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Using machines as they were vs. with modern "upgrades"

How do you prefer to use your vintage computers?


  • Total voters
    37

AndyO

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....and then see what the old systems were capable of at their theoretical maximum...
Considering that by the late 1980s, much of the entire publishing industry was run off systems in the 286/386 or 68k range, which are regarded as worthless junk by almost everyone (except us, of course) today, and that these same machines continue to be capable of that same kind of work, they are very capable systems. Their limitations are caused by the inexorable shift in computing away from insular tasks and towards internet functionality which they either can't accommodate at all, or at best can only manage with limited success.

But with their offline uses still as viable as ever, these old systems can compete rather well. My PB 170 boots as fast as an i7 Win 10 box, and loads Word 6 as fast as the i7 loads Word... whatever version it is. So for document prep, there's no real performance loss in using the PowerBook, and much to be gained in respect of the complexity-free nature of early 90's hardware, OS and software.

It is remarkable what can be gained by adding modern components, but it is worth remembering that these old systems managed a great deal of highly demanding and sophisticated uses in their time.

Pick your own poison and run with it. There is no "correct" answer in this pole.
This. I mean, even using a Pi to replicate a DOS machine is perfectly OK, if that's what a user wants.
 

NeXT

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I ran an experiment a few years ago to build a "386 multimedia PC" to play some titles as per the MPC 1 spec and not going overkill.
A 25mhz 386SX and 8mb ram was fairly easy to do. Adding an optical drive took a bit more effort, but once a Sony caddy loader was behaving with an Adaptec SCSI card it performed well both in DOS and Windows.
Sound was rather straightforward once you figured out how the Creative Mixer worked on a Sound Blaster 16.
What brought everything to a halt was the display adapter and drivers. an ATI VGA Wonder while fast enough for DOS, DOS gaming and regular Windows lacked video and motion effect acceleration, resulting in a painfully slow experience playing multimedia games within Windows as it probably had to do these in software. What solved the issue was to replace the video card with a MACH8-based ATI card, then it worked fine, simply because it was able to offload these two software rendered tasks to hardware.
 

Chuck(G)

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The problem in any of this historical preservation effort is that it's old wine in new bottles. That is, we can't expect to get the full effect of, say, an Altair 8800 because we can't remember what a world without personal computers was like. You might be able to get the gist of the experience, but you'll always know that the phone in your pocket is enormously more powerful than any PC of the time. So the experience is, at best, a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean?" affair.

I liken it to hearing the music of Bach. We can't know what the original experience of the time was, because we can't un-remember what has musically occurred since 1750. The well of our consciousness has been polluted.

My hat's off to the computer purists, but they can't genuinely know what the experience was like--and neither can I, even though I was there. Too much water under the bridge.

IMOHO, anyway.
 

Abmvk

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The problem in any of this historical preservation effort is that it's old wine in new bottles. That is, we can't expect to get the full effect of, say, an Altair 8800 because we can't remember what a world without personal computers was like. You might be able to get the gist of the experience, but you'll always know that the phone in your pocket is enormously more powerful than any PC of the time. So the experience is, at best, a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean?" affair.

I liken it to hearing the music of Bach. We can't know what the original experience of the time was, because we can't un-remember what has musically occurred since 1750. The well of our consciousness has been polluted.

My hat's off to the computer purists, but they can't genuinely know what the experience was like--and neither can I, even though I was there. Too much water under the bridge.

IMOHO, anyway.
I agree 100%. And still, I know I enjoy Bach more on as original as possible instruments than on a modern synthesizer (which in itself is becoming something ancient I think)
 

Chuck(G)

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Bach to me has undergone evolution even in the 20th century. I've got some old recordings of Landowska and Schweitzer (she: harpsichord; he: organ) Both from the 1920s-30s. Very different interpretation--both rooted in the Romantic era. The first recording of the Brandenburgs that I owned was the DGG Arkiv one by Karl Richter and the MBO--back then (1960s), it was roundly criticized as being "too fast". Nowadays, it's about average.

I figure if ears can change that radically in a lifetime, so can eyes and the mind.
 

Unknown_K

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Most of my retro machines are upgraded past what most people had when they were new (more RAM, faster HDs of the same type, high end video and storage cards plus ethernet and others). The thing is most of those old machines were used for a long time and many did get upgrades during that time. My Amiga 1200 didn't come with a Blizzard IV 030/50 card but quite a few people upgraded when those were available.

What I don't bother with are upgrades that came out 20 years or more after the system was obsolete. I mean you could add ethernet to a C64 but why bother?
 

kc4bqk

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I like to do both. But there are times when you need modern solutions to keep these older computers running. Anything past DOS is new to me.
 

DeltaDon

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I ran a small business and used my period correct computers way back then because I had to at the time. Later on, I ran a second business of supporting smaller brands of laptops with parts, repairs and upgrades. One of my business successes was upgrading aging laptops to do more than was possible if you stuck to the OEM's spec's. So I turned a Socket 7 66Mhz FSB laptop limited to 233 or 366MHz into faster 432 MHz AMD K6-3+ powered PII beating machine running at a 72MHz FSB, found special larger 256K RAM modules, ran SSD's vs. slow 2.5" HDD's and tripled the overall battery run time. All done at the time, not today. Would I do something like that now to a new project? Isn't that exactly what so many did to their TRS-80's, MAC's, Amiga's and other computers as they aged. Stick in newer CPU's, added RAM boards and modified this that and everything? Where do you stop?

How many early PC's had their guts ripped out and newer mobo's installed at the time?

I think today, the problem is more or less that it is so much cheaper to just find something faster for little money. Back then things were more expensive in relationship to income and newer stuff wasn't always all that much faster that what a people with a few IC's, some solder and a bit of knowledge could do themselves.

You can get carried away and look for correctly marked components from the correct time period or only use the correct factory made screws, but at some point it becomes a museum piece and not a computer.

While I still enjoy my Z80/S-100 system running CP/M, but today, any computer that isn't able to get on the internet isn't going to do much good for a general purpose computer and becomes a toy (excuse my words). Since otherwise it is more or less a static display museum piece. Yes, you can use it, but I can also use a Raspberry Pi to do the same thing and much more. I keep my big heavy beast just because I can, not because it does anything other bring me joy seeing the sign on prompt. Others are creating new S-100 boards to turn their S-100's into things well beyond what would ever economical to produce and use every day. But that's the fun of creating and not running a museum. You can own a 1970 Hemi Roadrunner in mint restored condition, keep it under lock and key, but you can't go out and use it daily. Or you can own a beater '70 Roadrunner and enjoy it going on road trips, doing things with it and modifying it with aftermarket AC, disk brakes, modern tires and not worrying about is every decal being in the correct location nor worrying that you don't lose money getting a scratch in the paint or driving in the rain. Too each their own.
 

Caluser2000

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Bach to me has undergone evolution even in the 20th century. I've got some old recordings of Landowska and Schweitzer (she: harpsichord; he: organ) Both from the 1920s-30s. Very different interpretation--both rooted in the Romantic era. The first recording of the Brandenburgs that I owned was the DGG Arkiv one by Karl Richter and the MBO--back then (1960s), it was roundly criticized as being "too fast". Nowadays, it's about average.

I figure if ears can change that radically in a lifetime, so can eyes and the mind.
Tell me about it Chuck. Once my wife could hear me now she can't ;) I'm not complaining...

And I haven't heard her for decades lol.
 

SiriusHardware

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Interesting topic. I think it depends on the system, its rarity, and the mood I'm in at the time.

My Atari STs have more memory than they were made with, one has a contemporary memory expansion fitted to take its original 512K of memory up to 2.5MB. As this was my main, all purpose computer at the time, it was a necessary mod to make the computer work with some memory-hungry software which wouldn't have run in the base memory. My other ST (Actually an STe) has 4MB of memory SIMMs in it, replacing its original 1MB in SIMMs - so again this is a contemporary mod. The main concession to modernity with these machines is that I have an SD-based HDD substitute, and that only because my original actual Atari HDD unit failed beyond repair.

I also have a couple of Sinclair ZX81s, sold stateside as the Timex 1000 - in the UK it came with even less memory than the 2K you guys got over there, a mere 1K, shared with the display, which just wasn't enough, so if you wanted to do anything serious with the machine it was necessary to buy and plug in an unsightly, unstable, expensive 16K RAM pack. Tales of the unreliability of the external RAM pack were legendary, many hours of work could be lost by an accidental jolt to the machine. The external pack also made a mess of what was an award winning design for the main unit, it actually looked very nice.

To both preserve the 'proper' designed appearance of the machines and make them usable, I have fitted 62256 SRAMs in place of the original internal 1K RAMs - in its simplest form this mod only uses 16K of the possible 32K available from the modern chip but since the highest 'standard' memory the machines ever had was 16K, that is not a problem. With the RAM expanded this way the machines look good, are completely self contained and stable and consume less power. Nor have I discarded the original RAMs, they are kept with the machines and the expansions were fitted without any track cuts so they could, if a future owner wished it, be restored to original configuration. It you take care to make any mod completely reversible then I think it becomes much more acceptable.

My oldest 'computer' is a Science of Cambridge / Sinclair MK14 which is a SC/MP based microprocessor trainer, electronically very similar to the 'National Introkit' when that machine has a keypad and display added. I absolutely loved it when I originally had it and I still have it now but for many years I just maintained it in working order, but didn't actually use it because the only way to get code into it was to type it in by hand, and then to save it out to a tape using the optional (!) cassette interface. Otherwise, the code, held in RAM, just vanished when the power was pulled.

Around 2012 I made a system, based on the (then) new Raspberry Pi, which would let me write code on the Pi and then send it, serially, to an interface which would convert the code into the keypresses required to enter the code into the system as though by hand, (but of course it could 'type' the code in much faster than a human being). There have been a few revisions of that system since then but they all have the same thing in common, they don't require any hardware or firmware mods to the MK14 itself, and they don't use any resources (inputs, outputs, or RAM) which are not already used by the monitor program. This system has given the machine a new lease of life, I've played with it far more since then than I had in the whole period between about 1981 and up to 2012. In the meantime the machine itself remains unaltered from its ~1980 condition: The programming interface connects to the edge connector which was originally intended for connection of an external keypad.
 

grimm

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In the end, we might not have a choice. Many of the IC chips made back in the day used a chemistry that is slowly breaking down and causing these chips to fail (even the ones that are just sitting in a box). Our only fix is to use modern replacements when the working originals are no longer available for any price. I have been keeping my broken chips, on the hope that someday, we can fix them with some kind of nano-technology? I can hope can't I? :cool:
 

Svenska

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My 286 is reasonably maxed out. It got 4 MB RAM and a modern 2 MB EMS card, a CF card for storage and dual floppy, as well as ISA audio and network. The VGA card is an early, slow specimen with low quality, but works well.

Generally, I don't mind using modern SRAM chips to replace memory or similar approaches, but putting one or more Raspberry Pi-equivalents into a machine to make it pretend to be old and slow feels plain wrong. Just use an emulator instead - they are fun to play around with, too.

I'm also not really convinced about all these new RunCPM-based systems. It somehow just doesn't feel right to me, even though I've built a CP/M system using an emulator on an AVR.
 

deanimator

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I'd go with all. It's fun to boot an IBM 5150 with an XTIDE (new production), a regular floppy (period correct) or even a vinyl record (technology older than the PC itself).
It also depends on the mindset of the person involved: either you're a collector, or a tinkerer, or both, or neither. Wait - I've just violated the either-or concept. :)
 

Eudimorphodon

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Generally, I don't mind using modern SRAM chips to replace memory or similar approaches, but putting one or more Raspberry Pi-equivalents into a machine to make it pretend to be old and slow feels plain wrong. Just use an emulator instead - they are fun to play around with, too.

This is about where I land personally when it comes to devices like the PiStorm for the Amiga, IE, you've pulled out the original CPU and just have a modern computer running an emulator wearing the old computer like a skin suit. I mean, I guess I can get why someone would like that, it gives them all the aesthetics of being able to use the original keyboard and whatnot, but... yeah, I dunno, it's not my cup of tea. At this point it's just a slippery slope to chucking the original motherboard in the trash and using USB adapters to drive the original keyboard, and to be brutally honest, you probably *should* be doing that instead because in most cases it would be a lot more efficient.

But hey, different strokes for different folks.
 

Moondog

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Several yars ago I saved a Compaq Portable II from being tossed in a dumpster. The 20mb Plus brand hard card was dead, and the oldest, smallest hard drive I had was a Seagate 408 mb or 426mb drive. The portable was 1986/87 vintage, and the hard drive was 1990 vintage. Close enough for me. I imagine it would've been upgraded over time, and I had close to period specific parts available to upgrade it. I used a dynamic drive overlay program to trick the bios into working with it, and installed DR-DOS 7. The DR-DOS version had the disks with the Novell client and several network card configurations. I found an NE1000/2000 compatible ethernet card because the disk had drivers for it.

While getting it running, I replaced one of the 5.25" 360k drives with a 1.44mb 3.5" floppy drive. The bios supported it. I didn't have a drive bracket for a 3.5", otherwise I would've swapped out a 5.25 drive permanently. From now on if I need to transfer files to it, I use Fastlynx and a serial or parallel cable. I plan to install mTCP so I can use FTP to move files to and from it.

Regarding Goteks and CF cards and tools such as XT-IDE, I have no problem with them. They are more or less reliability mods, not performance mods. It's like re-capping a power supply because the old caps have dried up or leaked.
 

AndyO

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This is about where I land personally when it comes to devices like the PiStorm for the Amiga, IE, you've pulled out the original CPU and just have a modern computer running an emulator wearing the old computer like a skin suit. I mean, I guess I can get why someone would like that, it gives them all the aesthetics of being able to use the original keyboard and whatnot, but... yeah, I dunno, it's not my cup of tea. At this point it's just a slippery slope to chucking the original motherboard in the trash and using USB adapters to drive the original keyboard, and to be brutally honest, you probably *should* be doing that instead because in most cases it would be a lot more efficient.

But hey, different strokes for different folks.
When I was gathering my few vintage(ish) Macs, and using them routinely, I experimented with building a via classic Mac via emulation on a Pi. The objective was to have something modern and reliable to use in the event my 68k Macs stopped working.

For me, the huge advantage of these old systems is, and always was, their simplicity of use. They just don't get in the way when I'm working on something, yet the software of the day fulfills almost all my practical needs. A Pi 4b running MacOS 7.6 or 8.1 in Sheepshaver, seemed like it would be near perfect as a working platform, but it really wasn't. Hard to tell why not, but there were odd quirks and foibles which the actual Macs didn't/don't have.

And, it didn't 'feel' right. Whatever that means!
 

TamaMan

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The limited time when I do have time for my original 486 and a 5170 setup, I do prefer the period correct experience myself and to share with others.
 

Moondog

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This thread reminded me of a Model A Ford replica made in the 1980's that was functionally a new car under the skin. Modern 4 cyl engine, suspension, seat belts, power steering, and brakes. I even had an automatic transmission. I can see it's utility as a reliable daily driver. From a collector's point of view, it wouldn't have the same charm when the hood was opened. After all, it's an 80's car under the hood, not a 1930's car.
 
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