December 2020

Vintage Computing


Two years ago, I was visiting my grandparents when I discovered a dusty computer, forgotten in a closet. It wasn't any computer though—it was a Macintosh Classic II (not that I knew it at the time). All I knew was that, to my eyes, it was incredibly cool. I didn't have a computer of my own until my school issued laptop in middle school. Before then, while I was able to use my dad's Thinkpad once in a while, I basically only knew the basics of browsing the web.

Despite this, I'd been obsessed with computing history. In third grade, I went into a deep cryptology rabbit hole (reading Singh's "The Code Book" and Kahn's "The Code Breakers") and was able to visit Bletchley Park and the National Cryptologic Museum (where I met Kahn himself). When reading about cryptology, I learned about modern computing descended from the Bombe and Colossus. I read Walter Isaacson's The Innovators and Steve Jobs. I read Jon Gertner's The Idea Factory, an exploration of the innovation at Bell Labs—such as the invention of the transistor.

At the same time, I moved to California, within a stone's throw (or a 20 minute drive) of the Mountain View Computer History Museum. On an early visit there, I explored Adventure as my dad recounted his memories of playing it. In the Gold Rush unit that year, we played Oregon Trail in class—a game that I was able to play again this month, on my Apple //e (with a score of 6228, respectable in my books considering that I haven't played in years).

The month after receiving the Classic II, shipped across the country from Maryland, I joined 68kMLA—and I haven't left. In the last two years, my collection has grown from the two original machines to a whopping thirteen. I have gained new skills such as soldering, debugging circuits, and caring for the brittle plastics and delicate electronics.

The Machines

Gateway Laptop

Acquired 2014 (?) from Grandparents.
Condition: Good, although the machine does not have the best build quality.
Functionality:Broken. Intended for disassembly. I took it apart entirely, and put it back together again in 2020 (?). With my increased experience with technology, I was able to fix the issues by installing Linux.

Thinkpad T41

Acquired 2018 from Parents.
Condition: Good.
Functionality: Good, albeit slow on Windows 7 (shipped with Windows XP). Used to experiment with OSes.

Dell Latitude

Acquired 2018 from Parents.
Condition: Good.
Functionality: Good. Now used with IBM PC (transferring files doesn't quite work, as I don't have a copy of MS-DOS 6.22 or later with interlink).

Dell Latitude C540

Acquired 2018 from Parents.
Condition: Good.
Functionality: Not working. OS issue, but no boot from USB. I was able to swap the hard drive to install Linux.

Macintosh Classic II

Acquired January 2019 from Grandparents.
Condition: Good. With documentation.
Functionality: Working, able to write + read to floppies with external drive on my 2015 MacBook Air.
Update 2020: display lines. Cleaned PCB with alcohol. Some chips corroded.
Update December 2020: display lines seem fainter.

Intellivision I

Acquired January 2019 from Grandparents.
Condition: Good. With original box + some original packaging.
Functionality: Unable to test - no TV/games.

TRS-80 PC-4

Acquired 1 September 2019 from eBay.
Condition: Good.
Functionality: Working.

PowerMac G5

Acquired 19 October 2019 as part of a lot from a school.
Condition: Good. With monitor (Apple, but non-original).
Functionality: Non-working.
Update 5 February 2020: Ordered RAM, works.

PowerBook G4

Acquired 19 October 2019 as part of a lot from a school.
Condition: Missing F12 key, some dents
Functionality: Working.

iMac G4

Acquired 16 November 2019 as part of a lot from a school.
Condition: Fair. Some amber droplets, unable to remove. Discolouration on CD drive and screen (from droplets).
Functionality: Working, wrote part of Via Francigena travel essay on it (minimizing distractions).

IBM PC 5150

Acquired 24 November 2019 from retired lawyer.
Condition: Fair. With keyboard + monitor (non-original) + original boxes/documentation. Dirty from being stored in a garage, some rust/discolouration. Monitor yellowed. Cleaned up well, but was unable to open keyboard all the way and couldn't fully remove rust spots from under keys.
Functionality: Unidentified error at first boot, magic smoke from PSU. Opened up machine + PSU, cleaned off dust and error resolved. HardCard Plus causes 1701 error due to some form of stiction. Banging sometimes works but will need to open up disk to resolve fully.

Apple ][ Plus

Acquired 20 December 2019 from eBay.
Condition: With original monitor + software + floppy drive + printer. Yellowed and dirty. Disassembled. Found dead spider in keyboard. Used hose to clean keyboard and went over PCB with alcohol. Some bottom casing metal eaten away by corrosion. Cleaned up well.
Functionality: Working upon arrival, stopped working after being moved to the workspace.
Update Summer 2020: Learned how to solder to resolder display port. Did not fix.
Update 12 October 2020: Reseated A8, video works with jostling (will have to re-resolder display port. Not fully functional, keyboard does weird things.

Performa 575

Acquired 29 February 2020 from forum posting.
Condition: Good. Some discolouration. With keyboard, non-original mouse.
Functionality: Unclear.

Newton MessagePad 2000 (upgraded)

Acquired 25 May 2020 from Nextdoor posting.
Condition: Good. With software (3 Mac disks, 5 Win disks).
Functionality: Working. Studied for 2020 Latin final with it.

TopLan PC

Acquired 25 December 2020 from Grandparents. Was built in 90s by relatives who ran a business.
Condition: Good. Slightly yellowed.
Functionality: Unable to test - no VGA monitor. Hah!

Sega Genesis

Acquired 25 December 2020 from Grandparents. Missing parts of system.

Apple //e enhanced

Acquired 26 December 2020 from eBay.
Condition: Fair. With original monitor + software + floppy drive. Yellowed. Monitor casing broken, bottom left corner of machine cracked.
Functionality: Working. Was able to play games that my father had played as a child.