Dilbert’s Home Computer

Even a comically expensive computer from January 2000 is pretty boring now.

Apr 20, 2022 • Extra Ordinary

At a time when adult cartoon sitcoms were absolutely blowing up — King of the Hill, South Park, Family Guy and Futurama all debuting between 1997 and 1999 — the Dilbert TV series launched to little fanfare, ultimately lasting just two seasons and thirty episodes.

I have mixed feelings about the series. Some of the humor is still truly excellent. Executive Producer Larry Charles was coming off of his instrumental work on Seinfeld and would go on to produce Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. The voice cast (and guest stars) are stellar. Scott Adams, however, has taken up some truly bizarre political stances that make me glad the series went out when it did.

Dilbert’s Computer

In my personal favorite episode “The Return,” aired February 22, 2000, Dilbert orders a new computer online.

This was a pretty novel experience in the year 2000. Only a few years before, Apple had been outdone by their licensed partner, Power Computing. They were the first to create a totally online build-to-order store that was beating Apple at their own game through a lean supply chain. To make a long story short, Steve Jobs punched back by pulling the plug on the entire licensing program and building Apple’s own online store the next year.

Dilbert’s experience in the episode, of course, goes comically poor as he has his credit card information stolen, receives the wrong order thanks to a negligent delivery person and cannot get in contact with a human capable of processing a return. This much has aged like a fine wine.

What has aged less well is that Dilbert pays $27,000 for a computer described as such:

“It’s got redundant RAID drives, 4 terabits each, 3 millisecond access time; built-in DSL, wireless game ports, flat panel 30-inch monitor…”

“Truly you have ordered the finest home computer known to mankind.”

We can see that Dilbert’s current computer is, funnily enough, a Mac of some kind based on the desktop icons, the menu bar and the Mac OS scrolling sound effect (although the yellow tab-style titlebar screams BeOS).

Could you order such a Mac in January 2000?

The priciest spec Dilbert lists is the four terabit (or, 2× 500 GB) RAID array. Hard drives were $10 per gigabyte in the year 2000, so the storage would be $10,000 — plus $150 for the software to manage it. The most offensive part of this line is that saying “redundant RAID drives” is itself redundant as RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

“Access time” is a formerly relevant unit of measurement referring to the disk speed. Calculating access time gets extremely complicated very fast, but in short, a high-end hard drive could feasibly reach 3 ms.

Adding an AirPort card to a Mac cost $99. I’m not sure what the “wireless game ports” Dilbert is referring to are, but wireless USB game controllers existed at the time.

Apple’s only flat panel display at the time was the 15″ Studio Display; they would not make a flat-panel 30″ display until four years later. But one could certainly buy four of them and arrange them in a square for a 30″ experience at a grand total of $8,000.

Add these to the high-end $3,500 Power Mac G4 and we’re only up to $21,749, but that’s before we add in RAM, peripherals and sales tax. It seems pretty likely a computer with these specs from January 2000 could reach $27,000. A+ for accuracy.

What would such a modern Mac cost?

We can easily upgrade to 1 TB of internal storage on even the cheapest Mac for sale today, the $699 Mac mini. Hell, you can even order 1 TB of storage on an iPhone. Flash storage would also prove a hearty upgrade from the spinning disks in his machine.

While we don’t hear Dilbert say how much RAM he ordered, today’s base model Mac far exceeds the maximum amount of RAM one could order on any Mac of the time.

Yes, every Mac comes with Bluetooth for wireless game controllers — and, while we’re at it, internet access.

Of course, as I have covered extensively, a flat panel 30″ monitor can be had for as little as $300.

A Mac mini with these specs adds up to a hardly whopping $1,400, a far cry from $27,000. Not much has changed, though. Today, $27,000 will still get you something that’s obsolete within two years.

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