My vintage computer collection as of June 2016
How it all began:
I’ve been interested in vintage computers for many years, ever since I was a kid and used to see all the interesting old systems from the 80s that lined the shelves of thrift stores back then. Sadly, at the time, I had no money (not much has changed TBH) and also thought that buying such old computers would be completely pointless, given their limited capability, and my limited knowledge of them. So unfortunately, I never bought any of those systems I saw, which is a pity, because if I had bought every vintage computer I can remember seeing back then, I’d have a very impressive and potentially quite valuable collection by now (And no space in my house…). Anyway, fast-forward well over 10 years to around late November of 2015, my interest in vintage computers had really started to pick up again and I had decided it was about time to start hunting for old computers, while there were still some left to hunt! Now by this point I’d had a number of old systems over the years, ranging from 386s and 486s to various old Pentiums and Celerons, but by 2015 those were all long since dead or discarded. Before I really started looking for old computers, I wondered if it would even be possible to find anything at all in my country, given that the only computer related stuff you find in thrift stores here nowadays are keyboards, mice and old CRT monitors. I had occasionally seen Pentium IIs and IIIs listed on local classified ad sites, but they were never in my city and shipping anything bigger than a letter in this country can be incredibly expensive and unreliable, so whatever I found would have to be within easy driving distance. So I decided to post an ad on the local classifieds sites, asking anyone with old computers for sale to contact me, it was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to loose. Amazingly, within several hours of posting that ad, I checked my phone and saw I’d gotten a number of responses to the ad, I replied back to them, asking what they had available, rather disappointingly, it turned out to just be people trying to sell me old Pentium 4s, monitors, and other junk I didn’t want. I was somewhat annoyed by that and some time went by without getting anymore responses to the ad, until one day in December, I got a Whatsapp message from somebody who just said they had a “Pentium 3” for sale, this sounded promising and the guy’s price was very reasonable, so I arranged a time and place to go collect it, and on December 19 this is what I ended up with:
It was a Samsung “Magic Station M2150” (Yeah, I’ve never heard of it either :P), the monitor, keyboard and mouse it has in the picture are not the ones it came with, they were ones I already had and I think go with this system much better than the two newer style black CRTs the guy gave me with the PC, the keyboard and mouse it came with were really dirty and gross, so I replaced those as well. In fact, the whole system was in pretty sad shape, the front of the case is pretty yellowed, as you can see in the picture, and some kid had scribbled all over the computer with a crayon, that was a huge pain to get clean! Furthermore, upon trying to boot the PC, I discovered that the power supply had failed, and the computer didn’t use a standard size ATX PSU, instead, it had some proprietary Samsung one, so to repair it, I had to remove the guts of another power supply, and transplant them into this one, it was a somewhat ghetto job, but it worked (and is still working just fine to this day). Anyway, once I got it to boot, I found, rather unsurprisingly, that the original owner had shoe-horned Windows XP onto the thing, and that it was not in fact a Pentium III, but rather a 433Mhz Celeron… The other crazy thing was, that file datestamps showed that the system had been in regular use until at least 2013! That guy’s Computing needs must’ve been pretty light, I wouldn’t even be able to use an early Core 2 Duo for daily use, let alone a 16+ year old Celeron!
Obviously I wasn’t going to keep Windows XP on it, so I reformatted the hard drive and installed Windows ME, now I’m sure most of you will think I’m nuts for doing that, and you’re probably correct, but Windows ME has a lot of nostalgic value for me, it’s what my computer in 2004 - 2005 ran, and I have a lot of fond memories of it. I also replaced the 433Mhz Celeron with a 600Mhz Celeron (It was the fastest CPU the motherboard would accept).
In the end the Specs are:
600Mhz Intel Celeron
288MB of Ram (A bit overkill for WinME, but who cares)
10GB Quantum Hard drive (I wonder how long that’ll stay working :P)
Nvidia Riva128 Graphics card (Not the greatest card in the world, but it plays Half-Life OK, so not too bad either)
ESS1869F Sound card (Pretty decent)
Windows Millennium Edition
In the end, not the most exciting vintage PC find, but it was cheap and it got my “collection” started and made me realize that there were still old computers to be found, I just had to look hard enough. Not long after this, I started finding more vintage systems.
On the 14th of January 2016, I got a text message from a Woman who simply said she had a “very old” (her words) computer and printer for sale and asked if I was interested, obviously I was, but she gave me no indication of what the system actually was, after all, “very old” can mean completely different things to different people. So I asked her if the PC was working, she never actually answered yes or no, she simply said that the computer’s key was missing so she couldn’t unlock it. This got my hopes up somewhat because I knew that generally only 486s and older have keylocks, but I also knew that a keylock won’t stop a computer from booting, so there was a good chance that the system was dead. I asked how much she wanted for it, and she just said to “make an offer”, I offered her like $10 and she accepted. On January 16th I went to her house to go pick the computer up, not having a clue what it was I was actually going to be getting, the area the house was in was really run down (even by my county’s standards) and the house looked like an absolute dump, with junk everywhere. In amongst all the junk, I spotted the computer, it was covered in dirt and dust, most of the plastics were badly yellowed and it looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. I noticed that the monitor had an EGA connector, so I realized it was even older than I thought it was going to be. After paying for it, I carried everything to the car and then noticed a sticker on the bottom of the case Stating:
I was amazed; I never imagined I’d actually find something this old. Before I saw the computer I thought it was probably going to be a 486 at the oldest. Once I got it home, I gave the monitor a quick test first, just to make sure it wouldn’t explode, it came on without a problem and displayed a raster, so I knew the monitor was good. I hooked up the rest of the system and hit the power button, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to work, and sure enough, apart from the PSU fan and the green power LED coming on, the system did absolutely nothing. I had a terrible feeling that it was going to be the notorious rechargeable CMOS battery leakage, that often kills these old systems, and that’s exactly what I found when I opened up the case, the 25 year old battery had long since burst, and leaked acid all over the place. The acid had destroyed a bunch of the PCB traces on the motherboard, after seeing the amount of damage caused, I really didn’t hold out too much hope for this computer.
I disassembled the system, and removed the offending battery; I cleaned all the acid off as best as I could and started testing the various PCB traces with a multimeter, to determine which were damaged by the acid and which were still good. Every time I found a trace that was no longer conducting electricity like it should, I soldered a wire in its place underneath the board, after two days of working on it, I finally found every damaged trace on the board and bridged it together with wire underneath. After that, I connected the board to the PSU, keyboard and monitor, and hit the switch, to my utter amazement; it fired right up! Now that the motherboard was fully operational again, I soldered a CR2032 coin-cell battery holder to the board, so that it would be able to keep the time, date and BIOS settings (CR2032 batteries also almost never leak).
My ghetto repair job (with hotglue added as an extra precaution):
After repairing the board, I could move on to cleaning the many years worth of dust that everything was covered in. The keyboard in particular was really disgusting, and the case was pretty filthy too. I’d like to repaint the case cover someday, and try my hand at retrobriting the yellowed plastics, but that’s a project for a later date.
All in all, I think this was an excellent find, even if it did require some work to bring it back to life again, that’s all part of the fun and challenge of vintage computing!
The specs are as follows:
12Mhz Intel 80286 CPU
1MB of Ram
44MB Segate ST-157 HDD
EGA Video card and Monitor
Mechanical keyboard with cherry mx blue switches (Nothing compared to IBM buckling spring switches but still very nice to type on)
The computer appears to have been manufactured by the Taiwanese laptop manufacturer “Twinhead”
I had to replace the original 3.5’ floppy drive, as it was starting to have issues reading disks. I also added a Sound Blaster 16 CT2910 to the system, a bit overkill for a 286 but I like to listen to Amiga MOD music and this system plays MOD files quite nicely.
An interesting thing I found out about this system while checking the contents of the
hard disk, was that based on the file datestamps, this computer was used until late 2004, it had a pretty long useful life for a 286!
Custom built Pentium 133:
Around late January, I got a Whatsapp message from somebody who I’d bought some computer cases and other parts from, saying he knew somebody who had a bunch of old Pentium systems that were missing their hard drives. So I went to go see this guy, and found he had a bunch of socket 7 systems and a few slot 1 and PGA 370 AT systems. Unfortunately, not only were the PCs missing their hard drives, some of them were missing their ram and all of them were missing their case covers! And AT cases and their parts are pretty much unobtainium these days. I ended up buying five 75Mhz AMD 5x86 Socket 7 machines, one Pentium 133 Socket 7 machine, one Pentium II slot 1 AT machine and I think one PGA370 Celeron machine. Looking back, I kind of wish I’d looked over what he had a bit more carefully and gotten a bit more variety, but I ended up kind of picking them at random.
Once I got home, I did a quick test on all of them and found that although all the motherboards and CPUs worked, some of the video cards were faulty, and the Pentium II had bad ram. After that I stripped all of the systems completely and cleaned up and sorted all the parts. One of the things that interested me about these systems, was that three of them had the exact same case my Family’s old 486 DX-4 from back in the mid to late 90s had, so I had the opportunity to build a nice little nostalgia PC. So I chose the case that was in the best condition and cleaned it up as best as I could, then I chose what I considered to be the best of the Socket 7 parts, an Abit-PR5 motherboard with Intel chipset, a Pentium 133 CPU, an 8MB Matrox Millennium II graphics card that I had laying around, a SoundBlaster AWE64 sound card, and a generic white CD-ROM drive. I assembled all the parts into the case I had chosen, and then had a problem, I didn’t have any hard drives small enough to use in this thing. Eventually, I ended up using an old 80GB Samsung drive, which the BIOS only recognised 8GB of, so I formatted a 2GB partition for Windows 95 and a 6GB partition for extra storage. Almost no computer of that time period would have had 8GB anyway, but at least there’s plenty of space for old games I suppose.
This thing plays games like Duke nukem 3D and Doom like a boss:
133 Mhz Pentium CPU (Someday I want to replace that CPU with a Pentium 166 MMX, if I can ever find one…)
32MB 72pin Simm ram (Motherboard can also use Dimm Ram)
Generic PCI Ethernet card
Matrox Millennium II Graphics card (Great card for MPG playback and DOS games)
80GB hdd (pretending to be 8GB)
17’ ViewSonic E70 monitor
In the end this was a pretty fun system to build and use. The fact that it looks just like my family’s old computer from long ago is also a big nostalgic bonus.
The parts from the rest of the socket 7 systems I got were put away for future use.
Custom built Pentium III:
This is my main Windows 98 system, I built it using some parts I had recently acquired at the time, it’s nothing too special. I believe the case is from an early Pentium 4, so it’s newer than the parts inside, but it’s hard to find decent older white cases for retro builds.
The specs are:
733 Mhz Intel Pentium III CPU
Permedia 2 Graphics card (Decent enough for mid 90s games)
20GB Western Digital HDD
SoundBlaster 16 Sound card
Generic “whitebox” Pentium II system:
I spotted this system on a local classifieds site, for a price I couldn’t refuse. So I bought it :P
It has a 333 Mhz Slot 1 Pentium II CPU (slot 1s are my favorite retro CPU), 192MB of ram and I think a 10GB WD hdd. The guy I bought it from also gave me two junk CRTs and a crappy keyboard and mouse with it, like I didn’t have enough of those already, lol.
The system was amazingly clean and rust free, although slightly yellowed:
When I first tested the system, I was expecting to see another system that had had Windows XP unfairly forced upon it, I was pleasantly surprised though to find that it still had Windows 98 on it. File datestamps showed that the system had been in regular use until late 2007 and file contents showed that the original owner was a freemason… Sadly, no documents involving secret plans to take over the world were found :P
333Mhz Pentium II
Gigabyte GA-686lx motherboard (Exact same mobo my computer from 2005 had!)
SIS 6328 AGP Graphics card (Same video card my computer from 2005 had!)
10GB Western Digital HDD
Not sure what I want to do with this system, but it’s nice to have.
Toshiba 1910CS laptop:
On the 4th of February I was browsing a thrift store when I spotted a guy looking at something in a large black case, I went over to go see what it was and immediately saw an old white laptop, I said to him “That laptop is over 20 years old”, he looked at it for a bit longer and then went off, the moment he did that I grabbed it and headed to the checkout, the price was R50 which is less than $5 US, pretty good deal, I’d say.
The laptop came with its original bag and charger and did work, however, it was missing the detachable trackball and the screen was badly damaged and completely unusable, so you have to use an external monitor and mouse, which is rather annoying. Obviously, the battery is stone dead and does not hold a charge.
The laptop had Windows 3.1 and MS-Office installed, and the software was all registered to a bank that has long since gone out of business. File datestamps put its last use around the late 90s.
33 Mhz 486sx
4MB of ram
MS-DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1
This would be a great retro laptop, if I could get a replacement LCD and trackball for it, otherwise it’s kind of just a semi-functional museum piece.
Compaq Contura Aero 4/33C:
On the 28th of May, I spotted this laptop on a local classifieds site, the price was a bit higher than I’m used to paying for old computers, so I negotiated with the seller till we agreed on something a bit more reasonable. On the 4th of June I went to the guy’s house to go pick it up. He offered to test it for me, to show that it was fully working. However, when he tried booting it, the hard drive refused to work, no matter how many times he tried booting it, the drive just kept clicking and wouldn’t initialise. Eventually he just said “Well you’re probably going to have more fun with this thing than I am. Its yours” and he very kindly gave it to me at no cost.
While I was there I noticed an old IBM system in his garage, I didn’t know which model it was at the time (I thought it might have been an XT or AT), I asked if he was going to sell it, and he told me that he wanted to find out how much it was worth first, and would let me know in about a week.
When I got the laptop home, I gave it a bit of a cleaning and then began working on trying to get the hard drive going again, eventually I opened the drive up (don’t try this if you don’t know what you’re doing) I powered the drive up while the cover was off, to see if I could tell what the problem was, and immediately noticed that the heads were stuck, I was able to free them by hand, and the drive came back to life again. It passed a scandisk check with no errors or bad sectors, and the drive still works perfectly so far.
The laptop is in excellent condition for it’s age, and rather amazingly, the battery still holds a charge! I managed to get 2 hours out of it, although that was while keeping disk activity to a minimum, under normal use, you can get about an hour out of it.
Battery meter, showing a full charge:
8MB of Ram
MS-DOS 6.2, Windows 3.11
I upgraded Windows 3.1 to 3.11 so I could have networking ability, and then installed a 3com PCMCIA Ethernet card in it. Works great and means I don’t have to use floppies to transfer files.
It’s a great little laptop and I’m glad to have it in my collection.
IBM PC 5150:
A week after getting the Compaq, the guy contacted me and told me he couldn’t get the hard drive in his IBM to work, and that if I wanted, the system was mine for R500 (about $33 US). I accepted his offer and went to pick up the computer the following weekend. This particular model is from around 1985, it has been fully decked out with the maximum 640KB of ram, a 10MB Seagate ST-412 hardrive and an EGA monitor (it only has a CGA card though, which is kind of dumb), and the freaking awesome IBM model F keyboard. As of writing this, I still haven’t been able to get the hard drive working, the computer detects the drive, but can’t read it, all low-level formatting utilities have failed on it, so either the drive is bad, or the controller is bad. But considering the drive is over 30 years old, it’s not surprising that it has a few issues. Apart from that though, the computer works just fine I can boot DOS and run programs from the floppy, which while kind of inconvenient, isn’t that big of a deal.
Wordstar 4, on the quite rare IBM 5154 EGA monitor:
The monstrous Seagate ST-412 compared to a modern external Seagate drive:
As usual, the specs:
4.77 Mhz AMD 8088
640KB of Ram
IBM CGA graphics card and IBM 5154 EGA monitor
10MB HDD (Dead)
DOS 3.3 (Or whatever I happen to have on floppy)
IBM Model F keyboard
Overall I’m very pleased with this find and I’m glad I own an important piece of personal computer history. In addition to the vintage computers mentioned here, I also have a bunch of old retro parts as well as a bunch of very old computer books from the 80s and early 90s. Also, while not strictly retro (not by my standards anyway) I have 2 old P4 HT machines, which are used as servers on my network, and run 24/7, they both do their job very well. I also have a Commodore 64, but it was dead when I got it and I've installed modern components in it's case, but I didn't list that here since it's not a "true" vintage computer.