Computer Nostalgia - Hardware 40 Years Ago

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rfrazier

Well-known member
Sep 30, 2020
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Hi all. I thought I'd post this just for fun. I was writing an email to someone and I happened to say that I have 40 years of computer experience. Then, I started going down memory lane and remembering computers I've had during those 40 years. It's been quite a trip. I thought I would share here those pre Windows systems I've owned or used. I'd love to know what you guys and gals have owned or used as well. You newbies out there have no idea what you missed at the dawn of personal computers, before Windows, mice, internet, wireless, and cell phones! Yes, we had computers before all that, and yes, we still got stuff done. Maybe more stuff done. Sometimes those computers were more likely to just work. And there were no updates to break things. The computer was the computer.

By the way, you can add images to a post like this by right clicking and copying an image to the clipboard, then just paste it into the post. You can also resize an image by clicking it then dragging the handles.

I owned a Timex TS1000

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I owned an Apple II Plus

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I owned a Coleco Adam

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I either owned, or got a chance to use a Radio Shack TRS80 Model 100 portable computer. I think I owned it, but memory gets rusty when you're an old fart. I definitely remember it had one of the best keyboards my fingers have ever touched. Much better than the laptop I'm typing this on.

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And, in high school, I got to use a Radio Shack TRS80 Model III. For that time and place, that experience was WAY cool. It's hard to explain, there's something visceral about just you and the keyboard and the screen and the floppy disks. Kind of like the scene in the Star Trek movie where Captain Picard gets to touch the first ever warp capable ship.

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Finally, I've had a couple of Palm Pilots. Still have one, in fact. It's functional but I no longer use it.

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Let us know about your pre warp, I mean pre Windows experience.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
 
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Hey Ron,
I have a veritable collection that I had to renew/re-source some years ago.

Like @Steve, I have a Speak N Spell :)

I try to list in some kind of order...
  • Binatone B&W Pong Game (which can run on batteries!).
    da2851ed-6107-4032-8929-63fb554c36d2.jpg
  • Sinclair ZX81 (with RAM pack of course!)
    877090sinclair-zx81.jpg
  • Commodore VIC=20 (also with a 16k RAM pack)
    Commodore-VIC-20-FL-1920x1085.jpg
  • Atari 2600. Wood :D
    atari-vcs-2600-heavy-6.jpg
  • Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k
    originalspectrum-1002x762.jpg
  • Commodore C64
    71161commodore-64.system.jpg
  • XBOX original model, chipped to play (cough) copied games
These are all in boxes.

I probably have a Palm3 and a Compaq iPad of some description plus a range of laptops from ThinkPad T20 onwards that I mostly kept too. I toyed with the idea of re-sourcing a Compaq LTE with the trackball conveniently located in the screen, on the right side, no issue for me but for a Leftie :eek:

My first PCs, an Olivetti 286, an IBM PS/2 model 60 are things I never kept. I also had an early Dell Pentium that had the floating point bug and they replaced the CPU on.....gave away long ago as it has no nostalgic value.
 
Had the Tandy 100 at work as a phone system logging server, which used both serial ports, one to communicate with the PBX, and the other to print each record line by line, on a dot matrix printer. Was replaced by an old PC running Win95 (later 98SE) that did the same, just with logging to a file, and the ability to run reports on it, instead of manual searching.

Still got a Clone Apple in the garage......
 
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The oldest machine that I have currently got is a Windows 7 machine from 2010, it is only used for SR testing, and a couple of Windows only programs.

The first "real" computer that I used at work (1983) was a Sirius which booted into CP/M unless you inserted the DOS floppy. It had 2 5.25 drives plus and "enormous" 10MB hard drive, partioned into 5 volumes as DOS could only handle drives up to 2MB. It was running DOS 1.25h. We also used it as a terminal via a 300/300 acoustic coupler to connect to a time-sharing bureau in New York.
 
I LOVE threads like this — what great memories!

My first computer was a home-build from 1976, based upon the COSMAC Elf, a construction article in Popular Electronics magazine. It featured an RCA 1802 processor and a whopping 256 BYTES of RAM! Here's a picture of the original as it appeared in the article.

originalellf.jpg

I wire-wrapped my own version of it, which I expanded, adding 2K of RAM, a couple of 2716 EPROMs, a HEX keypad and LEDs for all the data and address lines. When I first built my ELF, I had trouble filling up the 256 bytes of RAM just loading simple machine code programs that would monitor a switch and turn on a LED. Bu ya gotta start somewhere!

Here's a link that shows MY COSMAC ELF sitting on the kitchen table sometime before I reluctantly 'let it go' sometime 25 or so years ago... It was the first in a long line of home computing.

Next up was a MOS TECHNOLOGY KIM-1 single board computer, which I had connected to an old KSR35 teletype machine in my basement. I paid about $250 for it some time in the 70s, and sold it for just under $2K in 2012.

After that, I built Clive Sinclair's dandy little ZX-81 kit, decked out with a 64K ram pack, full sized keyboard, a 300-baud Byte-Back modem, ZX printer and several small wirewrap boards that I could hang on the Z80 bus and drive with BASIC or Z80 assembly language programs. Examples include: a digital musical doorbell that played the theme songs from Car 54 Where Are You? and Leave It To Beaver, an EPROM reader/blaster, serial port, and an interface for a moving sign board populated by alphanumeric Panaplex displays. Untold hours of fun & frustration writing bad programs!

During this time, I also acquired one new and several used Timex-Sinclair 1000s and a TS-2068, the American version of the Sinclair Spectrum.

Then I 'moved up' in the computer world and built an Apple II+ clone kit from James (later, Jameco) Electronics. I bought a 128K memory board for that, and then added a PCPI CP/M card, and spent a lot of time writing stupid little programs for my own amusement. I already had a leg up from writing the Z80 assembly code for my ZX81, so switching to ASM80 and CP/M wasn't too much of a reach. Got my first hard disk for that machine: an Apple 'Sider'. Recollection is fuzzy, but I think it was 20MB and cost well over $700...

Also along about then, I started haunting computer trade shows and bought several cheap used CP/M machines: a Morrow MD-3, a Kaypro 4/84, a Tandy TRS-80 with an external 8" disk drive enclosure & 4 drives.

Finally, in 1992, I fell into the PC trap and bought my first IBM-compatible. This effectively ended my hobby sideline of building and programming electronics projects, because the graphics and complexity of the software were beyond my capability, written by teams of programmers rather than a guy sitting at a keyboard like me. The stuff you could get for free -- legally! -- was light years beyond what I could hope to create at home, and I became a computer user, forever hanging up my hardware hacker hat.

I've been through a succession of PCs since then, building all but one — an HP that I was given to us by my employer in a mass PC-at-home program they ran for awhile.

I continue build and keep around most of the PCs until they die or take up too much space, They're disposable, now and not worth mentioning. mostly generics that I put together from purchased parts. All the pre-PC stuff is gone now. The oldest things remaining are a Dell Latitude (Win XP) laptop, and Acer Netbook and a Windows XP Professional desktop. Everything else has been updated to Windows 10, and I don't have anything new enough that will run Windows 11.

I do fiddle a little with linux, but don't use it on a frequent basis. Maybe a few times/year.

That is all!
 
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I had a Timex-Sinclair ZX80 with the thermal printer but my favorite was the Coleco Adam that could play Atari 2600 games (I bought it because it had a letter-quality printer). I bought all the available software (at Toys'r'Us no less).
If you are interested in ancient games, I supported the 50 Years of Text Games: From Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon Kickstarter project at the Ultimate Collector's Edition level.
 

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Hi all. You're really coming up with some cool product references some of which I had forgotten.

Atari 2600

I had sort of forgotten the game systems. There were a number of cool ones at the time.

Tandy 100

The Tandy 100 was really a pretty cool machine. Somewhat limited in many ways but it did what it did pretty well. And it was portable too.

Windows 7

That's what I'm running now.

home-build from 1976

DUDE! That's intense! 46 years ago! I built something similar in college in the mid 80's. Something like that might run a microwave oven.

machine code programs

That's MACHINE code folks. Not BASIC, not assembly language, no alphanumeric keyboard. You enter the program in HEXADECIMAL digits. Loads of fun, ESPECIALLY if you're debugging.

wirewrap boards

Ah yes. Wirewrapping. That's loads of fun when you don't remove the insulation from the wire properly before wirewrapping. A 10 second mistake can cost hours of troubleshooting. "Now WHY am I losing the clock signal between the oscillator and the memory controller?" Etc.

Popular Electronics

Remember it well. OK, at my age, sort of well.


YUP! Used to get their catalogs. They had lots of great tools. They're still around and apparently doing very well. Nobody does paper catalogs any more though. Some will let you download a PDF catalog.


Coleco Adam that could play Atari 2600 games (I bought it because it had a letter-quality printer)

Yes, the games were very cool. I remember a starfighter like game that I liked a lot. A daisy wheel printer if I recall. That's definitely an interesting way to print stuff. I owned a daisy wheel typewriter at one time. It's quite noisy too. If you've never experienced a daisy wheel printer, check out this Youtube video. Turn up the volume so you can hear it at least 10 feet away.


For those of you that don't know what that means, if you wanted super clean text on a printout, a daisy wheel printer was a big step up from a dot matrix printer. But, it really couldn't do graphics.


OK newbies and younglings, time for a math lesson ... all in good fun.

10MB hard drive

You'll note that says MEGAbytes. Not GIGAbytes. Not TERAbytes. Of course we weren't storing movies, songs, ginormous PDF's and documents, ginormous programs, or (multiple) ginormous operating systems. When your whole storage system is 10 MB, you think in terms of really TINY programs and data.

300/300 acoustic coupler

300-baud Byte-Back modem

That's a 300 BITS PER SECOND connection to the internet, not 300 KILObits per second, not 300 MEGAbits per second. That's 30 BYTES per second, about one third of the number of characters in this sentence. You called into your internet provider on a phone line, stayed there a while, then hung up. You downloaded TEXT emails. No fancy fonts, no attachments, no pictures. TEXT! If you wanted to download a medium sized photo, you'd wait about a minute. And, you NEVER downloaded audios, videos, or operating systems unless you wanted to wait possibly DAYS to do so. It was PAINFUL! You cannot imagine how excited I was when I finally got a 14.4 KBITS / second modem.

2K of RAM

Again, that's 2 KILObytes of RAM. Not 2 MEGAbytes. Not GIGAbytes. Now, even for very simple programs, 2K is pretty tight. Like others have said, I got the 16K expansion pack for my T/S 1000. Then you had some breathing room.

We really have had some amazing changes in half a century. Oh, and by the way, back then, computers did ONE thing at a time. If you wanted to run a spreadsheet, you ran a spreadsheet. If you wanted to run a word processor, you shut down the spreadsheet and ran the word processor. If you wanted to play a game, you shut down the word processor and played the game. Loads of fun. But, like I said, we still got stuff done even with all these horrible constraints. So, newbies and younglings, appreciate the super computer you're carrying in your pocket.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
 
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history-zenith-161-a.jpg

My first (purchased by me) computer - Zenith Z-161 (38 pound luggable). It's in the closet, along with original manuals and disks (5.25"). An Epson FX-80 with an add-on full-width tractor feed attachment (for printing labels). IIRC the cost for those two items was in the $1500 to $2000 range. A fair bit of coin for a high schooler - a lot of grass needed to be cut for that cash.

I never owned a daisywheel printer but I do recall moving from dot-matrix to an HP DeskJet 500 ink printer. I LOVED the silence and nice, quick printout. No pin-feed to peel away from each 8.5x11 sheet. Who recalls "Micro-Perf" vs. the classic, course perferation on dot matrix paper?
 
That's MACHINE code folks. Not BASIC, not assembly language, no alphanumeric keyboard. You enter the program in HEXADECIMAL digits. Loads of fun, ESPECIALLY if you're debugging.
Yes! And, although I added a HEX keypad to mine to make it easier to enter a program a byte-at-a-time, the original ELF design required setting 8 toggle switches to the proper HEX code and then pressing another toggle switch to enter it into memory. I got to know binary, OCTAL, HEX, BCD and ASCII pretty well, and even used to use my initials (CFB = 1100 1111 1011) in my early email signature. Such fun!
Ah yes. Wirewrapping. That's loads of fun when you don't remove the insulation from the wire properly before wirewrapping. A 10 second mistake can cost hours of troubleshooting. "Now WHY am I losing the clock signal between the oscillator and the memory controller?" Etc.
I worked on an early People Mover built by Ford Motor Company in the mid 70s. Its onboard controller boards - 5 or 6 of 'em - were wirewrapped TTL chips in an array of (just guessing) about 16 rows X 16 columns. (The controller was driven by a DEC PDP8-E with 8k ROM and 4K of RAM.) When wired according to specs, no single wirewrap post could have more than two GAS_TIGHT connections. Ten wraps of bare wire and 1-1/2 insulation wraps, as I recall. (We had to take a class to learn to do it to their specifications.) This was a driverless transportation system that had two 30-passenger vehicles running in opposite directions on a guideway that was mostly a single lane, with a two lane center section where they would pass each other in perfect synchronization. For the most part, LOL...

Before the system was certified to carry passengers, we had to wring-out the all the connections with a Simpson ohm meter to verify that the wiring matched the design/blueprints. It took days with two test probes and crochet hooks to trace wires when something didn't appear to match the design. So much fun...
CeAB7d-UAAA9CK8.jpg

 
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I coded some GWBasic for a company to do questionnaires and collect customer contact data at the shopping mall on a luggable. I think it was the Compaq, but it might have been one of the later clone types.
I used the money from that programming job to buy my C64 (so I could play Jumpman). I think I was, um, in Grade 9 maybe.
 
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HP DeskJet 500 ink printer. I LOVED the silence and nice, quick printout.

Had one too. Ditto. These days a Brother black and white laser printer is my go to printer. Fast, quiet, less costly than ink over time. Color laser printers and supplies are still pretty expensive for me.

"Micro-Perf" vs. the classic, course perferation on dot matrix paper?

Yup. Remember that too. If you have to have perforation then micro perforation was the way to go.


I never owned one but I remember the ads. There was one or two I THOUGHT I wanted at one time. They were a bit large though. Now people get bent out of shape if their laptop is thicker than 1.5 cm. Personally, I wish I could get a laptop with a BEAUTIFUL keyboard like the Tandy 100, with keys that actually depress, not jar your fingers after going 1 mm. I also like screens that I can actually read, 15" diagonal minimum for me.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
 
Had one too. Ditto. These days a Brother black and white laser printer is my go to printer. Fast, quiet, less costly than ink over time. Color laser printers and supplies are still pretty expensive for me.



Yup. Remember that too. If you have to have perforation then micro perforation was the way to go.



I never owned one but I remember the ads. There was one or two I THOUGHT I wanted at one time. They were a bit large though. Now people get bent out of shape if their laptop is thicker than 1.5 cm. Personally, I wish I could get a laptop with a BEAUTIFUL keyboard like the Tandy 100, with keys that actually depress, not jar your fingers after going 1 mm. I also like screens that I can actually read, 15" diagonal minimum for me.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
I had a friend with a Compaq luggable. We thought it was magical when he brought it to D&D night and used it to generate the rolls.
 
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Oh, and by the way, back then, computers did ONE thing at a time. If you wanted to run a spreadsheet, you ran a spreadsheet. If you wanted to run a word processor, you shut down the spreadsheet and ran the word processor. If you wanted to play a game, you shut down the word processor and played the game.
Not always. Back in 1983/4 I had a Sinclair QL on loan from them, complete with twin 360Kb floopy drives as well as teh microsdrives, and an early version of QDOS which did multi-tasking. Although you were limited to 128KB RAM, you could get 3 or 4 programs running at the same time and switch between them. I also had a spreadsheet program, word processor and project management (Gantt chart) program to test.
 
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QDOS which did multi-tasking
That's a good point. Technically task switching. I'm not sure those systems could do background processing. But, to the user, he / she would be running several programs as you said. Yes I know that even in Windows, with a single CPU core, it's really doing rapid task switching to simulate background processing. With multiple cores, it really can do true multi-tasking. I had forgotten those systems were out that far back in time.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
 
I was a relatively early adopter of using the IBM PC for data acquisition as part of my thesis work. A Data Translation DT2808 board, 1983 vintage, allowed a version 1 IBM PC-XT to pretty much replace the DEC MINC computers then populating research labs. I wrote control software in Fortran with Assembly Code drivers to control the DT2808. I was shocked to find DT2808s available for sale (https://www.artisantg.com/TestMeasu...t-Computing-Data-Translation-DT2808-ISA-Board). I can't figure why anyone would still want equipment from 40 years ago. Looking at the board, the components, the ISA, make me feel old. Thinking back to the 10Mb hard drive makes me feel old.

The DT2808 was life changing for me. I mastered 8088 Assembly Code because it was the only way I could do data acquisition. I liberally shared my code with others and taught several folks how to tackle data acquisition on early PCs. Today, 36 years or so removed, one of the people I taught to do data acquisition on an IBM PC is my wife. Our 34 year marriage, our two adult children, are the result of Assembly Code to drive now ancient hardware. I owe much to old computers.
 
Nostalgia I have just sent a calculator down under, hope to see it arrive sort of sometime this year.
 
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