Vintage Computers and Hardware

Vintage Computers 1970 – 2000


Tandy 1000 (1984) – Tandy Corporation

Tandy 1000 EX Computer ( 1984 or 1986) - Sabu_with_his_Tandy_1000_Computer

Tandy 1000 EX Computer in picture – (EX was sold from 1986)

The Tandy 1000 was the first in a line of more-or-less IBM PC compatible home computer systems produced by the Tandy Corporation for sale in its RadioShack chain of stores.

Released in November 1984, the Tandy 1000 was designed as a PC compatible with enhancements compatible with the IBM PCjr. It was followed by a series of models which appended two or three letters to the name, after a space (e.g. Tandy 1000 EX, Tandy 1000 HX, Tandy 1000 SX, Tandy 1000 TX, Tandy 1000 RL, Tandy 1000 RLX). In a few instances, after these letters a slash was appended, followed by either a number or additional letters (e.g. Tandy 1000 TL/2, Tandy 1000 RL/HD).

The machine was primarily aimed at the home and educational markets, and it copied the PCjr’s 16-color graphics (PCjr’s graphics were an extension of CGA video) and 3-voice sound, but didn’t use the PCjr ROM cartridge ports. As the Tandy 1000 line outlasted the PCjr by many years (and in fact did not make it to market until shortly before IBM announced the discontinuation of the PCjr) these graphics and sound standards became known as “Tandy-compatible” or (for the graphics) “TGA” (standing for Tandy Graphics Adapter) and many software packages of the era listed their support for Tandy standard hardware on their boxes.

The original Tandy 1000 was a large computer almost the size of the IBM PC, though with a plastic case over an aluminium lower chassis to reduce weight. The original Tandy 1000 featured a proprietary keyboard port (using an 8-pin DIN connector) along with 2 joystick ports (using 6-pin DIN connectors) on the front of the case.


Atari 520ST – Atari Corporation (1985)

Atari 520ST Computer (1985) - Photograph by Rama

Atari 520ST Computer – Photograph by Rama

The Atari ST is a home computer released by Atari Corporation in June 1985. Development machines were distributed around May 1985 and it was available commercially from that summer into the early 1990s. The “ST” officially stands for “Sixteen/Thirty-two”, which referred to the Motorola 68000’s 16-bit external bus and 32-bit internals. Due to its graphical user interface, it was jokingly referred to as the “Jackintosh”, a reference to Jack Tramiel.

The Atari ST was part of the 16/32 bit generation of home computers, based on the Motorola 68000 CPU, typically with 512 kB of RAM or more, a graphical user interface, and 3½” microfloppy disks as storage. It was similar to the Apple Macintosh, and its simple design allowed the ST to precede the Commodore Amiga’s commercial release by almost two months. The Atari ST was also the first personal computer to come with a bit-mapped color GUI, using a version of Digital Research’s GEM released that February.

The ST was primarily a competitor to the Apple Macintosh, Commodore Amiga and in certain markets the Acorn Archimedes. Where the Amiga had a graphics accelerator and wavetable synthesis, the ST had a simple frame buffer and a 3 voice synthesizer chip but with a CPU faster clocked, and had a high-resolution monochrome display mode, ideal for business and CAD. In some markets, particularly Germany, the machine gained a strong foothold as a small business machine for CAD and Desktop publishing work. The Atari ST also enjoyed some market popularity in Canada.

The ST was also the first home computer with integrated MIDI support. Thanks to its built-in MIDI, it enjoyed success for running music-sequencer software and as a controller of musical instruments among amateurs and professionals alike, being used in concert by bands and performers such as Jean Michel Jarre, Madonna, Eurythmics, Tangerine Dream, Fatboy Slim, and 1990s UK dance acts Utah Saints & 808 State, as well as naming German digital hardcore band Atari Teenage Riot.


Amiga 1000 (1985) – Commodore International

Amiga 1000 Computer (1985) - Commodore International

Amiga 1000 Computer

The Commodore Amiga 1000, also known as the A1000 and originally simply as the Amiga, was the first personal computer release by Commodore International in the Amiga line. It used one of the most powerful and orthogonal CPUs for its time and also one of the most advanced graphics and sound hardware of its class with a preemptive multitasking operating system that fit into 512 kB of memory.

The Amiga 1000 has a Motorola 68000 CPU running at 7.15909 MHz (on NTSC systems) or 7.09379 MHz (PAL systems), precisely double the video color carrier frequency for NTSC or 1.6 times the color carrier frequency for PAL. The system clock timings are derived from the video frequency, which simplifies glue logic and allows the Amiga 1000 to make do with a single crystal. The chipset was designed to synchronize CPU memory access and chipset DMA so the hardware runs in real-time without wait-state delays.

Though most units were sold with an analog RGB monitor, the A1000 also had a built-in composite video output which allowed the computer to be connected directly to monitors other than their standard RGB monitor. The A1000 also had a “TV MOD” output, into which an RF Modulator could be plugged in, allowing connection to a standard TV or VCR.

The original 68000 CPU can be directly replaced with a 68010, which can execute instructions slightly faster than the 68000 but also introduces a small degree of software incompatibility. Third-party CPU upgrades, which mostly fit in the CPU socket, use faster 68020/68881 or 68030/68882 microprocessors and integrated memory. Such upgrades often have the option to revert to 68000 mode for full compatibility. Some boards have a socket to seat the original 68000, whereas the 68030 cards typically come with an on-board 68000.

The original Amiga 1000 is the only model to have 256 kB of Amiga Chip RAM, which can be expanded to 512 kB with the addition of a daughterboard under a cover in the centre front of the machine. RAM may also be upgraded via official and third-party upgrades, with a practical upper limit of about 9 MB of “fast” RAM due to the 68000’s 24-bit address bus. This memory is accessible only by the CPU permitting faster code execution as DMA cycles are not shared with the chipset.


Morrow Pivot II (1985) – Morrow Designs

Morrow Pivot II (1985) - Morrow Designs

Morrow Pivot II Computer

The Morrow Pivot II, 1985, was a portable personal computer 100% compatible with IBM PC Software. It was designed by Norman Towson and Micheal Stolowitz, and manufactured by Morrow Designs. With two drives, 320 kilobytes of memory, and a monochrome backlit liquid-crystal display, the Pivot II had a list price of US$ 1,995.

The Morrow Pivot II included one or two 5-1/4″ floppy drives. This machine was in a vertical configuration with a fold down keyboard. This was called a “lunch box” style unlike the typical laptop today. The only external component was a single AC adapter. It would have been a little top-heavy except for the large Panasonic camcorder battery loaded into its base.

The Pivot II design was licensed to Zenith Data Systems for $2M and sold as the Zenith Z-171; Zenith sold over $500M to the US government, many to the Internal Revenue Service. The IBM-compatible Pivot II was Morrow’s first non-Z80 machine. While modern laptops don’t share its design, it was arguably the most practical machine until desktops embraced 3-1/2″ floppies. Robert Dilworth went from being General Manager of Morrow Designs to being CEO of Zenith Data Systems for years as part of Zeniths paying him to talk George Morrow into licensing the Pivot to them.


AT&T 3B1 Unix PC (PC7300) (1985) – Convergent Technologies

AT&T 3B1 PC7300 (1985) - Convergent Technologies

AT&T PC7300 Computer

The 3B1 (also known as the PC7300, or Unix PC) was a Unix workstation computer originally developed by Convergent Technologies (later acquired by Unisys), and marketed by AT&T in the mid to late 1980s. Despite the name, the 3B1 had little in common with AT&T’s other 3B-series computers.

The initial PC7300 model offered a very limited 512 KB of memory and an extremely slow 5 MB hard drive. This model, although progressive in offering a Unix system for desktop office operation, was painfully slow and had an aggravating ‘grinding’ noise even when not in active use. The modern-looking “wedge”design was innovative, and in fact the machine gained notoriety appearing in many movies as the token “computer”.

A later enhanced model was renamed “3B1”. The cover was redesigned to accommodate a full-height 67 MB hard drive. This cover change added a ‘hump’ to the case, expanded onboard memory to 1 or 2 MB, as well as added a better power supply.

The operating system is based on UNIX System V Release 2, with extensions from 4.1 and 4.2BSD, System V Release 3 and Convergent Technologies. The last release was 3.51.


Toshiba T1100 (1985) – Toshiba

Toshiba T1100 Computer (1985) - Toshiba

Toshiba T1100 Computer

T1100 was a laptop manufactured by Toshiba in 1985, and has subsequently been described by Toshiba as “the world’s first mass-market laptop computer”. Its technical specifications were comparable to the original IBM PC desktop, using floppy disks (it had no hard drive), a 4.77 MHz Intel80C88 CPU (a variation of the Intel 8088), and a monochrome, text-only 640×200 (80 columns by 25 rows) LC display. Its original price was $1899.


Amstrad PCW (1985) – Amstrad

Amstrad PCW Computer (1985) - Photograph: Marcin Wichary

Amstrad PCW Computer

The Amstrad PCW series was a range of personal computers produced by British company Amstrad from 1985 to 1998, and also sold under licence in Europe as the “Joyce” by the German electronics company Schneider in the early years of the series’ life. When it was launched, the cost of a PCW system was under 25% of the cost of almost all IBM-compatible PC systems in the UK. As a result PCWs became very popular in the home and small office markets, both in the UK and in Europe, and persuaded many technophobes to venture into using computers. However the last two models, introduced in the mid-1990s, were commercial failures, being squeezed out of the market by the falling prices, greater capabilities and wider range of software for IBM-compatible PCs. The last model branded as a PCW was totally incompatible with the earlier ones.

In all models, including the last, the monitor’s casing included the CPU, RAM, floppy disk drives and power supply for all of the systems’ components. All except the last included a printer in the price. Early models used 3-inch floppy disks, while those sold from 1991 onwards used 3½-inch floppies, which became the industry standard around the time the PCW series was launched. A variety of inexpensive products and services were launched to copy 3-inch floppies to the 3½-inch format so that data could be transferred to other machines.

All models except the last included the Locoscript word processing program, the CP/M Plus operating system, Mallard BASIC and the LOGO programming language at no extra cost. A wide range of other CP/M office software and several games became available, some commercially produced and some free. Although Amstrad supplied all but the last model as text based systems, graphical user interface peripherals and the supporting software also became available. The last model had its own unique GUI operating system and set of office applications, which were included in the price. However none of the software for previous PCW models could run on this system.


Compaq Portable II (1986) – Compaq Computer Corporation

Compaq Portable II Computer (1986) - 3.5 inch floppy modification - Photograph Rwallmow

Compaq Portable II Computer (with 3.5inch floppy drive modification) – Photograph: Rwallmow

The Compaq Portable II was the third product in the Compaq portable series to be brought out by Compaq Computer Corporation. Released in 1986 at a price of US$3499, the Portable II was much improved upon its predecessors. It included an 8 MHz processor, and was lighter and smaller than the Compaq Portable. There were four models of the Compaq Portable II. The basic Model 1 shipped one 5.25″ floppy drive and 256kB of RAM. The Model 2 added a second 5.25″ floppy drive and sold for $3599. The Model 3 shipped with a 10MB hard disk in addition to one 5.25″ floppy drive and 640kB of RAM for $4799 at launch. The Model 4 would upgrade the Model 3 with a 20MB hard drive and sold for $4999. The Compaq Portable II was significantly lighter than its predecessors, the Model 1 weighed just 23.6 pounds compared to the 30.5 pounds the Compaq Portable 286 weighed. Compaq only shipped the system with a small demo disk, MS-DOS 3.1 had to be purchased separately.

There are at least two reported cases of improperly serviced computers exploding when the non-rechargeable lithium battery on the motherboard was connected to the power supply. There were no recorded injuries. The Compaq Portable II was succeeded by the Compaq Portable III in 1987.

The Compaq Portable II had room for additional after market upgrades. Compaq manufactured four memory expansion boards, 512kB and 2048kB ISA memory cards and 512kB and 1536kB memory boards that attached to the back of the motherboard. With 640kB installed on the motherboard and both the ISA card and the expansion board, the computer could be upgraded with up to a maximum of 4.2MB of RAM. The motherboard also had space for an optional 80287 math coprocessor. There were two revisions of the motherboard, they were functionally identical although the earlier version was larger. The motherboard had four ISA busses for expansion cards, two 8-bit and two 16-bit. However, the first 16-bit slot was already occupied by a CGA graphics card and one of the 8-bit slots was used by the ATA drive controller board, leaving two available to add cards to.


IBM PC Convertible (1986) – IBM

IBM Convertible Computer (1986) - IBM

IBM Convertible Computer

The IBM PC Convertible, released April 3, 1986, was IBM’s first laptop computer and was also the first IBM computer to utilize the 3.5″ floppy disk which went on to become the standard. Like modern laptops, it featured power management and the ability to run from batteries. It was the follow-up to the IBM Portable and was model number 5140. The concept and the design of the body was made by the German industrial designer Richard Sapper.

It utilized an Intel 80c88 CPU (a CMOS version of the Intel 8088) running at 4.77 MHz, 256 kB of RAM (expandable to 640 kB), dual 720 kB 3.5″ floppy drives, and a monochrome CGA-compatible LCD screen at a price of $2,000. It weighed 13 pounds (5.8 kg) and featured a built-in carrying handle.

The PC Convertible had expansion capabilities through a proprietary ISA bus-based port on the rear of the machine. Extension modules, including a small printer and a video output module, could be snapped into place. The machine could also take an internal modem, but there was no room for an internal hard disk.

Pressing the power button on the computer did not turn it off, but put the machine into a “suspend” mode. This avoided the long process of booting up. The CMOS 80c88 CPU has a static core, which means that it can be stopped simply by stopping the system clock oscillator that is driving it, and it will hold its state indefinitely and resume processing at the point it was stopped when the clock signal is restarted, as long as it is kept powered. CMOS circuits use extremely little power when they are not changing state, so an 80c88 that is on but not being clocked uses very little power.


Apple IIGS (1986) – Apple Computer

Apple IIGS Woz Computer (1986) - Apple IIGS Woz Edition with Steve Wozniak's signature

Apple IIGS Computer “Woz Edition”, with Steve Wozniak’s signature on front

The Apple IIGS (stylized as IIgs) is the fifth and most powerful model in the Apple II series of personal computers produced by Apple Computer. The “GS” in the name stands for Graphics and Sound, referring to its enhanced multimedia capabilities, especially its state-of-the-art sound and music synthesis, which greatly surpassed previous models of the line and most contemporary machines like the Macintosh and IBM PC.

The machine was a radical departure from any previous Apple II, with its true 16-bit architecture, increased processing speed, direct access to megabytes of RAM, wavetable music synthesizer, graphical user interface, and mouse. While still maintaining full backwards compatibility with earlier Apple II models, it blended the Apple II and aspects of Macintosh technology into one. Keeping with Apple’s “Apple II Forever” slogan of the time, the IIGS set forth a promising future and evolutionary advancement of the Apple II line, but Apple paid it relatively little attention as the company increasingly focused on the Macintosh platform.

The Apple IIGS was the first computer produced by Apple to use a color graphical user interface, as well as the “Platinum” (light grey) color scheme and the Apple Desktop Bus interface for keyboards, mice, and other input devices. It was also the first personal computer to come with a built-in “wavetable” sample-based synthesizer chip, utilizing technology from Ensoniq. The machine outsold all other Apple products, including the Macintosh, during its first year in production.


Amiga 500 (1987) – Commodore International

Amiga 500 Computer (1987) photo 2 - Commodore International Attribution Bill Bertram

Amiga 500 Computer – Attribution: Bill Bertram

The Amiga 500 – also known as the A500 (or its code name “Rock Lobster”) – was the first “low-end” Commodore Amiga16/32-bit multimedia home/personal computer. It was announced at the winter Consumer Electronics Show in January 1987 – at the same time as the high-end Amiga 2000 – and competed directly against the Atari 520ST. Before Amiga 500 was shipped, Commodore suggested that the list price of the Amiga 500 was $595.95 USD without a monitor. At delivery in October 1987, Commodore announced that the Amiga 500 would carry a $699 USD/£499 GBP list price.

The Amiga 500 represented a return to Commodore’s roots by being sold in the same mass retail outlets as the Commodore 64 – to which it was a spiritual successor – as opposed to the computer-store-only Amiga 1000.

The original Amiga 500 proved to be Commodore’s best-selling Amiga model, enjoying particular success in Europe. Although popular with hobbyists, arguably its most widespread use was as a gaming machine, where its advanced graphics and sound for the time were of significant benefit.

In October 1989, the Amiga 500 dropped its price from £499 GBP to £399 and was bundled with the Batman Pack in the United Kingdom. This price drop helped Commodore to sell more than 1 million Amiga 500s in 1989. In late 1991, an enhanced model known as the Amiga 500+ replaced the standard Amiga 500 in some markets, it was bundled with the Cartoon Classics pack in the United Kingdom at 399 GBP.


Amiga 2000 (1987) – Commodore

Commodore Amiga 2000 Computer (1987) - Commodore

Amiga 2000 Computer

The Amiga 2000, or A2000, is a personal computer released by Commodore in March 1987. It was introduced as a “big box” expandable variant of the Amiga 1000 but quickly redesigned to share most of its electronic components with the contemporary Amiga 500 for cost reduction. Expansions include internal floppy and harddisk drives and numerous expansion cards.

Aimed at the high-end market, the original Europe-only model adds a Zorro II backplane, implemented in programmable logic, to the custom Amiga chipset used in the Amiga 1000. Later improved models have redesigned hardware using the more highly integrated A500 chipset, with the addition of a gate-array called “Buster”, which integrates the Zorro subsystem. This also enabled handoff of the system control to a coprocessor slot device, and implemented the full video slot for add-on video devices.

Like the earlier Amiga 1000 and most IBM PC compatibles of the era, and unlike the Amiga 500, the A2000 came in a desktop case with a separate keyboard. The case was taller than the A1000 to accommodate expansion cards, two 3.5″ and one 5.25″ drive bays. The A2000’s case lacks the “keyboard garage” of the Amiga 1000 but has space for five Zorro II expansion slots, two 16-bit and two 8-bit ISA slots, a CPU upgrade slot and a video slot. Unlike the A1000, the A2000’s motherboard includes a battery-backed real-time clock.

The Amiga 2000 offered graphics capabilities exceeded among its contemporaries only by the Macintosh II, a system which sold for about twice the Amiga’s price. Also like the A1000, the A2000 was sold only by specialty computer dealers. It was originally announced at a price of $1495

The A2000 was largely succeeded by the Amiga 3000 in 1990.


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