Dinosaur hunting

Last Updated on November 15, 2018 by Dave Farquhar

Today I slipped over to Laclede Computer Trading Company for the first time in many years. I was in search of an ISA parallel card. They’re not easy to find these days, mostly because they aren’t particularly useful to most people these days, but I figured if anyone would have one, it would be them.

No dice. But man, what memories.

Laclede has been around forever–at least 20 years, and probably a whole lot longer than that. I remember taking spare 286 and 386 stuff there in the early 1990s and they actually gave me money for it. Math coprocessors, Packard Bell power supplies, other oddball stuff like that. I’d salvage stuff from upgrade projects and get a little extra money that way.

Most of the stuff in the store now is Pentium 4-level. Recent enough to be useful, old enough to be really cheap. There wasn’t a single ISA board in sight. It was a little sad, but honestly, Clinton was probably still president the last time someone came in looking for something like that. No point in keeping that kind of stuff around.

I lingered around a while though. I saw lots of old SGI and Sun workstations. I remember in 1995, when I was taking a C programming class in college, we used to have to get on waiting lists to use one of the limited number of SGI workstations. They compiled code instantly, and unless you did something incredibly stupid, you weren’t going to crash them. They were a lot nicer than the NeXT workstations we usually ended up having to use when we got tired of waiting in line.

Those systems cost more than a decent car in those days. Each. And now, depending on configuration, you can get one for $30, $60, or $80. Incredible. They’re a lot more useful than the Pentium 75 I had back then, but PCs eventually overtook those weird and wonderful and odd proprietary Unix architectures.

I left, wistfully, but as I got in the car, I spied something. I wasn’t sure that distinctive shape sitting on a distant shelf was what I thought it was, but what else could it be? So I went back in. The clerk gave me a knowing look.

Yep, it was what I thought it was. There, on a tall shelf, on top. 1977 called. They want their computer back.

There it was. The Commodore PET 2001. The early one, with the built-in cassette recorder and the calculator-style chiclet keypad that was even worse than the IBM PCjr.

The  Texas Instruments TI-99/4A was a flop from the early 1980s but some of its technology ended up in successful machines from other companies.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t for sale. I didn’t ask, because I couldn’t afford it, and don’t have room for it. I stood there for a minute, studying it, then looked around some more. They also had a TI-99/4A, a contender from the early 1980s that couldn’t compete with Commodore, but some of its technology ended up in the Colecovision and, if I’m not mistaken, the IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000. It wasn’t a bad system, but it was horrendously overpriced. It cost more than a Commodore 64 but its capabilities were somewhere between a C-64 and a cheap VIC-20.

They also had a Commodore PC-10-III, which was one of Commodore’s PC/XT clones. And, next to the PC-10, there was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1, the other forgotten personal computer from 1977.

Neat stuff. I don’t really have the interest to collect these old machines myself, but I’ll stop to admire someone else’s every chance I get.

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