Some 90s computer brands are the same as today, but a lot more companies played in the field than now. Profit margins were higher then, so industry consolidation wasn’t the matter of survival that it is now.
Collecting vintage computers can be fun. I also personally think it’s great that people are interested in preserving that history. Where to buy vintage computers hasn’t changed much over the years. It just may take a bit more work than it used to.
Some people think old computers are priceless. Others think they’re worthless. I don’t recommend wasting your time with people who think a Dell Pentium III laptop is worth $300. Think of the times you found a jewel for five bucks and keep moving.
Irving Gould was a Canadian financier and chairman of Commodore International. Although it’s an oversimplification, journalist Robert X. Cringely dismissed the once high-flying computer company, which had 60% of the market in 1984, as Irving Gould’s stock scam.
I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?
It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.
From time to time, I see the phrase “Commodore stock scam” or something similar come up in discussion or in books. Commodore, in case you don’t know, was a high-flying computer company in the 1980s that was literally making computers as quickly as they could sell them while Apple struggled for its survival, and was in the enviable position of being the main supplier of chips for its competitors. Imagine if Intel sold computers at retail next to HP and Dell, while still selling chips to Dell. That was Commodore in 1984. I don’t have 1984 figures, but in 1985, Commodore had 38% of the computer market all to itself. IBM and its clones, combined, had 49%. Apple had 13%.
But a decade later, Commodore had squandered all of that away and was out of business. That’s why Robert X. Cringely sums up Commodore as Irving Gould‘s stock scam, then goes back to writing about Apple.
The real story is more complicated than that. More interesting, too.
Now Asus is jumping into the sub-$150 tablet range too, but with a device that’s much more subdued than what Polaroid and Archos are offering.
It appears to me that Asus is trying to remain mid-tier, and hope that name recognition and reliability advantages (whether perceived or real) keep their tablet in the game. Their $149 Memo Pad has a 7-inch 1024×600 display and a single-core VIA WM8950 CPU, running at 1 GHz. It will be running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and has the precious microSD card slot, which accepts up to a 32 GB card. Read more
I was shocked to read today that Google went out and plunked down $12.5 billion for Motorola. I’m sure that other Android phone makers aren’t exactly happy about it–it means Google is going to be competing with them, unless Google just bought Motorola for patents–but I don’t really see how Google had much choice.
Google risks alienating its partners, but…. More on that in a minute. Read more
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.
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.