Ten retro computer electronics kits you can build yourself

I’ve just started work on assembling the VT132, a DEC VT100 compatible terminal. I got the standalone board, but there is also a version as an add-on board for the RC2104 computer. Not knowing anything about this, it turns out it’s a kit to build an 8 bit Z80 based computer that has expandable card slots for other add-ons. I might look at building one of these next, but out of interest I wondered what other similar kits are out there for building reproductions of retro computers. I noticed it’s not uncommon for some of these to only be produced in limited quantities and it’s unclear whether they will be available again, but here’s a list of things I’ve found:

Wifi232 – an RS232 modem that connects to your wifi instead of a real phone line. This was only produced in limited quantities but is well known in retro computer communities as an easy way to get any old computer with an RS232 interface online. More info here. If you search around you can find a few alternatives and similar kits inspired by the original Wifi232.

IBM PC 5150 motherboard kit – no longer for sale, but an impressive kit to build your own reproduction of the motherboard for the original IBM PC.

Apple 1 reproduction kit. No long available from Briel Computers, but check their link for other suppliers who may still be making the kit.

RetroBrew computers – several kits for Altair/S-100 bus type computers

Altair 8800 kit – no longer available?

PDP-8 and PDP-11 replicas front panel kits and emulation using a Raspberry Pi by Obsolescence Guaranteed

Harlequin 128 – reproduction of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128

Cobalt 3 – a Atmega328 based 8 bit pocket computer

If you know of any others leave a comment!

Videos and presentations about running mainframes and supercomputers at home

I’m fascinated by any old computers. The interesting thing about the majority of retro equipment is that you can pick stuff up pretty cheap compared to the original prices when the stuff was originally sold (unless it’s rare). I currently have a very limited collection of an Atari ST 1040 and a Power Mac G4. There’s plenty of other people who collect retro computers and have pretty extensive collections. There’s also a fascinating subset of collectors who via stories that are just as interesting as the hardware itself, have acquired and installed mainframes and supercomputers in their own homes.

One of the first stories I cam across was of 18 year old (at the time) Conor Krukosky who picked up an IBM z890 mainframe for $200 from an online auction and installed it in the basement of his parent’s home. The story of how they moved 1 ton of mainframe hardware into the basement is rather amusing. This is a great presentation by Conor on getting his mainframe up and running. Conor’s hobby and a number of presentations on his experiences setting up his z890 led to a job working for IBM on their current generation z mainframes.

Here’s another fascinating presentation by Camiel Vanderhoeven who acquired a 1984 Convex C1 – a mini supercomputer at it’s time, at $900,000 was originally 1/10 the price of a Cray 1, about 1/3 the performance, and at 3KW power consumption that’s 1/38 the power consumption of the Cray 1. If one unit wasn’t enough, he later came across someone clearing out a number of Convex CPU cabinets and took delivery of several palettes of additional Convex equipment. Another fascinating presentation of getting the hardware up and running.

If you have links to any similar stories, leave me a comment below!

When computers had lights, buttons, switches and miles of cabling (@ the Computer History Museum)

Enjoyed a fascinating visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View today for the Vintage Computer Festival West. There was plenty to see, and plenty of old computers to check out on show in the festival exhibit.

Downstairs in the main museum, there is an incredible display of anything and everything to do with computer history, all the way from mechanical counting devices, all the way through to current technology.

I find the human interface design of some of these old systems particular fascinating. You just don’t see current technology with such a bewildering array of lights, buttons and switches anymore, and the miles of cabling wiring these machines together is completely insane. Here’s a few pics from my visit:

Computer History Documentaries – part 2

It’s been a while since I posted this list of some of the computer history documentaries and dramas that I’ve found most interesting, so I have a few more to recommend and add to the list:

  • Silicon Cowboys – fascinating documentary about Compaq, the development of their luggable PC, and their impact on the development of the PC Compatible market. (4/27/17 – this is currently on Netflix)
  • Bedrooms to Billions – The Amiga Years : incredibly well put together indie documentary about the Amiga
  • Bedrooms to Billions: documentary about the development of the home computer games industry in the UK and Europe. Includes many interviews with the original developers and many involved in the industry at the time. If you had any interest in computer games around the mid to late 80s in the UK, this is a must watch
  • Beep – documentary about sound and music development for computer games
  • Get Lamp – documentary by Jason Scott, covering text based computer adventure games
Nicola Caulfield & Anthony Caulfield (who produced the Bedrooms to Billions documentaries) currently have a new documentary called ‘The Playstation Revolution’ that just reached it’s funding goal on Kickstarter, but if you’d like to back it you can back via MegaFounder (linked from the Late Backer link on the Kickstarter page)