaq.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it,
is to use this Packard Bell computer,
which was constructed out of failed toaster parts and used rubber bands,
without having it crash.
Should you fail, Packard Bell will disavow any knowledge of your actions, as well as our own.
Since this is a Packard Bell, the hard drive will self destruct in 5 seconds.

an anonymous sound clip from iMesh.

To the best of my memory, the Packard Bell computers mentioned above had a standard design and more or less the same few components scattered across a few different models.

I had a Packard Bell Legend as well, though I don't recall the model number. Out of the box, it looked like this:

  • 486sx 33MHz or 486dx2 66MHz processor (fan not included!)
  • Up to 16MB of RAM, with up to 2 SIMM slots (8MB maximum capacity each)
  • AT motherboard, manufacturer unknown (it may as well have come free in a box of breakfast cereal)
  • 2400 baud internal modem that was soldered to (not incorporated into) the motherboard
  • ISA video card with up to 1MB of SGRAM
  • ISA IDE controller/sound card combo
  • An empty ISA slot (mine was filled by a US Robotics 33600 modem)
  • A motherboard riser card, on which the ISA slots were mounted
  • Matsushita IDE 2X CD-ROM drive
  • Up to a 720MB IDE Seagate hard drive
  • 3.5" floppy drive, manufacturer unknown
  • 120W power supply (mine failed after 3 years of constant use)
  • Desktop AT case
  • Tinny speakers, a feeble serial mouse that broke after a week of use, and an AT keyboard

The video card was the most monstrous thing I've seen inside a computer case. It was a good twenty inches in length and took up a large portion of the interior space. One could cut ten halfway decent PCI-Express video card shapes out of the huge circuit board.

Mine came with a 486DX2/66 processor. It had a passive heatsink! No fan. Taking the cover off the case, one would be blasted by a wave of hot air coming off the processor in visible waves.

The fact that it came with an onboard 2400 BPS modem should have been an omen of things to come. The 14400 BPS modem had been released years beforehand and the 2400 had been obsolete for quite a while by the time of purchase.

I used my Legend to run a BBS. After three years, the power supply, CD-ROM drive, hard drive and video card all failed. I replaced most of the parts. The kicker is that I paid $2,000.00 (USD) for it, at a time when it was already obsolete, in January 1995, just as the Intel Pentium was introduced. It should also be noted that the hard disk that shipped with my Packard Bell box hadn't been tested before shipping—after 10 minutes of inactivity it would spin down. Not go to sleep, but actually spin down, like you were preparing it for a bumpy trip, like you could do with old hard drives. It would take 30-45 seconds to spin back up when something attempted to read/write files on it. I had to call PB tech support (one of a great many calls; most of them involved problems with the sub-discount quality hardware), and for once, I got someone competent on the other end—he walked me through writing a TSR program in DOS debug that corrected the spin down problems.

The Packard Bell Corporation was purchased outright by NEC in the late 1990s, and the brand was discontinued, which is just as well because it never had a good reputation and I'd like to think that most people would know enough not to buy one... but the fact that PB sold computers for years on end before being purchased by NEC says otherwise.

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