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Friday Retrospective: My First Printer

My first printer was a Star LC-20 nine pin dot matrix that I received as a Christmas present when I was 15 years old. That’s the kind of nerdy teenager I was, folks. All yuletide long our home rang out with the deafening noise made by those pins rapidly and repeatedly punching through a flimsy ink-soaked ribbon.

Incidentally, Radio 4 are forever running features about the ongoing decline in audible birdsong in the English countryside. Personally, I think it’s a travesty that a whole generation of kids will grow up unfamiliar with the nerve-shattering noise of a built-to-last dot matrix, the inimitable caterwauling of a 33.6 kbps modem connecting to a dial-up BBS, or the satisfying clunk as a 3.5 inch floppy is gleefully accepted by a disk drive. Moving to an SSD may have provided an incredible boost to my development productivity, but there’s a part of me that misses hearing the faint humming and scratching sounds of traditional hard disk heads moving across a highly-polished platter. But I digress…

That first printer cost my parents £169.99 – not an insignificant amount of money back in 1991. It printed onto tractor-feed paper, and I received a huge box of the stuff for Christmas. Theoretically it was also capable of printing onto standard A4 sheets too, but this involved so much hassle gingerly feeding individual sheets into the machine that it was simpler just to forget it and stick with the tractor feed option. As a result, all of my GCSE English coursework was submitted on somewhat crinkly US Letter sized tractor feed paper. It may not have been beautiful, but it was considerably more presentable than my handwriting, and I was determined to use the cutting-edge option, dammit!

The LC20 was controlled by four buttons which had to be pressed in odd combinations to trigger line feeds and page feeds (ask your parents), and to switch between one of the four inbuilt “fonts”. More complex settings could be made by poking at shy DIP switches with a biro. It was all a far cry from the wireless connection to embedded web servers that we’ve come to expect from our peripherals these days.

Around the same time as this, I recall shelling out £60 for a Roctec “Roclite” External 1.44 Mb Floppy Drive, after reading exhaustive floppy drive reviews in the inaugural issue of Amiga Shopper. This was pre-Amazon, of course, so I usually made such purchases from GemSoft on Furnival Gate in Sheffield – a day-long expedition via the number 85 bus.

Oh, and a year or so later, I worked all summer long to save the £400 I needed to buy a 20Mb hard drive. Yes, twenty whole megabytes to play with – just imagine the opportunities that this presented to me!

What about you, dear reader? Do you have any fond memories of your earliest computer hardware?

Image by Museo del Computer –

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Copyright © Ian Fraser Nelson 2023