Just like people who collect cars, movies, pyrex, and tupperware, there are always things you want to collect within that hobby. And while there are quite a few models of computers I’d like to eventually own – I’ll include my top five (reasonable) choices here and talk about them a little bit.
5. Apple ][
For many computer collectors, the Apple II is the beginning of creating a large collection.
Back in the day (1980s), the Apple II was wildly popular. Introduced in 1977 (during Microcomputer Mania!) by then tiny Apple Computer, the Apple II put Apple on the map by boasting color and an affordable price tag.
Because of this, there is a ton of software for Apple II computers. And the machines themselves relatively plentiful, although they increase in price – especially after the release of any Steve Jobs biopic. The Apple II was released in many incarnations and versions from 1977 until the line was discontinued in 1993. One of the popular (and the last version) was the II/GS, which could be considered somewhat a rival to the Macintosh. The II/GS had a graphical user interface and had better hardware capabilities than the Macintosh.
The Apple II has enough software to attract my attention, but it wouldn’t be the first computer I’d spend money on. The Apple II is easily expandable thanks to its maintenance-friendly design (thanks, Woz!) and they’re versatile.
4. Compact Mac
Speaking of the Macintosh, one that has been on my “wish list” for some time now is a compact Mac… any of the many models to use the form factor.
The first Macintosh, released in 1984, had a unique all-in-one design that Apple used for many years. The design became an icon of Macintosh computers, even to this day. This “all-in-one” design was coined the “compact Mac” design… primarily because it could fit in a bag and be toted around, even though that wasn’t popular.
The Macintosh SE and Classic (and Classic II) are fairly plentiful, although – just like the Apple II – are increasing in price as they become more and more collectable, and the price rises following the release of any Steve Jobs biopic.
The Compact Mac lines have a somewhat large software library. The Compact Mac also allows you to gain an experience of what one of the first wildly popular GUI’s was like, as well as see how far your modern MacBook Air has come.
3. Gateway 2000 Desktop
I discussed this topic in my latest Throwback Thursday entry… the first computer I had growing up was a Gateway 2000 dating from 1993 or 1994. It ran Windows 3.11 on top of MS-DOS.
While Gateway 2000 was not the best computer (it could be likened to a Packard Bell or Acer), it got the job done and was fairly rugged. Known for their obsession with cows and being founded in Iowa/South Dakota, the company followed a sales model pioneered by Michael Dell (with Dell) and grew into one of the larger computer manufacturers of the 1990s. Following the dot-com bubble burst, the company quickly spiraled downhill before being bought out by Acer. You can learn more on my recent Throwback Thursday.
Post name change (post-1998) Gateway models are plentiful, but it is somewhat hard to find a wealth of information – or machines for sale – on anything before 1997.
I would love to relive my experiences with the old Gateway 2000, especially if it had the factory installation of Windows. Something about the cow wallpapers and just the machines themselves gave the machines a lot of character that you would be hard pressed to find in modern computers.
2. IBM PS/2
The second best option is IBM’s PS/2. No… that doesn’t stand for Play Station/2. Rather, it stands for Personal System/2.
By 1987, IBM had taken quite a hit in PC sales. Other companies were developing their own “clones”, which could often perform better and/or be cheaper than IBM’s PC models. IBM decided to take action in April 1987 by releasing the PS/2.
The PS/2 line consists of many models – a lot like how the System/360 and System/370 lines had many different “models” – or configurations. These ranged from the entry-level Model 25 – an all-in-one, to the Model 55 – the “average” machine -, and the Model 90, which was a server.
The PS/2 ran PC-DOS (IBM’s own version of MS-DOS) and could run much of the same programs that could be ran on a PC, PC-XT, or PC-AT (or any of the others.) The PS/2 was a general improvement on the PC-AT, by offering better hardware, new standards (like PS/2 ports and VGA), and even making use of the 3.5″ floppy drive common. The biggest feature of the PS/2 was its use of the infamous IBM Model M keyboard, which are highly collectible to this day thanks to their tactile response and overall great feel and noise. Released alongside the PS/2 was the OS/2 operating system – which was co-developed between IBM and Microsoft until 1990, when Microsoft left the partnership. Before Windows took center stage, OS/2 was thought by many to be “the future of operating systems.”
The PS/2 did have a couple issues, though. The main bottleneck with some PS/2 models was the use of the microchannel architecture. This limited the amount of expansion items – such as video cards, sound cards, network cards, etc. – you could use in the system. For instance, finding sound cards to work with the microchannel architecture (MCA) is like trying to find a hen’s tooth in a pile of hay. (In relation, finding a SoundBlaster that would work with a PC of the time, or a PS/2 equipped with standard ISA ports is relatively easy.)
A PS/2 would share the same use as my number one choice… enjoyment. I’d use it for mostly running DOS-based games, MIDI files (the main reason for choosing a PS/2 over my number one choice is I can add a sound card to the PS/2), and other DOS-based software. Though I would also likely use it for some serious purposes, such as typing papers (using DOS programs).
1. IBM ThinkPad (pre-2000)
The IBM PS/2 was a great machine for its time, but only some PS/2 models could run Windows 3.11. Plus, due to my current living arrangement and budget – a PS/2 or other desktop machine would be quite a stretch and consume a large amount of valuable space.
On the other hand, an IBM ThinkPad would work perfectly. Since a ThinkPad is a laptop, it can easily be stowed away in a bag, and pulled back out and quickly setup for use.
I did recently get the IBM ThinkPad T42, but I am really wanting a pre-2000 ThinkPad (a model which predates the period where IBM started putting trackpads into their laptops.) A key candidate would be something from the 700 series, which is new enough to run Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 with no issues, but old enough that Windows 98 would be a stretch.
Unfortunately, a ThinkPad – being a laptop – has little to no room for expansions like a sound card. You’d need to purchase a model that had an integrated sound processor.
A Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 machine can move back and forth between MS-DOS (or PC-DOS), which makes it quite nice. You can get two experiences in one machine.
Most of these machines have plenty of software out there to support them, and most are fairly (at least somewhat) plentiful in supply. As mentioned, however, my living accommodations (living in a fairly small space where every inch is considered ‘valuable’) and budget, I may not be able to realistically acquire these machines (at least everything except maybe option #1) in the near future.