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Best introductory system

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#1 RiderofOstriches OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 12:11 AM

I am very interested in the world of classic computers and I am looking for a great introduction computer. I know that most normal instincts would say the Commodore 64, but I have read of a number of quality issues (overheating, motherboard failure, etc.) and would like to know what other peoples gateway system was and what you would recomend. Thank you in advance.

#2 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 4:31 AM

What country are you located in?
If you are in the US, the Apple IIe or TRS-80 might be a good choice.  In Europe, you might like a Spectrum, CPC, or Amstrad.
Atari's and C64s are good either way.

The Ti-994/A is neat as well but it has a smaller software library..
The biggest game libraries are C64, Atari, Apple II, and Spectrum.

#3 rpiguy9907 ONLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 7:47 AM

It depends on what you want to do with it.


If it is just for games, then a Commodore 64 is the obvious choice.


However, it has an archaic BASIC and DOS and if you want to do anything other than game with it there is a steepish learning curve and you will almost certainly end up using a 3rd party DOS extender/fastloader, or end up spending money on multi-carts, etc.


The Apple II and TRS-80 had more logical DOSs that are pretty useable. If you want a vanilla experience, using real disks and floppy drives, and the original DOS, then these systems are better choices than the C64.


If you want to code on any of these systems there are also pros and cons. Both the Commodore and the Apple have pretty good enthusiast scenes with people who can help. The Commodore is more active with tons of new blogs and open projects to check out.

#4 Almerian OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 9:33 AM

Depending on your budget, you can now get a brand new 'classic' 8 bit computer, but probably only today.

The Kickstarter project ZX Spectrum Next is a fully ZX Spectrum compatible 8 bit computer with an easy keyword Basic and a good manual.

It will be brand new and there are many books (pdf's) and programs (including games) widely available.


There will be an active community of new owners.

Otherwise, I recommend an Atari 8 bit, an 800 XL is preferable. Solid, reliable, great games, lots of developing tools.

Good luck with your choice.

#5 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 9:40 AM

Depending on your budget, you can now get a brand new 'classic' 8 bit computer, but probably only today.

The Kickstarter project ZX Spectrum Next is a fully ZX Spectrum compatible 8 bit computer with an easy keyword Basic and a good manual.

It will be brand new and there are many books (pdf's) and programs (including games) widely available.


There will be an active community of new owners.

Otherwise, I recommend an Atari 8 bit, an 800 XL is preferable. Solid, reliable, great games, lots of developing tools.

Good luck with your choice.

There's only 7 hours to go on the ZX Spectrum Next.  
It would be a great system to have, but it's a little pricey for getting your feet wet in the hobby, and you have to wait until next year to get it.

#6 BassGuitari OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 9:44 AM

Assuming you want to play games, the Commodore 64 is one the definitive classic computers and would be my first choice (but I'm biased since that was the first computer/game platform I ever used). An Atari or Apple would also be good choices. The pros definitely outweigh the cons with all three of them.

Some "2nd-tier" systems that are really cool--if less powerful--that you may want to consider are the VIC-20 and TRS-80 Color. The TI-99/4a has a lot going for it, as well (notably the fairly low price on base systems and carts), although it's kind of an odd duck in several ways. The TI has a ravenous following and support system here on AA, as well.

TRS-80s (Model I/IIIs) are expensive and have problems of their own, and are a bit more arcane owing to their late '70s origins, but if you want to go really old-school, the Trash-80's your man. If you just want to dip your toes into classic computers, though, I probably wouldn't start there otherwise--these things make the C64 look like a supercomputer. I have a Model I and I love it, but '70s-era stuff is my wheelhouse--your mileage may vary.

Speaking of '70s-era stuff, the Apple II is a good choice because it spans so many different periods of the early years of home computers. It's the not-so-missing link between the ancient hobbyist kit systems and consumer-grade "PCs" as we know them--particularly from a hardware standpoint--and survived well into the 16-bit era. With the //e, for instance, you can get a glimpse of what home computing and computer games were like in their primordial stages, and then also run the gamut of Golden Age arcade, RPG, and computer titles (which are usually better on an Atari or C64, but still).

#7 spacecadet ONLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 11:35 AM

I agree with BassGuitari that the Apple II is the most "PC-like" of the classic computers, so if you're used to how a desktop PC works, it's easy to understand the Apple II. Does the computer not do something you want it to do? Add a card! Something not working right? Open it up and start tinkering! That sort of thing.


Otherwise, I'd probably go with an Atari 8 bit over the C64. They're a little bit better built (though both can have dodgy power supplies), they have more cartridge-based software and games if you don't want to deal with a floppy drive initially, and they have a little better graphics and sound.


Whatever you get, I'd really recommend budgeting in some kind of floppy emulator. It can be a major hassle getting software onto a classic computer without one, unless you want to buy floppy-based software titles individually on Ebay. But that adds up really fast. Most classic computers have some sort of floppy emulator available these days but some are easier to deal with than others, and some more or less expensive than others. The C64 and Atari 8 bits have pretty cheap and easy to deal with floppy emulators, and the Apple II actually has a few different options but they're a little more expensive.


If price is a factor, overall the C64 and Atari 8 bits are both pretty reasonable, the TI 99/4A would be even cheaper, and the Apple II would be more expensive.

#8 Keatah OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 12:55 PM

The short version:

Apple II, Atari 8-bit, C64, in that order. And budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 - $600 for a top-flight experience.


The long version:

I'd say Apple II first, then Atari 8-bit, then C64. I grew up with the Apple II and learned countless concepts and practical knowledge I use to this day. They're quite reliable and easy to repair. Most failures come from bad ram, which is socketed and readily available if you ever need to swap it. The Platinum //e is the most reliable and lowest chipcount of all - and it comes with the latest ROM. So it's a good choice if you go Apple II. The Apple II and Atari are better built than the C64. So consider that too. Though all three are top-tier compared to the shit sold today.


And Apple II has a very logical DOS and perhaps the most simplest disk drive of all of them. Not the highest capacity. But likely the fastest, you can dupe a disk in like 30-seconds. And like all other classic rigs, there are modern-day flash storage solutions, with a new production run of the best coming soon, the cffa3000. Or you can buy a $50 SSC card and hook up to your PC. Or even just use the audio in/out cassette port by connecting to your PC's sound card out.


Apple II DOS 3.3 (and later ProDOS) made perfect sense to a shitbrained kid like myself who had just spent the past month learning Applesoft Basic. The DOS commands were simply like an extension of Basic. They integrated perfectly and operated like it was always there. And LOAD & SAVE worked just like their cassette counterpart, except with a filename. Soon I was doing memory dumps and  BLOADing and BSAVEing Hi-Res pictures.


There's also a IIgs model, which is essentially an entry-level attempt at 16-bit computing. It never became popular because it didn't have the support from Apple at the time. It has a complete //e SoC (system on a chip) inside and will run all //e series software. Think of it as a hybrid. To me, it isn't the simplistic elegance of the II, II+, //e. and //c. It is a patched together hybrid that was underutilized do to market climate.


And let me top it all off by saying all three of these micros have excellent documentation. The Apple II+ Family System came with 800+ pages of technical & tutorial information back in the day. You got a schematic, and firmware listing as well as an introduction to Basic and DOS. Top flight stuff. Atari and C64 have good material too.




I don't recommend the TI-99/4A series simply because I think there are too many restrictions in the internal layout of the circuitry. And how Basic operates.


Like all memory requests from the CPU having to go through VDP (video display processor) first. That's like your Intel processor on your desktop accessing main memory by detouring through the graphics card! This causes a bottleneck.


And the slow TI Basic language. I understand it has to be interpreted twice or has to go through a running program or something. There's a whole thread here about it.

http://atariage.com/...hl= basic slow


I don't dislike the TI-99/4A or anything, just that I feel you're not going to learn as much as on the other three. And not as fast, and with more frustration. I was personally frustrated with the machine back in the day, and now, today, trying to get a handle on how "dos" fits into the picture.


Atari and Commodore DOS are alright I suppose. I could grasp them and get the job done.




I also don't recommend the Amiga, Mac classic, or Atari ST series for simple reasons. They're 16-bit machines and not down-to-Earth bare-metal enough.. They're less hobbyist computers and more appliance computers. More like today's systems then the first 8-bit rigs, with complex OS'es and all that.


The Apple II continues to remain my choice, because you can get to the machine language monitor or Applesoft Basic instantly. Editing a simple 10 line program is as fast as 2000 line program. And DOS takes but 5 seconds to load - on a real vintage disk drive. And there are many varieties of DOS.


On the downside, you have no custom chips in the Apple II. It's basically the 6502, main memory, and some discrete i/o circuitry. There is no sound chip, there is no video chip. The Apple II has much more in common with an S-100 bus system or the early single-board micros like the KIM-1 or RCA COSMAC VIP. In fact it was born in the same era with the same design philosophy.


Whereas the Atari and Commodore have some game console design elements in them. Cartridge slots, sound and video chips, and joystick input chip too.




PC-side emulation support is superb for the Apple II and Atari 8-bit rigs via AppleWin+Ciderpress and Altirra. I know what you're thinking, emulation, blecchhh cough cough. But emulation and its support tools are a great side companion for testing out new disk images, curating and organizing them working with files, and bridging the gap between real hardware and the internet. Sure, you can put all these rigs on the internet. For fun and to say it can be done. But c'mon, let's be realistic.




Regarding TRS-80 Model I, II, III, and IV. And the Color Computer lineup.. I don't have enough direct experience with those machines to either recommend them or not.




I don't recommend the Timex Sinclair stuff or early Spectrums or anything like ColecoVision's Adam or anything that converted a game console into a home computer. There are so many limitations and loophooles and exotic niche-specific procedures that it'll all baffle you with bullshit. Whereas sticking with the original 3 you'll be blinded by brilliance in a good way.


You also don't want to get something with hard-to-find expansion parts. Again, the top 3 are Apple, Atari, and Commodore.

#9 Arnuphis OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 10:10 PM

I'd say Commodore 64. Plenty of them out there and the add ons are pretty inexpensive. Massive amounts of software and hardware. Easy to tinker with and there are tons of homebrew projects out there that do some amazing things. They are not better or worse than any other retro computers for reliability (based on personal experience) and the good news is that there are inexpensive repair options available should you get a dead one.


Plus, you have this to look forward to:




If you want a little more refinement and a more friendly BASIC then maybe consider the 128. Quite possibly the best 8-bit machine IMHO (apart from the BBC Master but that's hard to find stateside)


Atari 800(XL) a close second as it is also a good robust platform with a lot of interesting add-ons, followed by the Apple IIe which feels like a hobby machine but lacks the specialist chips of the other two. Still good though and a nice open design.


The TI-99/4a is another amazing machine but it's a little more 'quirky' and not for everyone (although I love 'em).


I agree with the above poster on the 16 bit machines. Amiga's/STs are amazing but run on a GUI and are closer to a modern machine in how they work. Stay away from Sinclair (ZX81, Spectrum) unless you like membrane keyboards, rubber keyboards and wobbly ram packs. Never rated those machines and that was from personal exposure to them in the 1980s.

#10 eightbit OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon May 22, 2017 11:12 PM

I think before ANY recommendation I have to pose the question:


Have you had any prior experiences with any "classic" computer? Any that you have used in the past and have any feeling toward? That information alone will help to drive you to what you should start with.

#11 Keatah OFFLINE  


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Posted Tue May 23, 2017 3:27 AM

..like something used in school. Or something played at a buddy's house..?

#12 ColorComputerStore OFFLINE  


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Posted Wed Jul 26, 2017 5:57 AM

I recommend a TRS80 Color Computer.

* Power supplies are built in and are very stable, you'll need to often buy power supplies for Atari, TI or C64. C64 PS can go bad and take your entire system with it
* The Extended Basic is very good and Basic manuals are excellent
* Active hardware development of new stuff tht is reasonably priced
* Most 80s games have ports...yes, Graphics not as good as C64 and Atari. ditto for sound...But conversions gameplay are solid
* Features the best 8bit cpu sold, 6809
* Easy to expand and tinker with
* Units on ebay almost always have working keyboards (looking at you Mitsumi TI keyboards)
* Have you seen Donkey Kong for CoCo 3?


#13 Flojomojo OFFLINE  


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Posted Wed Jul 26, 2017 6:47 AM

I think before ANY recommendation I have to pose the question:
Have you had any prior experiences with any "classic" computer? Any that you have used in the past and have any feeling toward? That information alone will help to drive you to what you should start with.

That's how I see it, too. If you have to ask which one, you're probably unprepared for what you think you want to do. I would start with emulators rather than hardware until you know what you're doing. Atari 8bit and/or Commodore 64 would be a good start.

#14 Grimakis OFFLINE  


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Posted Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:23 AM

Honestly I started with a C64 and it was a lot more work than I wanted. They are not fun to repair or tinker with, because almost nothing is meant to be replaced by the user. I'm no stranger to using a soldering iron, but it may be an inconvenience to you.


The Apple //e, and the IIe Platinum are good choices. They both are very expandable, have large software libraries, and are rather user friendly. Also they are quite reliable. I have seen many more dead C64s than Apple IIs recently. Also the Commodore 1541 disk drive its big, noisy, and unreliable.

#15 Keatah OFFLINE  


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Posted Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:18 PM

Keep in mind all classic computers will need some work from the get go, as soon as you get it. Minor fixes and stuff.. Apple II is very easy to work on and troubleshoot, especially with the knowledgeable community that has been around for ages.


You may want to begin by figuring out which software you're interested in, games, productivity, telecommunications, science.. What computer runs the things you want to work with?

Edited by Keatah, Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:21 PM.

#16 carlsson OFFLINE  


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Posted Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:43 PM

I have seen many more C64s than Apple IIs recently. 

Fixed that for you. :)

#17 bpatte02 OFFLINE  


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Posted Fri Jul 28, 2017 5:07 PM

I think the Vic-20 has been a great learning computer for me. If graphics is a high priority then this isn't really the system for you, but she's pretty basic and her games, while not exactly eye catching are still fun. There is a huge community over on the Denial forum that knows everything there is to know about the Vic and we have Carlsson who is a pretty close second to that. I've even connected her to a BBS or two with a wireless modem.

#18 gozar OFFLINE  



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Posted Sat Jul 29, 2017 8:56 PM

I'm going to recommend the Atari 800XL. It's the easiest to get started since you can use an FTDI breakout board and jumper wires to create a cable to use with your computer as a floppy emulator. It should cost you under $5. RespeQT is the software to run on your PC, and it runs on Windows, Linux, or macOS.


The hardware is powerful enough to do neat things with, but simple enough to learn how everything works.

#19 davidcalgary29 OFFLINE  



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Posted Sun Jul 30, 2017 1:24 PM

As above, but I still think that the 800 is an even better choice, even with its stock 48k. It's a thing of pure beauty, and they were built like tanks. It was my first computer in '83, I still have it, and it still works perfectly. :)

#20 RangerG OFFLINE  


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Posted Sun Jul 30, 2017 7:30 PM

I want to second getting a CoCo 1 or 2. They are cheap and dependable. Also, the Getting Started series is excellent. They make learning about the CoCo and learning Basic really fun.

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#21 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:18 PM

Perhaps it would be a good idea to list what machines to get or not to get if depending on what you want to do..
I think games have been covered so I'll try to deal with a few other things.

If you want to learn to program in BASIC
Best versions:
TRS-80 Color Computer, Extended Color BASIC
Commodore 128
Commodore Plus/4

Good versions:
Apple II series, Applesoft II
Atari, Atari BASIC

The rest:
VIC 20, No extended BASIC commands
C64, No extended BASIC commands
TI-99/4A, Not a bad BASIC but it's based on ANSI BASIC which is different than most of the machines
Spectrum, Not a bad BASIC, but the keyword entry system is torture IMHO
BBC, Even more non-standard than the TI, but it is fast

TRS-80 Color Computer.  The standard DOS is easy to use and you also have access to FLEX and OS-9 operating systems.
Commodore Plus/4.  Added simple commands to the C64 DOS.  Much more friendly.
Commodere 128? I think it has the same commands as the Plus/4.  I'm not sure and I own one.
Apple II.  Very easy.  ProDOS is quite powerful

Atari, but I've only worked with disks that autoboot
BBC, If it's as good as the Atom with an SD interface, it's at least in this category.

The rest:

C64, save as VIC20
VIC20, I don't care for it.  It's not friendly at all

Edited by JamesD, Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:19 PM.

#22 BassGuitari OFFLINE  


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Posted Mon Jul 31, 2017 8:26 AM

Good versions:
Apple II series, Applesoft II

What's your take on Integer BASIC, just out of curiosity?

#23 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:33 AM

What's your take on Integer BASIC, just out of curiosity?

It's pretty much a non-extended BASIC, and has fewer features than Microsoft BASIC even if you ignore math.

I haven't written anything in it, but if I remember right, the graphics commands are all for the lo-res mode.

It's about what a TRS-80 Model I has but with color.
That is certainly more than the C64 BASIC has for graphics, but the lack of floating point is even more limiting for anything beyond games.
*I think* it was more limited in string handling, and I'm not sure if it supported multi-dimensional arrays. 
I haven't looked at any Integer BASIC code in 30+ years though.

While you can use custom fonts, PEEK and POKE graphics, or even add USR functions for graphics on the C64, you can't integrate floating point into Integer BASIC. 
At least I haven't seen it done.  I managed to squeeze ELSE into a "full" MC-10 ROM so I won't say it's impossible.   :twisted:   

In theory, you can simulate decimals by storing numbers as 10x or 100x greater, or represent the decimal portion as a separate integer, but no matter how you look at it, it's awkward, requires additional code, not simple, and the slower code defeats the purpose of using Integer BASIC in the first place.
But it is faster than Applesoft BASIC.

It would be interesting to see how it compares to the Acorn Atom BASIC as far as speed goes. 

Given the limited library of software for Integer BASIC, I'd say that backs up rating it in "The rest" category, and even behind the other machines.
That doesn't mean it's horrible, just that it has a lot of limitations.
If you want to turn out a lo-res game as your first programming project, it might be the right tool for the job.
Keep in mind you can compile Applesoft II if you really want a fast program, so speed isn't as much of a concern as it was when Integer BASIC was written.

The BASICs I like the least are the TI and Atom even though they are more powerful than Integer BASIC.
The non-Microsoft like syntax is awkward to adapt to after coming from Microsoft machines.
Atari may be non-standard, but it's easier to adapt to.  String handling is it's biggest issue.
The Sinclair BASIC is decent enough, but the keystroke combinations to enter the keywords is torture for me.
With a patched ROM that lets me type out the commands, I'm sure I would like it batter, but that's not what they come with.

Edited by JamesD, Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:35 AM.

#24 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon Jul 31, 2017 12:53 PM

I forgot one major system.  The Amstrad CPC.
The Amstrad CPC BASIC also appears to be one of the better BASICs on paper, but I've never used it.
The listings I looked at appear similar to Microsoft BASIC, so I think it would fall into the "Best versions" group, but I'm not 100% certain.


FWIW, my experience with Oric BASIC is pretty limited as well.  
The only thing I've really programmed on it was a music player written in assembly language.  
I wrote a short BASIC test to see if my music player could coexist with a BASIC program while it ran.
I rated Oric BASIC as good because is has some Extended BASIC features like custom sound commands and line drawing, it has programmable characters, it's also one of the only 6502 Microsoft versions with ELSE.
It was a tough call of which group to put it in, but the odd screen setup makes it more difficult to design graphics.  
As such, I figured grouping it with the Apple II was more appropriate, but it definitely has some features Applesoft II doesn't. 

#25 JamesD OFFLINE  



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Posted Mon Jul 31, 2017 1:07 PM

Another consideration.  Book and magazine support.
These machines have lots of articles and listings to learn from.
C64, Atari, CoCo, Apple II.

Each system was supported by multiple magazines and most for a decade or more.
The VIC and TI would be next in the US.

I'm sure the Sinclair had a lot of support in Europe.  I'd guess the BBC Micro also had quite a bit of support.
Beyond that, I have seen a few articles for other machines, but I don't know how much support they really had.

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