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Ask HN: Which vintage computers do you find interesting?
55 points by albertkoz 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 140 comments
I recently got into retro computers. Besides just buying them, I want to actually experience and use the technology. So far I've spent most of my time with a C64: programming and learning different system quirks. Programming on these machines is really something else!

Right now I have my eyes on Acorn. Mostly because they were the first ARM/RISC computers available in the market (to the best of my knowledge), but I would also love to hear other recommendations. I want to acquire something interesting, that would be challenging and rewarding to program with.






The C64 is really sweet - one of my goals is to eventually develop a game for it (thinking a monorail/train sim like a simplified version of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Densha_de_Go!_2_K%C5%8Dsoku-he...)

Right now I'm interested in the Phillips MSX systems and PC Engine, as they both have a catalogue of unique platform-specific games (such as the original Metal Gear!) and are less-trodden territory for retrocomputing which, alas, makes them a little pricier. But part of the fun of retrocomputing is that it can be a passive hobby where you set some price alerts on ebay and craigslist and then try and go for the score.

If you haven't, be sure to check out https://old.reddit.com/r/retrobattlestations/


I just purchased a C64 Mini. Can't afford a real C64 and its maintenance but a Mini is well in the budget. It's essentially an emulator running on another computer but I think it would be a nice place to play some classic games and write my own assembly code!

I bought mine real C64 cheaper than Mini. I live in central Europe and you can grab c64 here with cables etc. for around $40-50.

That's really neat. In Canada it's probably some 200 bucks plus delivery :/

Where do you hunt these stuffs? Ebay?


Local ads websites & facebook groups. More likely to get something cheap. Ebay like sites are usually full of traders, that resell them for profit.

Thanks for the tip. Yeah I found out that ebay price is pretty high. I'll probably find some local groups.

Build your own MSX2 computer! https://github.com/skiselev/omega

The IBM CS 9000. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_System_9000 When I interned @IBM in the mid-80s we had a (computer) lab full of these things. Each had a 68K CPU with (I think) 128K of RAM, a little mono green monitor, and external 8" floppies for storage. All of them running the multi-tasking CSOS operating system.

I never hear them mentioned these days which strikes me as odd though it may be just that I'm not really plugged into the vintage community. It could also be that there are simply none to be had anywhere now. I never hacked on them myself - we already had quite a few 1st-gen PCs in the lab and I worked on those. I seem to recall that our CS9000 app devs were coding in some version of Pascal (possibly cross-compiled from a mainframe) and that there was some form of proprietary connectivity with the site's local System/370.

At some point the lab also obtained a "portable" PC (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Portable_Personal_Computer) which was a god-awful, big, heavy beast. However I can't say that I find those "interesting" and IIRC most of the devs even then were mainly interested in avoiding having to use it.

I used to think it was strange that, considering it was already selling CS9000s, IBM didn't base its entry into the general-purpose PC market on a stripped-down version of the hardware and on CSOS.


Long ago, I had an interview with a startup in Chicago called US Robotics. They had a Kaypro 2, a complete computer, with a built-in display... and it was portable! So much less stuff than the S-100 systems I was used to. I was in awe.

It turned out they made modems, quite successfully for a while. I'm sad I botched the interview, I would have been doing destructive testing, so much fun! 8)

I still feel nostalgia for the Kaypro 2, even though I have millions of times the compute in a device the size of 2 legal pads.


I remember US Robotics being a big modem brand, considered a good brand if I recall correctly

Oh yes US Robotics modems were some of the first consumer modems to get data throughput above 9600 bits per second.

They also created a weird but very interesting computer designed by some guy named Jeff Hawkins.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_(PDA)

Which, come to think of it, is my pick for Interesting Computer.

Very fun to program, a couple of extensions to turn the Notepad into a Wiki (we would call it a Zettlekasten now, I suppose). The initial API was very much like Macintosh C programming.


I remember when US Robotics sent out a buncha 56K modems for a dime to 33.6K modem owners. Loved US Robotics before that, but loved 'em even more after that. :)

I had a Kaypro when I was a technical writer at Amiga. Quite an amazing machine for its time. With it and WordStar, I got a lot of writing done!

wait, you were actually at 'Amiga' Los Gatos (pre atari/commodore acquisition battle) or at Commodore-Amiga?

Both. I used the Kaypro in Santa Clara, before we moved to Los Gatos. By the time we got to Los Gatos, the writers had Sun workstations (which had amazing keyboards; I've never typed faster) and Interleaf.

I’m into a weird part of retrocomputing where I mess with things other than just general purpose computers. Most of my equipment is old network/telecom stuff (mostly ISDN and general T1/E1 stuff rn, but I want to get into ATM) and network analyzers. Notably my Agilent J2300E which is a massive Windows 98 machine that look like a laptop but contains all sorts of sync and async serial interfaces too expensive to put on modern PCs (go find how much it costs to get a V.35 adapter) as well as all sorts of modules for various interfaces lile token ring, fddi, fast Ethernet, T1/E1, ISDN BRI, ATM, etc. It also has a nice software suite for emulation / analysis. If you’re curious why do have all this shit, in currently working on a user mode ISDN stack for Linux, which is keeping my love for programming on life support.

But to answer the question, here’s what on my wishlist:

HP-86 - recently sold my HP-85 with serial and GPIB expansions which I regret and will hopefully pick up an HP-86 to replace it eventually. Finding the serial and GPIB cartridges again my he a task.

Lisp machines, particularly a MacIvory - no chance I get my hands on one anytime soon.

One of the Tektronix Smalltalk Workstations - Will probably never even see one in my lifetime.

DEC VAXstation - May be purchasing one of the larger ones later this year. Will probably stick NetBSD on it.

DEC AlphaServer - Particularly models of which I find aesthetically pleasing. Not a Compaq or HP AlphaServer. The ones I like are always just a bit out of my price range. Will probably stick NetBSD on it.

IBM 5100 (running APL) - rare and always too expensive on the occasion I see one for sale

PDP-X - Actually a chance I might be able to run into a DEC PDP machine and be able to afford it someday.

I kinda want an early AS400 , but will settle for a not quite retro iSeries.

Not quite computers, but I also want:

HP 700/70 - A windowing terminal which was based off an old window standard for terminals called AlphaWindows (for which I also need to find the spec because the current implementations are currently commercial software). I’ve see a few listings for these terminals, but always super shady.

X.25 Equipment - PAD’s, switches, etc. I’m starting to thing X.25 was a legend because I have yet to find anything hardware related to it.

Anyway my end goal it to have a crazy home network with all the crazy protocols I hack on sectioned off and connected to the main (modern Ethernet) LAN with my retro stuff sitting on various networks.


Tasteful. LSI-11 for the likely cheapest PDP (though we weren't -11 fans)?

X.25 may have been legendary, but certainly not mythical! It was what the UK academic network ran on long ago, and worked well, but was steamrollered by IP (which ran over it for a while). I was rather surprised at how primitive computing/networking was at the US equivalent lab when I spent a summer there. I wouldn't know where to look for kit now, but it's surprising what lurks in the bowels of academic establishments! I've seen suggestions it's still in use in other environments. There was something of a competition for the most obsolete bits found by out Field Support.

Edit: There's probably assorted X.25 in Jim Austin's collection, specifically on the GEC 41xx: http://www.computermuseum.org.uk/


Have you see the VT-103? PDP-11 in a VT-100 chassis!

https://www.ebay.com/itm/124816498894


That’s actually really cool, and if wasn’t down $3k thanks to a shipping fuck up I’d had to have to bid on it.

I hope you are part of NPSTN and the various phreaking discord groups.. LOTS of old switching stuff going on there.. some people from Binrev, etc... good to meet you. I probably already know you. :) -lucidphreak

I am not familiar with these groups, being rather new to the whole thing, but I would love to find them!

The first PC we had in our home was an Olivetti M24, an 8086 running at 8Mhz. This was around 1987 (I think). Then I got my own 286 (also Olivetti) so naturally I have an affinity with early PC's.

In the past two years I rebuild, from parts I sourced in various places, a fully working; 286/16, 386SX/20, 386DX/40, 486DX/100. I also have the parts for a Pentium 100 except for the CPU.

It was fun collecting and sourcing the parts and building the machines up. In my opinion the PC industry in the 90's was most interesting, not because it was "my" time but because technology was advancing leaps and bounds during that period.


Same here about Olivetti. In case you didn't know, last year I learnt about PCem, an emulator to bring back to life those XT 8086 8088, 286, 386, 486... Take a look at my page about it ;) https://juangacovas.info/doku.php/windows/howtos/pcemu-page

Sadly, PCem is now abandoned, but 86box is a fork which now has better interface and features

Nice, that was our first as well! Fortunately my dad kept it, so in theory it should still work.

One of my oldest memories is hearing that digitized guitar intro of Mach 3 for the first time. I've played so many hours of Digger on that machine.


Same here! Hearing that coming out of a pc speaker was mesmerizing.

Our M24 broke down at some point. My dad took it away to get repaired and just left it there, he said "it couldn't be fixed, they said" :(

Another game that made a similar impression was Mean Streets [1], but this was on my 286 with VGA.

Years after I had moved out of the house I was horrified to find out that my Mom had tossed out all my old computer stuff without telling me (I had two Olivetti 286's, a 16 and 25 Mhz).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_Streets_(video_game)


I grew up in the 8-bit era, so that's mostly what I'm interested in from a retro computing perspective. Pretty much the whole Acorn lineup starting with the BBC and then going to the early ARMs is interesting, plus a bunch of the other early UK-built weird machines like home computers using Forth (I think that was the ORIC).

Early UNIX workstations are also pretty interesting, like the early SUN stuff, SGI, early NeXT if you're more interested in that type of machines.


Looks like my memory isn't what it used to be, the ORIC machines used Basic, what I was thinking of was the Jupiter Ace: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_Ace

I used to live in the UK for couple of years and I never heard of BBC before I living there. Right now I am hunting for Acorn and BBC and I am planning on flying to the UK just to pick them up. It's funny how these systems were so big, however only on the domestic market.

I would love to get SGI but in the country I live in, it's almost imposible, same as SUN and NeXT.


For my own amusement I just had a quick look at eBay and it looks like old SUN gear has got expensive since last looked.

NeXT gear has always been expensive, that doesn't seem to have changed.


Sun gear has REALLY jumped in price, especially the early 32bit SPARC stuff. I had a BUNCH of them in the mid 2000's, an IPX, SS10, SS20, Ultra1, and a beautiful full stack LX with CD-ROM and two external hard drives. Sold them all on over the years--now ONE machine is worth more than all I sold combined. I recently had a hankering for another Sparc and settled on a SunFire V100 because it was reasonably priced and I wanted to avoid buying a 13w3 monitor and Sun-Keyboard at the upper price range they are going for. Still a very capable server and it scratched my big-endian itch for the time being.

I first learned Linux (and C) on a SparcStation LX back around 2005 with Debian. I had it fully kitted out with 9.1GB SCSI Hard Drive, 128MB RAM. I sold it around 2011 for $300 and thought that was a lot. Now I see them going for 3x that amount and I wish I'd kept it.

Acorn Electron is effectively a small BBC micro. Lots of fun!

I don't think this is exactly what you are asking, but I find analog computers[1] (specifically mechanical computers) fascinating, especially differential analyzers[2]. I knew of their existence but never really thought about them until reading some books related to Claude Shannon. It's still mind-boggling to me how they work.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analog_computer 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_analyser


Radio Shack Color Computer III - they had a multi-tasking OS, OS-9, that worked via memory bank switching. It had a windowing system that worked via in-band signalling, which is quite different than any windowing system today.

I grew up on a Color Computer 2 (Coco 2) (Exact same specs as the Coco 1 but reduced number of chips, making it cheaper I understand). Learning to program on it as early as 7 years old got me hooked on software development. Later someone gave us a Coco 3, which was too little, too late be a market success. Still, there was something attractive about the simplicity of those old 8-bit computers.

At the end of the day, the majority of 8 bit home computers didn't have a path forward that included more powerful CPUs with advanced features and backwards compatibility and were always doomed for eventual obsoleting.


Learning to write 6809 Assembly language programs set me up quite nicely for the wave 32-bit 68000 machines.

But yes, I think microcomputers had to get more complicated to move forward. The original Macintosh team worked like mad to keep the hardware design as simple as possible, but virtually no computer manufacturer could afford a project like that.

(The first Mac hardware prototype was a 6809 board. Not a CoCo :-)


Yes, we had a CoCo2 as well. What I mostly remember was the cassette recorder disk drive, which was kind of like recorded modem sounds. There were a handful of games that plugged in via a cartridge on the side (like an NES, but usually with more boring games). But then there were some commercial games distributed on cassette tape as well, such as this one:

https://www.pixelatedarcade.com/games/taxi


I have a CoCo 1 that I picked up at a thrift store while missing my childhood Apple ][e. While learning about the CoCo I discovered that it had its own rich ecosystem, and I've come to really love this black sheep of the TRS-80 family.

Someday I'd like to pick up a CoCo 3 and disk drive(s), it really seems like a leap forward from the capabilities of my original CoCo.


I pulled an Amstrad cpc464 out of the loft at the beginning of the year and headed deep down the rabbit hole. For me the most interesting thing is interfacing with modern microcontrollers. Pics, stm32, esp(s) etc. There's something about telneting to BBS over the internet from a machine from 1985. The wargames effect maybe. Standouts for the CPC include the M4 board, the dandanator and the USIFAC. I have a lot of respect for those who built these. Despite an engineering degree and a 25 year career my low level knowledge has expanded greatly from playing with these things. It's also been a lot of fun.

Amstrad is definitely one of the machines I want to buy at some point. I really like the design.

Some friends discovered during quarantine their old Amstrads still worked but their monitors weren't. Don't remember if they were green phospor CRT or color.

Are there any active BBS that you can still telnet to?

There quite a lot out there, few getting much use though.

List here: https://www.telnetbbsguide.com/ Other interesting telnet servers include JPL: telnet horizons.jpl.nasa.gov 6775 and telehack.com.

There's even a telnet WOPR emulator: https://github.com/abs0/wargames


Do any of them give you a busy signal and make you re-telnet?

Pretty much all of them, to my partner's chagrin.

Had a PDP-11/40 in college that I sold for rent money, one of my biggest regrets. Still have a lot of game dev hardware, some old Sun systems, a Mac 512k, an Alpha workstation (that I tell myself I keep around for a good reason, due to it's famously weak memory model), a POWER4 server, a bunch of prototype supermicro boxes with a redundant PCI-E fabric that they share, etc.

Would love some more mini computers, maybe a Data General?


I worked at a company that actually got a Connection Machine.

I was not allowed to even think about touching it.

It was good at sifting genome sequences... and so it was used by the Legal Department. For patent (intellectual property) searches...

I had actually been teaching myself some early back propagation stuff for neural network training. That had been in 1989.. So when I found myself in the same room as Danny Hillis' brain, and then was told how it was being used...

I'm still twitching.


Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance.

As a programmer, these are machines that you can understand in their entirety down to the metal (I don't mean the hardware internally, just everything that's visible to the programmer), because they are relatively simple. It's also hardware that many grew up with and can relate to. They're well documented and ready to develop for, including very good emulators and debuggers. They're cheap, or you can just use an emulator to play around with them.

GB original is fun because it's so limited, and it's like a puzzle to figure out what you can do with it (including making graphics that prayers can actually recognize). Writing asm for it is like an adversarial puzzle.

GBA is based on ARM so it is a relative of modern cell phones, but running only at 16Mhz. You can still do a lot with it, because it's still pretty powerful (e.g. it runs Doom). It also has a very powerful 2d graphics chip that's still easy to work with and try to figure out effects for. Writing asm on it is a joy.


Paul Allen's Living Computer Museum in Seattle had a wide range of vintage computers. Since his death, the museum has been closed. Last I checked, the fate of the collection is up in the air. They had a number of working older machines and had a staff capable of working on restoring them and keeping them running. It would be wonderful to get it reanimated. Best contact I have would be Aaron Alcorn at Vulcan (Paul Allen's venture firm).

Bruce Damer's Digibarn Computer Museum in Scotts Valley CA has been looking for someone to take over its collection since Bruce has redirected his personal research effort into AI from digital computer history.

Of course there is also the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Wikipedia has a list of computer museums.

The Compuseum in Philadelphia is the latest new museum. (https://thecompuseum.org). It is the brainchild of James Scherrer who has done an amazing job collecting resources and support. Philadelphia is the original home of ENIAC (John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, Jr.).

And a word of caution. Real vintage machines are made from parts no longer manufactured, consume large amounts of power, are often water cooled, and need a large amount of physical space. They date from a time when the resource (compute cycles, storage) was so precious that having a staff of hardware engineers to keep the hardware working could be justified. On the software side, most systems were unique, non-standard, and supported by a team of five or more systems programmers. Economics forced a "small is beautiful" style on everything: those gifted programmers who could solve big problems with small speedy programs were in great demand.


I’ve always been fascinated with the Coleco Adam. It wasn’t a super successful computer, but I had one as a kid and it was a pretty amazing system that was both ahead of its time and behind at the same time.

They made really unique choices for user experience… the default mode for the system is actually a typewriter rom (!), and you can switch to a word processor mode. The system uses Atari style rom cartridges and had an integrated cassette drive, as well as an optional floppy. The weird thing was that a daisy wheel printer was the power supply and was required for the whole thing to work.

Even crazier was that they had a version where you could attach your ColecoVision game console into a dock and convert it into a general purpose computer.


For Covid, I restored an HP-87. What's cool about it is the processor is fully custom, so a new assembly language to learn. It's too old that no one ever made a C compiler. The assembly is all in octal, which takes time getting used to when I've been doing hex forever.

I do most of my collecting by being old and not throwing things away. From experience a good vintage computer to have is a 1999-2000 era Pentium III with Windows 98 on it. It's old enough to recognize 5.25" floppies in the bios, but also USB drives. Put Windows 98 on it and you can run old software from pure DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 9x. I've put a big enough hard disk in it to suck up all my files and software from my older machines and floppy disks.

Old Amiga stuff is still attainable and supposedly really rewarding to play with/program.

Which models are attainable in particular? I've always wanted to have a Video Toaster capable machine (A4000T especially) but I can't seem to find them anywhere.

A2000 is far more obtainable, sometimes already found with a Video Toaster installed. And with PiStorm and other plug in accelerators, the processing power of the 2000 vs 4000 (with some caveats) is less important.

Also the A4000T is very 'collectible' right now. $$$


I'm not really concerned with the onboard 680x0 processing power or lack thereof (as you pointed out, accelerators solve that), so much as I am concerned with MMU and FPU support while keeping the AGA graphics chipset. If you know of a better solution with a less expensive model, say an A1200 (which has AGA), I'm all ears. With that said, I haven't read of the A1200 being Toaster-capable.

I am a fan of the commodore 128 as it has c64 mode as well as ability to be a bit more powerful. the trs series also has some fun quirks, zx spectrum is a good starter machine readily available still. The one thing i am currently looking forward to is the commander x16 is a in progress "new" retro computer made by a group of enthusiasts to try to use as many legacy components as possible. they already have an emulator set up so can play around with writing assembly for a retro pc on modern infrastructure with hope of soon having real new manufacturable hardware for it.

Not sure how achievable to find but the Canon Cat with it's leap keys, the FORTH based everything executable system and its supposed inability to loose user input always seemed really interesting

Classic Mac plus, NeXt cube, Sun IPS workstation. All from the computer era when I got started. These are the machines that inspired me.

Would love to have working versions of any, but near impossible now I’m living in Singapore :(


I got classic Mac, unfortunately I find it quite boring. I would love to get NeXt but these are really expensive nowadays.

Yeah old Macs on their own are very dull computers. Once you start to get into third-party tweaks and games that push the hardware to its limits are where it really starts to get interesting.

My favorite classic Macs are the ones with color screens and CD-ROM drives. The multimedia possibilities really start to open up! I have a Performa 575[1] that was just about perfect for this, but it suffered a fall in storage that shattered the case. If it ends up being a total loss I'm going to start looking for a Power Mac 5200[2] which is better looking and can run early PowerPC applications.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_LC_500_series [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_Macintosh_5200_LC


Thanks! I acquired my first vintage Mac couple months ago (two Macintosh Classic) and I was very surprised with the machines. I think I need to look more into what was possible. Thank you for the ideas, I will definitely look into getting another early Mac computer.

The Macintosh Classic is my favorite compact Mac, even if the SE/30 was technically miles ahead. The Classic looks the best (in my '90s-biased opinion) and is the only one that has a working operating system in ROM, which I think is pretty cool. I traded a Mac SE (FD800) for mine and haven't looked back.

I also really enjoy the LC line, especially the pizza box form factor. They have similar styling to the Classic but have a color monitor, and still don't take up much space. There was also an Apple][-on-a-card that could plug into an LC's expansion port and allow it to run Apple ][ software... I haven't tracked one of those down yet, but I see them come up occasionally.


Maybe look for a macintosh ii, big desktop case and some were able to run a unix variant. Otherwise the SE30 was the ducks nuts of the classic macs.

What I’ve read about Lisp machines[0] really piqued my interest.

Haven’t tried one yet though.

NeXT’s computers[1] also seems very cool. Haven’t tried them either but I’ve used both WindowMaker and macOS.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisp_machine

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeXT


WindowMaker was never a clone of NeXT—it was more of a cool window manager that just happened to superficially look like NeXT. If you want to play with a real attempt to recreate a “deep down” NeXT clone you want this:

https://github.com/trunkmaster/nextspace


I really like the old SGI computers, the design was amazing. Not sure how much fun those are nowadays even if you happen to be into CAD or 3D modelling. I friend of mine got an old workstation from eBay and it weighed 50 kg and had a huge power supply.

A really interesting one might be Apple Newton, they have been quite powerful for their time. I think a few years ago I read that there is still a vibrant community around it.


> I really like the old SGI computers, the design was amazing. Not sure how much fun those are nowadays even if you happen to be into CAD or 3D modelling.

At least they can be easily repurposed to do something useful:)

https://www.instructables.com/Convert-a-Silicon-Graphics-Ser...


I miss SGI IRIX `hinv` - it told you what hardware was plugged on the machine.

I think Apple Newton (today) seems an interesting piece of hardware to try and tinker.


lshw is your friend on Linuxy systems

They had beatiful cases. Now all computers look like they are designed by Henry Ford - black.

The Psion II organizer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_Organiser).

In my opinion, the filing system of "hit SAVE and write whatever you want, up to 254 characters in a record, and search for them later with FIND" is literally an offline, portable Twitter-esque infodumping tool. Simply elegant.


My first computer the MSX (but the MSX-2 was really my first love) with it's z80 and vdp. I still have a lot of them (in the late 90s you could pick them up for free or almost free: then they picked up in price) and they still work well. They all work fine.

I do some programming on them for fun and try, when I have the time, to make them really workable. With Symbos and some cheat hardware, this works pretty well.


I am looking for a Cobalt Qube since long time. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to find.

I may have a blue one in my storage unit, along with a Raq. If I ever discover it, I’ll ping you.

Atari ST 520/1040, for the built-in MIDI ports and retro sequencing software.

I recently bought an Atari 800, and I have my eye out for an Atari 1040ST. I'd like to add one of the latter to my stable as well.

Beyond that, I've been tinkering a little bit (emphasis on "little") with building a home-built ad-hoc z-80 machine. By ad-hoc, I just mean, not specifically modeling after any well known design from back in the day. Just taking a z-80 CPU, attaching memory, etc., and trying to build something that can - at a minimum - blink some LED's in response to code I write. The plan (for now) is to write code and cross-compile from a PC and burn the code to an EEPROM which the z80 will boot from. Not sure I plan to go as far as implementing keyboard I/O, a display adapter, etc. Maybe. Time / focus will be the big factors.


While the hardware for the ILLIAC is out of my league as a collector, I’d like to figure out a way to emulate the PLATO software that would run on the amber-colored terminals. I read about it in “computer lib/dream machines” alongside lots of other early timesharing systems.

I always wanted to play with HyperCard too, shouldn’t be too tough to get an old G4 mac booted into it, right?


For a modern PLATO experience, try:

https://irata.online/


I'm a big fan of Apple IIs, as an Apple //e was the first computer I've ever used as a child. When I got a little older and read about its hardware, I was really impressed by the amount of trickery involved to make the graphics and the disk drive work.

For the past years I'm on and off fighting the urge not to buy an Altair 8800 clone.

The C64 was my first, and I'm still using the platform, but I've moved to the ultimate64 fpga implementation.

Other than that, I really want an Olivetti M24SP with amber monochrome screen, because that was the first computer I owned as a kid.


After watching a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smStEPSRKBs), I starting thinking about writing for Atari’s “Quadrascan” vector graphics arcade machines. I wondered if they could play a primitive first-person shooter. You’d need to clip the drawing of partially-occluded objects, either by designing them in some clever way, or by adding clipping support to the hardware.

The easiest way to get started would be an emulator.


I grew up during the monolithic Windows XP / 7 era, so vintage computers (especially 80s) has fascinated me.

Glad I’m not alone!

Haven’t acquired any myself yet, but I’d like to. In fact I’m glad to hear you’re having fun with the C64 since I figured that would be my first one.

Recommendations?

The lisp machines are really cool, and I believe the MSX has been mentioned.

However one that I keep coming back to with fascination is the Sharp X68000, a Japanese computer based on the Motorola 68k.

It used hardware very similar to late 80s and early 90s arcade games, and in fact has excellent ports of things like Street Fighter 2.

But the whole aesthetic of it, along with what it could output for graphics and sound - as an outsider, it looks like it was way ahead of the US and UK computers of the time (the closest contender being the Amiga).

Would love to pick one up and try writing some code for it someday, although I expect I’ll need to brush up on my Japanese.


I got my first computer in the early 90's, so for the very same reason vintage computers fascinate me. I started with C64 as it's cheap and got amazing community around. To this day, couple of brand new games are released every year. Mine got wifi card and SD card reader. I actually got already 3 different commodore64 models, as I couldn't decide which one I like the most. Amigas are great, but they also are getting expensive. I bought my c64 for 50 Euro with the cables etc.

All of them.

Recently I've been fascinated by the PLATO system, although I have never used it in hardware or emulated form.

Unfortunately you can't personally emulate it because the system images are not publicly available. There seems to be a public access emulation however.


I'm currently playing with laptops of various vintage, mostly 386/486/P1 era. I do minimal hardware modifications (e.g. replace broken floppy drives with Gotek and hard disks with CF cards), and mostly software "challenges" (e.g. port Doom to Xenix, triple-boot Win95, Dos and SCO Unix on an LBA formatted disk,. .. ). In general, I find less common/obscure OSes interesting, more than the hardware per se.

Laptops can be annoying due to the nonstandard parts and limited expansion capabilities (save for PCMCIA cards), but they are very compact and self-contained and I'm currently living in a small house.


My first computer is an IBM PC that the university lent to my father. I don't know which one it is but it has two floppy drivers and no hard disk, which is typical for the machines of 80s back in China. It is also an authentic IBM machine (not the ones licensed to and built by Great Wall Tech) that costs the university a fortune.

I just got a gift card from my company so decided to order a C64 mini. Partly because I heard it's a fascinating machine, and partly I figured it's a good option to introduce a retro machine to my son when he grows up a bit. Although it is in fact an emulator but I think it's the best option unless I can afford a few hundred bucks and know how to fix the authentic C64.


Amiga. It's my secret love.

But I also wouldn't mind a Cray-1.


I grew up with an Atari ST and I've enjoyed revisiting it. Growing up I stuck to really simple stuff, so it's been fun to to learn more about how it all works. There's a library called Atari Game Tools (AGT) that can do some really impressive things even on a stock STFM. With cross-compilation tools it's possible to build software on a PC in a few seconds before testing in an emulator.

The VIC-20 is another fun machine to work with. There's not much memory and the way it handles graphics is quite interesting.

[1] AGT: https://bitbucket.org/d_m_l/agtools/wiki/Home


I think some of the UK computers I've never seen in person would be fun:

   - The Acorn BBC system sounds like a very rich environment for an 8-bit of its era.  
   - The Jupiter Ace that ran FORTH instead of BASIC.

I have a collection of SGI gear I grabbed before the retro community jacked the price up. Also I have a couple hp pa risc machines. Apollo's etc. I still love the UX in Irix and think that windows 2k was peak windows.

I agree about Windows 2000.

I would love to play again with DomainOS on Apollo. Such a pity that the harddrives did not lasted so long.

I like the Spectrum because I learned to program in a Spectrum 128 +2A, but I have some special thing for the original IBM PC because it was what started home computing :-)


Commodore Amiga! By far my favorite computer of all time. I know friends still usin' my old Amiga 1200 and Amiga 4000 to this day. (Gifted at 'em because "retro" computer are their big passion.)

In the 90s, I once saw a commercial on a magazine selling a notebook computer that looks like a cheese. I always wanted it, but I don’t recall the brand.

Such a weird thing... If you ever find it let me know!

I have been googling, but the only things I could find are keycaps in the cheese style

https://www.etsy.com/listing/994461148/cheese-handmade-resin...

as I remember, the computer's case looked just like it.


The Z80 and CP/M are where it's at for me. A couple of years ago I ported a Z80 emulator to run under Unreal Engine 4, and wrote a telnet client for it to allow it to connect out to BBS's on the internet:

https://i.imgur.com/59RufvT.png


Please tell me you can wander around different rooms and there are multiple terminals like this.

Yeah I had up to four running at once, with different floppy/hard disk configs, CPU speed etc.

I'd suggest more interesting systems, but probably interesting in inverse proportion to how you could get hold of one :-/. Not wanting to dampen enthusiasm for old systems, but was there anything radically different about things like C64 and Acorn products?

If you don't need hardware, there might be more interest in programming on simulators for various old systems.


For the C64 at least, the cool thing is the absolute lack of abstractions. The entire memory map is known. The entire Kernal is documented. The hardware, totally explained. You can actually know everything there is to know about the whole machine. Totally different than modern computing / coding.

Good point, that we've mostly gone backwards in that respect. Sites did used to have source for all the software and hack on it, and detailed docs on the hardware that wasn't self-built.

Slot 1 based Pentium 2/3. The golden age.

imo the standout of that era was the Abit BP6 board that let you run dual celerons and overclock the hell out of them. The p2's had half speed cache on those slot cards, and the celerons usually beat them in my real world applications on memory latency.

I guess I’m alone that I enjoyed the Trash 80. It’s what I grew up on, so perhaps my fondness stems from that.

Atari 2600 programming is really fun and has a super active community. I suspect it's one of the most active retro communities out there right now.

Also, it's kind of fake retro, but I'm pretty excited for the Commander X16, again, mostly because the community is so cool.


The Commander X16 isn't "fake retro", it actually IS retro. Retro literally means "imitative of a style or fashion from the recent past".

Real old computers and technology, like the Atari 2600 you mentioned, is "vintage".


Yeah, that sound right to me, but OP used vintage and retro interchangeably, I didn't really think too hard about it.

I have the urge to write an Atari 2600 program to solve some of the recent Project Euler problems. I’ve already found that it’s feasible. The hardest part is input and output.

https://projecteuler.net/problem=759

https://projecteuler.net/problem=760


The pdp11 is oddly interesting to me. Never used one or touched one. But the instruction set is interesting in so many ways. It looks like something I could actually write code for and not spend the whole time in anger.

I would like to have an inmos transputer hypercube with an PC interface card.

I recently bought an SUN E5500 with 8 CPUs for 200E. The big advantage (and disadvantage) of big machines that they tend to be too big to forget somewhere in an attic and sometimes can be had for little money.


I liked the Victor 9000's [1]; much like IBM PC's but better in several ways. never really caught on.

[1] http://www.oldcomputers.net/victor9000.html


Terrific link, thanks. So many memories. So many surprises; mfg and models I hadn't heard of.

These vintage computers always remind me of the accompanying printers. Daisy well, dot matrix, line printers... There's probably catalogs of those as well.

Ah, nostalgia.


The Versatile 2, purely for aesthetic reasons.

https://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=345


Do replicas count? I recently got a fully functional PDP-11 replica, running RSTS. This is currently my favorite vintage computer, because the PDP-11 happens to be the very first computer I ever programmed on.

A full size replica?

A friend maintains the vintage computing blog https://bytecellar.com/ .

The ZX Spectrum is such a unique and quirky machine. With lots of fun quirky games to play.

Z80 machines w/ CP/M and the IMSAI 8080. I like the old IMSAI 8080 machines and got to use one many years ago and it’s fun and visceral to program with machine code. direct understanding.

I've spent the past few months playing around with a simple single-board Z80-based system, running CP/M 2.x

I even wrote a simple text-based adventure game for it, first in C, then in z80 assembly.

I grew up with the ZX Spectrum, so the Z80 is a processor I remember fondly.


I'm personally fascinated by older mini computers from 80s, like the DEC VAX 11/780.

I don't currently, and don't anticipate ever having the power and space to own one myself though.


IBM PC Jr. => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_PCjr

- 128K of RAM

- single, 360K floppy drive

- 16 color CGA

- a mouse

- only 4 arrow keys on a full size keyboard

- loads DOS from a cartridge!


My college roommate had one of those!

Wireless keyboard, too!

Transmeta CPUs were cool

I went backwards and forwards on buying a Sony PCG-C1VN subnotebook at one point, which was powered by a Transmeta chip. In the end I went for an Inspiron instead which was probably the sensible decision, but I regret it sometimes.

Amstrad CPC had a great BASIC and detailed manual.

Acorn A3000 - had one in 89 Lost it.

AN/UYK-7

Aegis may not be the best general purpose system, but let's hear it for niche.


I would love to have an Amiga

They were (and still are) amazing machines. Everything Commodore made was actually really great stuff, honestly. You can still emulate all of the great old classic machines on any half-decent modern PC if you ever wanna play around with any of 'em and can't get ahold of original hardware.

I've done emulation but there's something about old hardware ...I would love to have the machine sitting here

GEM on an Amstrad. We had one when I was a kid. I played so many cool old games on it.

Wanted to pick up some old SGI stuff but it’s still hard to get and very expensive.

I did try to tell people there was money in old SGI and Sun kit rather than just scrapping it (and then had to buy spares from a scavenger of Sun kit I know of before Sun shut them down). I didn't realize there was much of a market for real SGIs now, though. We used to have a literal stack of Indys to swap in when one off maintenance packed up. Now I only have a mouse somewhere.

My current setup is a 10yo Mac Mini running Linux. Does that count as vintage? :)

Oh, most of those mentioned in comment here are exotic. Atari? SGI? Mine isn't anything special. I have an old, 386DX MS-DOS PC with a large 5" Floppy Disc that somehow still turns on and work. Takes about a minute with cracking noise when booting up. I do that every few years and play around with it. I am pretty sure it is from the 80s. So that is coming close to 40 years. The old monitor is barely working though. But I have a Sony Trinitron CRT that still work. And I refuse to throw them away. ( Yes I have emotional attachment to them ) It was fun installing DOS Games you have to put in the Disc one by one, and I remember somehow getting Games running require some fiddling with IRQ.

That Sony CRT is attached to a MUCH faster, insanely great PC with Intel Pentium MMX. All I could remember was MMX was suppose to be the holy grail of CPU and solve every single god damn computing problem. At least that was how it was marketed at the time. And a S3 Verge, actually I am not even sure if it was a verge or something before that, Trio something? Doesn't matter it was a S3 Graphics card, and at a later date upgraded with 3DFx Voodoo 3D Accelerator!. The era of OpenGL vs Glide! And a Sound Blaster Sound Card ( Where is Creative now? ).

I was always a PC guy back then, because you know Apple Mac used to be insanely expensive. I mean if you do price adjusted for inflation the Mac today are down right cheap. And I really like to do tinkering. What really took me to Apple was teaching parents / elderlies how to use a computer. There is a (edited) tweet which sums things up very nicely.

>"I spent a week with my parents teaching them to use a Computer. It took much of the first day to get them to learn to map the horizontal plane of the desk to the vertical plane of the screen and to stop lifting the mouse in the air."

>"Left Click, Right Click, and Double Click might seem like three trivial things, but to them it was like trying to solve three body problem in physics."

I admit I was frustrated with their stupidity at the time. ( Yes I know, that was naive of me ) Some how after Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he was talking about the user experience and how people have trouble using the computer. That was when every thing clicked for me. I got them a Mac. And it was somehow much easier for them to use it. At least easier than a PC, but still difficult in their view.

Then I made myself a hackintosh when they announced their switch to x86. And later bought a MacBook Pro.

After years of some of the most frustrating support calls to my mother-in-law to explain her Mac to her, we got her an iPad, to which I’ve not had a single tech support call in 10 years.

The iPad was really revolutionary in many ways. Those who never had to support their family and friends with computer problems might never grasp how frustrating it is. The touch screen and home button was the single biggest computing invention of the century. Anything messed up, press home button and you return to the original state. No worry or hassle.

Ok, this is turning into a long post of personal computing history.




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