Commodore 64

CompuServe Software

Long before America Online (AOL), CompuServe (CIS) ruled the land of online services. I could never afford CompuServe (they charged by the hour) but a good friend of mine had an account and the two of us spent some time together on CompuServe posting messages, trading files, and chatting with people across the country. CompuServe had local phone numbers connected to modems for users to call; those modems were connected to PDP minicomputers that were connected to nodes all across the country. This allowed my friend and I to trade files and chat with people all across the country (as long as his parents continued to pay the bill!). According to Wikipedia, CompuServe was the first online service to offer internet connectivity, all the way back in 1989. Up until the mid 90s CompuServe was the most popular online service. It was toppled by AOL, whose monthly rate with unlimited usage proved to be more popular than CompuServe’s original rate of $10/hour.

Several years ago when my friend got rid of all of his old Commodore equipment I inherited it, including his old CompuServe software. Obviously it no longer works (which is a shame), but I still get a kick out of looking at it and remembering those good CompuServe times.

Hayes 28.8 Modem

Long before high-speed cable modems, dial-up modems ruled the Earth. Because baud rates and bits-per-second (BPS) rate were the same in early modems, many people began using the terms interchangeably even though technically they mean two different things. Although I’ve read about 110 bps modems, the first one I owned was a 300 bps modem. That meant it was able to transfer 300 bits-per-second across a phone line — and with 8 bits to a byte, that’s 37.5 bytes per second, and 2,250 bytes (2.2kb) per minute. Yes, it was slow. Most people can read faster than 300 can display text.

300 baud gave way to 1200 baud, then 2400 baud, then 9600 baud, then 14,400 baud. 14,400 bits-per-second is also 14.4 kilobytes-per-second, and these new “high speed” modems were referred to as 14.4k modems. The one in this picture (which I found out in my garage) is a 28.8k modem made by Hayes. Hayes was one of the first and one of the biggest manufacturers of modems. In the early days of computing, my Dad used to joke that there were only two kinds of modems: Hayes, and Hayes-compatible. This particular modem was external and connected to your computer via a serial cable, but internal modems were just as common.

Following 28.8k modems there were also 33.6k modems and 56k modems before traditional dial-up modems were replaced by high-speed cable modems. While modems were originally rated in bits-per-second and later kilobytes-per-second, modern modems are measured in megabits and megabytes. Think about that the next time you are complaining about your current internet speeds. At 300 baud, this article wouldn’t have even finished loading yet.

A Giant 2400 Baud Modem

When people find out just how many “things” I have accumulated over the years, sometimes they ask me “at what point do you get rid of something?” (Often times it’s friends and family who are asking.) Many of the things I have are old, useless, or broken; typically an item has to be in at least two of those categories (and sometimes all three) before I’ll get rid of it.

Take, for example, this giant 2400 baud modem:

modem_01

I bought this Codex MX-2400 modem at an auction for $1. I bought it because, both then and now, it was the largest modem I had personally ever seen. When I got the modem home and plugged it in, it did nothing. No pop, no smoke, no nothing. From the moment I bought it, it was already old, useless and broken.

I still kept it for several years. I kept it because when computer friends of mine would come over I could say, “Would you like to see the biggest modem you’ve ever seen?” If they answered yes I would pull this modem out of the closet and show it to them. Eventually though, everybody I knew had seen the modem and the joke got old.

I kept it for several more years because of it’s power. How powerful was it, you ask?

modem_02

It was so powerful that, in ads for the modem, it was referred to as “The Power”. That’s powerful! This ad came from a 1979 issue of Computerworld, at a time when most people owned neither a modem nor a personal computer. The modems that people did own back then were either 110 or 300 baud. (At 300 baud, the pictures on this page would have taken hours to load.)

So even though “The Power” finally made its way to that big recycling bin in the sky, its memory will now live on here at The Retroist!