Classic Collectable Computers
the most used analogies in the technology industry compares computers
to cars to illustrate how far computers have come in terms of speed and
energy efficiency. There is another analogy that needs to be made that
compares cars to computers. Computers have been a disposable commodity,
simply tossed away when found to be no longer useful, it’s not
quite that way with cars. While most cars are relegated to the junk
yard after their days on the roads are done one of the most popular
hobbies in car culture is restoring classic cars.
Even the failures of the automotive industry are remembered because of avid collectors of Ford Edsels, Studebakers, and even AMC Pacers and Gremlins. The computer industry has produced it’s own flops, special rarities and oddities. While there are a number of collectors of classic computers, they are as rare as the computers in their collections. Most computer models and computer companies that failed deserve to remain a faded memory, but there are those that were considered to be groundbreaking, while others were oddities that were just odd. Here’s just a brief list of the most collectable computers.
Apple PowerMac G4 Cube
No list of the most unique computers ever made would be complete without at least one Apple product. The G4 Cube was announced at the end of 1999 when Steve Jobs officially became Apple CEO once again Production and sales started in early 2000. The cube featured a G4 processor running at 450 MHz with 64 Megabytes of RAM. The DVD drive was slot loading which was a first in a desktop computer. One of the most noteworthy things about the cube was that there were no fans used to cool the internal components of the computer. Air warmed up by the components of the computer escaped out the air vent at the top of the computer which drew in cool air through the vents at the bottom of the computer. This vertical convection cooling has only been seen in the G4 cube.
At a time when the manufacturers of Windows PC’s were still turning out beige boxes, the G4 cube was considered to be nothing short of revolutionary in how computers were design. Even by today’s standards the Power Mac G4 Cube. one of the most bleeding edge designs in the computer industry. It was price that spelled the end of the G4 Cube. With only about 150,000 units sold the cube was Apple’s most critically praised computer but also very short lived, the cube was only in production for only a year and half.
Probably one of the rarest desktop computers ever produced is a machine called the BeBox. Produced by Be Incorporated only 1,800 were made. The BeBox featured dual PowerPC CPU’s initially running at 66 MHz and later machines ran at 133 MHz. When the BeBox was first introduced in 1995 computers with PowerPC chips were ether Apple’s Power Macs or licensed clones. The difference between those other PowerPC based computers and BeBoxes is that BeBox had it’s own operating system called BeOS. BeOS was designed to be a lightweight operating system that was light on CPU and RAM usage.
The BeBox was aimed at the kind of user who back in the mid to late 1990’s needed a lot of computing power like graphic artists, video editors, 3D artists. In short the target market for the BeBox was those who were devout Macintosh devotees. With no commitments from software and hardware developers the BeBox couldn’t find it’s niche with the kind of users that they were targeting. Be Incorporated went millions of dollars in debt to get their unique computer and operating system to market and in January 1997 production ended.
In the early 1980’s the PC companies made the move to make computers that were IBM compatible. This of meant that IBM was the leader of the PC industry. In 1983 Tandy released the Tandy 2000, a model which was an attempt to go a step past IBM. IBM’s XT the second model after the original IBM PC had an 8088 processor running at 4.7 MHz. Tandy used Intel’s 80186 processor that ran at 8 MHz. The Tandy 2000 came with 256 kilobytes of RAM which could be expanded to 768 kilobytes.
One of the biggest problems was that programmers at the time didn’t write code that was compatible with the 80186. The only DOS that Microsoft released for the Tandy 2000 was the DOS that shipped with Tandy 2000. The biggest thing that hindered the Tandy 2000 in the market is most everything on the Tandy 2000 was proprietary to Tandy. The serial and parallel ports were proprietary, the video modes were proprietary which meant users had to go to Radio Shack for peripheral hardware. Tandy had a video mode that had a resolution of 640 by 400 which was th highest graphic video resolution at the time. Most business software which was text based worked just fine, but games and educational software had to be written for the special higher resolution used on the Tandy 2000. The Tandy 2000 even had proprietary system of formatting floppy disks so that software and blank disks had to be purchased at Radio Shack.
Tandy’s attempt to be a step ahead of IBM came to an end less than a year later when IBM released the 80286 based AT. The rest of the PC industry followed soon after with 286’s from every other company making PC’s.
Compaq Portable 3
Compaq was founded at one of the first companies to produce clones of the IBM PC. Compaq’s early PC’s were the first portable MS-DOS computers on the market. Resembling a heavy suitcase than what we know today as a laptop computer Compaq’s first portables didn’t even have the ability to run off of batteries they like the portable CP/M machines before had to be plugged into a wall outlet and had a 4 – 6 inch CRT display. In 1987 Compaq departed from the picture tube in the Portable 3. While other portable computers were making the change to LCD displays, the Compaq Portable 3 had a plasma display. Today the word plasma has become means a bright colourful high definition display, not so in 1987 the Compaq Portable display glowed bright orange, in a way similar to the amber monochrome monitors of that era.
The Compaq Portable 3 had a 286 processor that ran at 12 MHz. A base configuration only provided 640 kilobytes of RAM but that was expandable to 2 megabytes. A 1200 baud modem was the other add on. Compaq offered an expansion chassis that screwed onto the back of the Portable 3. The expansion chassis was a box with two ISA bus slots inside it.
Like other computers that are that have high concepts in ether design or functionality that lead to commercial failure, the Compaq Portable 3 the price tag was exceptionally high. The base model with a 20 megabyte hard drive and a 1.2 megabyte 5.25 inch floppy drive cost $5,000. A model with a 40 megabyte hard drive was also available for an additional $800.
After IBM initially took the business world by storm with their original PC which launched MS-DOS, Big blue set their eyes on the educational and home computing markets. In 1983 IBM launched the PCjr. Just like the original PC the PCjr had an Intel 8088 processor that ran at 4.77 MHz. Like computers designed to be used at home or at school from Atari and Commodore the PCjr had slots for programs stored on cartridges. A basic PCjr which cost 669 dollars could only run programs from cartridges as there was no floppy drive. The floppy drive came in the upgraded version which cost 1,269 dollars which also had 128 kilobytes of RAM instead of the 64 kilobytes in the basic version.
The infrared wireless keyboard was considered to be groundbreaking technology at the time but the design of the keyboard that was dubbed as the ‘chicklet keyboard’ by some was considered to be too uncomfortable for touch typing. Upgrading the hardware of the PCjr was extremely limited as the plugs for external peripherals were proprietary to the PCjr. There was no expansion bus which made internal upgrading out of the question. The only way to expand a PCjr was through a device interface that was dubbed by IBM as the ‘sidecar’. The side of a PCjr could be taken off exposing the sidecar port, the device plugged into the sidecar port and secured with screws. Sidecar devices were the same height and depth as the PCjr so the sidecar device attached to PCjr look like PCjr itself. Only a 1200 baud dial up modem was the only sidecar device developed for the PCjr.
In the cost conscious home and school environments, the PCjr was priced much higher than the competition. The educational market had extremely little need for DOS based PC’s in the early 1980’s since most educational software at that time ran on Commodores, or Apple II’s. The hardware limitations also limited what software could be run on the PCjr. Most software that was only mildly demanding often required more RAM that what the PCjr could support.
In 1983 the bottom fell out of the video game industry which by today’s standards was in its infancy. The video arcades that spread across the world like wild fire just a few years earlier closed their doors in mass. The market for home video game consoles took a similar fall. Oversaturation was considered to be the main cause for the early video game industry to crash, but when computers started coming into homes in greater numbers, computers often didn’t co-exist as they do today with video game systems, computers often displaced video games as many households didn’t have a budget to allow for both a computer and video game system.
Coleco tried to capitalize on the decline of home video games with the Adam in two ways. One version of the Adam was just an add on to the ColecoVision game system that used the ColecoVision for some external processing and video display. Secondly, the complete Adam system had a cartridge slot for ColecoVision games. Data storage on the Adam was similar to many other home computers like the Commodore Vic 20’s and 64’s and Tandy TRS-80’s using cassette tapes. The cassette tapes for storing data on the Coleco Adam were a special type that could withstand the faster reading/writing and winding speeds used by the Adam.
The Adam was powered by a Zilog Z80 processor that ran at 3.58 MHz, which made the Adam able to run a special version of the CP/M operating system in a time when CP/M was in decline when MS-DOS became the operating system that dominated the world.
The Adam came with a word processor loaded in the firmware of the machine, it was only when one of the special cassettes called a data pac by Coleco was loaded in the machine when it was turned on that program loaded instead of the word processor.
There were many flaws in the basic design of the hardware in the Coleco Adam, the power supply for the entire system was housed in the printer, so when the printer bit the dust so did the entire system. When the Adam was first powered up a pulse of electromagnetic energy was emitted that was so powerful it had the potential to erase all magnetic media stored close to the Adam.
The Adam was in production for only a couple of years but many retailers kept on trying to sell them for years afterward with prices dwindling to under a hundred of dollars. When Coleco was making millions of dollars hand over fist with Cabbage Patch Dolls, they were throwing it into a hole called Adam.
At the dawn of the 1980’s the personal computer industry not yet five years old was awaiting the rumoured entry of IBM, the big blue king of mainframes into personal computers. The big fish back when the pond was very very small was Apple Computer. VisiCalc, the spreadsheet program gave every accountant a reason to their own computers. In order to maintain a presence in businesses when the behemoth of big business computing was going to head into direct competition with Apple on their own turf, Steve Jobs knew that Apple had to get a new more powerful desktop computer onto the market if they would have any hope of not getting blown out of the water.
Steve Jobs and Apple pinned their hopes on the Appke III, the third generation pre-macintosh computer system. The Apple III was a disaster right from the start. In attempt to create a silent running computer the cooling fan was skipped, the aluminum chassis of the Apple III was supposed to be the heat sink for the internal components. As a result of the inefficient cooling motherboards in the early Apple III’s warped and chips popped right off the motherboard.
The Apple III was the first computer by Apple to have the floppy drive as an internal component.
Hardware design flaws weren’t the only thing to make computer buyers flee from the Apple III, the price ranged from 4,300 dollars to almost 8,000 dollars, Which by 1980 dollars were the equivalent to a down payment on a house. Competing computers were less than half the cost of the Apple III. The library of software that ran natively on the Apple was very limited, and while the Apple III was marketed as being Apple II compatible it had to run Apple II software through emulation which made Apple II programs run very slowly. The final blow came from IBM’s PC the very machine that Apple III was supposed to fend off the competitive threat against to protect Apple’s place on desktops everywhere.