The computer industry has grown immensely within the past twenty years. The home comptuer has grown from a room full of vacuum tubes to a small powerful consumer device that is almost ubiquitous in today’s society. Even a modern cell phone has more processing power than the Apollo Moon Lander!
There have been many, many products that have greatly propelled the industry forward, and a few serious blunders along the way. Here is our list of some of the worst technologies that either left us scratching our heads, threw the industry into a backwards spin, or just plain sucked. We now present the top 11 Worst PC Technologies.
11. VKB Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard
This gadget looks amazingly cool, and is an extreme example of science-fiction brought into reality. This little gadget projects a keyboard of light on any flat surface, which can be typed on just like any normal keyboard. Unfortunately, the technology just doesn’t work, and keyboard entry is extremely slow and buggy. During setup, many users receive an error message stating that “The device does not offer any usable services”, so most people could not use the device at all.
10. IBM Microchannel bus (MCA bus)
The Micro-Channel architecture was presented by IBM as an alternative to the standard ISA bus in 1987, and slowly spread into IBM’s entire computer line. At the time, IBM was still a major player as a personal computer manufacturer.
The MCA architecture offered several advantages over the slow ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) bus. ISA’s bus speed was 8MHz, and Micro-channel initially offered a whopping 12MHz bus! There were several other behind-the-scenes technological differences, but this was the major speed advantage. Unfortunately, peripherals that used the MCA bus were not only hard to find, but cost much more than its ISA counterpart.
Micro Channel was an attempt to address, once and for all, the problems that had come to plagued ISA (also known as the PC bus).
The principal design problems of ISA were
- A slow bus speed (8MHz)
- A limited number of interrupts, fixed in hardware.
- A limited number of I/O device addresses, also fixed in hardware
- A lack of bus-master support.
- Hardwired and complex configuration with no conflict resolution.
- Poor grounding and power distribution.
- Undocumented Bus Interface standards that varied between systems and manufacturers
The industry agreed that there needed to be an evolution to the slow ISA bus, and MCA was eventually taken down by the PCI bus, which offered a 32-bit path, 33Mhz, bus-master functionality, and overwhelming industry support.
9. Vesa Local Bus
The VESA Local Bus (usually abbreviated to VL-Bus or VLB) was introduced in late 486 computers. VESA Local Bus worked alongside the ISA bus; acting as a high-speed conduit for memory-mapped I/O and DMA, while the ISA bus handled interrupts.
A VLB slot itself was an extension of an existing ISA slot. Indeed, both VLB and ISA cards could be plugged into a VLB slot (although not at the same time.) The extended portion was usually coloured a distinctive brown. This made VLB cards quite long, reminiscent of the expansion cards from the old XT days. The addition resembled a PCI slot.
The VESA Local Bus was designed as a stopgap solution to the problem of the ISA bus’s limited bandwidth. VLB had several flaws that served to limit its useful life substantially:
- 80486 dependence. The VESA Local Bus relied heavily on the 80486′s memory bus design. When the Pentium processor started to gain mass acceptance in 1995, there were major differences in its bus design, and the VESA Local Bus was not easily adaptable. This also made moving the bus to non-x86 architectures nearly impossible. Few Pentium motherboards with VLB slots were ever made.
- Limited number of slots available. Most PCs that used VESA Local Bus had only one or two slots available, as opposed to 5 or 6 ISA slots. This was because, as a direct branch of the 80486 memory bus, the VESA Local Bus did not have the electrical ability to drive more than 1 or 2 (or 3 at the most) cards at a time.
- Reliability problems. The same electrical problems that limited the VESA Local Bus to 2 or 3 slots also limited its reliability. Glitches between cards were common, and when important devices such as hard disk controllers were attached to the bus, there was the all-too-common possibility of massive data corruption.
- Installation woes. The length of the slot and number of pins made VLB cards notoriously difficult to install and remove. The sheer mechanical effort required was stressful to both the card and the motherboard, and breakages were not uncommon. This was compounded by the extended length of the card logic board; often there was not enough room in the PC case to angle the card into the slot, requiring it to be pushed with great force straight down into the slot.
Despite these problems, the VESA Local Bus was very commonplace on 486 motherboards. Probably a majority of 486-based systems had a VESA Local Bus video card, although early 486 systems never had VLB slots, as VLB debuted years after the introduction of the 486 processor.
Like MCA, VESA Local Bus was ousted for the PCI architecture implemented in Intel’s Triton chipset (introduced with the first Pentium processor).
8. Iomega Zip Drive
Iomega sold millions of this super-floppy, but many of them ended up having catostrophic problems. Some of the drives had a head alignment problem which caused the heads to clip the edge of the disk’s media, crunching and permanently destroying the disk.
Frustrated customers filed a class action lawsuit against Iomega in the late 90s. Iomega settled this dispute some years later by offering rebates on other Iomega products, but by this time consumers were using other storage devices such as writable CDs.
The technology was similar to that used by the floppy drive, but packed many more bits in the same amound of space. Zip discs delivered a whopping 100MB of space (which at the time of 500MB drives was very appealing). Unfortunately the discs were rather expensive, compared to floppies and cost over $10 each. Iomega even marketed a “Giga-pack” of 10 Zip disks, which cost over $100.
Although some of the drives were SCSI, most Zip drives used the PC’s parallel port, which delivered around 50 KB a second. While technically faster than a floppy drive, it would take over 30 minutes to fill up a disk. The processor usage was unusually high for a drive write, so the PCs at the time was practically unusable while data was being written.