The Long Haul

So recently I managed to participate in an exciting retro-computing “thing” in the form of clearing and organising a seatainer full of old computers and peripherals. While most were not systems I was interested in (So many dead printers, for instance), there were some gems that I took home, as did my fellow participant.

This pile was officially a discards file, so everything we took was saved from the trash-heap, and the collection was a lot neater (And less likely to topple over, crushing unsuspecting passers by) so hopefully others in our group will be able to get gems as well.

So what did I get? Well, I actually managed to get enough to complete my core collection.

I’ve always wanted to have enough computers that I had a representative of all the major 8 and 16 bit systems. I’d already got Commodore, Sinclair, Amstrad and Acorn systems, covering my European systems pretty much completely. Next I wanted to get some North American systems under my belt, and that meant Texas Instruments and Tandy – Radio Shack systems.

I’d already got a non working TRS-80 Colour Computer 2 (AKA the CoCo), so one of the things I was tracking was a different CoCo as I was having problems with the one I’d collected.

I was able to pull out three more CoCos, in two different variants, one in box.

Now I had a CoCo, I had been thinking about what I was missing. Now realistically there were two more systems left to collect. One was a “classic” TRS-80 system, either the Model 1 or one of the later variants such as the Model 3, and a Texas Instruments TI 99/4A system, famously “destroyed” by Jack Tramiel as revenge for TI trying to drive him out of the Calculator market.

As a result, while going through the pile, I was “keeping my eyes open” and oh boy did I strike paydirt! (And the word “dirt” can be emphasised here. There was a lot of grime on these systems)

As we went through, we kept finding boxes of systems and peripherals. Stuff just kept coming out, layer after layer. My fellow participant got several new and interesting systems, including a lovely Tandy 1000, a pair of MSX systems, A BBC Master Compact, a Sharp MZ 700 (A system I know nothing about) and a bunch of Commodore 64 peripherals.

Me? I pulled out this lot:

Long picture is loooong.
  • 3 “Atari” style joysticks. 2 CX 40 clones and a Star Cursor, alas with the cover vinyl torn off.
  • A Commodore Music Maker keyboard for the C64. It’s got damaged keys so I’ll need to fix it.
  • A VZ200 tape deck I have set aside for a fellow collector I know is into the VZ family.
  • 2 different Amiga external floppy drives. I have gone from none to 3 in just under a year.
  • Three different TRS-80 Colour Computer 2s, one in box! More on them later.
  • A Commodore Plus 4. More details below.
  • A BBC Model B. Again, I’ll detail more below.
  • A Dick Smith System 80. This is a TRS-80 Model 1 clone. (🗸). Yep, more below.
  • Two TI-99/4A computers. One in Black and Silver and one in Beige. (🗸)
I didn’t bother taking a photo of the CX40 clones.
While complete, the black keys have become brittle and snapped off

That’s right, I have all the systems now! Let’s see if they work.

TRS-80 Colour Computer 2

That cover… “Dead! Wrapped in plastic!

Now I already had one here that I was having problems recovering related to different compatibilities with chips. While I was collecting CoCos, I also grabbed a “stash” of spare components to fit the systems, as I knew that the socketed chips had been stripped from these CoCos. First up I grabbed the one in box. It was also in a protective cover, which had unfortunately reacted with the surface. I checked it inside, and to my surprise, all the chips were intact. The power supply looked to be in reasonable shape, so I pulgged it in and powered it up and after tuning in the RF on my TV I was able to get a picture. Excellent!

Currently I’m still working on the other 3, to see if I can get any more working.

Commodore Plus 4

An elegant computer for a more civilized age.

Working on the plus 4, the first issue I hit was that the power supply connector is a hideously non-standard 4 pin square DIN. After trying to find a new one for a reasonable price, and a lot of online research, I went down the same course as many people before me, and replaced it with the connector from a Commodore C64. The mounting holes are mostly matching and the power ins are in the same place, so it wasn’t too much of a drama. After some mucking around (and finding my C64 PSU had a ground pin missing) I was able to power up the system. Unfortunately I just get a black screen. I’ll need to diagnose further as these are quirky little systems with some unique games. Hopefully it’s not the custom chips as they’re practically unobtanium these days.

Acorn BBC Micro model B

This is after I cleaned it… Twice.

The first thing I needed to do with this system was clean off where the feet had literally rotted into black sticky goo. Once done, I was worried the beeb would have the infamous “Rifa” X2 capacitors inside it, so I stripped it back and checked the power supply before I worked on it. While it turns out this model didn’t have Rifa X2 caps, it did have this crusty boi inside it…

That ain’t right!

I replaced it and powered it up and it boots. The power supply is making an ominous buzzing noise so I need to investigate that further.

I also determined it has a “bonus” EdWord ROM inside, as well as a disk controller, so this will be a nice system for playing classic BBC games.

Dick Smith System 80

It’s hard to get an idea of scale for this system.

Aka the “chonky” system! This is simply MASSIVE. It’s as deep as a Commodore 64 is wide, and almost as wide as the Amstrad CPC 464 is wide. It’s taller than both!

Opening up this one revealed a very neat three board system with no major surprises. It had a monitor port, so I quickly made up a suitable monitor cable and it booted right up! Awesome!

Some other systems for scale.

The keyboard seems to work and I was able to type the usual “Hello World!” message. It’s going to be interesting to see what software I can run on these as they’re only “mostly compatible” with the TRS/80. I’m also curious about what peripherals are available, as it would be great to get a disk drive and a 32K expansion.

TI-99/4A

Two of them, no less! I’ve been working on getting proper power into, and proper video out of these since I got them.

They use an unusual internal power supply with two AC inputs. One is 18vAC and one is 8.5vAC, so I assume some sort of center tapped transformer was used. To test I plan to use an old ATX power supply and bypass the internal regulator and go straight to the 3 internal power rails (+5, +12, -5)

I also need video out as these don’t have composite or RF. Instead they have a modified Component signal. I’ll tap out of that to get composite initially, and down the track I’ll see if I can tweak the video to get a component picture I can use with my TV/Monitor. That can wait until I confirm the system is actually functioning.

So now I have “all of them”, I’m actually in a position where I’ll probably thin out some of my collection. There are already several systems I’m thinking hard about selling to raise funds to upgrade the systems I want to keep.

Published by ilike8bits

I collect old computers and consoles

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