I’ve recently discovered that retrocomputing is an incredibly fun hobby. I began using computers at 18 months of age, when my father brought home his first Apple IIe. Since then, I’ve always had an affinity for Apple products, and during the summer of 2015, I learned that people still play with these obsolete 8- and 16-bit wonders.
Since then, I’ve amassed a bit of a collection of vintage Apple computers, including a number of machines important to my past. I play with them a fair bit during my free time, partially for the nostalgic element of it, playing games and such that I hadn’t for 30-odd years, etc. But, I also take advantage of the easy programming in BASIC to explore various ways that these workhorses can be hacked and adapted for modern uses. In some ways, the efficiency of these older machines to do so much with so little horsepower is just mind-boggling — a lesson I feel like contemporary software folks need to remember (I mean, an entire OS and program on a 143k floppy disk? That’s a work of art!).
What can I do with these old things? Plenty: get on the internet, write e-mail, use Twitter, write and record music, write in a distraction-free setting, control some of our Internet of Things items, automate tasks, create games, do complex math, draw old school graphics… I know, nothing mind-blowing, but I still have fun with it. And yeah, sometimes I pull out some of the classics like Odell Lake, Number Munchers and, of course, Oregon Trail.
Plus, there’s just something about the feel of those old clunky keys that just makes the writing flow better…
Apple IIe Enhanced
Released: March 1985.
Specs: 1.023MHz 65C02 processor built on 8-bit architecture, 128k total memory, running Apple ProDos 8.
Peripherals: 80 Column Video Card providing 64k of additional memory, Super Serial Card, (2x) Apple UniDisk 5.25 floppy disk drives, Apple Color Composite monitor (not shown), USB-to-serial adapter for use with ADTPro, Uthernet II ethernet card.
The Apple II was an amazing series of computers, with the first released in 1977 and computers built with the same architecture being sold until 1993. My personal favorite of the lineup is the Apple IIe, the third of five Apple II desktop computer models introduced. My Apple IIe Enhanced is my workhorse Apple II machine, which I use for everything from playing games to writing to coding new applications. One of the great things with the Apple II is the massive number of expansion slots (eight in most; seven in this one because of “enhancements” that occupy the eighth). There were literally thousands of kinds of hardware cards that could make an Apple II do anything. With the seven slots available and with the most updated ROM and CPU, the Apple IIe Enhanced is probably the most flexible computer of the line. I acquired it in August 2015 from a private seller.
Released: April 1984
Specs: 1.023MHz 65C02 processor built on 8-bit architecture, 128k total memory, running Apple ProDos 8, built-in 5.25 UniDisk floppy drive.
Peripherals: Apple UniDisk 5.25 floppy disk drive (external), Apple IIc monochrome monitor, Apple Mouse, USB-to-DB5 adapter for running ADTPro.
The Apple IIc was Apple’s first “portable” computer, with all of the capabilities of a IIe but much smaller (the “c” stood for “compact”). Though it was certainly portable for its time, the relatively awkward external monitors, extra floppy drive, and ridiculous power brick meant that hauling the IIc was nothing like the convenience of today’s laptops. However, to get that smaller form factor, Apple sacrificed the expansion slots that made the Apple II so flexible. While the IIc is (essentially) a fully functional Apple II in terms of software compatibility, this lack of expansion capability leaves relatively limited uses for the IIc today. I use my IIc as exactly its intention: a relatively compact computer — compact enough to fit on my coffee table — for times I want to do some retrocomputing away from my main home workbench. I acquired it in September 2015 from a private seller.
Macintosh SE FDHD
Released: August 1991
Specs: 8MHz 68000 processor built on 16-bit architecture, 4mb total memory (I upgraded), 80mb SCSI hard drive (also upgraded), running System 6.0.8, 9″ monochrome CRT screen, built-in 3.25″ floppy disk drive.
Peripherals: Macintosh Extended ADB Keyboard, Macintosh ADB mouse, Floppy Emu kit for using SD cards as emulated floppies.
My first experiences with a Macintosh date back to the early 1990s (yes, only that early; my dad was an Apple II type even as Macs became more prominent), when my mom had one of these little guys in her office. It was certainly my first experience with a bitmapped and mouse-driven GUI. The classic all-in-one Macs are enjoyable because of their minimalism — yes, in terms of design, but also in terms of software and OS: System 6 as an operating system is a true work of art. Did you know that I can boot this computer to System 6.0.8 in about 13 seconds? Try that with a modern PC or Mac… I tend to use the SE for most of my classic Mac retrocomputing, including as a distraction-free writing environment and, of course, to play some of my all-time favorite computer games like Prince of Persia. I acquired it in November 2015 from a private seller.
iMac g3/350 Slot Loading Blueberry
Released: October 1999.
Specs: 350MHz PowerPC G3 processor built on 32-bit architecture, 1GB total memory, 6.0GB hard drive, running OSX 10.2 and Classic OS 9, built-in slot loading 24x CD-ROM, (2x) USB 1.1 ports.
Peripherals: Apple Extended USB Keyboard, Apple “hockey puck” USB Mouse, powered USB hub, powered external speakers.
The Mac that Brought Apple Back: the iMac! I always wanted one of these little all-in-one, crazy colored little computers, but at the time that they were “hip,” I was a poor college student just trying to survive. Now, I’ve got one. What do I use this little beauty for? Mostly for Classic OS stuff, as well as deprecated games of the era — particularly SimCity 2000 and SimCity 3000. I also, in OSX, can use this guy to connect to any of my Apple IIs via USB-to-serial adapters and ADTPro. The only bummer about this machine is that the built-in sound system, for which this model was especially known, is blown — so I have to use powered external speakers to hear anything. Not a big deal, but it definitely doesn’t match the compact form factor! I acquired this in October 2015 from a private seller.
Released: September 1986.
Specs: 2.8MHz 65C816 processor built on 16-bit architecture, ROM revision 3, 1mb of built-in memory, running GS/OS 6, Ensoniq sample-based audio synthesizer chip.
Peripherals: UniDisk 5.25 floppy drive, UniDisk 3.5 floppy drive (800k), 1mb Memory Expansion card, Uthernet II ethernet card, Mismatched Apple Extended ADB Keyboard and Mouse (likely from a mid-1990s Mac), Apple Color Composite Monitor, Floppy Emu kit for using SD cards as floppy disks, powered external speakers.
The Apple IIgs is an odd-ball member of the Apple II lineup. Introduced in 1986, the “gs” stood for “graphics and sound.” Because Apple IIs were Apple’s cash cows during the 1980s, when the Apple III and Lisa were doomed and the Mac’s following was very slow to grow, the IIgs was an attempt to upgrade the world’s best-selling computer line while keeping backwards software compatibility with all earlier Apple II releases, while also keeping the machine hindered enough to not compete with the Mac line. As a result, the IIgs was an underpowered and underloved machine for its time; in fact, the only time I ever had exposure to these machines was in my school’s computer lab in the fourth and fifth grade. However, the faster processor, larger addressable memory, better graphics, and the Ensoniq synthesizer chip offered by the IIgs made it a worthy purchase for my collection. I’ve mostly used the IIgs for making music, some graphics applications, and to play IIgs-specific educational games like I did in the fourth and fifth grade. I acquired this in February 2016 from a private seller.