Get Your Geek On - A Guide To Collecting Vintage Computers & Accessories
Vintage computing can be a fun hobby and you may find that owning old computers changes how you look at the latest and greatest technology. This guide will help you understand why you might want to start collecting vintage computer equipment but also what to look for if you do.
When it comes to old computers you might think they are all basically an elaborate form of trash labeled with unattractive terms like "e-waste". How wrong you are! There are many instances where this just isn't true anymore. And it's not just last year's iPhone model that comes with dollar signs attached, in fact there are a number of ways that old computing technology can be viewed as collectible or just valuable.
Why Buy Vintage Computer Equipment?
Using an old computer can be an educational experience. The experience can remind us that the ancestors to our super-advanced computers weren't thought of as junk back in the day, people used them for work and for play and they got things done. One of the nice things about many old computers is that they had a little bit higher build quality. Things like better quality keyboards, more substantial plastic and metal parts, and a generally more industrial strength approach can make them quite nice to use even if they don't support any of our modern software.
If you're interested in experiencing that or just using it for the fun of it, maybe just to type on, then you might get some good use out of an old computer. If you're a programmer it might be fun to hack around on old computer systems and write simple programs for them. Anyone might find it fun typing on an old Windows 3.1 computer using an original version of Word Perfect installed via floppy disk, using a vintage mechanical keyboard and a mouse with a ball in it (remember those?).
It's just a more tactile experience with different sounds and textures that are interesting. Plus there are tons of old games out there that helped define our expectations for computer games today.
What To Look For When Buying Vintage Computer Equipment
What was the first laptop, the first tablet, the first LCD screen, or the first full color computer display? All these kinds of firsts have value to collectors of which there are a growing number. In fact, it doesn't have to be a first, maybe the computer has technology on it that was unique but is no longer used, like plasma screen display's or ZIP drives. Even the first model of a long used series like the first Intel Pentium, or the first Intel Core processor can have a little extra value. In fact, some Intel Pentium's command a surprising price premium because they're known to contain a substantial amount of gold. For this reason many of them have been destroyed to take the gold out of them making them even more rare. The reasons that things can become collectable are quite varied and hard to predict but its typically going to be an idea that lots of people can understand easily like rarity or first of a kind.
New In Box (NIB)
New in box means just that, the item is new in box having never been opened and used, and there are a number of tech items that will fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars despite being essentially unusable for their intended purpose. For example, the original iPhone can cost over a thousand dollars if it is new in box and the box is in good condition. It's true that they made millions of them so there's no telling where the market will head in the future, but right now they're somewhat valuable. Of course many computing items can be found new in box, not all of them valuable, but for the smart collector it's not about value but uniqueness.
One of the more unusual genres for vintage computing is old mechanical keyboards. In the 80's there was a legendary keyboard made by IBM called the Model M, this keyboard had a mechanical actuator inside it controlled by a buckling spring. The resulting sound and clicky feel of pressing the keys makes it a favorite among keyboard enthusiasts today. Most old keyboards are going to be junk, but there are gems out there so just keep your eyes (and ears) open for those old clicky keyboards. An original Model M in nice condition can fetch a hundred dollars or more on Ebay. By the way, old keyboards typically used a PS/2 connector instead of USB, but you can buy a PS/2 to USB connector to make your vintage keyboard work with your new computer.
This is one of the more rare types of computers to collect. There were many flavors of Unix developed by companies like Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and even Hewlett Packard that run on their own custom hardware like SPARC and MIPS. For those who are interested in classic computing it doesn't get more classic than Unix, and these were often workstation machines so they're usually a little bit better built than your typical Windows computer. You could easily run into Unix machines at sales where a company is being liquidated.
This is getting even more obscure, but if you have a vintage computer eventually you may want to upgrade it or add something to it and then you will have to choose a vintage computer part to put in it. Since all the parts are also old and outdated they can be purchased for much less or even found in junk bins at Estate Sales, making it easy and fun to upgrade your old computer.
You never know, you might be visiting an estate sale one day and see an old GPU sitting in a basket somewhere and decide you want to take it home and run it in your vintage computer, and why not? There's not really anything better to do!
Memories, Sweet Memories
I remember playing games on my family's Micron 486 DX/2. It was such a good computer for it's day and it played all the games I ever got for it with aplomb. Of course the case for it weighed about a 100 lbs and was almost 3 feet tall, but never the less it was a reliable machine for its day. I played classic games like the original X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Sim City 2000, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and more. It's pretty amazing when I look back and think about the number of games that computer played perfectly and the number of years it did it. Especially when I'm trying to play a game made in 2015 on the fastest hardware from 2016 and it still won't play properly... Things that make you say "hmmm".
Many old computers don't have a lot of redeeming features, but thats what makes it all the more special when you find a classic one. Vintage computing can be a fun hobby and you may find that owning old computers changes how you look at the latest and greatest technology, it's always good to have perspective as it helps us be better consumers in the end. And who knows, you might actually start to prefer old computers, keyboards, and mice in some way, there's just something quirky about it all that makes it a little more fun than the newest stuff.
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