“In the first purchase of his collection, Sellam Ismail loaded the trunk of his car with old computers he stumbled upon at a flea market for USD 5 apiece. He soon had filled his three-car garage with what others would consider obsolete junk. Years later, his collection of early computers, printers and related parts is piled high across shelves and in chaotic heaps in a 4500-square-foot warehouse near Silicon Valley. And it is worth real money.”
Fun and Profit with Obsolete Computers
About The Author
Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda
2007-04-15 7:58 pmDHofmann
Here’s a list of replicas you can buy: http://www.technologyrewind.com/2006/06/hobby-buyers-guide.html
I wonder if “computer history” has become a legitimate academic subject yet?
2007-04-15 7:53 pmtransputer_guy
If no history is tought, the student is the loser.
At least when I studied CS in the late 70s in the UK, computer history was a big part of the course but it wasn’t considered as history, it was still pretty new.
This was to understand where most of the hardware & software inventions come from. Of course the entire University had only a couple of computers, mainly a DEC PDP10 (about 1Mips), some PDP 11s, and an ICL 1900 to serve the PDP10 I/O jobs. I used to use card punch and paper tape too with the Algol60 & BCPL languages.
One of the MS grads had a basement office with his own personal ICL1900, he had to replace boards as they failed with wire wrapped TTL boards.
From the Atlas we got B lines now called register sets, also the VM and paging systems and the Manchester carry chain. Also many of the first people to teach CS were this close to actually having originated the concepts such as Thomas Kilburn at Manchester University. Now what happened there in the 50s & 60s is as interesting as the more recent Xerox Palo Alto work of the 70s. Most of the people that tought me came from MU but I had no real awareness of that back then.
If anyone in the Boston area wants to take away my old Macs and whatever, I’d gladly hand it over, no time or reason to keep it all running.
2007-04-15 10:41 pmrhyder
I was amazed when I talked to some recent CS graduates and discovered that they didn’t know what a bit adder was. Just ten years previously, a relative of mine actually had to physically make a 2 bit calculator as part of his degree course.
2007-04-17 5:47 amFreebasen
Heh, well I can tell you that at least at my college we still design 2-bit adders. I am in EE though.
2007-04-15 7:56 pm
I have some old computers myself:
386 SX desktop
486 DX4 laptop
Pentium 1 systems
Pentium 2 system
and then my new ones:
Celeron M 420 laptop
Pentium 4 desktop
I also have old consoles:
2007-04-15 7:29 pmDoc Pain
Wow, a real impressing list, but these are “usual” items. Some of them can be considered “old”, but actually, everything beneath the Core 2 Duo is “obsolete”. 🙂
How about these – all of them still working:
Intel 8086, 8088, 80286, 80386, 80486 and 80586 systems
Toshiba T1600/40, T2130CT (nothing special)
IBM ThinkPad (486)
Commodore C32, C64, A500, A600, A1200 (famous and well known)
robotron PC1715, K8624, P8000, A5105, K7610, A7100, A7150 / CM1910, EC1834 and some ESER mainframe stuff
RFT KC85/2, KC85/3, KC87 home computers (which had a better BASIC than the Commodore C64, with real sound and graphics commands)
(These have been manufactured in the GDR and mostly use the U880 processor. Take the google image search to find out how they look like or refer to http://www.robotrontechnik.de/ for some pictures.)
DEC VT101 (a real one)
Sun SparcStation 20
Sun Ultra 1
SGI Octane (actually at repair)
Apple MacIntosh IIsi
Nixdorf Computer (cannot remember type, was used in a bank)
Schneider Euro XT
some IBM PS/2 systems with SCSI drives
There’s some peripherial (printers, drives, many keyboards, mice for digitalizer tablets etc.) and even more computers, too, but I cannot recall the whole “collection” now…
I think mine is older than yours. 🙂
Back to the article, I like this one: “He recently brought a quarter century-old Xerox Star computer back to life to be used as evidence in a patent lawsuit.” To show that the Xerox GUI had things we today consider “innovate”, “modern” or “new”? 🙂
And for a new discipline of computer history, what about “retrocomputational science” / “Retroinformatik” (Informatik = german term for computer science)?
Having a look at these “obsolete” concepts and implementations, we still can learn something from it, maybe because it’s well designed, or because it’s not well designed. After all, “obsolete” computers are still interesting because they are the manifestation of the history of today’s computers, how we think about them, how the manufacturers think about the users and how the users operate the computers. To learn from this history means to improve the future of today’s computing experience.
— Edit: added some stuff —
Edited 2007-04-15 19:32
2007-04-15 8:08 pmXaero_Vincent
Hehe… well I think that would be hard to beat by anyone. You must have a big house or garage to put all those systems.
2007-04-15 9:05 pmDoc Pain
“Hehe… well I think that would be hard to beat by anyone. You must have a big house or garage to put all those systems.”
No, it’s just an efficiently organized cellar. And I forgot to mention the Atari MegaST 1040 stuff. 🙂
2007-04-16 2:42 amhelf
What? No NeXT?
I have a NeXTstation Turbo Mono (pride and joy, just had to sell a Cube, but I have a Color station coming…), Sparcstation 20, TI-94/a silver and beige, etc etc…
plus a ton of consoles…
2007-04-17 12:04 pmDoc Pain
“What? No NeXT? “
No, not even a part of one… and I’ve never seen one in real life. 🙁
2007-04-16 5:31 amyak8998
I’m more into the kind of stuff you have in the modern part of your collection. I like the older computers, but I would rather gather up 90s systems that are a little more usable.
dec alphastation 433a
hp pa-risc something or other (haven’t touched it yet)
sgi octane 2000 (8cpu rack server)
origional compaq-branded alpha (forgot how fast)
and theres a few old DEC mainframes at work waiting for me if I ever take the time to go pick them up. I think the one is a 4000.
I just need more room, I’ve had to pass on some sweet stuff. I’m actually keeping the rack at my girlfriend’s right now.
2007-04-16 4:17 pmjcgf
dec alphastation 433a
I have a dec alphastation 433au that I am trying to get rid of and can’t bring myself to take it to be recycled. Do you know anyone who wants it bad enough to pay shipping from saskatchewan? It’s “free” otherwise. It’s running freebsd 4.11 now. It has a dead battery and will ship sans hdd (ultimate data security, reformats aren’t enough). Only annoying thing is it loses time and boot device info when the power is removed. Of course being an alpha, you never need to turn it off anyways, but I’d imagine that a battery could be found easily.
2007-04-16 7:35 pmajacques
Hi, I’m in Montréal. I’ve been dying to get my hands on an Alpha box to revive my high school memories of OpenVMS (no kidding). If you’re interested, I’d definitely be glad to pay for shipping.
2007-04-17 3:26 amjcgf
Ok, email my hotmail address at jaredthegreat for more info. It’s at my folks place, but I should be picking it up this weekend and hopefully will be able to take some pictures (I have to borrow a camera from work).
2007-04-17 12:19 pmDoc Pain
“I’m more into the kind of stuff you have in the modern part of your collection. I like the older computers, but I would rather gather up 90s systems that are a little more usable.”
You mentioned SGI systems (O2, Indy). I’ve worked at some of them at university (Indy, Octane) and they’re still fun to use. Video editing and OpenGL programming are their main field of use, and, of course, playing DooM. The MIPS processors are even faster at iteration count than Sun’s Sparc ones. And surely wou’ll have noted the nice design of these machines, no comparisons to the ugly stuff PC vendors sell today. With a little work, these machines can be made running without any hearable sound. If you’re used to have your computer running silently, most “modern” PCs are to be considered crap in terms of noise. The “troughput” (real operations per cycle unit) is very good, MIPS R16k @ 500 MHz with 1.692 vs. AMD Athlon @ 1333 MHz with 0.672. SGI also made nice multiprocessor systems (and I mean multiprocessor, with real processors with own memory, own channels etc., not just cores) which made parallel processing with IRIX fun. And yes, IRIX is still usable. So, this was a long ode to SGI oh joy. 🙂
BTW, do you know the SGI Crimson? It can “easily” be turned into a fridge. 🙂
DEC (and Compaq) really made fantastic systems, the Alpha architecture was really impressing.
“and theres a few old DEC mainframes at work waiting for me if I ever take the time to go pick them up. I think the one is a 4000.”
I have to state that I began my “career” in a data processing center (but sadly not for a long time) where mainframes (robotron EC1055M) were the usual means of high performance computing. Today you can laugh about them (huge boxes for 256 kB RAM etc.), but you still can learn from the principles they realized, and the software engineers who got complex tasks solved with these machines. But I cannot have them at home, so they’re doomed. 🙁
“I just need more room, I’ve had to pass on some sweet stuff.”
Ah yes, I know this problem. It’s a typical collector’s problem. 🙂
Consider the second important problem when you have two places of storage (house, garage). What you need is always there where you are not, e. g. you want to repair a machine in your house, but the hard disk you need resides in the garage…
I have listened to a speech that Sellam Ismail did where he talked about how his hobby/obsession grew. He actually performs a valuable service of recovering data that is in old formats that are not available today.
that’s 1k, not 1 kilobyte !
it was my first computer and was enough to get me hooked,
it also seems they are still available in KIT form cheap on ebay (got this from googling)
I went from the zx81 to using my dads spectrum, and then bought my first ‘real’ computer, an Amstrad CPC 6128 (128kb RAM)
I taught myself how to program in Z80 machine code on that machine it was so much fun, i got totally addicted to it, so much so that I neglected my studies at the time redesigning games and writing programs
oh those were the days…
When I started going out and partying in my youth i programmed the CPC 6128 to flash cool stuff on screen in time to the music, back then that was pretty cool and my computer got ‘lost’ along with all my code and discs. However I was lucky enough to find a website that actually manually scanned in the pages of the articles I did submit all those years ago http://users.durge.org/~nich/
Thanks to him, I even got copies of some of my programs and they can still be run today on a CPC emulator !
after the CPC 6128 I bought another amstrad, this time a 386 with a huge MFM hard disc (60MB). It ran windows 3.11 and loads of games like lemmings….
Then came the Dell 486ME which played Wolfenstein 3D, oh yeah, I gave up on programming and lost my plot,
oh well that’s my trip down memory lane,
Edited 2007-04-15 19:50
My old console is a Vectrex. I had one for years before my sister plugged it in in England without a transformer (argh). eBay enabled me to replae it but the new one has a wonky screen. Wish I still had %100 functioning hardware, it beats emulators anytime. Vectrex would be grat for that site DHoffman mentions.. wonder if they take suggestions?
Anyway, they can’t be had cheap. THey aren’t totally expensive either, but they are hard to get and sought after. I can only imagine a garage full of the right stuff has turned out well for Mr Ismail
This makes me think again about my (wife) decision to sell old PowerBook 165 with StyleWriter printer… Maybe I could persuade her and save this technology beauty.
IBM PC 300GL 6275 900
Power Macintosh 7600/132
Performa 6320 (with tv and videocard)
Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in USA)
all I have is a few original game boys,original nes, a Compaq portable II (large suite case sized & 30 lbs), and parts of a 486dx2 system..
oh, and a SNES that STILL gets more play time then the xbox AND ps2 that are in the same cabinet….
Edited 2007-04-16 17:09
Its good to see others enjoy keeping and collecting old computers! My oldest is a Kaypro.
This man is living my dream — I so often look at old computers* and game consoles and think, “Man, I’d love to get my hands on one of these and see what you really could have done in those days!” So many computers are tossed out and turned into landfill without people knowing what they have, it’s getting harder and harder to do, too.
I really hope that his museum gets off the ground, and soon. It may be the first museum dedicated to devices meant to improve the way we think!
EDIT: Might as well mention my console obsession, too.
* http://www.old-computers.com/ is often a dangerous site for me to visit…
Edited 2007-04-15 18:26