Nice thread topic!
Towards the end of 1998, my 486 was beginning to feel a bit on the slow side, even though it was PCI-based and ran an AMD X5-133ADZ. I used this 486 for 2 years, from Jan 1997 until Dec. 1998. I had tolerated the 486 for so long because I was never a game player and websites weren't too bloated yet. By Dec. 1998, I was the last one in my group of friends who was still routinely using a 486; they all had at least a Pentium 166 or 233 MMX by then. However, they were nice enough to keep me well in the geek loop, albeit because I was the only guy in town with a CD writer drive in 1997. Yes, I used a SCSI 2x/6x CD-RW drive on my 486 and never had any issues.
By the end of 1998, everyone was playing mp3s on their computer, but on a 486, I had to put the music in mono mode just to keep it from skipping. I figured it was about time for an upgrade. I was going to go all out on my next computer purchase, with the intent of not needing to upgrade the system for at least 5-10 years. I had skimped in Jan of 1997 when I bought a 486 instead of a Pentium 166/200 and didn't want to make this mistake again.
In December of 1998, I put in a custom order to Dell for a Precision Workstation 410. The PW410 was based off the Intel 440BX chipset. It housed dual Pentium II-400 CPUs. Not including the Xeons, the fastest commercial Intel chip at the time was a PII-450, but the cost difference just wasn't worth it compared to the 400's. Standard RAM for this machine was 64 MB, so I upped my order to 128 MB (ECC, PC100). I remember that upgrade alone being around $150.
Dell at this time was quite respectable for their business machines. This workstation came with onboard Ultra2-LVD SCSI (80 MB/s) and a 9.1 GB Seagate SCSI hard disk. It also came with a 32X SCSI narrow CD-ROM drive and onboard 10/100 ethernet. The graphics card was a Diamond Permedia 2, AGP 2X and always felt a little crummy; The monitor was a Dell UltraScan 17" flat screen CRT. The purchase also came standard with Harman/Kardon speakers and a 3-button Dell PS/2 mouse, both of which I still use today. The keyboard is long gone.
I still have the original sales invoice. The total after tax was $4017. This was a lot of money for me, but it turned out to be worth it. I kept those dual PII-400 working until 2007, at which point I upgraded them to dual PIII-850's and added 1 GB of RAM. I had upgraded to 512 MB of RAM earlier, but don't recall the year. I also had plopped in an ATI Radeon 8500DV card in 2003. It now has a $10 NVIDIA GeForce 6200 chugging away. To this day, this is still my main computer I use for nearly all web surfing and running all my programs (I still use my 486 for e-mail, light web browsing, and HTTP/FTP servers). Given the current rate of website bloating, I think I can probably live with the Dell PW410 for another 5 years.
Other upgrades have included a 73 GB Ultra160 SCSI drive, which is used as the system/swap drive, a SATA controller with over 2.5 TB worth of hard drive storage, DVD-burner, Yamaha Waveforce 192XG, a USB 2.0 card, and a white 17" LCD.
My only complaint is when the 3.5" diskette drive broke. It is a Dell-specific slim drive that I had to pay $35 + $15 shipping. Being a dual processor setup, I was stuck with Windows NT 4.0 until W2K came out, but I ended up using NT 4.0 until 2003 as I had no need for USB support. I used W2K from mid-2003 until 2008, and XP Pro thereafter.
The year 1999 was the only year that I was really up-to-date in terms of computer hardware used.
The image was found online from google images and is an accurate depection of the computer I still use (minus the case stickers).