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How are the different classic computer brands holding up? (Early 80's)

Atari Apple Commodore TI TRS-80 Timex

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#1 --- Ω --- OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 5, 2016 9:23 AM

Back in the 'good ole days' the early consumer computers were relatively expensive, and since some companies foresaw a larger profit margin they used premium parts.  Later to be more competitive with other companies the prices fell and profit margins shrank, many companies began to 'cut corners' with re-designs for fewer components, or just plain inferior parts.  

 

At the time a computers life was about 18 months to obsolescence, so if the computer only had to last 2 years or so, who would know how cheaply the thing was put together?

 

I'd like to see a discussion of the computers that have endured the decades.  Have the earlier models fared better than the later built models?  Have some brands/manufactures lasted longer without intervention?

 

For instance on the TI-99/4A the earlier built black & silver models had mechanical switches in their keyboards and they have endured to this day, but the later price-reduced membrane keyboards have pretty much all died.

 

I'd like to hear YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE with YOUR BRAND of early brand of computers.  I'm basically trying to target the 1980-85 years.  So if you have a TRS-80, an Apple, a Commodore, a TI-99/4A or one of the others let's hear it!



#2 spacecadet OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 5, 2016 10:03 AM

My original Apple IIc is currently broken. I know that at least the disk drive is broken (gives an I/O error, but not the kind that sounds like it just needs a cleaning). I might be able to fix that but haven't tried.

 

Before I stopped using it in around 1992, the monitor connector had also started to go flaky - I kept having to jiggle it to get it to stop "warbling", for lack of a better word. The output would kind of bend, in a rolling line, up the screen.

 

Of course it's gone quite yellow over the years.

 

The keyboard on it is also really worn out; the keys are very hard to press now. It was a great keyboard when new, but now it feels really gritty, like all the keys need oil.

 

My IIGS keyboard is similar but not as bad. But it leads me to believe this is a common problem with those early Apple keyswitch keyboards. I doubt there are any that feel like they originally did. Even NOS probably have deteriorated just from time. The earlier II line keyboards have held up better. I got to try out literally about 30 of them just a few weeks ago at a giant surplus store and all felt basically the way I remembered them from the 80's.

 

My IIGS also has a broken power connector - I'm in the market for a new power supply to fix it.

 

I've also had an Atari 800XL for the past 20 years or so and it has yellowed a lot more than I realized in that time, and its keyboard has also stiffened. It might loosen up a bit again if I really used it, not sure. Otherwise, though the computer works fine.

 

My best friend had a C64 in the early 80's, and before I got my Apple II I'd be at his house basically every day using that thing with him. I now have my own C64 so I can at least compare that. My C64 has gone a little yellow on the bottom, but not so much on top, and overall I think it looks basically as I remember. (C64's were always yellower than I think some people believe; it was a dark beige system.) I *believe* mine works perfectly, although the one game I currently have glitches up if I use joystick port 1, but I've heard that was kind of common and doesn't necessarily indicate a problem. The keyboard was never all that good but mine feels pretty much like I remember my friend's feeling.

 

That's about all I have from the 80's to compare at the moment...



#3 BassGuitari OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 5, 2016 12:40 PM

Well, I've got or have had dozens of different systems, such as the TRS-80 Model I, TRS-80 Model II, MC-10, Color Computer (1, 2, and 3), Apple II+, Apple IIe, Apple IIe Platinum, Apple IIc, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4, TI-99/4a, TI-99/4a beige, Atari 400, 800, 600XL, 800XL, 520ST, Aquarius, Timex 1000/ZX81, ZX80, Compaq Portable, and others I can't think of.

Most of them have a remarkable record of reliability. I'll give my overview by brand:

Commodore: In the last few years I've noticed issues cropping up in my C64s, mostly SID-related. My only Plus/4 came with a dead TED chip, and I get the feeling it's probably not worth the effort to replace anyway (you never hear about what an awesome game platform the Plus/4 was).

Radio Shack: All my Tandy systems run like champs, although my Model I monitor could probably use a recap, and my extra MC-10's RF drifts a little. My Model II's keyboard needed a foam/mylar rebuild (as they pretty much all do).

Texas Instruments: All my silver-black TI systems still run excellently; my beige one can't read cartridges and IIRC some keys don't work.

Apple: Except for a DOA IIe and some disk drives that needed a light cleaning, my Apple systems hum along like it's their first day off the line.

Atari: My 800 just needed the keyboard to be cleaned out once, and the RF's a little out of whack on my 800XL, which is a parts system anyway. Otherwise, excellent reliability.

Compaq: The Compaq Portable has the same type of Keytronic-style foam+mylar key assembly design as the TRS-80 Model II, so naturally some of those needed to be replaced (works great now), and occasionally the system has trouble powering back on right after it's been turned off (the fan will go but nothing else comes on), but I suspect that's related to one of the 5.25" drives being retrofitted with a half-height 3.5" floppy + hard drive, which this system was never intended to have. 95% of the time it's fine.

Timex/Sinclair: It's a fact of life with these systems that the keyboard ribbon connector will be dried up, cracked, and toasted, rendering entire sections of the keyboard dead. Mine were no exception, and while it's sort of a pain in the ass to fix, it *is* a simple fix. The RF is absolutely god-awful, easily the worst I've ever seen on any game console or computer, but that's the way they were--that's nothing age- or wear-related. The "porch light" (I think it's called) on my USA ZX81 crapped out and now displays extremely dark, almost pitch black video; I hear this is not uncommon with ZX81s.

Mattel: I have two Aquarius systems that seem to have the same problems. Neither can recognize RAM cartridges (making it impossible to load 8K or 16K programs), and keys will press themselves (which interferes with gameplay). IIRC my Aquaricart's diagnostic program indicated a RAM error. I've tested each system individually and with two different Mini-Expanders, FWIW. Given the system's origin and desperation release, it stands to reason that the Aquarius probably didn't exactly have the highest-quality components.



#4 shoestring OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 5, 2016 1:58 PM

I didn't keep my original beige c64 breadbin but I acquired another one about a decade ago from the UK. At some point the kernel, character and basic mask roms were replaced with EPROMs. They did a fine job and the wiring is very clean.

The original MOS chips are still there.

It's in fair working condition but the case is a little brittle, particularly in areas were the two halves of the case snaps into place. So you can have bits coming off if you're not careful.

Sometimes the keys don't respond. I'm going to take the keyboard apart and address that. Could be a faulty CIA chip as well.


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#5 Newsdee OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2016 7:49 PM

In the past three years I've been restoring my old hardware, trying to get as good video as possible from them and upgrading the storage to SD/CF.

Most recently I completed a build of my Apple II which had a broken motherboard, but managed to salvage another from a second A2 I kept around for repairs.

The disk drives for it no longer work, they would turn on but not read or write anything. I tried getting a new one but it was DOA as well. I suppose they need some kind of calibration but wasn't able to fix it. I can still use a CF card, but still annoying.

My C64 and Spectrum 2+ both use SD cards and run great. I only tried a tape drive on the C64 (ok) and loaded one tape via ny phone on the spectrum (also ok). The SD card makes life much more simple though!

#6 krslam OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2016 9:10 PM

The only machine I had 'back-in-the-day' was a C64 with 1541 drive and 1701 monitor.  I was an early adopter and got them in either very late 1982 or early '83.  My original 64 had the sparkle video flaw which drove me crazy so I set it aside and got a newer one about a year later. 

 

One of my first uses for the machine was to run our weekly office football pool - people would turn in their pick sheets with either the home or visiting team circled and I entered this as either a '1' or '2' into the C64.  25 games per week and about 40 participants was a lot of 1's and 2's so after about 4 years, those keys stopped working reliably.  Luckily, my future wife, who I'd just met, had a VIC-20 she was no longer using and I was able to swap that k/b into the 64.  The football pool got busted by our tight-assed management a couple years later, sparing me any further keyboard issues.

 

That setup was in continual use up until about 1998 when I picked up a used C128/1571/1902 setup for $20 at Goodwill and that's the system (with additions) that I use today.  I fire up the 64 and 1541 occasionally to keep the caps seasoned and they're still in good working order.  The 1701 is still going strong and gets used for my TI99 and Atari 8-bit machines as well as testing other things that cross my bench.



#7 spacecadet OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2016 10:27 PM

The disk drives for it no longer work, they would turn on but not read or write anything. I tried getting a new one but it was DOA as well. I suppose they need some kind of calibration but wasn't able to fix it. I can still use a CF card, but still annoying.

 

What do they actually do? If they don't make the dreaded ear-splitting ratcheting noise, but just give a general "disk cannot be read" or "not a system disk" error, they might just need a head cleaning. One of my 5.25" drives was doing that; I got up the courage to open it up when I was a little drunk one night, managed to get in to where the heads were, cleaned it up with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip, and the thing is as good as new now. The head on that thing was practically black, but with the alcohol it wiped right off.

 

I do have the ratcheting noise with any disk in my IIc and I don't think that's the same problem. So if yours are doing that, then I'm not sure how to help.



#8 0078265317 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2016 10:45 PM

I still have my sisters macintosh se from college and it works great.  And I upgraded to 4mb ram.



#9 LoTonah OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2016 2:38 AM

I have a SX-64 with a broken handle (missing the bolt hardware on one side, bought it that way).  The Amiga 2000HD that I used for years won't show an image on a known working monitor.  Other than that, all my Commodore stuff works great (LOVE my 128D!)

All my TRS-80 stuff works awesome (even my Model 1).

My Atari 400 has a bad joystick 1 port.  My Atari ST's monochrome monitor stopped working recently, I suspect a blown fuse.  But my other 8 Atari systems work great!

My Coleco Adam works perfectly.

One of my Apple //c's keyboards are starting to stick a lot, contact cleaner does nothing.  Also, the little //c monitor needs recapped.

My IBM 5150 has recently stopped seeing the RAM card, so it falls back to 128Kb RAM instead of 640Kb.

My Compaq model III's screen brightness control is very touchy, changes brightness randomly.

Pretty much all of the tape drives for my various systems still work (no stretched belts, etc).  All my printers still work great.

 

Overall, I've been very lucky.  I still have roughly 3 dozen computers, so for the defect list to be so short is pretty amazing.  But, this is also one reason I've been selling off my collection bit by bit, because I know that the clock is ticking and I have no interest in keeping that many computers in tip-top condition anymore.  Plus, I'm now more interested in getting very good at a few select systems instead of being just meh on so many.



#10 davidcalgary29 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2016 8:11 AM

The only vintage machine that's died on me is/was a Zenith Minisport, and that may just be a battery issue. I have, however, had three wintel notebooks (and a X360) that have crapped out on me with less than three years of use each.

#11 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2016 10:13 AM

I think caps, keyboards, and RAMs are the big three problems.

The IIc seems to have memory issues.  

The Plus/4 seems to kill off TED chips and CPUs.  This is likely heat related.  There is an FPGA clone now so I'm sure a modern replacement for the TED and CPU will be available.

I had 2 Coleco ADAMs and both had bad video RAM.  It's the older RAM that requires multiple voltages and it's very sensitive to power problems.  And the power supplies seem to age poorly... so... bam, dead VRAM.

 

I think Apple IIs use the same RAM but they seem to have better power supplies.  But if the power dies, the RAM probably will as well.
Apple II power supplies have a voltage regulator that dies.

Early Macintoshs, bad caps.

Amiga 1200s, bad caps.

TRS-80 Model Is need power supplies.  Some Model IIIs have had bad caps.  There have been a few bad CRTs.

CoCos.... people killed a PIA or SAM by plugging something in with the power on and they sat in a closet until someone put them on ebay.
It's not age related, people are just now trying to fix them.
I've seen several inquiries that were bad RAM.

I've seen dead Ataris but I'm not sure it's just one thing so maybe a similar situation to the CoCo.
I had a 1200 with a bad keyboard membrane.

Sinclair Spectrums.  Bad keyboard membranes across all models.

S-100 computers can have massive power supplies (linear rather than switching?) and can have bad caps.  
I would not turn on one of these bad boys without checking the power supply.



#12 spacecadet OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2016 11:01 AM

My Atari 800XL's power supply just died :(

 

Hopefully it didn't take my computer along with it.

 

I have little doubt this would have happened long ago if I'd been using it more. It had been sitting in a closet for probably close to 15 years; I just hooked it up again, tested it and it worked fine the first day, turned it on the next day and it was dead, doing exactly this: http://atariage.com/...agnose-problem/

 

This is a known problem with these power supplies, so you can chalk at least this up to shoddy construction in this particular classic computer component.



#13 BydoEmpire OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2016 11:12 AM

I have a ][c that works great - the external disk drive died, and the green screen monitor is on its last legs, but no issues with the computer itself.  They keyboard still feels awesome.  I think I powered it on 4-5 years ago.  That's actually kind of sad now that I think about it.  I should fire it up again one of these days.  Doesn't seem like it's been that long.

 

My original c64 worked the last time I used it a few years ago, but the keyboard is really, really stiff and the '6' key broke off.  My 1541 did work as well but most of my (copied) disks did not.

 

I have an XEGS that works great, although I don't have a disk drive for it and it was a more recent ebay purchase (maybe 8-10 years ago?).

 

I sold my Amiga 500 4-5 years ago - it still worked great at the time, although my 512k expansion board fried.



#14 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 11, 2016 1:29 AM

These days I do:

 

Apple II, II+, //e, //c, //c+, //e Platinum, IIgs

TRS-80 Pocket Computer 1, 2, and 4.

TI-59 Programmable Calculator

Gateway 80486 DX2-50

 

All of my original Apple II gear from both the 70's and 80's is operational. And it has seen nearly daily use from the late-70's through the mid-90's! I've only had to replace a couple of the infamous Micron RAM chips in the II+ and //e.

 

Of special note are the Disk II drives. When I was a kid I'd yank them by the cable, throw them in my RadioFlyer, and BMX across the neighborhood to WaReZ Conferences. And when I got older I'd toss them in the old Chevy's trunk without a care. The only protection they had was a cardboard box to protect the finish and keep them looking like new. And a plastic baggie for when riding in the rain or snow. There were times I'd blast around the corner and the wagon would tip over spilling everything.

 

These drives would do all-evening copy sessions, a full-time BBS, and whatever else a shit-faced kid would do with them. Saving and loading hi-res pics (especially porno stuff) was a fun thing to do. And that meant a lot of disk access, as well as cracking and programming.

 

I've adjusted the speed on occasion over the years for bit-copying certain disks, and either changed, cleaned, or fluffed the pressure pad once or twice. Did a couple of head cleaning runs with the white cleaning disks.. All Apple approved PM for high-usage drives. These are all basic 5-minute ops and well documented operations.

 

Recently I ran some electronic tolerance testing and diagnostics. Mainly to practice skills and go through the procedures of the day. And to check out some newly acquired official Apple service disks for alignment. Everything was well within spec and therefore no adjustments were necessary. I fully trust them today. Disappointingly reliable.. What am I going to do for excitement? Will these damned things break already so I can have a Sunday repair project?!?!

 

This reliability extends to the interface cards, the monitors, the Sony TV sets, the T.G. Products hand controllers and joysticks, and especially the EPSON MX-80 printer. Not only were the Apple computer consoles and drives rock solid, so were the peripherals and accessories. Both Apple and non-Apple alike.

 

---

 

I've had little to repair on the Pocket Computers, and most all of it was for the printer, like change the rechargeable batteries, replace the ink ribbon.. Otherwise SOLID!

 

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The TI-59 is reliable too. No problems there. Maybe it could use a rubber roller in time..? New battery? Yes.

 

---

 

I've had no issues with my DX2/50 from Gateway, it is built very similar to the IBM PC and weighs like 30 pounds. No issues with the computer. The CrystalScan monitor is totally dead and needs a thorough re-capping job.

 

---

 

Had an Atari 400 & 800, along with the 810 drive. I found the 810 to be acceptable. Toward the end it was starting to require you to flap the door to get a good load going. But the Computers themselves had no problems.

 

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The 1541 for my C-64 was just terrible. Couldn't ever depend on it for anything.

 

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Before I threw out my Amiga 500, the drive was going bad, too, and you had to eject and re-insert the disk several times to keep it going.

 

---

 

Had an Astrocade that wouldn't power up anymore, black screen, threw it away too.

 

---

 

..more later!


Edited by Keatah, Sun Sep 11, 2016 1:40 AM.


#15 shoestring OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 11, 2016 5:21 AM

 

I think Apple IIs use the same RAM but they seem to have better power supplies.  But if the power dies, the RAM probably will as well.
Apple II power supplies have a voltage regulator that dies.

 

 

I just repaired an Apple iie power supply today and these power supplies seem to be quite advanced, better than what you'll find in micros of the same era which had to be cheap.

 

I'm no expert on the subject but Apple II power supplies ( at least the astec I worked on does ) have shutdown capability built in to them, this circuitry is also known as a crowbar which disables the power supply if there's a surge or over-voltage. It's there to protect any sensitive components downstream like your DRAMs. 



#16 fimbulvetr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 11, 2016 9:58 AM

I have 5 ti-99/4a's (all black and silver) which work fine. In fact, all of my Texas Instruments hardware (cartridges, speech synthesizers, PEB, etc) except for 1 cartridge still work. The other 80's computers I have are a TRS-80 Model 100, Apple IIc, and Macintosh SE and they all work perfectly. 

 

In my experience 1990's computers are much less reliable than 80's machines/



#17 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:06 PM

Overall, I've been very lucky.  I still have roughly 3 dozen computers, so for the defect list to be so short is pretty amazing.  But, this is also one reason I've been selling off my collection bit by bit, because I know that the clock is ticking and I have no interest in keeping that many computers in tip-top condition anymore.  Plus, I'm now more interested in getting very good at a few select systems instead of being just meh on so many.

 

This is the trend. Many people are giving up (have given up) collecting anything and everything in sight. It quickly becomes unmanageable. And it consumes a hella-lotta time. All your efforts have to be spread across so many different things, thus you can't enjoy the finer points and the best any given platform has to offer.

 

It's fashionable nowadays to focus on one or two platforms and explore them in-depth. When you do this your love of the hobby will increase. I guarantee it! And it was true back then, too. I had the Apple II first for a while, but when I got the Atari 400/800, C64, TRS-80 CoCo, TI-99/4A, and others, I found I didn't have time to do anything cool anymore.



#18 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 11, 2016 5:39 PM

After loosing most of my collection and given the long term reliability of this old machines... I'm planning on going with some sort of FPGA based system like MIST.



#19 20ohm20 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 12, 2016 11:29 AM

I've had bad luck with Commodore 1541 drives.  The original two that I got in 1984 and 1986 never lived long enough to the see the 1990's.  Everything else that I've owned since the 1980's seems to have held up well.



#20 shoestring OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Sep 12, 2016 9:32 PM

 
This is the trend. Many people are giving up (have given up) collecting anything and everything in sight. It quickly becomes unmanageable. And it consumes a hella-lotta time.


How true this is. This is the very reason I offloaded all my Amiga stuff. Amiga has a lot of chips which means more that can go wrong.

At one point I had an Amiga 3000, 2000 and an A500. I was tired of replacing 8520s which are a common failure.

If I were to get back into the Amiga hobby, it would have to be an FPGA based system.

#21 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 13, 2016 1:05 PM

My Atari 400's case plastic is brittle. Seems to be a characteristic of type of plastic used.

 

The Atari 800 fared better. However, the space bar rocks side to side. I just got the 800 recently, and it's the first one I've owned -- so I don't know if that's normal for an original A800 space bar.

 

The 800XL keyboard is doing great (although I don't really hammer away at it all that much).







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