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The Best Classic Computers

Updated on April 6, 2012

Welcome to my Vintage Computer review!

Do you remember the Commodore Vic-20 or the 64? Maybe you had an Odyssey 2 when you were younger. How about an Atari 400? If you don't recognize these you soon will, these were some of the first home computers ever released and I want to tell you all about them. Before they were called PC's they home computer had another name. The Microcomputer.

The most advanced piece of technology in your home! - The Microcomputer and how it affected our lives

Commodore Vic-20
Commodore Vic-20

Growing up with two older brothers, I couldn't help but be drawn into the world of computers from a very young age. Our first family computer was a Commodore VIC-20 and it was the greatest thing in the world.

These computers fell into the category of Microcomputer. By definition, a microcomputer usually has a microprocessor as the CPU. With the operating system hard coded, add a video adapter for your TV, sound features, a keyboard and BAM, you have a micrcomputer that starts up instantly ready to do your bidding.

Sure, there were video game systems back then: the Atari 2600 decked out in woodgrain, the Colecovision or even the Intellivision. All the way back to the Magnavox Odyssey. They were all fun, but microcomputers were just magic. The possibilities: limitless.

Those of you that grew up during the advent of the Microcomputer, may remember this:

LOAD "*",8,1

Or did you ever try clearing your screen like this:

PRINT CHR$(147)

Perhaps you were a bit more industrious and fashioned yourself a Microcomputer programmer:

10 PRINT "WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"

20 INPUT A$

30 PRINT "HELLO "; A$

This was the time of the Microcomputer, 1970s-1986, and it was fantastic. Until these computers came out, the most advanced piece of technology in anyone's home was their TV.

Favorite Vintage Computer

What was your favorite Vintage Computer?

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Great Vintage Computer Finds

For those of you who are new to vintage computers and to the veterans, here are a few items of interest available on eBay:

Computers and Early Internet Ideas

The Technology and Peripherals - Early Microcomputer Gear

The Commodore 64 still holds the record for highest quantity of one type of computer ever sold! Sales peaked at around 17 million units sold! Even today, no one has been able to match that number.

The Microcomputer was like magic: you just pushed a button and it was on, much like a light switch. No boot-up process or wait time, these computers just worked. (Most of the time)

My brother had purchased his own microcomputer using his hard earned money from the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. He purchased a Tandy TRS-80 CoCo 3. This was a Color Computer made by Radio Shack and really packed a punch. Although it wasn't compatible with all the software from the previous CoCo releases, it had better graphics, memory and processing speed, among other upgrades. It came with a fantastic game, Dungeons of Daggorath.

A D&D style vector graphic game with creepy sound effects. It was keyboard controlled and loads of fun. Since I was younger I had to have my brother in the room if I played because I would get scared when a monster popped up from around a corner! The computer had game cartridges, an external floppy disk drive and 2 joysticks. It easily beat out the family Vic-20 and soon everyone was using the CoCo.

As for my Vic-20, the primary mode of data storage was limited to data tapes and had a read/write speed of about 300 baud. 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drives eventually made their debut but were considered highly unstable and slow.

Most modems were typically connected to a coupler where your phone's handset was placed on top so the computer could dial the number. Internet? Pshawwww! BBS's (short for Bulletin Board Systems) were the place to go. Eventually we were given CompuServe, founded in 1969, and the world grew a little more interesting.

Other popular microcomputers included the Coleco Adam which came with a daisy wheel printer and tape drives. Atari made the great 400 and 800 series, which were famous! Several of my friends had the touch sensitive keyboard version, the Atari 400, since it was designed for a youth. Apple had a great set of computers out that were very popular as well, from the Apple II series up to the Macintosh.

Mattel, Sinclair, Phillips, Texas Instruments, Apple, Atari, Magnavox were just a few of the companies producing computers from the 70's to the early 80's. There were so many different kinds to pick from, I remember how much trouble we had picking one out. It came down to my father putting his foot down and making a decision based on adult logic. . . He picked the one that William Shatner was promoting. After all, he said, he is Captain Kirk and they have lots of computers on his space ship! Who can argue with that.

Commodore Vic-20 Commercial - William Shatner

A list of popular Microcomputers

Below you will find a list of some of the more popular Microcomputers and yes, I threw in a couple IBM machines for perspective during the same time period. They are listed in no particular order, simply grouped by manufacture.

Commodore PET -1977

Commodore 64 -1982

Commodore VIC-20 -1981

Amiga 1000 -1985

Coleco Adam -1983

Texas Instruments TI-99/4 -1979

Texas Instruments TI-99/4A -1981

Atari 400 -1979

Atari 800 -1979

Atari 520ST -1985

Atari 1200XL -1982

Atari 600XL -1983

Atari 800XL -1983

Atari 65XE -1985

Atari 130XE -1985

Magnavox Odyssey -1972

Magnavox Odyssey 2 -1978

Apple I -1976

Apple II -1977

Apple III -1981

Apple III Plus -1983

Apple IIc -1984

Apple Macintosh -1984

Radio Shack TRS-80 -1977

TRS-80 Color Computer -1980

TRS-80 CO-CO 2 -1983

TRS-80 CO-CO 3 -1986

Sinclair ZX80 -1980

Sinclair ZX81 -1981

Sinclair ZX Spectrum -1982

Mattel Aquarius -1983

IBM PC -1981

IBM PCjr -1984

There were many more computers and clones available, but these are the ones I remember. Many sold in regular department stores or local electronics shops, but all were pretty easy to obtain.

Apple IIc Commercial - 1984

Best Games on Microcomputers

I thought that this article would not be complete without a list of some of the best games from this era. Many of these went on for years and have modern day incarnations still in play!

If you are interested in Classic Video Game Consoles, then check out this link!

Commodore:

Cosmic Cruncher, Radar Rat Race, Avengers, Omega Race, AstroBlitz

Tandy:

Dungeons of Daggorath, Wildcatter, Space Wreck, Microbes

Coleco Adam:

Boulder Dash, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, Centipede, Congo Bongo, Defender, Donkey Kong, The Dukes of Hazzard, Galaxian, Pitstop, Q*Bert

Atari Computers:

Berserk, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids

Simply a small selection in a list of literally thousands of games!

Texas Instruments TI-99 - Bill Cosby

The Bottom Line - Why buy a Vintage Computer?

Well, the questions are whether or not to buy a vintage computer and what would I use it for?

For the fun in experimenting with older technology.

For the purpose of learning where our home technology evolved from.

For the great games we loved in years past.

For the nostalgia.

For the memories, both old and new!

I recently bought a nephew of mine a used Tandy TRS-80 CoCo 3 with a disk drive and loads of games. My brother thought I was nuts. But after my nephew opened it, assembled it and started to play, my brother apologized. In no time my nephew was programming and experimenting with the machine. I showed him the secret Easter Egg in the computer where you push the reset button along with CTRL and ALT and you will see a secret picture the original programmers wrote into the machine's memory. We keep the secret between us.

I'm now called Aunt Awesome!

Hey everyone! Did I miss one of your favorite computers? Tell us here so we can all join in and reminisce.

What was your favorite Vintage Computer?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @JoshK47: They make new version of the commodore 64

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Fun look back. I'll never forget our first computer. It had a 2 gig hard drive, and was top of the line at the time, and cost twice as much as the one I have now, which is only a couple months old.

    • profile image

      ideadesigns 5 years ago

      I had a TSR 80 but not sure which one. Nice bringing us back in time to those ancient computers.

    • Wbisbill LM profile image

      Barbara Isbill 5 years ago from New Market Tn 37820

      I started with Radio Shack's Color Computer -Cassette Drive. Good Lens.

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

      Great lens. A trip down memory lane makes me realise how many different computers I have owned. My first, a Compaq with 6 inch square screen with only Lotus 123 spreadsheet, was followed by an Amstrad before venturing to the early Windows.

    • bechand profile image

      bechand 5 years ago

      I remember playing games on cassette on the commodore 128 - was awesome ! LOL (summer games was my fav!)

    • RCGraphicsDesign profile image

      RCGraphicsDesign 5 years ago

      I was the first in my neighborhood to get Pong. My father and I spent hours playing and being amazed with this new technology. Thanks for a great lens.

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 5 years ago

      Wow what a collection. My Dad had various Atari's and a Commodore64 but my first was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The hours spent programming games and waiting for the loading, that's one thing I don't miss. I still own a few retro consoles they are so good for a trip down memory lane. Nice lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a nice look back into the past.

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      I really don't miss those data tapes, I can still hear the screachy sound of them loading in the data and then the read errors which would occur all too often after you'd already waited 10 minutes! I had a Commodore 64 and an Amstrad CPC 464 which I thought were the bees knees until I got a Commodore Amiga 500 which just blew them away lol. Thanks for the memories. :)

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 5 years ago

      Very neat lens! I love looking at all the technology that came before where we are now. It's fun to see where we came from :)

    • Craftyville profile image

      Craftyville 5 years ago

      We also had the commodore, my brothers barely let me play so I can't remember if it was the VIC-20 but it sure does look like it. Do you remember a game on it with a mouse that I think had to go through a maze of some sort to get cheese?

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      What a great trip down computer memory lane (RAM lane?)! We were fortunate enough to grow up with a tech-crazy dad, and I see a lot of fondly remembered treasures here :)

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      The Sinclair Spectrum was probably the biggest selling computer in the UK in the early years, but the best was probably the BBC Model B. It took forever to load games from cassette, and we didn't have a joystick either. Our next one was the Atari 1040ST which has a floppy drive at least and some great games.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      OMG, do I feel old now . . .

    • BSieracki profile image

      Bernie 5 years ago from Corbin, KY

      i vote for the TI-99

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      my first computer was Sinclair ZX80 and still it is in a working condition.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Whew! My first exposure to a comp was in the 80's and it had an 8088 processor! I remember learning BASIC & COBOL on a (node served out of a) 386 server which was the size of a current-day washing machine! I am sure there will be a lot more 'Bigger' stories than mine, that would follow! :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      The first computer I ever worked on was a Commodore 64 - had a ton of fun with it, and kinda wish I could get my hands on one for some vintage fun. :) Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • TTMall profile image

      TTMall 5 years ago

      interesting lens

    • cok666 lm profile image

      cok666 lm 5 years ago

      great lens..

      :)

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      We bought an Apple II in 1982. My Dad bought a Sinclair, which had a whopping huge 2k or RAM. Thanks for making this lens.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      Our first computer was back in the 80's - an IBM PC with dual floppy drives. Cost an arm and a leg!

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 5 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Hmmm. The Epson Equity I and II line. But I also liked the Sinclairs, the Commodore Vic20 and 64, the Atari 600XL, and the Radio Shack TRS-80. (Used the TRS-80 in college when I was taking 'Basic Computing Class'. :-) and then later moved up to a DEC Rainbow 100 [CP/M] machine.) Fun stuff. Congrats on a Squidoo masterpiece! Fond memories.

    • profile image

      Krofek 5 years ago

      I still have Scectum 48k at home... :)

    • profile image

      im1337mi 5 years ago

      Haha, thanks for sharing, I still remember my Amiga 1000!

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 5 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Great way to enjoy games we loved in the past. Angel Blessings**