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The Almighty Buck Hardware Technology

Fun and Profit With Obsolete Computers 186

Posted by Zonk
from the what-else-are-you-going-to-do-with-them dept.
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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Fun and Profit With Obsolete Computers

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  • I think it would be a good idea to save my current computer in a warehouse for the next 30 years.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by catxk (1086945)
      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.
      • A custom built PC or a Dell is simply out of the question

        Wrong

        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
        • Re:wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rbanffy (584143) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:59AM (#18740631) Homepage Journal
          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.
      • by toddestan (632714)
        I guess it depends on what you want to do with it. If you just want the old hardware to put on a shelf and show off, then the uncommon machines might be better. If you want to have something that'll boot up and allow you to do things with it, then that custom built or common Dell (plus several donor machines in the closet) might be a better choice. Looking at how the typical computer is built nowadays, I'm going to guess that getting one to boot up in 30 years might be a bit of a challenge.
    • Just come back for it like John Titor [johntitor.com] did for his IBM 5100 computer.
  • Aha! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:29AM (#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.
    • 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.

    • Re:Aha! (Score:5, Funny)

      by master_p (608214) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:40AM (#18741135)
      Ha! that's nothing! I've got a genuine 6,000 year old Apple! I didn't eat it all back then!

      -Adam
    • heh - I actually have one of those - always though of selling it on ebay to see what apple fanboy would want for it.
    • by arminw (717974)
      ....I've got a 23+ year old genuine Apple RF modulator.....

      One Upmanship! I'v got a 28 year old DEC LSI 11/23 computer and a VT100 terminal. When put into storage about 17 years ago it was still working with RT-11. The old DEC OS manuals are still with it also. Maybe I'll dig it out and see if it will still run off same of those old 8" floppies that are with it. It even has a 20Mb (fancy that!) HD in a separate big heavy box.
  • classiccmp (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:34AM (#18739259)
    No article such as this is complete without a link straight to the Classic Computer Mailing List [classiccmp.org], 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.
  • by Ray Radlein (711289) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:42AM (#18739289) Homepage
    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.

  • Creepy (Score:5, Funny)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:43AM (#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.

  • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
      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 collect
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alioth (221270)
      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 http://www.rwapsoftware.co.uk/ [rwapsoftware.co.uk] . 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
    • by smchris (464899)
      Me too (ZX81).

      I have about every mod I could find in books: hardwired a keyboard, metal keyboard case, power switch, power LED, reset button, even added a joystick port for a modified Commodore stick for the flight simulator. Hardwired in the 16K module so I could mount the bus out for expansion. Sound card, printer, and something called a "stringy floppy" -- a video tape micro-cassette drive that was about as fast as a Commodore 5-1/4" floppy. Love to show you a picture on my vanity DSL server .... but
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:54AM (#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.
  • 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.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cyno01 (573917) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:59AM (#18739377) Homepage
    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.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:01AM (#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.
    • 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...
      • by iamacat (583406) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:50AM (#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.
      • by arivanov (12034) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:06AM (#18739677) Homepage
        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.

        • by imsabbel (611519)
          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.
          • by TheMoog (8407) <[matt] [at] [godbolt.org]> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:28AM (#18740193) Homepage
            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!
            • 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.

              On the other hand, in my experience electrical and computer engineers (i.e. hardware engineers) are getting this sort of low-level experience, albeit without the higher-level abstract programming science that a computer science major (i.e. software engineer) would receive. Thus, at least at my company, the hardware
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Nigel Stepp (446)
              This is why I was glad to see a new CS class get of the ground at Carnegie Mellon a few years back. CS grads from CMU will have probably gone through a low-level programming course which involves a lot of work in assembly. When I took it, we used alpha assembly code, but the concepts transfer well, even to CISC.

              We had projects like, take this assembly and produce the C it came from (graded with diff), and the "bomb" which was an executable we had to trace through to figure out what number it wanted as an
              • by mackyrae (999347)
                They teach reverse engineering? Neat! At GWU, we're required to take Computer Architectures 1. 2 is an elective, but that's where you get into ASM. I intend to take it.
          • Given some of the theories about the demise of the Hindenburg, that's probably for the best.
          • by arivanov (12034)
            That is perfectly fine and you are correct as far as industry is concerned. We are talking about teaching students, not industry practices. It is sometimes essential to work out examples on a simple system so that people can understand the whole picture in more complex systems later on. Once upon a time a PC could double up as such a simple system for educational purposes. Now it cannot.
    • by Alioth (221270)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pipatron (966506)
        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.
    • by romiz (757548) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:01AM (#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.
  • Old DEC gear (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:08AM (#18739407) Homepage Journal

    ...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.

    • by Dadoo (899435)

      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. :-)
    • by fabs64 (657132)
      Ha, great comment, and of COURSE it had to be VicRoads ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by femto (459605)
      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!
      • 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.

  • 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 s
  • 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 d
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jawtheshark (198669) *

      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 becaus

  • 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 :)
  • Demo scene (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:49AM (#18739597) Homepage Journal
    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 :-)
    • 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).

      • Yeah, that's why I didn't say 'starting to use', but 'ongoing move'.
      • Re:Demo scene (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Animaether (411575) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @06:41AM (#18739979) Journal
        Indeed, the PC (IBM AT compatible blabla) demo scene has been *extremely* active for as long as there have been PCs. Check www.scene.org 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.
            http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=30244 [pouet.net]
    • 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 http://www.pouet.net/party.php?which=450&when=2007 [pouet.net]

      But of course there are also pc competition
    • Speaking of old demos and computers, check out Desert Dream [pouet.net] on a Commodore 64. Amazing port.
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:57AM (#18739639) Journal
    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:
    http://www2.b3ta.com/heyhey16k/heyhey16k.swf [b3ta.com] (warning, flash)
    • by yppiz (574466) *
      Oh boy, here we go.

      The rarest machine in my collection is an Apple ///+ - this was the model that supposedly addressed the overheating problems of the ///. I picked it up for free from a Berkeley yard sale in the late 90s.

      My other odd machine is an IBM PowerPC laptop, from the brief period in the mid-90s where Apple and IBM and I think Motorola were making CHRP (common hardware reference platform) machines. The laptop runs AIX, but I believe there was also a version of Windows NT for PowerPC for it.

      Other ma
    • by vivin (671928)
      Four?! Wow - I only have one ZX Sinclair Spectrum. My dad got it in the early 80's and I remember we'd play games on our TV using the tape-recorder attachment. The games came as tapes. It was pretty awesome. It stayed in the closet for years, gathering dust. I took it with me when I left for college because I was sure it would eventually have some "antique value". It's a fun piece of hardware.
  • by rts008 (812749) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:28AM (#18739741) Journal
    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!!!
  • by Kris_J (10111) * on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:35AM (#18739761) Journal
    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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dr. Manhattan (29720)

      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 [homeunix.org]. 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.

    • Someone with a large collection shouldn't running all of them, but except maybe against current notebook systems, the older computers don't necessarily consume that much power. Many of them didn't even have fans, nor did they need them. Someone playing a game on some Apple II is going to be using a lot less power than a person with a desktop computer playing a current 3D game. If it makes you happy, then the Apple II is probably a lot higher on the entertainment per watt bracket.

      A Cray 1 would be an enti
  • Obsolyte! (Score:5, Informative)

    by tekrat (242117) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:40AM (#18739769) Homepage Journal
    As a collector of some of this old hardware (See my website, http://www.obsolyte.com/ [obsolyte.com] ), 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.

    TTYL
    Brian Cirulnick

    • by 87C751 (205250)

      Of course, should you have an original Altair in your basement, that's another story entirely.
      Altairs suck [digibarn.com]. I have an IMSAI [imsai.net].
      • IMSAI supported USB [wikipedia.org]? Wow, they really were ahead of their time. If I plug it into my Mac will it "just work"?
  • 2. Fun
    3. ...
    4. Profit!!!
  • 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

    • by thegrassyknowl (762218) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:10AM (#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.
    • I limit my vintage computing hobby to laptops. The main reason is that each laptop is the pinnacle of engineering in its day. Some aspects of vintage laptops, like battery life, boot time (if any) stand their ground against modern laptops and in important ways surpass them (Model 100 series, Cambridge Z88, NC100, NEC-8500...)

      Laptops are easy to store, so you don't have a big physical space issue like you do with some of the minicomputers and even some micros. Earlier vintage laptops don't require special po
  • I've got stacks upon stacks of grey boxes, but somehow I cannot sell them for the world.
  • Profit, really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:36AM (#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.
    • The profit doesn't come from some company who shrewdly warehoused all this vintage stuff 30 years ago in pristine condition. No one does that, no one claims that as a good profit making gesture. Your comic example is exactly right, but you entirely miss the point:

      The profit comes when you discover this stuff 30 years later, in good condition, by chance - and everyone else threw theirs out. Not that you stored it personally, yourself, all this time.

      Incidentally, you can rent climate controlled storage space
    • by lawpoop (604919)
      "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"

      Yeah, but people don't run their homes like businesses. They don't maximize the profitability of every square inch. If you didn't have an old computer there, you would be spending $10,000 to house a lamp, a box of old papers, or absolutely nothing. It's a sunk cost.

      Unless you keep the machine running 24/7, then you have to factor in the electricity
  • Grrrr .. (Score:3, Funny)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:11AM (#18740409) Homepage Journal
    Great, tell everyone and make it harder for the 'non profit' collector.

    Bastards.
  • by wizman (116087) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:48AM (#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.
  • 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 knopp
    • Just so you know, in case you want to upgrade later, a Pentium M 1.2GHz with the lid closed draws about 15-16 watts at idle according to the Kill a Watt. I got a Latitude C610 with a broken screen for a song from eBay (with two batteries!), put in a 60GB 5400 RPM drive, attached a monitor long enough to configure CentOS, and now have a rock-solid, quiet and very low-power server.
  • Don't know about you guys, but I keep a Silicon Graphics Indigo2 R10K 195MHz/MaxImpact [wikipedia.org] 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 realti
  • She works (or did, last time we tested her) & we may have some accessories & software for her, maybe even a few manuals...

    TIA
  • 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 deterio
  • by newandyh-r (724533) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:25AM (#18741481)
    is not finding the hardware - there's more of that around than you might expect.
    There are even a lot of manuals floating around ... "real programmers" tended to
    keep a manual or two when the machine was replaced.
    However, the software - which is perhaps the heart of the machine - and the cables
    tended to get thrown away separately as soon as the CPU was closed down.
    For example for the most popular mainframe in the UK in the 1970s - the ICL1900 series -
    most of the small machine software (the operators Executive; the operating systems
    George I & II; and the compilers that were used on the small machines like the 4K
    versions of Algol and Fortran) seems to have been lost. It is lucky that one project
    has managed to preserve the large system operating system (George 3) and some
    related software ... tho' discovering where to download the emulator and software
    is tricky, to say the least.
    I have also seen no evidence that anyone has preserved the GeCOS operating system
    from the large Honeywell systems (6000, and its successor the Level 66). OK, it is
    not so "special" as Multics, which ran on similar hardware, but still does contain
    many interesting features - most notably in file handing. For that matter has the
    B programming language (predecessor of C, designed for large-word oriented machines)
    been saved anywhere?
  • So I followed the link to the hard drives. And IBM 3340 cost $7.81 per meg.

    The 2GB of RAM in my computer only cost 6 cents per meg. And the hard drives, well lets look at that.

    You can score a 500GB SATA drive for about $100 now. If my math is right, that's less than a penny per meg.

    And we're seeing the price of static RAM drop like a rock too. You've already got 320GB SSD's out there.
  • by Mathness (145187)
    "Historically, there is a lot of stuff that is significant in here," Ismail said. "People are going to understand why I did this."

    Famous words from a

    - genius
    - mad genius
    - evil mad genius
    - visionary
  • For a number of years the Retro Computing Society of Rhode Island was building a nice collection of old iron.

    It was very DEC centric in some respects, but had other oddities like a Packard-Bell 250 that used acoustic delay lines for registers. The KL-10 was a beautiful beast too, it's ancestry included belonging to Sikorsky for some time.

    But gentrification had its way with the society. The web site is gone and the collection had to be moved at least once because of rehabilitation of the building that
  • I have hundreds of old PC's stacked to the ceiling in every room.
    I have a warehouse full of PC's. I have a fully operational ROLM phone system configured to handle 10,000 (ten thousand) lines. I have a Data General Mini Computer. On and on and on.. So many CRT's I can't count them all. Dot matrix printers the size of golf carts.
    What ya need that's obsolete? I got ya covered.
  • Making the claim that there's any 'profit' involved with these old systems is kind of silly. The Lisa originally sold for $9,995. Assuming you bought one years later for $3k, you'd still only be looking at ~4.5% interest over the 20-some odd years of the "investment." Compare that to the S&P500s average return over the last 40 years, and you'll probably say "oh, I should have done something different with that money."

    Collecting old computers is all about the fun. Unless, of course, you find some obs
  • I love old hardware, it's nearly unbreakable. Like this Sun ULTRA 1 Creator 3D I'm using right now. 384 megs of RAM, 36 gig 10,000 rpm HD, Sun 21' monitor all running on SuSE Linux 7.3 (Sparc version).
  • - Sun SparcStation IPC, 25MHz, 24MB RAM, 270MB HD, cgthree fb, Redhat 5.3
    - Sun SparcStation 10MP, 4x55MHz Ross Hypersparc, 128MB RAM, 9.1GB HD, Solaris 9
    - Sun 3/80, 25MHz 68030 (I think), 68882, can't remember the ram, no HD at the moment
    - Sun Ultra 1 Creator 3D, 200MHz Ultrasparc I, 192MB RAM, 4.3GB HD, Aurora Linux
    - Sun Ultra 10 Creator, 333MHz Ultrasparc IIi, 576MB RAM, 6.4GB HD, Solaris 10
    - SGI Iris Indigo, 33MHz MIPS R3000, 16MB RAM, 420MB and 1.2GB HD, 8-bit graphics, Irix 5.3
    - HP Apollo DN300 (can't

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