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How do you view the preservation of vintage computers and their component

How do you view the preservation of vintage computers and their component


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    18

Chuck(G)

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The thing about an ancient language on clay tablets is that you can get the translation wrong so you want to keep the things around incase you have to do the translation over again. Digital data can be moved from one format to another so there is no reason to keep the old media unless you lose the HD you keep the data on.

The same applies for clay tablets. Most of the modern work has been from scans of tablets, using enhancement on the images. The original becomes irrelevant.
 

g4ugm

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Sometimes you have no good choice. If I have two common items, and some one gives me a rare item, for which I have no space, which do I discard?
Assuming, as in the UK is often the case, no one wants the duplicate..
 

Malc

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I yoosta think of myself as a collector, Buying gear i couldn't afford back in the day, Over the years i guess it sorta became an obsession and i ended up with so much i ran out of space, A lot of it never saw the light of day from one year to the next, Looking back i was just hoarding it all, I'm a lot older now and these day's i just have what i have a use for and enjoy using, Everything else is gone.
 

chedro

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I started collecting vintage computer stuff fairly recently, about 6 months ago, after watching Triumph of the Nerds which is a rather long movie summarizing the start of the modern computer revolution (pretty interesting and worth the time to watch for those who haven't seen it yet).

This led me to wanting an ALTAIR 8800 so naturally I looked on eBay but none were for sale. So I waited and waited, and then gave up. Someone suggested I forget about it and instead get the earliest 6502, 4004, 4040, 8008, 8080, and Z80 which I did, but doing so costing me a fortune.

Then by pure chance as I was getting ready to go to bed one evening a pristine ALTAIR showed up on eBay for a reasonable price, so I picked it up. Turns out the seller also had some other vintage gear so picked that up as well. Then met another individual who was clearing out an estate and had tons of neat documentation and ALTAIR BASIC on paper punch tape, so I picked that up as well.

And very recently, also by pure luck an even earlier ALTAIR popped up on eBay for an extremely low price, so how could I resist? Bought that one as well. Now I have 2 ALTAIRs and some other very interesting vintage items.

Anyways, long story short, I spent way too much money over the past few months and am limiting myself to documentation from now on. Don't intend to sell any of my stuff ever and have just enough space for the collection that I have as it is right now, thankfully.

My personal opinion is that if you are in possession of IMPORTANT and HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT vintage computing gear, you must understand that you have a responsibility to care for it. If you are unable to do that, or don't have the space for it, you should sell it or give it away to someone who does. The worst thing is to throw it out. Can you imagine someone throwing out an Apple I or early Apple II?

Also many people consider IBM clones or ALTAIR-like computers to be collectable items. I disagree. Those computers were made to profit off the success of the initial computer that came out first, and they hold little to no historical value. They didn't usher in anything revolutionary.

I still debate the historical significance of the IMSAI for instance. It was a better overall machine than the ALTAIR but did it really introduce anything revolutionary or significant? Not really. Any many computers that followed the IMSAI are even less important so why collect them? Those you can give away to kids or anyone who wants to tinker and play around with it. If they short circuit something inside then it's no big deal. But short circuiting an ALTAIR? What a terrible thing to happen.
 
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Chuck(G)

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Anyways, long story short, I spent way too much money over the past few months and am limiting myself to documentation from now on. Don't intend to sell any of my stuff ever and have just enough space for the collection that I have as it is right now, thankfully.

Live long enough and you very likely will--or you'll junk it. Life changes and eventually you have to leave this vale of tears with the same number of possessions that you had when you arrived.

As far as old gear, it's just old stuff. I've given my lovely wife clearance to dumpster all of my stuff if the need arises. I still have the MITS 8800 that I constructed back in 1975, but it's been sitting on a dusty shelf for the last 30 years when it was first placed there after a move. The same could be said for other bits of kit that I own. Marley's warning to Scrooge is apt.
 

chedro

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Live long enough and you very likely will--or you'll junk it. Life changes and eventually you have to leave this vale of tears with the same number of possessions that you had when you arrived.

As far as old gear, it's just old stuff. I've given my lovely wife clearance to dumpster all of my stuff if the need arises. I still have the MITS 8800 that I constructed back in 1975, but it's been sitting on a dusty shelf for the last 30 years when it was first placed there after a move. The same could be said for other bits of kit that I own. Marley's warning to Scrooge is apt.

The value, both financial and historical, rises exponentially every year the longer you own it. When MITS was sold to Pertec the 8800 wasn't worth more than what it sold for back in the day. But now, the prices are through the roof. Imagine what will be the case in 10-20 years. Then explain to a kid that this is a computer. He/she will think you're nuts while trying to convince you their year old iPhone is too slow and they need the newest one.

Anyways, I am framing my collection in shadow boxes and hanging them beside my desk. The two ALTAIRs obviously can't be hung so it on a shelf next to the rest. It's good inspiration. I'm in the software engineering business full time so it does provide benefits glancing at it every now and then. My only worry is it being stolen over my modern day gear.

If you want to part with your 8800 and other gear, let me know. :)
 

Chuck(G)

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The value, both financial and historical, rises exponentially

You'd like to think that, but it's simply not true. I spent $1000 in 1975 money for my MITS kit and spent a few days assembling it. That same $1000 is worth about $4,800 in today's money, which would be a fair price for a used 4-slot MITS 8800. I could have invested the same money in T-bills or a stock market index fund or even gold double eagle coins and been way ahead of the game.

Never confuse numbers with actual value.
 

chedro

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You'd like to think that, but it's simply not true. I spent $1000 in 1975 money for my MITS kit and spent a few days assembling it. That same $1000 is worth about $4,800 in today's money, which would be a fair price for a used 4-slot MITS 8800. I could have invested the same money in T-bills or a stock market index fund or even gold double eagle coins and been way ahead of the game.

Never confuse numbers with actual value.

Fine. Then just the historical value.

Wanting THREE Altairs puts you FIRMLY in the HOARDER classification.

Perhaps maybe guardian of vintage ALTAIRs? :D Just kidding, I'd prefer not to get a third one but will accept it if the alternative is trash or passing/selling it to irresponsible hands.
 

Eudimorphodon

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If they short circuit something inside then it's no big deal. But short circuiting an ALTAIR? What a terrible thing to happen.

Why? The whole deal with the Altair was it was sold as a kit to be assembled by the user and experimented upon, why would it be the end of the world if someone used it for its intended purpose today and made a boo-boo? Most of the parts are still reasonably readily available so it should be possible to fix it unless they managed to do something so horrendous they evaporated all the traces off the PCBs or whatnot.

Realistically, sure, it would probably be smarter to let the kids play with something cheaper, but kids play with all kinds of expensive toys that are easier to break and harder to fix.
 

Chuck(G)

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...and safer. Note the traces on the foil side of the front panel PCB carrying full AC line voltage.

Any investment in "vintage" computers is a craps-shoot. At around the same time the MITS box was available, the Apple I was being offered for $666.66 for sale, with members of Homebrew offered a discount. It was impossible to predict the absolute insanity of the Apple/Jobs Fanboi crowd back then. If anything, Steve Wozniak was the more interesting.

Around 1981, I wangled a deal for a local charity. A Durango 820 for $6,600 (I still have the receipt). You'd be lucky to get a fraction of that for the same machine today.
 
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Eudimorphodon

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...and safer. Note the traces on the foil side of the front panel PCB carrying full AC line voltage.

Well yeah, there is that. I've never owned one but I know the Altair has this reputation of not being the pinnacle of smart electrical design.

Still, the point remains that these things aren't alive, and regardless of their symbolic "historical importance" an individual unit itself doesn't mean much in the grand metaphysical scheme of things, it'll still be a part of history after the last one has turned to dust assuming anyone cares enough to remember it. Personally I have very little interest in owning museum pieces, I want to play with my collection, and lately I've been making a point of purging things that don't feel "accessible" enough to accommodate my available hobby-tinkering time and interest. (For instance, I'm completely done with picking up orphaned Unix workstations. Turned down a couple of NeXT machines recently because I just don't care to mess with something that modern regardless of how "important" somebody thinks it is and I sure as heck don't want to store them.)

If someone has an Altair and wants to recreate the experience of playing with one in 1975 by, I dunno, making their own memory and interface cards for it, then more power to them. I think they're getting a lot more out of it than they would letting it sit on a shelf, and if they manage to "wound" it in the process then fixing it will be another good learning experience.
 

chedro

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Why? The whole deal with the Altair was it was sold as a kit to be assembled by the user and experimented upon, why would it be the end of the world if someone used it for its intended purpose today and made a boo-boo? Most of the parts are still reasonably readily available so it should be possible to fix it unless they managed to do something so horrendous they evaporated all the traces off the PCBs or whatnot.

Realistically, sure, it would probably be smarter to let the kids play with something cheaper, but kids play with all kinds of expensive toys that are easier to break and harder to fix.

Yeah, I agree. Though it depends where the boo-boo happens. And what the resulting damage is. If your short circuit burns a part of the PCB, or knocks out half the chips on a board, it's not okay.

Though, it depends how you look at it. If you look at it as a historical artifact then you want to maintain it in its original form with all original components. I tend to look at it that way. Anything that you break on it feels like stabbing it needlessly. There are many other things you can play/experiment with.

And I remember Corey from these forums saying he replaced the bus wiring on his ALTAIR with NOS wire which he spent a lot of time chasing down. While I didn't go that far with my restoration, I can see why he would do that. I did however replace the ARCOLYTIC power capacitors with NOS EXTRALYTIC ones but I have a feeling they are partially dried out already due to age so might be something I may have to eventually replace that is not NOS along with the non-NOS wire I have installed.

I wonder if Achim and Corey could chime into this thread with their thoughts...
 
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Chuck(G)

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Something that's only been touched upon here is why people have this stuff. In my case, it's curiosity. Price was mostly a matter of "if you want to peek in the box, it'll cost you". In the case of my MITS 8800, I'd already begun construction of a system using an 8008 when the 8080 came out. MITS price for the Altair really was a great deal, when you consider that just the naked 8080A CPU in Q1 quantities was about $300. I dropped the homebrew project and cut my losses.

I was intensely curious about what kind of microcomputer could be fashioned after reading about the TI 74181 ALU in 1969.

So, my reason for having these things wasn't strictly using, collecting or hoarding, but rather curiosity.

As a nod toward Al's "Technical Innovation" thread, progress was blindingly rapid between 1960-1970, 1970-80 and 1980-90. Not so much between 2010-2020, I think.
 

RobS

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I think this poll has illustrated the diversity of contributors to this forum. Personally I regard myself as being primarily neither a collector nor user but a replicator. Collecting and using vintage technology are aspects of my activity but the objective is to exercise my mind by experiencing that technology in the widest sense.

For most of my working life I had a magnetic core plane from a piece of Honeywell equipment on a stand on my office desk. If anyone asked me about it I would say "It's just a memory". That was quite true, that it was nothing but a nostalgic ornament so long as there were no currents passing through it. When I retired I gave it to a colleague who had expressed an interest in it. Many years later I conceived the idea of constructing a replica Honeywell 200 computer and checked my stockpile of vintage components to determine whether that was feasible. I didn't have the right magnetic core memory for the machine but worked out that I could assemble an equivalent using the odd core planes that I thought I had, but then I discovered that one was missing, the one that had stood on my desk all those years. Now it really was just a memory. However, to overcome the problem of having insufficient core planes I devised a different way of using core memory that enabled the planes to be accessed faster so that they effectively performed like more planes operating slower. I then wondered whether anyone had used my approach in a design back when expensive core memories were the mainstream type of memory in use and an important cost factor in computer design. That's when I realised what the real buzz was for me in vintage computing, not owning or using the old technology but in experiencing similar problems to those faced by the designers of those systems. I had a stockpile of components from H200 technology that I had hoarded over past decades and the challenge was to construct a working computer to the Honeywell 200 specification as far as possible just using them. What I would be replicating wouldn't just be the computer itself but the original design experience. Being relatively inexperienced I would learn why the original designers didn't approach the problem the way that I did and that would be the really interesting aspect of the project.

I agree with Chuck that the most valuable resource is documentation and indeed information in any form, whether it be original design specifications, field engineers' reference manuals, films and photos or simply memories recalled by the people such as myself who worked with those machines. Much as in the film Jurassic Park the acid test is whether we still have sufficient DNA, i.e. information, locked away as fragments to enable us to construct a replica of the original. If so then conceptually the creature isn't entirely extinct even if it physically is. Just as films can in a sense bring those extinct creatures back to life through CGI so computer emulations can bring old computer technology back to life, but the ultimate step is to create a physically tangible replica as accurately as is possible. Just as in Jurassic Park it may contain some alien DNA (There's a joke there somewhere as in that film the alien DNA was from frogs and the computer division of Honeywell was sold to Bull, a French company ... I'll say no more.) but it will be the best that can be achieved now.

My project is very much an omelette which requires eggs to be broken to make it, so I do break up vintage circuit boards to use the components on them to build my own, but we have to consider exactly what it is that we are conserving. Those original circuit boards will never have current running through them again in their present form but the components on them could. I am not a collector and see very little value in putting such things in glass cases with labels explaining what they once were. No, it's what they contain both in terms of information and physical components that gives them value. Otherwise they are just a memory.
 

Al Kossow

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it's what they contain both in terms of information and physical components that gives them value. Otherwise they are just a memory.

A concrete example is the work that has been done to get MIT Whirlwind code running again.
The machine was literally the size of a building, was moved once and rebuilt in the early 60's.
Today, all that remains of the hardware is less than 1/4 of the CPU and control components
but they were VERY good at documentation, and there were paper and magnetic tapes preserved
at CHM.

Today, there are a few games running, and significant progress has been made in the past
few months getting their version of an operating system recovered.

There are a few unanswerable questions, in particular there is no catalog or detailed descriptions
of the paper tapes, but over the past decade most of the people that built the system have
died, so they will have to be disassembled to figure out what they do.

https://computerhistory.org/blog/the-whirlwind-computer-at-chm/
https://computerhistory.org/blog/ga...navy-spent-3-million-and-got-a-computer-game/
https://computerhistory.org/blog/ji...ind-holiday-songs-the-dawn-of-computer-music/
 

maxtherabbit

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That's when I realised what the real buzz was for me in vintage computing, not owning or using the old technology but in experiencing similar problems to those faced by the designers of those systems.
I do very much resonate with this statement. However the prospect of reconstructing old systems out of whole cloth has zero interest to me. The sweet spot IMO is having enough authentic vintage hardware to ground your mind in the experience, and then getting creative from there.
 

Gary C

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The part that needs preserving is the design evolution of the components and the software they ran. The Physical machines and components don't really matter.

Yet to me, the physical machines contain the beauty of their design. An emulator for example running vintage software has little interest to me.

Fixing hardware was my trade and is at the heart of my collection.
 

LegacySystem

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Apr 4, 2017
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Something that's only been touched upon here is why people have this stuff.
...
So, my reason for having these things wasn't strictly using, collecting or hoarding, but rather curiosity.
...
As a nod toward Al's "Technical Innovation" thread, progress was blindingly rapid between 1960-1970, 1970-80 and 1980-90. Not so much between 2010-2020, I think.

I am the same way. Mostly curiosity, although there is something satisfying about working with older hardware. It requires more focus on the part of the user. Using older hardware sometimes feels like driving an old 5-speed manual transmission versus a brand-new daily-driver automatic.
 
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