Commodore CBM PET

This is where I first started, with the Commodore PET.  It was about in the late 1970's that Dad would bring one of these home from work at the weekends, I was about 3 or 4 years old.  Space Invaders was all the rage at the time, that and mortgage calculations programs.  I tried to make sense of the mortgage calculations not having any idea of what a mortgage was.  No one ever told me!!

Commodore VIC-20

In the years to come a Vic-20 appeared, it had sound and music!!  Again, this would appear at home every weekend.  We were very swish you know, to have a computer in the house.  Pokes and Peeks were now being experimented with to access it's hidden functions.  You could do things like shift the image to the left or right with a few carefully chosen numbers put in the right places.  Unfortunately though, the standard Vic straight out of the box didn't have any real graphics functions such as line or draw.  A great many hours were spent typing in BASIC listings.  You really only knew you were there when you'd just typed in 100 lines of DATA statements.  1010 DATA 19,23,23,104,243,23,32,43 and so it went on...

Sinclair ZX81

I had a cousin and his name was Paul, and in the back corner of his parent's living room was his ZX81.  The memories of that computer that I have are so vivid, even the view of looking out of the window onto the back garden.  What can we say?  FAST, SLOW?  Flight Simulator?  This computer had no sound and no colour remember.  Such brilliant memories.  It was crap.

Sinclair Spectrum 16K

The next to come into our house was a 16k spectrum.  It was a real problem only having 16k when everyone else had 48k, and the parent's bought a Cheetah 32K rampack for Christmas.  Also was a RAM Turbo joystick interface.  The Spectrum simply was brilliant at the time.  All of the Manic Miners, Jet Set Willys.  Very memorable.

Research Machines 380Z

Now this thing was truly something else!!  Made entirely of sheet steel, the keyboard too.  It was introduced into the education sector in the early 1980's.  This thing, and a thing is what it certainly was, used 8" floppy discs, and managed quite advanced colour.  LOGO was one of the main applications on this machine, or at least what I was exposed to.  It sat over in the corner with no one using it, so I made it my friend on the days when the Dinner Ladies called us in just as it was spitting outside.  "It's spitting, it's spitting, everyone inside, everyone inside!!"  The other kids had board games, I had my 380Z.

Research Machines 480Z

This was the next one to come in schools.  It was networkable, and had full colour and sound.  Overall a very capable machine.  It had a built in hex memory editor known as the 'front panel'.  I would use this to hack around the network's password system and gain full CP/M access to all user levels of the entire network.  Admittedly I did manage once to bring down an entire network at middle school by reconfiguring the dip switches on the back which control the network address, today's equivalent would be the MAC address.  I was branded a 'saboteur' by the network administrator and my parent's were called into the school.  This was also when I learnt binary, out of a need to use it to cover my tracks.  Counting 4 bananas + 3 oranges in our mathematics lessons somehow seemed a bit ridiculous thereafter.


Dad was now bringing one of these home from work.  It had a 10Mb hard disk and ran MS-DOS too.  It has to be said, that the early versions of MS-DOS were possibly even more unfriendly than CP/M.  These were the days!  Where if you typed DEL *.* the computer just deleted everything.  There was no warning, there was no, "Are you really sure you want to do this?"  The computer just did it!  And those are the days I miss so much.  GWBasic on these things was brilliant too.  Being able to save programs, manage file I/O, and do allsorts.  I was also exposed to Microsoft Multiplan, Word, and allsorts of unfriendly applications.  This truly was when computing was at it's best.  We used to be in control of these things you know!


We then ended up with one of these.  Now these are rare, especially today, and we still have it.  It is an 8086 architecture machine, with an 80286 processor.  A bit of an experiment going on at IBM there.  What sets it aside from the later 80286 AT machines is that it's memory accesses are 0-wait state, this means that while it shouldn't be, it was faster than the superceding models.  This machine still sits on Dad's desk today and is switched on 24x7.  It never crashes.  It does exactly what you tell it to.  And I can't see him upgrading anytime soon.  He goes on the net with it, views newsgroups with it, and I'm writing this in September 2006.

Atari ST 520STFM

Everyone knows about the Atari ST.  Or I'd hope they do.  They are still in use today, by quite a healthy following of enthusiasts.  My machine in the 1980's came with a single sided disk drive.  Some games wouldn't work, and from what I know now, it would have had an early version of TOS installed.  Games copying by this time was absolutely rife amongst kids.  We'd copy a game and take it to school to swap.  A small amount of guilt is maybe felt now.  Dad took me to the computer shows at Wembley Stadium, I used to love going to those, and bought a double sided external disc drive.  It was about £80 at the time I think.  The other favourite was a clear Competition Pro 5000 joystick which had microswitches.  These years were truly when computing was at it's best.

1990s - early 2000s

A mixture of home built PC's were had during this time.  This was when the PC compatiables really took hold.  My first was a 16Mhz 286 with 2MB of SIPP DRAM.  Then I think I built a 486 machine with 4MB of DRAM and Vesa Local Bus Slots.  Everything else from there on in was a blur of characterless computers with no soul or substance.

Acorn BBC B 32K

There is one of these in my parents' loft back home.  Simply do not ask.

Sinclair Spectrum 128k+

I don't know how I forgot this one!!  Mum and Dad bought me a Sinclair 128k+ for my 13th birthday I think it was.  This was in April of whatever year just before Amstrad bought out Sinclair and discontinued it.  Mine is one of the first and last Sinclair machines produced, and guess what!!, I still have it at the time of writing.  It's in the cupboard behind me, in it's box as new.  The later Amstrad machines never quite had the same feel as this machine, and the heatsink down the right hand side certainly adds a quality retro feel.  It's not wholly necessary since Sinclair could have solved the heat problem by using a different 5volt regulator.

Rohde & Schwarz Logic Analyser LAS 5

This is one of my latest finds, and was actually bought this year, 2006.  It is a 25Mhz 48-channel logic analyser with an 8k 20Mhz digital storage oscilloscope built in as an option card.  This 'thing', and please refer to the Research Machines 380Z up above, is simply amazing.  It runs CP/M-86, has two processors, a 3.5" disc drive, runs a version Microsoft GWBasic, and it even has quite a good sound generator in it.  That aside, and it can monitor the goings on of any of the logic chips in the machines you have just read about.  It is German built, and simply something which is out of this world.  Whatever were they thinking!!  Whatever was I thinking?

Atari Mega STE 4MB / 44MB Hard Drive

Last year, 2005, I bought one of these through eBay.  The bidding was fast, and these are highly sought after machines.  There is one on eBay right now at £150 with 24-hours left.  The Atari ST at the time of writing, is still used heavily by musicians and music developers.  From what I understand, it's the timing of the Atari's MIDI port which is the attraction, something which still hasn't been matched today by current PC's.  You'd have thought MIDI would be so far evolved and perfected by now, but it isn't.  The Atari has a natural feel which musicians like.  This machine I very rarely use and it is a collectors piece.

Toshiba 1200HD 8086 Laptop

Throughout the school holidays of 1988 I went to work, as an accountants' assistant.  Aside from being 14 years old (that's when they still let children actually do something with their time) and being exposed to lovely company politics and adults squabbling over sandwiches at 10am every morning, I bought this at the end of the holidays.  It was one of the first true laptops as we know today.  Battery powered.  10Mhz 8086 processor.  Real keyboard.  CGA backlit screen.  720K floppy disk drive.  20MB hard disk.  This machine I think cost me about £1500 new.  It was brilliant.  We still own it, and Dad had been using it until about a year ago when the internal power circuitry died.  The batteries died a LONG time ago but when new would power the machine for about 2 or 3-hours.

Sharp PC-1401

And it doesn't end there!  I swapped some other unusual item for one of these when I was about 14 years old.  You would think that half these items here made their way around friends one by one.  They did!  This one sat at the bottom of my bag for months, being brought out to write BASIC programs.  There's only a limited amount you can really do with 1-line of text no wider than 16-characters!!  You could redefine UDGs and create very basic graphics and alike.  There's still a following for these today.  This one was sold a few months ago for £70 on eBay, boxed and with it's manuals.  Enough was enough.  I am slowly selling off everything that you see here.

Milton Bradley MB Vectrex

You can't imagine how much I wanted one of these!  OK, so I didn't have one, but I really wanted one enough to have one.  At our local rollerskating rink they had a promotional night where two of these were upstairs in the bar.  I went up there!!  And yes, I still wanted one.  They were the ultimate height of coolness imaginable.  Today, they sell for upwards of £200.  Not bad for something that's 25-years old and which most people would throw in the bin.  It had some of the most classic games still recognised today, Space Invaders, but more importantly, Asteroids.  Asteroids has also been known as Omega Race on the Commodore machines and has been ported to almost every platform imaginable.  These really were the times to experience computers and innovation in full swing.  God I really wanted one, did I mention that?

Amstrad PC 1640

These bloody things!!  Yes I did just say that.  These caused me some of the biggest headaches in the early 1990's.  I had just started working for a local computer firm which provided on-site support to it's customers.  These things were incompatiable with regular PC compatiables in that they did weird things.  They had a graphics display which was non standard.  The power supply was built into the monitor, such that it couldn't be upgraded.  They overheated.  Customers attempted to run GEM on them which was a nightmare too (GEM is a very early attempt at Windows).  Overall, these things caused me more problems and more headaches than you could imagine.  You could even say that they were an indication of what was to come.  I did NOT have one.  Someone gave me one for repairing their computer a few years ago, I did not reveal to them but I was quietly fuming.

Oric Atmos

And on a very final note as this has to end.  This is the Oric Atmos.  I owned one of these briefly in the 1980's during my swapsies phase.  These were an absolute pleasure to use and did not receive the recognition they deserved.  They had brilliant sound and very capable graphics, as well as a real keyboard.  I think I swapped it for the Sharp PC-1401 up above.  end.

Casio fx-451m Calculator

Well I decided to add a few more and I'm struggling.  This is about as far as I can go.  I'm still using one of these day and it was bought for £4.99 about 10-years ago when they were being sold off.  They are brilliant for software development.  Today they sell for £15+, and much more if new.  The link on the site is about half way down.