Category Archives: Classic Computers

Commodore Amiga

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I’ll state the obvious: this computer is yellow. And not yellow in the way I like my stuff to be – it’s the nasty yellow of bromide interacting with UV light. This is the yellowest system I’ve ever owned, and maybe partly as a result, I just never “took” to it. It was hard to look at, and I just never felt like doing anything about it (I know all about retr0bright). It was a gift from my brother and I was still highly appreciative, especially since my proceeds from selling it went to purchase my Apple IIGS. I feel that was a fair trade, and I ended up with the computer I really wanted.

I know the Amiga is more powerful, but I also know that it has less available software (ie. games) and frankly, I just don’t know how to use it. It took me probably 2 hours of fiddling around just to get the main desktop screen you see above. I am just not an Amiga guy, and at my age I don’t have the patience or really the desire to become one.

This was the very first Amiga model, and it was just called “Amiga”. No number at all, although it was later designated the Amiga 1000, after the 2000 and 500 were released. It wasn’t even really called the “Commodore Amiga” anywhere (although colloquially, it certainly was).

This is all the stuff I had with my Amiga:

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Some decent software, most of which I never got to work. I don’t know if I’m just an idiot or if it was really broken – all of this stuff’s old, and disk media is fragile. This particular Amiga also seemed to have some issues – all the connectors felt a bit loose and wonky. But it’s thoroughly possible I was just “doing it wrong”.

I do like the design of the Amiga, and the fact that the keyboard hides away in its own little doghouse under the main system. I also confess that I really wish I kept that monitor – I’ve realized now that it’s sort of the holy grail of vintage monitors and will run with pretty much anything. All of the other vintage computers I have will work with it, which is not something possible with really any other monitor. I’m trying to source another one for a reasonable price right now.

Incidentally, I did have the box for this system as well, and you can see what the Amiga was supposed to look like:

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Apple IIGS

SAMSUNG

If you’ve read my Apple IIc post, then you know I’ve always been an Apple II guy. I’m not going to repeat myself about why I chose an Apple II back in 1984 or rehash my long history with the platform itself, but the IIGS is actually a new addition to my collection. So it’s worth writing a bit specifically about it and how I’m using it these days.

Some time after writing about my IIc, it died. After one of my periodic visits to the attic to bring it down for my latest nostalgia trip, its hard drive began erroring out on every single disc. And not simple failures to read, which usually indicate dirty heads (easily cleaned), but real I/O errors – the nasty things that cause Apple drives to yell at you in an ear-splitting manner. Probably fixable by just replacing the drive, but not worth it for a vanilla IIc that I’d have to cannibalize another one for anyway.

So I bought this IIGS, because it’s the best Apple II available and I wanted one when they were first on the market anyway. The IIGS was Steve Wozniak’s last real hurrah at Apple, and if he’d had his way, it would have been serious competition for Steve Jobs’ Macintosh. But Jobs saw the Mac as the future of the company and so neutered the system’s 16 bit 65C816 CPU to run at 2.8mhz rather than its native 4 or 5mhz, which limited what Apple could do with its graphical operating system (that ran in color, unlike the Mac) and also made it slow and somewhat painful to use.

It was a shame, because the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST line were the system’s direct competitors and they were both more powerful than the IIGS. That said, the IIGS did have better sound capabilities than either one, and it was fully backward compatible with all Apple II software and most of its hardware add-ons, in addition to running its own native 16 bit software. So it’s still the best Apple II to own today.

There are various methods these days of using hardware emulation to load programs on the Apple II, including the IIGS. I personally use both ADT Pro to transfer disk images directly from my PC, as well as a Floppy Emu that I’ve purchased. The Floppy Emu lets me store disk images on an SD card, and given how storage capacity has increased over the years, it’s pretty easy to fit every Apple II program ever made on a single $15 card. So I highly recommend either a Floppy Emu or similar storage option – new and old technology working together!

Atari 800XL

 There are only a few computer systems I remember well from my youth – the Apple II line, the Commodore Vic-20/C64, the IBM PC (which at the time was far too specialized for home users) and the Atari 400/800. In the very early days of home computing, the Atari 400 and 800 were actually more “gamers'” computers than any of the others (though that would change later).

In any case, all of these computers were too expensive for my family initially, and when we did finally buy one, it was an Apple IIc. But my mom’s office actually had an Atari computer set up (for what purpose I don’t know) and whenever I’d visit her there I remember playing Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One and M.U.L.E. I’d wanted an Atari computer ever since then.

I finally bought one a few years ago for around 10 bucks… I actually somehow ended up with two initially, along with a floppy disk drive. During a move one of the systems and the disk drive got tossed to the curb (literally – I hope someone picked them up and are enjoying them now), as I didn’t need them. Most of the good games are cartridge-based anyway, and the disk drive is almost as big as the system itself. Unlike the Apple II’s disk drives, both Commodore’s and Atari’s drives were really computers unto themselves, with their own CPU’s, power supplies and control circuitry. So they were very large.

The 800XL is probably the ultimate Atari 8-bit computer – it was not the last in the line, but it’ll play pretty much everything and it still looks like a classic (unlike the later XE series, which are in a more “modern” beige/grey casing). It’s also superior to both the 600XL and the 1200XL, which despite its higher model number was actually replaced by the 800XL. The 1200XL had some compatibility issues with older software and was also larger than the 800XL with the same specifications. So I’m happy to have this model.

I actually bought it thinking I’d get M.U.L.E. to go along with it – I know M.U.L.E. is often thought of as a C64 game but it actually came out on both systems more or less simultaneously and it looks significantly better on the Atari system. But I still haven’t picked it up – apparently it’s not really that common of a game, and it goes for an incredible amount of money on Ebay. Oh well. I still have a few other carts and I enjoy the system.

Another view of my unit:

Check out the M.U.L.E. intro and see if you’ll ever be able to get that theme song out of your head:

Apple IIc

My Apple IIc, such as it is. No box or anything, but then I didn’t care about such things when I got this. It’s a bit worse for wear these days, though I keep it around for the sentimental value – this was the first computer I owned, and yes, this is the original one I’ve always had. My mom bought it for me the year it came out (1984), in order to help me with my schoolwork. I’d wanted a computer for a while – several of my friends had them – but back then this was really a major purchase for any family. PC’s were not a dime a dozen like they are now, not many people had them or understood why you’d even want one, and they were expensive. I almost got a C64 just because my parents wanted to save some money.

But I lobbied for an Apple II, because even as young as I was I had a pragmatic sense of these things. I wanted a system that had a lot of software available, was fairly powerful, could play some good games but also was a “serious” and respectable machine. I also wanted a machine compatible with what my school had in their new computer lab. The IIc was the latest version and had more memory than a stock Apple IIe, it had all of the most popular expansion options already built-in, and it was smaller. To my parents, it had the added benefit of costing less too. So it was a no-brainer.

This is how I’ll always know this is my IIc:

A little hard to see, but I actually carved the phone number of a girl I liked in the casing. Ah, teenagers…

Apple in those days had a different image than they do now. The IIc was actually the first machine that Steve Jobs really had a hand in designing, but the II line was not his line. It was Steve Wozniak’s line, and while the first Mac was already on the market when I got my IIc, it was known then as a business machine for companies who wanted to save money vs. buying and training people to use IBM PC’s. The II line was still Apple’s bread-and-butter line, and it was the top-selling line of computers at that time. All of the best games were released for it, along with popular productivity applications, and it had a huge freeware/shareware community. Later on, with the IIgs, Apple would begin trying to actively attract the creative types that they’re known for today. But when I got my computer, they were still very much a mass-market PC company (or at least as mass-market as PC companies got in those days), and they were known as much for the games you could play on the II line than for anything else.

I used my IIc for close to ten years. I really did get a lot of use out of it, and I still love the whole II line. I have no affinity whatsoever to the Mac – the Mac is not Apple to me – but I love the II. I still have all of my original accessories as well, though not with me here (they’re in storage) – including a 1200 baud modem, a Kraft joystick, and the 9″ green Apple monitor with matching stand.

My Apple IIc is unfortunately yellowing with age, and its keyboard is completely worn out. It’s almost unusable. Which is a shame, because this computer had a really great keyboard when it was new – in 1984, it was the only computer other than the IBM PC to offer tactile feedback. It wasn’t quite as heavy-duty as the IBM Model M keyboard (I use one of these today), but it was still much nicer than most home computers of that time.

I still have a small selection of boxed games for my system (mostly later releases), including the somewhat rare original Leisure Suit Larry, the great Wings of Fury, and the first John Madden Football (released on the Apple II before it hit any game console):

I also have a whole ton of non-boxed games, including some legal (purchased) and some not-so-legal copies:

There’s a stack of like 200 5 1/4″ floppy disks down there.

By the way, that’s the box for Ancient Art of War at Sea, but the game itself doesn’t work anymore. Those floppies were not very tough. About a third of my disks no longer work – it’s actually more surprising to me that the remaining two thirds do.

I don’t have the box for this system but I do still have the nice, thick user manual:

A little frayed around the edges but I guarantee there aren’t many of these floating around anymore! Lots of cool pics and info in this book.

These days, I can appreciate the gaming capability of Apple’s competitors at the time – the C64 and the Atari XL line, especially. In fact, the Apple II line was the weakest of all home PC’s in terms of gaming – it had the poorest graphics and sound of all the home machines. But I didn’t get this computer just for gaming, and regardless of its gaming power, it still had the most titles available for it. So I never regretted pushing for this machine, and I almost feel a sense of gratitude towards it for really turning me on to computers in general. I don’t think I’d be working as an online producer now (my day job!) if it wasn’t for my Apple II.