Looking To Get A Vintage Computer

edited June 2017 in Hardware
I've been an avid lover of the technology of the past for I don't know how long. I love current technology, there's no doubt there, but something about outdated stuff has always fascinated me. And now I've finally decided I want to actually acquire a vintage machine. There's just one problem. I have no idea where to start.

I originally thought about getting a Commodore 64, but that seemed a little too complicated with all the components I'd have to get, getting all the cables, the monitor, the floppy drive, the tape drive, the controller, and a cable to connect the floppy drive to my PC so I could make my own floppies all seemed a little bit too much of a wild chase. So then I thought about maybe getting a classic mac. But there were like thirty models of what you might call a "classic" macintosh computer. Then I thought about getting a vintage laptop, but from what I've seen they're very prone to issues. Compaq Portable? Hell, a Magnavox VideoWriter? PowerBook? Packard Bell? I just don't know where to begin, so I thought I might ask the experts, what would be a good machine to enter the realm of vintage computing?

(Thought I might add a poll for the hell of it)


  • Get a Win9x or NT/2000/XP compatible laptop (the IBM thinkpad R51 from 2003 is good, but the LCD source drivers fail easily. Another choice is any compaq laptop from '98-'01)
  • I'd say get the classic Macintosh, and feel what computing was really like back in the '80s :)
  • I'd say to go with an IBM, but ultimately it is your choice.
    Bry89 wrote:
    I'd say get the classic Macintosh, and feel what computing was really like back in the '80s :)

    How computing really was like back in the 80s may depend on which country you lived in.
  • For many people getting in to vintage computing is about nostalgia. For other (like me) it is about uncovering bits of unknown or unsung history. Some people are in it just for the games, while other want the challenge of developing for limited hardware.

    You should consider why you want one first so you know which rabbit hole to jump down.

    If you have some nostalgic memories of some specific machine, you might want to follow that. If you want to do programming, you should investigate CPU architecture and such a bit first. If you want to learn about digital circuitry, go with a computer that has mostly discrete logic chips and room for customization.

    That said, you might also consider an Apple II. Those have a pretty good balance of games, programming, and digital circuity (at least the II/II+). IIe computers are fairly common.

    Since you are here on Winworld, you might consider a PC/XT or early clone. The luggables do have the advantage of being "portable" and store away nicely. But with a PC style system you do want something that can be reconfigured easily (swapping out ISA cards, drives, etc). And most of the early luggables are limited to built in green-screen monitors, where a color RGB monitor can be better for some programs.
  • For me, getting a vintage was about seeing how well I could go productive on it. Plus nostalgia from using them years ago.
    Had an XT 286 loaded word, excel, and windows on it and filed reports for over a month on that box.
    Next off was the PB, which had use for at least a year thanks to NT3 and its common control support.

    Either way, it's about your taste and what you want to accomplish. I'm currently working to get either an att 7300 or 3b1. Pop the 8086 card in there, and damn.
  • You might also want to consider the availability of parts and documentation. I have generally stuck to desktop boxes for just that reason. When I am looking at potential purchases, I always check for online documentation, especially mainboard manuals. It becomes infinitely easier to repair an old PC when you know how to setup the motherboard.
  • If you’re looking for an old laptop, There are some good ideas I could recommend, Older Toshiba Laptops from the mid-90s have built-in AC Adapters so all you need is a 2-prong power cord which takes the hassle out of searching for a power brick, High-end Compaq Armadas did the same thing too.

    If you want something that’s easy to service and find parts for should something go wrong, I’d go with an older Dell from the late-90s to early-2000s, I have 3 Dell Inspiron laptops ranging from 8000 to 8200 along with a Latitude C640, They’re ’01-’03 era machines and they’re good enough for running Windows 98 up to XP, Plus thanks to early Inspirons being clones of the Latitudes at the time, Parts and accessories are easy to find, Especially genuine PA-9 Chargers and expansion bay drives.

    As for Macs, Look for whichever one is easier to find and is up to your standards, If you decide to get a Powerbook, Go for the G3 models as those stick to the roots of a vintage laptop and are good OS9 machines, If you choose to get an older Classic Mac instead, That’s fine too, Like I said, Go with what you like.

    As for places to go to for finding one, eBay is by far the easiest place to start so check there first, You can also check Craigslist listings although older machines rarely pop up, But I did snag at least 2 good systems there, Look around thrift stores if possible, I've found a few goodies there since I got my Dell C640 at a Value Village for $7.
  • For me it started off as nostalgia like many other people, though I've also found using hardware and software that was priced out of reach when new can be a learning experience as well.

    From experience I feel a DOS desktop box is a good starting point - standardized slots, easier to repair and/or upgrade, and fairly accessible depending on the specs. I like 386s and 486s as a vintage box for anything pre-Windows 95, though it may be easier to find an old Pentium MMX or Pentium II box, or at least cheaper to get these days. 386/486 motherboards and PCs in good condition often ask for respectable amounts I find. If you get a Pentium II box you can still usually play around with ISA cards and run DOS etc. if desired though. The main downside is some applications don't handle the extra speed so well and crash (I think some that were developed using Pascal from memory, like Jazz Jackrabbit for example).

    If it was a laptop I tend to find Toshiba to be generally good. I replaced a dead motherboard with a new one I miraculously found from someone who had new old stock in the US. Provided you remember the screw locations it was relatively straight-forward to replace, whereas the early ThinkPads would have a tendency to have the motherboard actually in two pieces. While ThinkPads are built well, the replacements of parts on 90s models can be bothersome and proprietary parts such as the DC power socket and RAM cards can sometimes be difficult to find spares and replacements.

    If you prefer to go the Macintosh route some of the models I tend to like are the LC 475, Performa 6400/200, PowerMac 7300/200, beige G3, or potentially an earlier G4 due to being possibly easier to obtain and still boot MacOS 9. The LC 475 was an early 90s pizza box style Mac that was rather zippy for its time having a 68040 Motorola processor. I used to see it as a 486 Mac and is great for pre-PowerPC software generally. The main theme with the Macs mentioned is that the hardware is in a separate box to the monitor. I prefer not getting one with a built in screen as screens can easily be changed over, and much less hassle than having an old CRT monitor that dies inside the PC. Easier just to grab a 15" LCD monitor with a VGA adapter than replacing a 15" CRT tube and worrying about high voltages.

    Don't expect this to be an answer, but just to expand your options.
  • Well, first off, eliminate all laptops, you don't want to deal with chargers, leaking batteries*, etc. Then, we have the Macintoshes, you could get a Classic all in one line Macintosh, but first, tracking down a keyboard, mouse, and keyboard cable, which are impossible to find for the Mac 128/512/Plus. Then we have the second obstacle, the build in monitor is slightly easier to replace than it is to pirate RHEL (which has, not to my knowledge, ever happened. It is slightly easier to replace than something impossible to do.) Among other things, cross those off your list. The Macintoshes that aren't all in one are better, but monitor cables can be very hard to find, so cross those off the list to. The built in monitor problems are also an issue for luggables and word processors, so cross of the Compaq portables and the Magnavox Videowriter. This leaves behind the PC compatibles, like the Packard Bells, and the home computers, like the Commodore 64/128/16/"Plus/4"/(Whatever models they made) and the Trash-80. The PCs use fairly standard parts, and are easily maintained. The C64 and TRS-80 use proprietary monitors, how ever, because they were aimed at the common house hold, they could easily be hooked up to a, only period correct one though, television set. An adapter from 300 ohm to 75 ohm can likely purchased though, and you can continue to use the computers.
  • My personal recommendation is to go with the dell latitude C series. You can set up one dock with a monitor, keyboard and mouse and have a P1 through P4 that you can just swap out at any time. If you want 486 or older then I would say stick to desktops and pretty much anything you can get your hands on will do.
  • Try something from Packard Bell. Their stuff gets bashed way harder than it needs to be. I have an Axcel 251CD Plus. 8Mb of RAM, Intel 80486@66MHz, 545Mb hard disk, 1.44Mb floppy drive and even one of those newfangled CD drives. Sometimes MS-DOS 6.22, sometimes Win95. Original keyboard and monitor. PS/2 mouse or serial mouse. Most luxurious.
  • Depending on your use, I strongly recommend Commodore 64s. I found on for 10 dollars at an antique store. It is one of my favorites. I also have an Armada, and that works well too. These are my favorite for all sorts of things.
  • In my oppinion, getting an old laptop (old compaq and IBM laptop if you can). I have a Compaq Armada V300 which i got from a garage store for 5$ and it is amazing. A '98 laptop is the best idea to get started with.
  • I'm a present day Commodore VIC-20 and C64 user. There are digital storage solutions like the SD2IEC and 1541 Ultimate available now if you want to avoid disk drives and tape decks. Beyond that, all you would need is a 32k memory expansion for the VIC, an AV composite lead (available for £5 on eBay) and a television (preferably CRT).

    The only thing to be wary of is the power supply. The C64 and late model VIC-20 PSUs have a very high failure rate and when they go they blow half the chips on the motherboard as a farewell gesture - this can be avoided by using a voltage limiter (marketed as the Computer Saver), using an alternative PSU from one of the retro electronics gurus or building your own one if you're good with a soldering iron.
  • If you don't mind a mid-late XP/early Vista era laptop,
    the toshiba A100/A105 series are good.
  • If you don't mind a mid-late XP/early Vista era laptop,
    the toshiba A100/A105 series are good.

    That's far from vintage dude.
  • I'd scout craigslist regularly and pick up what you can find cheap (presuming you're not picky). I picked up a powerbook 5300c for $10 and a mac plus for $20 on there.

    May take awhile but good vintage systems do pop up every so often at good prices. Also if you're old enough to go down to your town dump, some of them take the computers they get and put them in a bin for people to go through before they destroy it. You can find some neat shit at the dump sometimes.
  • Whats the easiest way to get a Pentium/486 machine, when i look on ebay, they demand high prices like $199 up to $500+. My packard bell bit the dust and i want a replacement for it.
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