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Fun and Profit With Obsolete Computers

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the what-else-are-you-going-to-do-with-them dept.

The Almighty Buck 186

An anonymous reader writes "C|Net has a story about the value of aging computer hardware, and the subculture of people who collect them. The story details some of the more enthusiastic collectors currently participating in the hobby, as well as their old-school beautiful hardware. '[Sellam Ismail] recently brought a quarter century-old Xerox Star computer back to life to be used as evidence in a patent lawsuit. The pride of his collection is an Apple Lisa, one of the first computers (introduced in 1983) with a now standard graphical interface. Such items sell for more than $10,000. In an old barn in Northern California that also houses pigs, Bruce Damer, 45, keeps a collection that includes a Cray-1 supercomputer, a Xerox Alto (an early microcomputer introduced in 1973) and early Apple prototypes. '

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30 years from now (2, Funny)

jumper7 (1088519) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739229)

I think it would be a good idea to save my current computer in a warehouse for the next 30 years.

Re:30 years from now (2, Informative)

catxk (1086945) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739381)

Well, you'd have to get the first MacBook (the black one, obviously, and no Core 2 cheating), or maybe one of those Acer Ferraris or something. It would have to be something that is unique, yet popular and the most expensive first version. A custom built PC or a Dell is simply out of the question.

wrong (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740141)

A custom built PC or a Dell is simply out of the question


Well, not about the custom PC, but very much so in the case of the Dell.

You know what makes something interesting/valuable to collectors? Rarity. If millions of people chuck their Dells, but you keep yours, especially if you keep a set that shows the incremental development of the desktop PC over a few years, then that's a collectable.

A lot of people let old hardware slip through their fingers without wondering whether it might be significant. We are alive at the birth of the information age. And just as people happily threw away comic books for decades (Hugo Gernsback's back catalogue ended up being used as ballast in trans atlantic shipping, can you beleive that!), we're chucking out 'useless' hardware now.

God I wish I still had my 3DFX Voodoo 1.

Re:wrong (3, Insightful)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740631)

It must be rare _and_ interesting.

A dull Dell box (pun intended) is not interesting unless it has a unique form factor.

That 21 inch screen notebook monstruosity is such thing. Buy it and keep it functioning for the next 30 years and you will have something. There was also a Compaq desktop with a built-in LCD. I have a Monorail PC that still boots - it had it's HD and CD-ROM changed because they no longer worked. There is also a Sony Vaio whose keyboard folds up to cover half the screen as it becomes a stereo. There were a couple Compaq models with integrated monitors that were interestingly iMac-like.

Those are interesting PCs. No grey box, no matter how rare it is, will ever become interesting.

Anyway, most interesting computers are not PCs. A Sparcstation 1 is interesting as is a Voyager. Just about every SGI box is somewhat unique. If you are shopping today, buy a Tezro. If you want a Sun, buy a desktop SPARC (the amd64s are just PCs). IBM RS/6000s are a bit on the PC side, but are OK. Apples are very diverse and an interesting piece of study. The "flex-chassis" series is very interesting because of the modular mobos. The tower G3 is interesting because every time you open it, it draws blood from your hand. An IBM 3290 terminal is unique as it had a red plasma screen. An NCD 16 X terminal is interesting because of the square CRT. Any Lisp Machine is worth having. The Convergent non-PC x86 machines are very interesting as is their OS.

Rarity is for newcomers that don't really get it. It is a tool for those who can't see the other forms of value and for those who do to get rid of rare and dull hardware.

Re:30 years from now (1)

King_of_Prussia (741355) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739615)

Actually, that's almost what Rusty Foster from kuro5hin has been doing. He runs the site on old donated computers (some positively ancient) using some very specialised code. You can read a little about it here [] (you may need to be logged into k5 to see that properly, scoop gets some weird issues with anonymous users).

no need.. (1)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739799)

Just come back for it like John Titor [] did for his IBM 5100 computer.

Re:30 years from now (1)

charlieman (972526) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740835)

Remember, you have to keep pigs, Bruce Damer and 45 there to be successful!.

Aha! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739231)

I've got a 23+ year old genuine Apple RF modulator. Take THAT, suckers. The "switcheur" troll would gladly suck my cock for this piece of Apple antiquity.

ATTN (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739331)

If you wish Xcode would reformat your code for consistency, GTFO.
If you're overwhelmed by IB's multi-paletted interface, GTFO.
If you've ever typed a backslash outside of ASCII art, GTFO.
If you can't intuit your way from HyperTalk to AppleScript, GTFO.

Bandwagon-jumpers are not welcome among real [] Mac [] geeks [] . Keep your filthy PC fingers to yourself.

Re:ATTN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739417)

I realize it's utterly pointless to respond to an automated bot, but aren't Xcode and IB NeXT inventions?

Re:ATTN (1)

jumper7 (1088519) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739607)

Interface Builder is practically the same applikation in Tiger as in NeXTSTEP. Xcode however was not introduced until Apple released Panther. Project Builder on the other hand would be considered as a NeXT invention

Re:Aha! (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740783)

I've got a 23+ year old genuine Apple RF modulator. Take THAT, suckers. The "switcheur" troll would gladly suck my cock for this piece of Apple antiquity.

But I didn't think those assmuppets acknowledged anything Apple that wasn't Mac.

classiccmp (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739259)

No article such as this is complete without a link straight to the Classic Computer Mailing List [] , with its high volume of discussions, finds, swaps and technical solutions.

A couple of years ago I was involved in the dissemination of a collection in the south-east of England. From the PDP-11/43 that had people offering to drive over from northern Europe, to the blue Intel MDS to Spain, the old Dragon to America, the stalwart CJE Micros grabbing up the BBC's Torch coprocessor, to the steady stream of people each collecting a VAX, it was amazing to see the interest and enthusiasm.

Three nice things about old machines:
(1) Simple enough that a single human can understand how they work;
(2) Scaled such that this same human can fix problems in his garage;
(3) Sufficiently well built that (2) can sometimes be unnecessary even after 20 years.

For Our Retirement (5, Funny)

Ray Radlein (711289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739289)

That's what I keep telling my wife -- all those old Amigas are an investment.

Plus, Lemmings looks surprisingly good on the big TV in the living room.

Re:For Our Retirement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739737)

because the amiga is what it was originally developed for

Re:For Our Retirement (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740385)

Something sorely lacking from nearly every other port of lemmings is the amiga's two-player-simultaneous lemmings. That was really great fun (the amiga could handle two mice, you see, at the time most other platforms couldn't.) If you think lemmings was fun, imagine two teams of lemmings blowing the crap out of eachother. :-)

Re:For Our Retirement (2, Funny)

Ray Radlein (711289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740579)

That's the main reason why our oldest A1000 is, as I mentioned, hooked up to the TV: My wife and her mother love the two-player mode.

Many is the morning I have woken up to the sound of my wife yelling at her mother, and her mother cackling with glee in return, over some sudden trick which has allowed her to "steal" her daughter's lemmings.

Re:For Our Retirement (1)

oofoe (709282) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740305)

Funny, when I read that, I thought "that sounds like Ray..." And so it was! Jos'h

Oh yeah, get a load of this! (0, Flamebait)

voodoo cheesecake (1071228) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739295)

I still have a Commodore Plus 4. And before I got the disk drive, I had to retype all my programs in. That's how I learned to type faster. But anyway, think about how many XP users will hang on with a death grip! I'm a news director at a radio station and I love to talk about how Microsoft is screwing the consumer! It's so easy to do when Microsoft keeps providing such excellent examples such as Vista! After all, aren't they a part of the dumbing down of America. I then talk about Linux, which keeps getting better all the time.

Comment Analysis (1, Informative)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739837)

Comment analysis:

[x] Promotes Linux
[x] Bashes Microsoft and/or Vista
[ ] Bashes the MAFIAA
[ ] Mentions Apple
[ ] Defends individual rights and liberties
[x] Calls the American public dumb
[x] Pines for the good old days

Hmm... Good, but definitely could be better.

Creepy (5, Funny)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739297)

So THAT'S what the creepy math teacher at my school does with all those old computer parts he hoardes.

Frankly, I don't get the collector (cough, mental illness hoarding, cough) mentality. I suppose I'll sit back and watch this thread for awhile and feed my 30 cats.

Oldies (1)

Spacejock (727523) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739327)

I have a large collection of Sinclair gear, from a bare ZX80 though a number of ZX81s (with and without Rampacks) to most models of the ZX Spectrum, from the original 16K to the +3 with built-in 3" disk drive. Microdrives, tapes, ZX and Alphacom printers, light guns, Currah u-speech and on and on.

It's purely nostalgia, not a money-making venture. My first computer was a ZX81, saved up for and bought new 24 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. (In fact, I still have it.)

Re:Oldies (2, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739569)

Money making shouldn't be the goal because there's a good chance that it would fail at that. That is the nature of all forms of collecting.

It is often hard to predict what will succeed. If it's an interesting but rare device, then there are chances. If it's interesting but not so rare, then your only chances to make money are if there's demand because there's a common failure mode and hope that yours doesn't succumb to that failure. If it's just rare, then there's little chance unless you find a collector that wants to complete a series of that type of device for some odd reason.

Re:Oldies (1)

davemc168 (998032) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739587)

In another 30 years your machines will fail because you cant get an analogue TV to show them on, the frequencies will have be re-used and everything will be digital. There may well be a DRM busting convertor which it will be illegal to own though :(

Re:Oldies (5, Informative)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739811)

In another 30 years, many of these oldies will have died (if they haven't already) due to a variety of reasons. Mostly plain mechanical parts (cheap plastic, foil keyboard switches, rubber rolls crumbling and so on). Also think of programmed parts (EPROMs, programmable microcontrollers included for a specific task etc) that go into an erased state after a long, but finite time (usually several decades).

But if your machine still works after 30 years, plugging it into a monitor won't be the hard part. Last time I checked, even many of the latest LCD TV's have a variety of analog inputs. Why? Because analog inputs are often useful to hook up monitors to the widest possible variety of replay equipment. Even if many modern equipment is 'digitised', you're a fool to think that the option to display analog signals will disappear completely. Think of analog signals in general as a lower-level thing than most digital signals, meaning it's easier to do something with it, and easy to include in display equipment at near-zero added cost.
With audio, things are even easier/simpler.

For example this Sinclair ZX81 produces a TV UHF signal, but it's easy to pick up a plain composite video signal from its insides. Some soldering of wires might be required, but I expect you'll have a hard time finding a brandnew LCD TV that is not capable of producing an image with that.

One thing I personally like about these early Sinclair machines, is that they're built simple enough to recreate them with plain discrete logic, and perhaps a few analog parts. No complex video circuitry, no audio, a well-understood CPU and so on. Enough for instance to program a FPGA to behave like a ZX81 (try Google [] if you're interested). Also makes these machines relatively easy to repair. For ZX81: if you got the time, tools and knowledge, you can repair/keep these machines running as long as you want. I myself own 2 of these, last time I checked both were still working. 25 years old by now, and I'm pretty sure I can have these in a working state longer than a PC bought new today.

Re:Oldies (1)

lord_mike (567148) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740539)

No need to wait for that... my old Timex Sinclair 1000 is dead as a doornail... maybe I shouldn't have kept it in the attic for 20 years where the temperature can be as high as 120 in the summer and below freezing in the winter.

Of course, my Atari 1200XL seemed to survive just fine... go figure!



Re:Oldies (2, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739611)

Tell me about it - I have one rubber key Spectrum, two Spectrum+ and a toast-rack 128K Spectrum. I had to repair the rubber keyed one and one of the Spectrum+ machines - both had bad 4116 (lower RAM) chips and bad keyboard membranes. By the way, you can buy brand new Spectrum keyboard membranes and rubber mats for a very reasonable price from [] . He's just had another run of them made.

I still enjoy many of the Spectrum games. This month, by the way, is the 25th anniversary, and I bought a T-shirt for the occasion :-) []

I'm such a geek...

Re:Oldies (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739867)

Cool shirt!

BTW: The image on that screen behind you looks fimiliar... yup [] !!

Re:Oldies (0)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740433)

If they did that shirt in blue or tan I would so buy one :)

Re:Oldies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739851)

Yeah, but is the piece of card still wedged between the ram pack and the back of the zx81 (to prevent rampack wobble and the inevitible reset) ???

Re:Oldies OOOooooh that brings me back!!!!!!!!! (1)

1mck (861167) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740301)

I had the Timex Sinclair Z80 with the 16K Ram Pack, and I still remember spending hours typing in the code for "Dragon Fight" from Compute magazine. Of course, it was mainly the frustration of accidentally touching the Ram Pack, and having the computer reset, and the lengths I went to so that I wouldn't hit it!lol I used a toothpaste box, and tape to protect it from being bumped...which was a lot and darn it if it didn't work! I also had to raise the computer up on a "Hardy Boys" book as well to prevent it resetting. Man, when I finally finished the program....I was actually disappointed because it made it out to be like it was going to be the shit...nope, but it was fun finally getting it together!lol Thanks for bringing me back, man!

There is a down side (4, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739349)

The problem with firing up the Cray 1 in my garage is the power it draws. It is fun to watch the power meter spin around and smoke though.

Re:There is a down side (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739731)

Just run it in the winter, unless you live in the tropics :)

Oh my God! ...s'full of post-its!!! (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739361)

Bruce might want to snatch up those 6,400 Post-it notes, stuck to the windows of the E2 building @ UCSC by a bunch of frats in an attempt to recreate the first level of Donkey Kong...would look great stuck up on the inside of that tech-retro barn!

Crap.... (3, Insightful)

Cyno01 (573917) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739377)

Just checked e-bay. Apple IIgs and a complete set of acessories, SIGNED BY WOZ!... $41.:( Well, back to number munchers, hyperstudio and oregon trail. I still want a Cray-1 for a couch in my basement whenver i buy a house.

Re:Crap.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739983)

"I still want a Cray-1 for a couch in my basement whenver i buy a house."

A couch? The outwardly-curved shape seems a little impractical.

However, you could probably use it as the central heating system :-)

Best for learning programming (5, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739387)

An original IBM PC would be perfect for teaching someone advanced programming.

  • Interrupt handling - Check
  • Instruction timing-based optimization - Check
  • Drawing lines by directly altering video memory - Check
  • Disk and memory data structures - Check

    On a modern computer, everything is wrapped into so many of abstraction that you can not discover how it works. It will take someone 3 years of experience to create a device driver or a graphics library that can be understood in 3 weeks on an old PC.

Re:Best for learning programming (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739519)

You know, these new-fangled computers that we have can be started in 16-bit mode thereby acting just like an original IBM PC, but gigahertz faster. What you mean to say is that modern operating systems abstract everything for you. You can still boot these new computers into DOS if you wanted to and remove all of that abstraction. On the other hand, there's a good reason most people left DOS behind...

Re:Best for learning programming (4, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739603)

These gigahertz are actually a problem when learning certain topics in programming. How can one explain the value of Bresenham's line algorithm when a for loop using floating point appears just as fast? There is a huge learning value in running into limitations of the hardware and either optimizing your code or redefining its goals to solve a simpler problem. Something Vista engineers need to learn to avoid making a dual core machine crawl.

Re:Best for learning programming (4, Insightful)

fabs64 (657132) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739641)

yes but these gigahertz cpu's also have gigabyte sized memory that you can chew through to see optimisation effects. The funny thing about complexity is it always scales

Re:Best for learning programming (1)

wumpus188 (657540) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740665)

Maybe coz there's no value in Bresenham algorithm on the modern hardware? Just saying...

Re:Best for learning programming (4, Interesting)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739677)

You missed one of the GP points: instruction timing based optimisation. You cannot teach that on a modern machine (most you can no longer turn off the cache) even if you boot it in 16 bit mode. The last machine to allow this and have a well published instruction set was 286. 386SX was still useable, but the stuff started getting muddled. 386DX (all but the earliest cacheless samples) - unusable for this.

Similarly, from Pentium 3 onwards the APIC has changed drastically so the interrupt controller handling is no longer the same. Granted, you can run it in backwards compatible mode, but it is not the same.

Similarly, IO on PCI devices is clearly nowhere near the original IO on x86. While there is some backward compatibility present, you have to go and do at least some bridge programming to get anywhere. That was not the case with any of the 8 and 16 bit IO on systems all the way up to the early 486-es. You could manipulate every device separately ignoring most bus issues.

Overall, nowdays if you want to teach anything low level you have to go to a simpler architecture like one of the 32 bit MIPS architectures. x86 in its current form is too complex to be useable even for an advanced college level architecture and drivers class.

Re:Best for learning programming (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740075)

But clockcyle counting has ceases to be a sensible optimisation strategy a decade ago. From dsps to portable hardware, _everything_ uses caches , OOP or other stuff that suxxors it.

its like whining that nobody in the aviation industrie learns how to paint a zeppelin or something.

Re:Best for learning programming (5, Interesting)

TheMoog (8407) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740193)

In the computer games industry it still pays to know your way around cycle counts, pipelines and caches. Just because your device has a cache, and you're coding mainly in an OO language, doesn't mean to say you've left the world of cycle-level optimisation behind. And particularly on Sony machine it's almost a requirement to fully understand the various hardware interactions in order to get a decent turn of speed out of it.

As an industry we're now finding it very hard to employ people who know this kind of stuff. Most graduates are taught Java or C++ and have no decent experience at the assembler or hardware level. Now I'm not saying that we spend all day hand-crafting assembly code - games are just far too big nowadays - but every now and then you'll get an unusual crash which can only be debugged using knowledge of the hardware. In my experience CS graduates just freak out when you show them a disassembly of their code!

Re:Best for learning programming (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740399)

Given some of the theories about the demise of the Hindenburg, that's probably for the best.

Re:Best for learning programming (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739629)

Probably best to go for even simpler than that - an old Sinclair Spectrum does all of the above, and it's small enough to be completely understandable in a short period of time. Plus Z80 assembly language is a bit nicer than 8088 (even though the ISA is related).

Re:Best for learning programming (2, Interesting)

pipatron (966506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740031)

Or ditch all that Z80 and 8088 crap and get a Commodore 64 running a 6510 - with infinitely better graphics and sound as a bonus.

Re:Best for learning programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740907)

Or ditch all that Z80 and 8088 crap and get a Commodore 64 running a 6510 - with infinitely better graphics and sound as a bonus.

Screw that.. 6809E (or even a Hitachi 6309) and OS9 bitches!

Sorry. I couldn't contain myself.

Re:Best for learning programming (5, Interesting)

romiz (757548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739651)

To learn system programming, it is a bad deal compared to a microcontroller with an emulator, or even a refurbished GBA with a flash card:

  • Interrupt handling - Check
    With only 15 interrupts lines, cascaded into 2 8-lines banks, the IBM PC is quite limited, and you still have the trouble to handle the cascaded handlers.
  • Instruction timing-based optimization - Check
    But if the 8086 processor understands a subset of the complete assembly language from the current PC, the timings constraints are completely different: the cost of an instruction for a 8086 accessing directly the main memory completely changes as soon as you have cache, which is essential for modern computers. And with the mess that x86 assembly is, I'd prefer dabbling with ARM assembly instead.
  • Drawing lines by directly altering video memory - Check
    OK - but it is not alone on that segment.
  • Disk and memory data structures - Check
    Disk structures ? The cylinder/head/track abstraction that come with the floppy disks is compulsory on old IBM PCs. The LBA method is much more straightforward. No one should need to learn a complex, obsolete abstraction that doesn't even correspond to the reality anymore.
  • And in complement to that, it is impossible to debug from the outside. With embedded platforms, you can write the code with your PC, test it in an simulator, and then test it on the platform with an In-Circuit Emulator to check for bugs. You can't do that on an old IBM PC.

I found an IBM 5150 (1)

Traf-O-Data-Hater (858971) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740353)

...being thrown out on a council rubbish collection. It was the original version, with cassette interface and heavy keyboard. I later acquired a CGA colour display at a fleamarket, and collected a bunch of old PC-bus cards. By the way this was in 1996 or 1997, so even back then I realised it would be worth something someday. I've never even attempted to plug it in. What I did was wrap it carefully in plastic and seal it up so it was airtight, then packed it away. It's still waiting for me to take a look at it, however that may be in many years from now as I have too many other projects.

Re:Best for learning programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740389)

Old DEC gear (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739407)

...used to sum up my job. We used to get spare PDP/11 parts from people like the those in the article. The DEC maintenance guys at the time told me about a factory they knew about which relied absolutely on a PDP/8. Service calls there were a challenge, to say the least.

Towards the end of my stint at Vic Roads the foam padding stuck to the top of the slide out boxes on the 11/84's had turned to dust and collected around the base of all the mux cards where they go into the backplane. Swap out a card and spend the next couple of hours vacuming out the backplane to get it working again. Installing a SCSI card was a challenge. You slide out the CPU box and get yourself organised by lying flat on your back underneath it. Like taking the transmission out of a car. The you identify the wire wrap cable for the slot which is going to take the card and repatch the appropriate interrupt line. On some of them you were lucky, there would be little shorting patches which you could pull off, like on the back of an IDE disk. Don't muck up the backplane in the process because people need traffic lights, you know.

I've got an ohio scientific superboard 2 in my spare parts cabinet. As long as I can still find a TV which listens to an RF modulator I am free to run up the micro assembler and hack away. My son is 5 now. In 7 years he will be the same age as me when my dad built that machine up.

Re:Old DEC gear (1)

Dadoo (899435) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739439)

I've got an ohio scientific superboard 2 in my spare parts cabinet.
I've got a C4P, myself, but it's just the cassette version. It still works, but it takes a couple of hours to "warm up", for some reason. I'd love to get a hold of the floppy version of the C4P, or better yet, a C2-OEM - the one with the 8" floppies. :-)

Re:Old DEC gear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739637)

Old DEC gear never dies!
I have a KS10 (PDP-10) in running condition. I turn it on every few months and run it through diagnostics to make sure it stays alive. If I ever find a massbus disk drive, it's going on the internet...

Re:Old DEC gear (1)

fabs64 (657132) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739649)

Ha, great comment, and of COURSE it had to be VicRoads ;-)

Re:Old DEC gear (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739719)

Do I know you?

Re:Old DEC gear (1)

fabs64 (657132) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739751)

I very much doubt it, my judgement of the state of vic roads is based purely on a "user" perspective ;-)

Re:Old DEC gear (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739739)

Reminds me of the time I was working on a major defence radar site. The main array was steered by an ancient 6800 microprocessor based system built around a backplane. A couple of hours before the airforce was due to do an exercise I made the mistake of pulling a card out of the backplane (we were reverse engineering it to modify the software, whose source had been lost in antiquity). It turned out the backplane had hairline cracks all though it due to the flexing caused by plugging and unplugging cards over the years. When I put the card back in the system failed to boot.

I was frantic as the radar was absolutely cactus. This microprocessor routed *every* signal to and from the main antenna array and a front line early warning radar system spanning a continent was dead in the water. I ended up fixing it by simply inserting and removing the card lots of times. With minutes to go, I fluked it that the system booted (meaning the hairline cracks were closed). I then *very carefully* put the front panel on and walked away from it. A few minutes later the airforce people walked in and started their exercise. As far as I know the system is still in that state.

The joys of ancient backplanes.

Re:Old DEC gear (2, Interesting)

femto (459605) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739759)

I used to work with someone who previously worked in AWA, the manufacturer of such traffic light controllers. He was in the group that designed traffic light controllers. Eventually they modernised these controllers. How? By building an integrated circuit version of the PDP and running the unmodified software on it!

Re:Old DEC gear (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739789)

By building an integrated circuit version of the PDP and running the unmodified software on it!

Sounds like a card we were plugging into DOS boxes in the 1990's to replace a PDP/11. The application in our case was SCATS, which does all the coordination between the signal controllers.

Old Computer Worth More For Software. (1)

chromozone (847904) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739413)

My Gateway 500S that cost $1250 in 2002 won't even bring $100 on ebay. I haven't tried to sell mine but I watched a lot of others try and fail. I think after 3 or 4 years the computer is only worth about what the software might cost new. Speaking of which, I was reading that XP won't be sold next year and maybe that will boost the price of some of the old machines since people might want XP again. I can't speak for all of Gateway's computers but the 500S was a stud (and Consumer Reports best buy) and mine still works great. I might pick up a couple more since they cost about what a copy of XP home would cost new anyway. I still don't even have to activate with Microsoft when I reinstall my XP from the 2002 Gateway so I was wondering if its easy to transfer OS to new machine. Old versions of XP might be nice to have.

Re:Old Computer Worth More For Software. (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739735)

I don't think your computer is even in the same category as what the article is about. You're talking about a perfectly useable machine that I would be glad to find in a dumpster (as a matter of fact, I already found better computers in the dumpster)

These people are talking PDP machines, Crays, and more in the home segment Commodore 64, Apple Lisa, Sinclair QL, Sinclair ZX, etc... Perhaps even stuff like the SparcClasic or an Octane. Perhaps the original XT is of insterest to them or even an MCA PS/2....

I used to have a few old computers (namely a SparcClassic, a Sinclair QL and an IBM PS/2 Model 50). I all gave them away to a teacher that wanted to start a computer museum. Why? Because, they take place in my basement.... I would have loved to use them, but I'm married and have other priorities.

Re:Old Computer Worth More For Software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740467)

I would have loved to use them, but I'm married and have other priorities.

Your marriage replaced your hobby? That's sad.

Re:Old Computer Worth More For Software. (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740041)

Oh, and about the software. That XP that came with your Gateway is an OEM version tied to your machine. Even if you manage to transfer it to another machine, you are pirating it. OEM XP is pretty much worth nothing.

Old Machines (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739449)

However impractical they may become there is just something cool about old machines. I remember when the cool old things of today were the dorky new things we complained about. But now that they're old they seem really classic and cool somehow...

Use them around the house. (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739453)

I was running my webserver on an IBM thinkpad, P90 with 32Megs and 1gig harddrive but I just found an old rack mount server which is an old Pentium 133 with the F00F bug, it has 32Meg and a 4 gig drive. It's used to feed static web pages and as a picture and file server. It's a generic rack mount of some sort. Eventually it will get gutted and made into a more modern media server with a terabyte of storage. Unless someone offers me 10k.

The Thinkpad may be left unmolested though I'm considering making it a digital picture frame.

Re:Use them around the house. (2, Interesting)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739785)

Yeah, that all fun... I do the same thing, but this is not the category of machines that these people collect. Wintel machines aren't even in the picture. Sure, I had a P-166/256Meg RAM functioning 24/7 as a home server. I decomissioned it when motherboard/cpu combos became so cheap that I could replace it with modern components for pretty much no money. Today my home server is an AMD64 2800+/512Meg RAM. It also doubles as a space heater ;-)

Today, I wouldn't even spend money on such a machine because I started to find very capable computers in dumpsters. P-III 1GHz become very common (my parents server is a P-III 800MHz, which was my old desktop). The occasional Athlon and P-IV can be found too. x86 machines are so ubiquitous that they are not worth collection in any way. If you still have one, it is either your primary computer or you have a small home server.

The newest computer in my household is a laptop: barely 3 months old and bought before the release of Windows Vista. Why? Because it was on sale ;-) My wifes desktop is from late 2003 and mine from early 2003 (though I invested in a workstation class machine, not a consumer-end machine) Neither machine is even planned for retirement. I maxed both out on RAM and they shug along just nicely for all our tasks. Mine runs Debian, my wifes machines runs Windows XP Pro.

I know as a matter of fact that Windows XP Pro runs fine on a P-III 600MHz/512Meg RAM for mundane tasks. That's what my mother in law uses and that is what my last laptop was.

My baseline for "old" in the x86 world is a P-II class machine. Not that they are not capable of doing any worthwhile work, but because there are faster machines available for 0€. Those machines and below are only worth to be deposited in a dumpster. Now, non-x86 machines... Those are pretty much all collectible ;-)

hey linux fags (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739469)

still sucking them dicks?

Re:hey linux fags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740531)

Bill Gates'?

Oh, sorry, that'd be you windoze fags.

Collecting... (1)

ms1234 (211056) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739505)

Yeah, a co-worker of mine keeps a "museum" of old hardware, that is, he likes to collect crap and keep it around instead of throwing it away :)

Canadian Alliance, pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18739545)

If you are going to sell your old computers make sure you erase the hard drive first. Don't be like this clueless former Canadian Alliance party member [] who sold an old Powerbook that still contained party membership lists and other confidential info.

Demo scene (3, Interesting)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739597)

These oldies are regularly used in the demo scene. A colleague of mine regularly visits demo parties where up to 250 geeks gather to show each other their demos. He owns a souped-up atari with a custom board driven by a custom-made FPGA containing 2 Gb memory.

Although reportedly, even in the demo scene there is an on-going shift to PC hardware. The Amiga and Atari lovers are getting smaller.

On another note, he told me that when his group returned from a recent demo party by car, they noticed the little mileage markers (marking every 100 meter on European highways). They drove and counted 133.5, 133.6, and then saw that 133.7 was gone :-)

Re:Demo scene (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739715)

Starting to use PCs? There has been 4 and 64K demo scenes for x86 for the longest while (at least mid 90s if not earlier).

Re:Demo scene (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739939)

Yeah, that's why I didn't say 'starting to use', but 'ongoing move'.

Re:Demo scene (3, Insightful)

Animaether (411575) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739979)

Indeed, the PC (IBM AT compatible blabla) demo scene has been *extremely* active for as long as there have been PCs. Check for details/demos.

However... there's no longer such a thing as 'The PC Demo Scene'; even those who claim there is are realizing it is rapidly degenerating. The reason for this is the extensive hardware acceleration of any type found in PCs these days. It used to be a challenge to stick a procedurally generated 3D scene with an 8-track MOD in a small exe and have it run fluidly on a 386 with a basic VGA card and a SoundBlaster. Nowadays one just takes the regular 3D scene along with an MP3 and feed it to the graphics card and through a simple decoder straight to audio.

From the Gravis UltraSound to the S3, every hardware development was greedily taken advantage of by showing new things that could be done on that hardware... but they've reached a saturation point several years back. If you want to pump the best results out of a graphics card now, you're not doing so in a demo.. you're doing so for profit on a major game engine.

What is left, then, is a limited form of a PC Demo Scene.. demos under 4k, 16k, 32k and 64k (existed before, but these are still challenging now even with all the hardware).. demos that must run on older hardware.. self-imposed restrictions like "no using pixel shaders", etc. But these are all highly artificial limits and no longer push the boundaries of what one can do on the hardware as is... it's pushing the boundaries of what one can do within those artificial limits.

To some that is the same spirit, to others it's nothing alike at all.


To see what people are doing with PC demos nowadays, Farbrausch's debris is a nice one to check out. You don't need the hardware to run it, there's videos made of the things. []

Re:Demo scene (1)

Albert Sandberg (315235) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739959)

Yep, I'm just back from breakpoint in bingen (close to frankfurt) germany (swede myself) last easter.

There was one demo for atari vcs, two for zx spectrum, one for atari xl/xe, one for the msx, one for ti-83 but also newer consoles as nintendo ds, gameboy advance, xbox 360 and psp etc... And in amiga there were 8 demos and 8 intros (6 64kb and 2 4k limits) and in the c64 there were 6 demos... check them out at []

But of course there are also pc competitions, and the one that stood out was debris []

Demoparties are mainly a european happening, even tho there are visitors from all over the world. Especially to breakpoint and assembly.

The demoscene is a place for hobbyists that compete in different skills of using a computer, may it be coding, music, graphics or the combined (demo/wild etc). We do it all for the fun and the friendship. Please join us if it feels like your thing.

Re:Demo scene (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740561)

The Amiga and Atari lovers are getting smaller.
Indeed, I'm less than a metre tall by now!

(Sorry, sorry, shouldn't pick on non-native english speakers. It was just a really funny image - Amiga sceners getting smaller and squeakier, waving their hands frantically, as their once-dominant position in the demo scene erodes).

Tell me about it... (3, Funny)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739639)

I have:

four Sinclair Spectrums (rubber key 48K, two Spectrum+, and a toast rack Spectrum 128)
a MicroVAX
a Sun Ultra 5 (used as a server)

Out of all of them, the Sinclair machines are the most fun.

A little song that sums up why the Speccy was (and still is!) so much fun: [] (warning, flash)

Re:Tell me about it... (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739803)

Thanks for that one!

Absolutely lovely and sooooo true.

Re:Tell me about it... (1)

sa1lnr (669048) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740659)

I remember when I bought my first Spectrum 48k.

When I brought it home the wife said "Why can't you buy something all the family can use". Within three days I couldn't get near the damn thing.

n00b: Me too! Me too! *waves hands* (3, Funny)

rts008 (812749) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739741)

2 ea 8086's, 4 ea 8088's, 1 ea 386, 3 ea 486's ( one is even a DX!!!!), 1 ea cyrix 5x86 133, 2 ea p75's, 3 ea p133's, 2 ea p166's, 2 ea pII 266's, and the MASTER: 1 ea pIII slot 1 500....all rolled into one.

I have Caldera OpenLinux Base 1.1 installed on all, with Sun's Distributed Computing software, and I STILL can't get WoW or City of Heroes to run....guess I need to go RTFM AGAIN!!!

They're not worth the space they take up (3, Insightful)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739761)

I used to collect this stuff. Well, not Crays, but retro computer hardware. Fun as it is to buy for $5 a Sun Sparc server that would have cost more than $10,000, there's a reason why this stuff is being chucked out. It's a waste of space. And if you plug it in and turn it on, it's also a waste of power.

Now, if people have enough space to start their own personal museum, I'm not going to tell them not to. But if you're an ordinary person with an ordinary house, you're better off putting them on the verge for the next council bulk rubbish collection.

Re:They're not worth the space they take up (2, Interesting)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740225)

It's a waste of space. And if you plug it in and turn it on, it's also a waste of power.

Well, for certain limited purposes they can be useful. I've got a Mac SE/30 running as my vanity page webserver [] . What exactly are the odds of somebody writing an automatic exploit for an obscure httpd running on a (relatively) obscure OS on an obscure hardware platform? The only way someone's going to break into that thing is with a custom exploit, and there's no point in spending that kind of effort.

Re:They're not worth the space they take up (1)

turbobrat (1040672) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740681)

Well i picked up a dozen Mac Plus from a dumpster and made a wall of macs.

I just tell everybody it's modern art :-)

Or is that vintage art?

Obsolyte! (4, Informative)

tekrat (242117) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739769)

As a collector of some of this old hardware (See my website, [] ), I can tell you that for every "gem" you find, you also aquire about 2.5 tons of useless crap. It's very difficult to figure what machines will become the iconic collectables, and which ones will just be considered trash.

The Apple Lisa is highly prized (although at one point, Apple was filling landfills with 'em and Sun Remarketing was selling what remained for $200 a pop), but the Mac 512k is pretty much ignored (although the original 128k Mac is valuable).

I have no idea what my old NeXT-Station is worth, but, it'll never be worth what the original Cube is. I have a pretty decent collection of SGI gear, but, does anyone care about SGI at this point? If you look on ebay, people can't even give that stuff away.

And while the Amiga may be the greatest computer ever made, you'd have trouble these days selling your A2000, no matter how tricked out it is (free Video toaster!). The Amiga collector market is saturated, anybody that wants an Amiga probably already has more than 2.

And you'll still find the venerable C=64 and Apple // at garage sales across the country, although, very likely missing key components.

Of course, should you have an original Altair in your basement, that's another story entirely.

Brian Cirulnick

Re:Obsolyte! (1)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740421)

if only that were the case here in AU with apple II's, c64's can still be found pretty darn easy, but I've been looking for an apple II here for a while and they seem damn near impossible, probably because not that many were sold here to start with I think.

Re:Obsolyte! (1)

87C751 (205250) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740511)

Of course, should you have an original Altair in your basement, that's another story entirely.
Altairs suck [] . I have an IMSAI [] .

1. Old Computers (1)

eonlabs (921625) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739771)

2. Fun
3. ...
4. Profit!!!

I Haven't Got The Patience (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739905)

I'm not in the same league with the guys that collect the old Crays and DEC PDP11s but I went through a phase about 4 years ago of collecting both Sinclair ZX Spectrums and Commodore Amigas from eBay, both machines that I owned during my younger years - I even got given an Acorn Archimedes and a RISC PC by people who heard I was into old computers.

For a while it's great fun sorting through boxes of Spectrum tape software and Amiga disks and reliving some good gaming memories - but when you get to 25 "TAPE LOADING ERRORS" in a day, in can get a bit wearing.

Suffice it to say, about 2 years later I sold it all back on eBay for about the same money I paid for it. I still love the old games on those machines, as well as the C64, but these days it's far easier to play them in a PC emulator.

I admire the guys who collect as a hobby but I couldn't find enough hours in the day to do it.

Re:I Haven't Got The Patience (3, Interesting)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740099)

I don't have the time anymore. It's hard work being a full time employee for the man and raising a family and commuting an hour to and then from work because the man doesn't pay enough to live close to work (yet he pays himself enough to live in the most expensive suburb, another rant entirely).

I used to collect Commodore and Nintendo stuff. I have a pretty good collection of Nintendo hardware; NES, SNES, N64, a handful of games, extra controllers, light guns, the works. I even have the beginnings of a Sega collection. It's all operational as well after a lot of cleaning and TLC. It takes a lot of time to resurrect the older hardware and make it functional. If you don't have the tech skills to replace fried components or even repair damaged PCBs and connectors its really not worth doing. You often buy two or three dud machines to turn them into one functional one.

There's no point having a machine if you don't have a decent collection of software to run on it. Sure, you can often download the software illegally but for cart-based systems then you need to find a working cart emulator, assuming one existed for your platform and you still can't play anything with SuperFX-type addons on cart emulators.

Collecting the retro stuff is also time consuming. You have to be on the lookout everywhere. Ebay is good, but there's a lot of crap on there that people are trying to flog off for more than it's worth. I see a lot of stuff that says "condition unknown" then with a min bid of $50. That could mean it's totally fried but you have to decide whether to take that gamble. There's always stuff advertised in the local trading rag and the local news, as well as other websites and swap meets that come and go. If you don't keep abrest (all you nerds tremble before the breast) of current prices you're lialbe to get royally screwed.

I sorely miss being able to play some of the games that I played as I was growing up, but I remember back to when I used to play. We'd sit up all night hammering away at the game. That was the only way. When you're on a limited time budget (as you are when you're working for the man and have other commitments) you can't do that anywhere near as often as you'd like.

Good luck to those who want to get into the collection hobby. It's fun and rewarding. If you just want to hoarde junk stay for the sake of being able to say "i have that" without ever actually doing anything with it then you should probably find another hobby; there are some of us who like to restore hardware and it's difficult to do unless you can get enough bits. If they're getting snapped up by hoarders then it takes the fun away for a lot of us.

Re:I Haven't Got The Patience (1)

phrasebook (740834) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740757)

So, how many hours of television do you get in each week?

Doesn't work for me (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 7 years ago | (#18739953)

I've got stacks upon stacks of grey boxes, but somehow I cannot sell them for the world.

"Custom" Spectrum (1)

lbbros (900904) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740091)

Among the computer antics I own (not many actually) there's a "custom" ZX Spectrum +. Why custom? Because my father was fed up of me and my brothers hogging the TV with that thing, so he bought a 10" monitor. Of course it couldn't be attached directly, so he got an I/O interface and by soldering cables directly on the mainboard(!) he got the video signal in a cable that he connected into the I/O interface. As well he did the same for the mic in and ear in inputs. The I/O interface had a DIN-like connector that was compatible with the monitor, but the signal was poor, so he added a power supply to the I/O to reduce the signal decay.

This thing worked perfectly until I stopped using the Spectrum in 1988.

Profit, really? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18740241)

I can guarantee you that maintenance of such machines over 30 years has cost more than $10,000. If for no other reason than the real estate that they occupy. It is Silicon Valley after all. Rent out that room or shed you keep those heaps of junk in and you'll have $10,000 in 2 years rather than 30.

Think of it this way. If I told you that I wanted you to keep your current computer and all related peripherals for the next *30 years*, in working order, how much would I have to pay you to do that? I bet you'd ask for a lot more than $10k.

Same goes for any "collector's" item. People are amazed that a #1 issue of a golden age comic book will get $5,000 and up, and talk about it like it's an extraordinary profit for the seller. Ok, here's $5,000 -- now keep this piece of paper in pristine condition and obsess over it for the next 30 years. Sound like something you'd want to take up?

Yes, the prices are high but that doesn't imply profit by any human measure of economy.

Grrrr .. (2, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740409)

Great, tell everyone and make it harder for the 'non profit' collector.


Sun Sparc pizzaboxes are still quite useful (2, Interesting)

wizman (116087) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740867)

I have a thing for Sun Sparc 20's -- they are VERY upgradeable and extremely reliable. Two of mine have quad 150mhz Ross processors making them snappy ehough to serve out some Apache/PHP/MySQL, host a little e-mail for a few domains, and do some secondary DNS. They're small, don't use a TON of power, and just plain cool.

Oh, and they'll run Linux or a few of the BSD's just fine..

Here is the uptime of one of my production Sparc 20's hosting a bit of email and DNS:

[matt@darkside]$ uptime
  9:43AM up 953 days, 16:03, 1 user, load averages: 0.11, 0.11, 0.08

It would be well over 1,000 if a UPS hadn't needed replaced 953 days ago.

run Linux for a greener earth (1)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740919)

I have ipcop running on a pentium 133 laptop as my gateway/firewall. The battery holds enough charge to stay up for a few minutes when the power flickers. With the display built right in I don't need a monitor sitting there. I can turn off the display when I don't need it. I leave it on 24/7. It consumes about 13 watts of power at idle (via Killawatt*). It's a little pokey on the web pages, but uses very little CPU otherwise.

I was using a P266 laptop behind the 133 for a while and stripped down a knoppix install to run:
- httpd
- sshd
- samba
- openvpn
- fetchmail
- dovecot
- spamassassin

I adjusted most of the config files to lighten the load on the 256M of ram, but as I added more services it was just too much for it and stuff was getting sniped by OOM killer; nice experiment for a couple years though. Linux is adjustable for old crappy hardware which cant be said for windows (or apple for that matter).

[*] - []

SGI, anyone? (1)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740931)

Don't know about you guys, but I keep a Silicon Graphics Indigo2 R10K 195MHz/MaxImpact [] workstation under my bed for my own nostalgic purposes. Back in my college days, the machines were so obscenely expensive (around $40,000 per unit), you had to have special security clearance just to get near one, let alone the room with all eight units.

Of course, the system itself has lost much of the luster over the years, when you consider that current desktop computers (and even game consoles) are able to do in realtime what would have taken several days/weeks to achieve on the older hardware.

Yet, it's still satisfying to know I finally have one of the very machines I once envied others for having access to.

So, what's an HP-150 with Touch Screen worth now? (1, Interesting)

ivi (126837) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740959)

She works (or did, last time we tested her) & we may have some accessories & software for her, maybe even a few manuals...


recyclers and colector items. (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 7 years ago | (#18740983)

Pretty much if you go to an electronics recycling event and see what others are tossing it'll probably make you see that you've collected alot of junk. But the important thing is to recycle the junk properly.

That can be hard to do even if you find a free recycling event as they may be limited to once a year and only for a part day (not 8 hours).

If you are a serious collector then you've done your research as to what is worth keeping and know the cost of maintainance as moving hardware components can deteriorate over time and non moving components are subject to deterioration too, just takes longer.

But what is really needed is a fast and small OS that can easily be ported to the otherwise "junk" to bring a bit more life and use to it before its final destination of landfill of recycling by better methods.

There are some small and fast OS... More than the ones I know about, Minix 3, AROS, Damnsmall Linux, etc.. and there is new hardware that allows FPGA programming of emulations of some of the old system, hardware such as the C=ONE.

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