Saturday, December 4, 2010

Retrocomputing for the Holidays

What could be better than an old computer under the Christmas tree? It's a fun, inexpensive gift. There's always something old under out Christmas tree. Among the larger items have been the Commodore 64 that I gave my daughters as their first computer ten years ago. It included a monitor and floppy drive, of course, and copies of the user's manual and programmer's guide.

They'd both already started programming in BASIC on my Apple IIe during the prior year. So they were ready for the C-64! I got myself a Softcard for my Apple IIe that same year.

Two years later, I added a Plus/4, since they were frustrated with the lack of direct graphics commands on the C-64. Peek and poke wasn't good enough. ;) That same year some friends gave me their Laser 128 (Apple IIc clone.)

Christmas Cheer with PA-RISC

Another two years pass, and they both got an HP9000/700 series Unix workstation. They spent Christmas break learning Bourne shell and playing with Neko under X-Windows. Yeah, these weren't 8-bitters, but they were fun old systems that ran plenty of network apps. I had a MUD on my Unix workstation, and they learned how to telnet in and play pretty quickly. Their typing improved dramatically.

I picked up an Amiga 500 and that became the family's Christmas present the next year. We hooked it up to our 36" TV and played music, games, and a bunch of demos.

The year after that, a friend gave me a Bigboard I system. CP/M, 64K, and two big 8" floppy drives. Wordstar and BASIC-80 heaven. Everyone gathered around to roast chestnuts over the power supply and listen to the disk drives churn. ;)

Sure, it's got iTunes. Does it do X-Windows?
That same year, my daughters got upgraded to Macs, G3 B&Ws. They were excited about getting a computer that would run iTunes, but first they made sure that all their Unix stuff would run as well. Once they were sure they weren't giving up the Unix command line and could port their applications, THEN they were OK with the upgrade.

Three years ago, I did some repairs to a Kaypro 4 to get it working again. Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to read and write standard diskettes with it yet. It's a souped-up unit, with an aftermarket ROM, hard disk, and floppy drives that include both double and high density units. It got set on the back burner in favor of some other projects, once they're finished I'll get back to determining if I've got all the right software to go with the ROM that's in the system.

Visiting Old Friends

Two years ago, I actually avoided adding any new hardware for the year. Instead, I spent time during the holidays pulling out several of the systems I have that have been a bit neglected and giving them some TLC then playing with them. The Apple IIe, my own C-64, another Plus/4, and the Big Board.

Last year was the year of hardware projects. I had a new 8085 computer on a breadboard (see the story at, and was preparing to move it to soldered circuit cards. I was also migrating my Ampro Little Board (a Z-80 system) from loose components on the table top to living in a box like a proper computer.

Bringing Up the Ampro Little Board

Catching Up for Christmas

This year I'm working to finish the non-breadboarded version of my 8085 and building up a Membership Card (1802-based computer, similar to a COSMAC Elf from 1976 but a lot smaller) in a decorative little Victorian-style case. I'll be posting that on my web page at soon, I expect.

I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a Commodore 128 at the thrift stores, too. That'd really round out this Christmas year.

What's on Your List?
What retrocomputer experiences have you had for Christmases past, and what are you hoping for under the tree this year that's hopelessly "out of date"? :)