Proof of purchase = proof of progress

When it comes to Mac-related news, things have been pretty slow as of late. We haven’t seen new Macs or new Apple software in a while, the Apple TV has been delayed, and the iPhone isn’t expected for another three months. Which means I’ve had a bit more time for household chores on recent weekends. And it was while cleaning out the garage that I found the inspiration for today’s column: a bunch of old computer-related receipts.

"Oh, wow,” you might be thinking, sarcastically, and I wouldn’t blame you. At the time, I was thinking something similar myself. But just as I was about to toss the stack of pack-rat-paper into the shredder, my thoughts changed to, “You know, I bet I could squeeze a column out of this.” And here we are.

But seriously, looking at old receipts can be quite fascinating. They give you a peek—a retail time capsule, if you will—of an earlier time in your life (even if that peek is limited to time you spent running up your credit-card debt as an undergrad or grad student). In this case, these receipts, which span 15 years, made me realize how far we’ve come—in terms of both technology itself and how much of it you get for your money.

(Scary coincidences department: Rob Griffiths wrote up his own article on the exact same topic at the exact same time as I did—neither of us knew the other person was doing so until he posted his story on his personal blog a few days ago. Talk about being on the same wavelength.)

And so on this slow news day, enjoy this sampling of my computing purchases from 1994 to 1999; I’ve included my own reactions to each:

Item Date Amount Comments
Apple Extended Keyboard II March 1994 $149 $149 for a keyboard? Yes, but perhaps the best keyboard ever made.
Supra V32 Fax Modem March 1994 $155 Bringing this home and setting it up in 1994 was like getting cable TV in 19...never mind. But consider that these days you can get a wireless router with a built-in, multi-port Ethernet switch for $50.
Apple GeoPort Adapter for Centris/Quadra AV April 1994 $125 I have to admit, I’d forgotten this thing even existed. The GeoPort could do so many amazing things...and hardly anyone ever did any of them.
Apple CD 300i upgrade for Quadra 650 (including installation) June 1994 $299 This was the killer upgrade in 1994; I could even play my CDs in my Mac and type in the track names in AppleCD Audio Player—it would actually remember the CD the next time I put it in! (Was I too easily impressed?)
Now Utilities August 1994 $40 (MSRP $130) Now Utilities was a stellar set of add-ons back in 1994, but what shocked me here was that the MSRP was $130 . Can you imagine if someone released a set of system tweaks today and priced it at $130?
WriteNow 4.0 August 1994 $43 Actually, this was a very reasonable price for a great word processor—fast, powerful, and easy to use. I know people who are still using WriteNow to this day and would gladly pay another $43 for a version for Mac OS X.
PowerBook Duo Floppy Disk Adapter and Drive September 1994 $230 If you wanted to use a floppy disk with your Duo, you had to spend a good chunk of change; I scored here by paying less than $250. (The less-expensive alternative for getting data on and off a Duo was a LocalTalk connection—great for printing, slooow for files.)
Power Mac 7100 (16MB RAM, 700MB hard drive) August 1995 $2,859 This was a kickin’ machine at the time. 16MB of RAM? Sweet! (I sold it a couple months later to upgrade to a Power Mac 7500.)
Liberty Adapter August 1995 $20 Ah, yes...the days when you had to spend $20—and an hour fiddling with dip switches—to get a “Windows” monitor to work with your Mac.
Quantum Lightning 730MB SCSI drive August 1995 $210 At the time, this was a good deal at roughly 29 cents per MB. A couple months ago, I spent $90 and got a 400GB SATA drive—548 times the space for less than half the price. I’m just sayin’.
10-pack of Iomega 100MB Zip disks October 1995 $185 Think about this: $185 for 1GB of wholly unreliable storage space. Today, a quality 4.7GB DVD-R disc costs around $0.60 and a 1GB “thumb” drive can be had for under $20. Ouch.
Mag Innovision 17-inch CRT display December 1995 $636 This was considered a “best buy” display at the time; other 17-inch displays were selling for as much as several hundred dollars more. Today, 17-inch LCDs are less than $200.
Iomega 1GB Jaz disks (each) November 1997 $80 Two years later and I paid $105 dollars less for 1GB of equally-unreliable storage space!
Sony 17-inch Trinitron “pro” CRT display November 1997 $600 I remember thinking that this was an amazing deal at the time, as this display was normally over $800 and I got it for less than I paid for the Mag model (above) two years earlier. When I sold this one a few years later, I did so, sadly, at a fraction of what I paid.
Hitachi 2.1GB, 2.5-inch hard drive for PowerBook 2400 November 1997 $209 I’m not sure what’s more amusing now: that I thought a 2.1GB hard drive was incredibly spacious, or that I was happy to spend over $200 to get it.
5-pack of TDK recordable CD-ROMs December 1997 $12 Let’s see: that’s $2.40 for a single blank CD. Nowadays I’m so cheap that I wait until Costco has specials on a 100-disc TDK spindle for $20.
64MB memory upgrade for PowerBook 2400 February 1998 $167 Yes, nearly $170 for a measly 64MB of memory. And I complained last year that I had to pay $90 for a 1GB upgrade for my MacBook Pro. Life’s rough.
Kensington TurboMouse 5 September 1998 $77 Still among the greatest pointing devices ever made, and the only item on this list to go up in price over the past decade; today’s equivalent, the Expert Mouse , is $100.
Apple Studio Display (15-inch LCD) Fall 1999 $700 The first Apple LCD display , this thing was nearly $2000 when first released; I bought mine refurbished for less than half that. This one still works, although its brightness has lessened considerably over the years; it’s currently connected to an older PowerMac G4 and an iPod dock, thanks to VGA and S-video inputs.
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