Vintage Computers and Hardware

Vintage Computers 1970 – 2000


TS1500 (1983) – Timex Sinclair

Timex Sinclair 1500 (1983) Attribution Lee Azzarello

TS1500 Computer – Attribution: Lee Azzarello

The TS1500 was a slightly-upgraded development of the TS1000. Timex Sinclair (TMX Portugal) designed the TS1500 and offered it to the Timex Corporation; they used the TS2000 (ZXSpectrum) silver cases that were never used because of the launch of the TS2068. The TS1500 replaced the earlier machine’s ZX81-like case with a silver ZX Spectrum-like case, the same ZX Spectrum rubber keyboard, a custom ULA, and increased the onboard RAM to 16K. The TS1500 did not incorporate the Ferranti ULA.

The TS1500 used a standard television for its display, “broadcasting” on either channel 2 or 3. It defaulted to TV channel 2, but if the “3” was pressed on the keyboard within a few seconds of turning the computer on, it changed to channel 3 instead.

Although the TS1500 came with 16K internal RAM, an external 16K RAM pack could be added for a total of 32K RAM. A few keyboard commands (POKEs) were required for the system to recognize the additional memory space (the RAM pack is multiplexed to the start of the RAM).

In spite of this, it was not a commercial success because it was launched too late. The ZX 81/TS1000’s successors, the ZX Spectrum/TS2068, were already available, and the home computer market in general was dominated by Commodore, Atari and Apple. It was sold in the USA and Portugal.


TRS-80 MC-10 (1983) – Tandy Corporation

TRS-80 MC-10 Computer (1983) Tandy Corporation

TRS-80 MC-10 Computer

The TRS-80 MC-10 microcomputer is a lesser-known member of the TRS-80 line of home computers, produced by Tandy Corporation in the early 1980s and sold through their RadioShack chain of electronics stores. It was apparently designed as a low-cost alternative to Tandy’s own TRS-80 Color Computer to compete with entry-level machines that had previously dominated the market, such as the Commodore VIC-20 and Sinclair ZX81.

Due to its limited feature set, the MC-10 was of value primarily to hobbyists and as an introduction to computer programming. It was not a commercial success and was discontinued only a year after its introduction.

A clone of the MC-10, the Alice, was marketed in France through a collaboration among Tandy, Matra and Hachette.

About the size of a hardcover book, the MC-10 came equipped with four kilobytes of RAM, a Motorola MC6803 eight-bit microprocessor, a built-in serial port, and graphics capabilities similar to those of the original Color Computer (provided by the same MC6847 video display generator).

Like most early home computers, the MC-10 included a BASIC interpreter in ROM and used regular audio cassettes for bulk storage. Text and graphics were displayed on a television set via a built-in RF modulator. Less common for machines in its class was the integrated RS-232 serial port, which allowed the MC-10 to use a wide variety of line printers and modems without additional hardware.

Even so, at the time of its release in 1983, the MC-10’s specifications were underwhelming. Disk drives, full-travel keyboards, medium-resolution graphics, and complete 64-kilobyte memory banks were becoming popular features for home computers; the MC-10 offered none of these, severely limiting the functions it could perform and the range of users to which it could appeal.

The MC-10 was discontinued in 1984, along with the 16 kB memory upgrade and small amount of cassette-based software that had been released for it. It never achieved a wide following.


Apple III Plus (1983) – Apple Computer

Apple III Plus (1983) - Apple Computer

Apple III Plus Computer

The Apple III Plus was introduced in December 1983, while discontinuing the revised III model, at a price of US$2995. This newer version included a built-in clock, video interlacing, standardized rear port connectors, 256K RAM as standard, and a re-designed keyboard. The keyboard was designed in the style of the earlier beige Apple IIe.

Owners of the earlier Apple III could obtain the newer logic board as a service replacement. A keyboard upgrade kit, dubbed “Apple III Plus upgrade kit” was also made available – which included the keyboard, cover, keyboard encoder ROM and logo replacements. This upgrade had to be installed by an authorized service technician.

For a variety of reasons, the Apple III was a commercial failure. With a starting price between $4,340 to $7,800 US, it was more expensive than many of the CP/M-based business computers that were available at the time. The Apple III’s software library was very limited, and while sold as Apple II compatible, the emulation that made this possible was intentionally hobbled; thus it could not make use of the advanced III features (specifically 64 KB RAM or higher, required by a large number of Apple II software titles based on PASCAL), which limited its usefulness.

Early Apple III users were told that they had to use existing 40-column Apple II word processors and spreadsheet programs, which hurt sales since those programs could be used in 80-column mode on the Apple IIs with the suitable hardware installed. It wasn’t until several months after the Apple III was introduced that native 80-column business software became available.


Commodore SX-64 (1984) – Commodore International

Commodore SX-64 Computer (1984) Attribution: Themaverick at the German language Wikipedia

Commodore SX-64 Computer – Attribution: Themaverick at the German language Wikipedia

The Commodore SX-64, also known as the Executive 64, or VIP-64 in Europe, is a portable, briefcase/suitcase-size “luggable” version of the popular Commodore 64 home computer and holds the distinction of being the first full-color portable computer.

The SX-64 features a built-in five-inch composite monitor and a built-in 1541 floppy drive. It weighs 10.5 kg (23lb). The machine is carried by its sturdy handle, which doubles as an adjustable stand. It was announced in January 1983 and released a year later, at US$ 995.

Aside from its built-in features and different form factor, there are several other differences between the SX-64 and the regular C64. The default screen color is changed to blue text on a white background for improved readability on the smaller screen. This can cause compatibility problems with programs that assume the C64’s default blue background. The default device for load and save operations is changed to the floppy drive.

The cassette port and RF port were omitted from the SX-64 because it has a built-in disk drive and monitor, and therefore no need for a tape drive or television connector. These changes make it impossible to use a standard unmodified C64 Centronics parallel printer interface, since it took a +5V voltage from the cassette port. Differences electrically and in placement on the board, means that there are compatibility problems with some C64 cartridges.

The original SX-64’s (built-in) power supply limits the machine’s expandability.

Later units (from GA4 and on) use a larger power supply intended for the DX-64.

Compatibility with Commodore RAM Expansion Units varies. Early SX-64 power supplies cannot handle the extra power consumption from the REU. The physical placement of the cartridge port can prevent the REU from seating properly. The 1700 and 1750, 128K and 512K units intended for the C128, are said to work more reliably with the SX-64 than the 1764 unit that was intended for the regular C64. Some SX-64 owners modify Commodore REUs to use an external power supply in order to get around the power supply issues.

An enhanced version of the SX-64 with dual floppy drives, known as the DX-64, was announced and a few have been reported to exist, but it is very rare. Instead of an extra floppy drive, a modem could also be built-in above the first drive. Some hobbyists installed a second floppy drive themselves in the SX-64’s empty drive slot.

A version with a monochrome screen called the SX-100 was announced but never released.


Macintosh (1984) – Apple Inc.

Macintosh 128k (1984) - Attribution -

Macintosh Computer – Attribution:

The Macintosh, marketed as Mac, is a line of personal computers (PCs) designed, developed, and marketed by Apple Inc.It is targeted mainly at the home, education, and creative professional markets.

The line includes the descendants of the first commercially successful personal computer that was sold without a programming language package and instead introduced a desktop publishing package, a mouse and a graphical user interface, all three novelties for the time.

It also includes descendants of the entry-level Mac mini desktop model, the Mac Pro tower graphics workstation, and the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops. Its Xserve server was discontinued on January 31, 2011.

Apple Inc.’s then-chairman Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh 128k on January 24, 1984. It became the Macintosh product line, and saw success through the end of the decade, though popularity dropped in the 1990s as the personal computer market shifted toward the “Wintel” platform: IBM PC compatible machines running MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows with an Intel processor. In 1998, Apple consolidated its multiple consumer-level desktop models into the all-in-one iMac, which proved to be a sales success and saw the brand revitalized.

Production of the Mac is based on a vertical integration model. Apple facilitates all aspects of its hardware and creates its own operating system that is pre-installed on all Mac computers, unlike most IBM PC compatibles, where multiple sellers create and integrate hardware intended to run another company’s operating software. Apple exclusively produces Mac hardware, choosing internal systems, designs, and prices. Apple uses third-party components, however, such as graphics subsystems from Nvidia, Intel, and AMD.

Current Mac CPUs use Intel’s X86-64 architecture. The earliest models (1984–1994) used Motorola’s 68k, and models from 1994 until 2006 used the AIM alliance’s PowerPC. Apple also develops the operating system for the Mac, OS X, currently on version 10.8 “Mountain Lion”. The modern Mac, like other personal computers, is capable of running alternative operating systems such as Linux, OpenBSD, and, in the case of Intel-based Macs, Microsoft Windows. However, Apple does not license OS X for use on non-Apple computers.


Sinclair QL (1984) – Sinclair Research Ltd

Sinclair QL (1984) - Sinclair Research Ltd

Sinclair QL Computer

The Sinclair QL (for Quantum Leap), is a personal computer launched by Sinclair Research in 1984, as an upper-end addition to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The QL was aimed at the serious home user and professional and executive users markets from small to large businesses and higher educational establishments, but failed to achieve commercial success.

Based on a Motorola 68008 processor clocked at 7.5 MHz, the QL included 128 kB of RAM (officially expandable to 640 kB, in practice, 896 kB) and could be connected to a monitor or TV for display. Two built-in Microdrive tape-loop cartridge drives provided mass storage, in place of the more expensive floppy disk drives found on similar systems of the era. Microdrives had been introduced for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in July 1983, although the QL used a different logical tape format.

Interfaces included an expansion slot, ROM cartridge socket, dual RS-232 ports, proprietary QLAN local area network ports, dual joystick ports and an external Microdrive bus. Two video modes were available, 256×256 pixels with 8 RGB colours and per-pixel flashing, or 512×256 pixels with four colours (black, red, green and white). Both screen modes used a 32 kB framebuffer in main memory. The hardware is capable of switching between two different areas of memory for the framebuffer, thus allowing double buffering. However, this would have used 64 KB of the standard machine’s 128 kB of RAM and there is no support for this feature in the QL’s original firmware.

The alternative and much improved operating system Minerva does provide full support for the second framebuffer. When connected to a normally-adjusted TV or monitor, the QL’s video output would overscan horizontally. This was reputed to have been due to the timing constants in the ZX8301 chip being optimised for the flat-screen CRT display originally intended for the QL.


IBM Portable Personal Computer 5155 model 68 (1984) – IBM

IBM Portable Personal Computer 5155 model 68 (1984) - IBM

IBM Portable PC 5155 Computer

The IBM Portable Personal Computer 5155 model 68 was an early portable computer developed by IBM after the success of Compaq’s suitcase-size portable machine (the Compaq Portable). It was released in February, 1984, and was eventually replaced by the IBM Convertible.

The Portable was basically a PC/XT motherboard, transplanted into a Compaq-style luggable case. The system featured 256 kilobytes of memory (expandable to 512 kB on the motherboard), an added CGA card connected to an internal monochrome (amber) composite monitor, and one or two half-height 5.25″ 360K floppy disk drives. Unlike the Compaq Portable, which used a dual-mode monitor and special display card, IBM used a stock CGA board and a 5″ amber monochrome composite monitor, which had lower resolution.

It could however, display color if connected to an external monitor or television. If a bit less sophisticated than the Compaq Portable, IBM’s machine had the advantage of a lower price tag. Hard disks were a very common third-party add-on as IBM did not offer them from the factory.

The motherboard had eight expansion slots. A separate 83-key keyboard and cable was provided. The power supply was rated 114 watts and was suitable for operation on either 120 VAC or 230 VAC. Models were available with either one or two half-height 360 kB 5 1/4 inch floppy drives.


Epson PX-8 (1984) – Epson

Epson PX-8 Computer (1984) - Epson

Epson PX-8 Computer

The Epson PX-8 aka Geneva was a small laptop computer made by the Epson Corporation in the mid-1980s.

It had a Z-80 compatible microprocessor, and ran a customized version of the CP/M-80 operating system as well as various applications from a pair of ROM cartridge slots. For file storage, it had a microcassette drive.

The PX-8 did not have any internal disk drive, and instead allowed either memory to be partitioned into application memory and a RAM disk, or an external 64 KB or 128 KB RAM disk module to be attached; the RAM disk module also had a backup battery for the RAM disk and an additional ROM (64 KB version only) cartridge slot. Data can be saved onto the built-in micro cassette tape drive.

The PX-8 had an 80 column by 8 line LCD display, which was monochromatic and non-backlit. It used an internal nickel-cadmium battery, and had a battery life in the range of 6–8 hours when using word-processing software.

There were a number of proprietary accessories available including a portable printer, bar code reader, and an early 3.5-inch diskette drive, the PF-10. The disk drives from the HX-20 could also be used. For the ROM cartridge slots a number of applications were available: Basic, CP/M utilities, Portable WordStar, CalcStar, Scheduler, dBase II and Portable Cardbox-Plus.

The PX-8 was not initially a commercial success, especially compared against the TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer but achieved some increased success after a large number were sold discounted in the United States through the DAK Catalog. The PX-8 combined some of the features from its predecessors, the HX-20 being portable, battery operated and the QX-10 being CP/M compatible.

In 1985 Epson introduced the PX-4, combining features from both the PX-8 and the HX-20.


IBM PCjr (1984) – IBM

IBM PCjr Computer (1984) - IBM

IBM PCjr Computer

The IBM PCjr (read “PC junior”) was IBM’s first attempt to enter the home computer market. The PCjr, IBM model number 4860, retained the IBM PC’s 8088 CPU and BIOS interface for compatibility, but various design and implementation decisions led the PCjr to be a commercial failure.

Announced November 1, 1983, and first shipped in late January 1984, the PCjr—nicknamed “Peanut” before its debut—came in two models: the 4860-004, with 64 KB of memory, priced at US$669 ($1,542 in today’s dollars); and the 4860-067, with 128 KB of memory and a 360 KB 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, priced at US$1269 ($2,925 in today’s dollars). It was manufactured for IBM in Lewisburg, Tennessee by Teledyne.

The PCjr promised a high degree of compatibility with the IBM PC, which was already a popular business computer, in addition to offering built-in color graphics and 3 voice sound that were better than the standard PC speaker sound and color graphics of the standard IBM PC and compatibles of the day. The graphics were produced via a graphics chip known as the VGA—which stood for “Video Gate Array”.

This was an extension of CGA and should not be confused with the later Video Graphics Array standard that IBM released with the PS/2 line in 1987. The PCjr’s sound was provided by a Texas Instruments SN76489 which could produce three square waves of varying amplitude and frequency along with a noise channel powered by a shift register.

The PCjr was also the first PC compatible machine that supported page flipping for graphics operation. Since the PCjr used system RAM to store video content and the location of this storage area could be changed, the PCjr could perform flicker-free animation and other effects that were either difficult or impossible to produce on contemporary PC clones.


Apple IIc (1984) – Apple Computer

Apple IIc Computer (1984) - Apple Computer

Apple IIc Computer

The Apple IIc, the fourth model in the Apple II series of personal computers, was Apple Computer’s first endeavor to produce a portable computer. The result was a 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) notebook-sized version of the Apple II that could be transported from place to place. The c in the name stood forcompact, referring to the fact it was essentially a complete Apple II computer setup (minus display and power supply) squeezed into a small notebook-sized housing.

While sporting a built-in floppy drive and new rear peripheral expansion ports integrated onto the main logic board, it lacked the internal expansion slots and direct motherboard access of earlier Apple IIs, making it a closed system like the Macintosh. However, that was the intended direction for this model — a more appliance-like machine, ready to use out of the box, requiring no technical know-how or experience to hook up and therefore attractive to first-time users.

The Apple IIc was released on April 24th, 1984, during an Apple-held event called Apple II Forever. The new machine was proclaimed as proof of Apple’s long-term commitment to the Apple II series and its users, an assurance the company’s older technology would not be forsaken or dropped with the recent introduction of the Macintosh. Beyond displaying a commitment to the vitality of the Apple II line, the IIc was also seen as the company’s response to IBM’s new PCjr.

While essentially an Apple IIe computer in a smaller case, it was not a successor, but rather a portable version to complement it. One Apple II machine would be sold for users who required the expandability of slots, and another for those wanting the simplicity of a plug and play machine with portability in mind.

The machine introduced Apple’s Snow White design language, notable for its case styling and a modern look which soon became the standard for most Apple equipment and computers, and continued for nearly a decade after. The Apple IIc introduced a unique off-white coloring known as “Fog,” chosen to enhance the Snow White design style. The Apple IIc, along with a few other peripherals, was the only computer made by Apple to use the “Fog” coloring.

While relatively light-weight and compact in design, the Apple IIc was not a true portable in design as it lacked a built-in battery and display.


Dragon 32 / Dragon 64 (1982 – 1984) – Dragon Data, Ltd

Dragon 32 Computer (1982 - 1984) - Dragon Data, Ltd.

Dragon 32 Computer

The Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 are home computers that were built-in the 1980s. The Dragons are very similar to the TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo), and were produced for the European market by Dragon Data, Ltd., in Port Talbot, Wales, and for the US market by Tano of New Orleans, Louisiana. The model numbers reflect the primary difference between the two machines, which have 32 and 64kilobytes of RAM, respectively.

In the early 1980s, the British home computer market was booming. New machines were released almost monthly. In August 1982, Dragon Data joined the fray with the Dragon 32; the Dragon 64 followed a year later. The computers sold quite well initially and attracted the interest of several independent software developers, most notably Microdeal. A magazine, Dragon User, also began publication shortly after the machine’s launch.

In the private home computer market, where games were a significant driver, the Dragon suffered because its graphical capabilities were inferior to contemporary machines such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro.

The Dragon was also unable to display lower-case letters easily. Some more sophisticated applications would synthesise them using high-resolution graphics modes (in the same way that user-defined characters would be designed for purely graphical applications such as games). Simpler programs just managed without lower case. This effectively locked it out of the then-blooming educational market. As a result of these limitations, the Dragon was not a commercial success, and Dragon Data collapsed in June 1984.


Data General One (1984) – Data General

Data General One Laptop Computer (1984) - Austin Calhoon Photograph

Data General One Computer – Austin Calhoon Photograph

The Data General One (DG-1) was a portable personal computer introduced in 1984 by minicomputer company Data General.

The 1983 Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 was a truly battery-operated, portable, and operable computer resting in one’s lap—but had an 32×8 character (240×64 pixel) screen, a rudimentary ROM-based menu in lieu of a true OS, and no built-in floppy. IBM’s 1984 Portable PC was comparable in capability with desktops. It was not a laptop, however, but an AC-powered luggable like the earlier Compaq (Compaq would not introduce a true laptop until 1988). Apple Computer’s Apple IIc could be used with an LC display but was not battery-powered.

The nine-pound battery-powered 1984 Data General One ran MS-DOS, had dual 3½” diskettes, 79-key full-stroke keyboard, 128K to 512K of RAM, and a monochrome LCD screen capable of either the standard 80×25 characters or full CGA graphics (640×200). It was a laptop comparable in capabilities to desktops of the era.

The DG-1 was only a modest success. One problem was its use of 3½” diskettes—popular software titles were not available in this format, a serious issue since then-common diskette copy-protection schemes made it difficult for users to copy the software into that format.

Although Creative Computing termed the price of US$2895 “competitive,” it was a very expensive system and usually needed additions such as more RAM and an external 5¼” drive drove the price higher yet. But the Achilles heel was the LC display itself, which was not backlit, had low contrast which was slightly enhanced by blue characters on a yellow background, and was frequently accused of serving better as a mirror than as a screen.


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