The Best Tech-Nostalgia Stories of 2009

Remember, back in the day, when cell phones had the same dimensions as bricks, laptops were unheard of, and Windows 95 introduced that newfangled Start menu? Back when parents got mad at their teenagers for tying up the phone line ("landlines," I believe they were called), people bought music on CDs, and "Google" was a misspelling of 10 to the power of 100? Ah, yes, the good ol' days.

The great thing about tech nostalgia is that you can reminisce to your heart's content without having to worry about branding yourself an old codger. I remember the days when my computer came stocked with an entire gigabyte of hard-drive space, and I haven't even hit 25.

On the last day of 2009, we thought we'd look back at some of PCWorld's best tech-nostalgia stories from the past year.

Gadget Autopsy: The Nintendo Game Boy

I got my first Nintendo Game Boy when I was about six years old: My parents discovered that the easiest way to shut us kids up on long plane trips was with a portable video game system. I spent many a long car or plane ride hunched over the tiny green screen, switching cartridges with my brothers and expertly blowing into the system when the cartridges didn't work.

In this slideshow, our resident tech-nostalgia writer, Benj Edwards, takes apart the classic portable gaming system (as well as some of the cartridges) to see what makes it tick. Did you know, for example, that some of the cartridges contain coin-size batteries for supplying power to the SRAM that stores saved games? (I didn't, but now that I think about it, this makes sense.)

Evolution of the Cell Phone

It's practically impossible these days to think of leaving the house without a cell phone. But just a few years ago, that was not the case: Cell phones were big, clunky, and a liability if you were a teen. (Your parents could contact you wherever you were--how was that a good thing?) So how did we get from bulky bricks to sleek iPhones? This slideshow examines the evolution of the cell phone, from the 88-pound (yes, you read that correctly) MTA phone in 1956 to the first BlackBerry in 2002 to the first iPhone in 2007. And, to think: My iPhone 3G already seems ancient when I put it next to the iPhone 3GS.

The (Misunderstood) Mac Portable Turns 20

The 16-pound Macintosh Portable was the first truly mobile Mac, and the ancestor to the sleek MacBook Pro (okay, so the PowerBook 100 was the first real Mac notebook, but the Mac Portable was the predecessor to that). It featured a 10-inch monochrome screen and was four times thicker than the modern-day MacBook Pro. In this slideshow, Benj Edwards does what he does best with ancient gadgets--he disassembles it and shows us its secrets, including a 9-volt backup battery (the Portable never truly shuts down), a reconfigurable keyboard-and-trackball set, and the signatures of the computer's development team on the inside of the plastic molding.

The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time

Many people have fond memories of the Nintendo Famicom, the Super NES, and the Sony PlayStation. But do you remember the Apple Pippin, the Nokia N-Gage, and the Mattel Hyperscan? Of course you don't--because they sucked. At least, they sucked enough to make our list of the 10 worst video game systems of all time. This slideshow takes you back through the ranks of overpriced, underpowered, and confused multitasking game consoles that, needless to say, didn't make it very far in the market.

Ye Olde Vintage Computer Gift Guide

Yes, it might seem a little late to highlight a gift guide, considering the holidays are almost over. However, smart shoppers know that the best time to get Christmas presents is right after Christmas--and this slideshow is for smart shoppers. Think your budget limits you to getting a netbook (and a subsidized one, at that)? Think again! You can have a full system (albeit a used one) for under $100, and look retro-chic. Just check out one of these babies--"Ye Olde Vintage Computer Gift Guide" goes through several of the classic computer systems and details some of the deals we found, including a working IBM PC 5150 for $100 to $150, a working Macintosh SE (with mouse, keyboard, and power cable) for $20, and a working Atari 800XL for just $15.

Inside the Atari 800

The Atari 800 debuted 40 years ago, with a price tag of $1000 and a whopping 8 kilobytes of RAM. Many modern-day computer programmers remember learning BASIC and playing awesome games (such as Super Breakout and M.U.L.E.) on this 8-bit wonder. In this "gadget autopsy" slideshow, Benj Edwards tears apart the system to see what its guts look like. You'll learn some interesting things about the Atari 800--for instance, its encasing includes a 2mm-thick "radio frequency" shield, which protects the machine from unwanted radio interference.

The Five Most Important Mac Laptops

The Mac Portable may have turned 20 this year, but it was by no means one of the most important Mac laptops (if it could even be called a "laptop"). This article looks at how Apple got from the PowerBook 100 to the MacBook Pro, as well as at the three influential Mac laptops in between, the PowerBook 520, the iBook, and the PowerBook G4. You'll also see that, aside from the pricey Mac Portable (which sold for $6500 in its day, or $11,300 in 2009 dollars), Mac laptops have stayed within the same basic price range (the PowerBook 100 was about $2500, and the MacBook Pro tops off at about $2500).

The 11 Most Influential Microprocessors of All Time

Microprocessors play a huge role in our everyday lives, whether we know it or not--they're in everything from cell phones to computers to calculators to digital cameras. They're the reason we have portable electronics, instead of computers that take up an entire room (and require a team to operate). This slideshow explores some of the more influential microprocessors in history, including the Intel Pentium (the first brand-name microprocessor), the RCA COSMIC CDP (the first microprocessor in space), and the Intel 4004 (the first microprocessor ever, which was used in calculators).

Five Forgotten Apple Products

Apple, despite its wildly successful iProducts (iMac, iBook, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iEtc.), has had its share of "what were they thinking" products that faded quickly into obscurity. This article digs up five forgotten Apple products--things the company probably wishes would stay forgotten. Remember the QuickTake 100, Apple's foray into the digital camera market? What about the Apple adjustable keyboard, or the Apple Network Server (the only Apple computer designed never to run an Apple OS)? Since they were all (pretty much) failures, you probably don't know a lot about them. But now's your chance to learn!

Where Are They Now? 25 Computer Products That Refuse to Die

When I was a freshman in college, I had something that none of my peers had: a Sony MiniDisc player. I'd owned it since middle school, and I loved it (mainly because I could record music off of streaming subscription services, such as Rhapsody). Everyone else had iPods, but I was loyal to my MD player until it fell off the top bunk one day and was never quite the same. If that hadn't happened, I would still have my trusty MD player now. And this is why old computer products never, ever die--because obsessive fans like me are loyal to the end. In this article, we take a look at 25 of the most stubborn products, all of which have managed to remain in circulation even though they're outdated and obsolete. And guess what? MiniDisc is totally on there.

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