State of the Hobby

From: Richard Erlacher <>
Date: Thu Jul 1 20:57:39 1999

I agree with this one! There's no need for a "starter-outer" regardless of
his/her current station in life to go after an Imsai or (much worse) an
ALTAIR, when those machines weren't that well designed and weren't that well
supported. If one wants to start out with an S-100, he should get hold of a
widely used, common and therefore likely to be inexpensive, mainframe, or at
least backplane, then do the same for known-to-be-compatible memory, CPU,
and controller cards, a power supply, and a terminal or PC with a working
terminal program and a couple of 8" floppy disk drives.

Unfortunately, the presence of the PC with its virtually plug-and-play
(chuckle) readily available boards and the MAC with it's even less difficult
to set up peripherals, have led the world to believe that devices should
just naturally play together.

Anyone who's worked with DEC equipment knows that isn't true. Once upon a
time, I worked for a DEC-addicted client whose system required redundant
PDP11-44's. The DEC folks would deliver the hardware on one day, set up the
first rack the second day, get the basic hardware to run on the third, and
then one or two days at a time, get the rest to work together. Then there
was the second rack . . .

Now, even though the two machines had been specifically ordered to be
"identical in every way" at a considerable premium, it was not unusual for
the DEC folks to have to swap each rack in its entirety several times before
they actually had two from which you could extract a board and exchange it
with the corresponding board in the other and not have both machines fall
apart. Usually, while this was happening, the other 30 or so of us were in
day-for-day schedule slip.

On the S-100 bus, there were lots of board which worked just fine together.
Unfortunately, there were others which did not. The earlier the vintage,
the less likely that they'd be particularly interoperable with other
manufacturers' equipment. This applied as much to backplanes and serial
port boards as to CPU's, memory and FDC's. If a beginner has a few fairly
widely used boards, it's likely he can get some help from the guys on this
list or from the fellows in the CP/M newsgroup. If he has an Altair, that
number is greatly reduced.

Nonetheless, if a fellow has an Altair, that's normally the one he wants to
get running, irrespective of the associated problems. Suggestions abound,
of course, but solid help from experienced users is scarce because there
weren't many.

What I want to know is why a beginner would want to run old hardware if he
doesn't know anything about hardware in general and the general class of
hardware with which he's dealing in particular. I can understand it if he
used the stuff when he was a pup, or if his father had one. What I read
here, however, is mostly stuff from people who have gotten a few pieces of
gear for next to no money and expect that since they've got the "big" bits
they won't need to spend much more. Unfortunately, that's seldom the case.
I read lots of prose from people who've got lots of pieces of lots of
systems but haven't a clue what, exactly, is necessary in order to make any
of the stuff "do something."

Why do you suppose this is?


-----Original Message-----
From: William Donzelli <>
To: Discussion re-collecting of classic computers
Date: Thursday, July 01, 1999 6:37 PM
Subject: Re: State of the Hobby

>> OKay, $500 or $1000 is alot less than the $4k+ these things
>> cost when they were new, but $500 is *still* alot of money for
>> most people, certainly for one who's just starting out.
>It may be alot for someone starting out, sure, but then someone starting
>out might not want to go for the cream. That might be aiming just a bit
>too high.
>> As I said, that's still alot of money. The cool thing about this
>> hobby was that you didn't need alot to get cool stuff. That's
>> starting to change.
>For starting? No. Despite all of the talk about the $510 Mac, there are
>bushels of machines that are in the under $50 category - some pretty darn
>nice ones, too. This seems to be like the press reporting about
>multi-million dollar personal injury lawsuits - they really are rarer
>than hens teeth, but the newspeople make it sound like it happens all of
>the time. There will always be very affordable classic computers - only
>the creme will go ballistic.
>William Donzelli
Received on Thu Jul 01 1999 - 20:57:39 BST

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