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bluejay

What computer would you recommend for people who are just getting into the hobby of retro computing?

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I'll divide this up to 8 categories.

1. Price. These retro computers can end up quite expensive, sometimes well above the budget a newbie to world of retro computing would be willing to pay.

2. Game library. Most people who want to get into retro computers are most likely going to want to play games.

3. Ease of file transfers to/from modern devices. It is quite a hassle to deal with old cassettes and floppies, so modern forms of file transferring would be handy.

4. Powerfulness(or whatever you call it) of the computer. A computer has to be powerful to be able to run fun games.

5. Ease of use. Who would want to use a computer that requires you to be a rocket scientist to operate?

6. Reliability. Newbies are probably not capable of repairing a broken computer. It can't just randomly blow up.

7. Video output. RF sucks.

8. BASIC. Some people might want to mess with a bit of BASIC. A horrible version of it won't do.

 

Keep in mind the computer has to be from the 80s.

 

I've considered a lot of computers. Here's a few computers I've seriously considered choosing as the best computer for the beginner retro computer enthusiast: The Apple //e or //c. It scores pretty well in most categories, but it's expensive. These old Apple computers are becoming collector's items, and many are out of reach of a lot of people. Then there's the TRS-80 Color Computer line. They're cheap(not the CoCo 3 though.) and reliable, but has an unimpressive game library and only has RF output(also not the CoCo 3) and, really, no easy way of file transfer unless you're willing to use the awful cassette interface. The Commodore 128. Not the most reliable computer, but it's got a pretty good library of games(since it's compatible with the C64), outputs S-Video(with an S-video cable), and is pretty straight forward. However, they are EXPENSIVE!

 

After all the thinking, I ended up going back the the good old Commodore 64. They aren't terribly expensive yet, it's got a great library of games, file transfers is easy with stuff like SD2IECs, pi1541s, and ZoomFloppy. It's easy to use, outputs composite or s-video, and it's just a very popular computer with lots of 3rd party accessories to make your life easier. Although it does suffer from a bit of reliability issues(especially the power supply), isn't the most powerful computer, and has a pretty bad version of BASIC.

 

It has its drawbacks, but what other computer doesn't? I've yet to come up with a better retro computer for people who want to get into the hobby of retro computing.

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My title got dropped... oops

If you want to program in BASIC!  Here are my observations!
Games... see the above post


I'd stick with a computer running a version of Microsoft EXTENDED BASIC simply because it's easy to port to/from most machines.
EXTENDED BASIC usually means at least some graphics support, better versions support more advance graphics commands, and sound.

The CoCo would be my first choice.  At least the CoCo 2, a CoCo 3 if you can afford it.
CoCo's have the CoCoSDC drive interface.  You can just copy files to an SD card from the PC.
EXTENDED COLOR BASIC, and GW BASIC are almost identical.
It is probably the most complete Extended BASIC on any 8 bit I've seen.

Applesoft II is an extended BASIC, though "extended" is limited mostly to setting the graphics mode and drawing lines.
I'd get the IIGS, IIc Plus, or Laser 128EX due to their faster clock speeds.

The Plus/4, and C128 have very good EXTENDED BASICs, which are mostly the same as each other.
The C128 has the advantage of supporting C64 software, and a 2MHz mode if you can take advantage of it, and CP/M support.
If you want to run big programs that use a large amount of data, the Plus/4 is a beast in that respect... but it has a smaller software base.
The Plus/4 BASIC is also slow because it has to constantly bank switch between ROM and RAM to support more RAM than other machines.
One example where the Plus/4 shines, is a guy cranking out 3D wireframe images of objects where the data wouldn't fit in other machines, and it looks really neat.
I wouldn't recommend the Plus/4 for someone's only machine, but maybe a 2nd or 3rd if you collect.

Atari BASIC is an extended BASIC, but it's very different, it's slow, and it doesn't have typical string array support so I don't recommend it.
It has a fast modern BASIC replacement if you get the hang of it though.

The TI-99/4A supports ANSI BASIC.  It has some interesting features, but it's horribly slow, harder to port to, and pretty restricted IMHO.

The ORIC Atmos has an Extended BASIC that even has advanced sound commands (for BASIC anyway).
It's a little slower than the other 1MHz 6502 machines from what I've seen.

I hate everything Sinclair I've tried due to the BASIC keyword entry system, but some models let you type out commands.
It's a bit different than Microsoft BASIC, and it's slow, but the Spectrum's BASIC is an Extended BASIC. 

Amstrad has some machines with an excellent Extended BASIC.
At least the list of commands looks good.  Locomotive BASIC?
No idea which machine to get, but it looks like a decent option in PAL video land, probably the later model the better.

BBC Micro's BASIC is fast, other than that I don't know much about it.  The only stuff I looked at was a bit different syntax wise.

VIC20.  Commodore PET BASIC running on a machine supporting 22 characters per line, limited RAM, and no extended BASIC commands.
I'd pass.

C64.  Commodore PET BASIC running on a 1982 machine with no extended BASIC commands from the factory.
But hey, you can PEEK and POKE to your heart's desire to access everything. 
C64 fans will be quick to say there's Simon's BASIC, but it's a bit non-standard.
Just be aware that anything you write using Simon's BASIC requires anyone that runs your program to have Simon's BASIC as well.
It wouldn't me my choice, but as you can already see, it has it's fans.

To be fair, I've only ported one program to the C64.
I ported a program from the MC-10 (which would run as is on the CoCo), to the Apple II, Plus/4, and C64. (I've used the Apple & Plus/4 before)
I had to change how the random number routine was called for every machine, and had to change commands to locate the cursor on the screen for the Apple & Plus/4
The C64 required me to POKE the screen X Y position into RAM and make ROM calls. 
Guess which port took the longest?
Of the 6502 machines, the Apple IIe was fastest, followed by the C64, followed by the Plus/4, though the Plus/4 BASIC benchmarks well at math.
The MC-10 (referred to as a doorstop by the CoCo community) was faster than all the 1MHz 6502 machines, and the MC-10 BASIC is poorly optimized for it's CPU.
If you really need speed, there are also BASIC compilers for most machines.
 

Edited by JamesD
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What's expensive to people?

 

Real machines keep creeping up.

 

And it seems to me the best experience requires a disk emulator device of some kind so people can load up an SD card, or USB thumb drive with stuff they find on the Internet, and so they can save their own work and share, right?

 

Controllers

 

Would that be the minimum?  I always start there so I can play some games, run various environments people put together, write some programs, tinker some, get a feel for the machine.

 

When I setup on my CoCo3, I paid about $250 to get going with an SD interface, joystick, computer, cassette.

 

Got a little lucky on my Apple platinum, it was like $100 and had Super Serial, Disk drive, controller card, 80 column / 128k.  I added a CFFA, $150 and more recently a FastChip '816 (the 16 bit CPU is just for my own assembly language fun and didn't cost anything extra), and that was $150, but it's a sweet setup now.  

 

So, $250 and $350 for good gear, tested, etc...

 

I need to get an SIO interface for my Atari gear.  Didn't really pay much for it and I've had it a while.  400, because it looks cool, and can just do "Star Raiders" and an 800XL.  If I were to buy a machine, it looks like $150 to $200?  

 

And that's not scrounging prices.  That's "I want to jam on a C64" and buy it setup, tested, and kind of ready to go prices.

 

What are people paying for an Apple, with some SD card interface, joystick?  Same for Atari, C64, etc...??

 

Honestly, I think if one isn't willing to drop a few hundred bucks, perhaps over a bit of time to score something that's going to deliver, maybe one of those FPGA setups makes more sense.

 

Here's one I've been seeing.  Thinking about getting one myself:  https://www.retrorgb.com/mister.html

 

There is getting going, doing something on a TV or monitor, and then over time, there is a real fun setup that costs more and takes a little time, but ideally is worth enjoying.

 

It's hard to say what should be a first retro computer.  A whole lot depends on what people want to do, or what they may be familiar with, and so forth.  

 

One thing I would add is getting a CRT can be attractive to some people.  If they want a more robust retro experience, now's the time!  They are getting costly fast, and the high end ones already are.  But, it's still possible to score pretty good CRT televisions from "side of the road", which I just did.  Need to clean it up and calibrate it, but hey!  Freebie!  ...to, a pro, re-capped job costing a few hundred bucks.

 

When I retro compute or game, I really like the CRT.

 

Edited by potatohead
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Might have to be 2 computers. A [//e or //c] and [C64 or Atari 800].

 

Could also set them up with a collection of emulators to try them out firsthand and make a choice from there.

 

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3 hours ago, JamesD said:

The CoCo would be my first choice.  At least the CoCo 2, a CoCo 3 if you can afford it.
CoCo's have the CoCoSDC drive interface.  You can just copy files to an SD card from the PC.
EXTENDED COLOR BASIC, and GW BASIC are almost identical.
It is probably the most complete Extended BASIC on any 8 bit I've seen.

The CoCo 2 or a keyboard modded CoCo 1 are very reasonable computers for their prices. A good working setup with proper cables seem to go for less than $100, at least the last time I've checked. I would have definitely chosen the CoCo 2 64k over the C64 if it weren't for the game library! The RF modulator inside the thing is horrible and from what I've gathered a composite mod for the CoCo 2 is rather complicated. Dealing with RF is a complete pain in the rear, but if you're willing to fiddle with the thing a bit it's not THAT bad. However, the CoCo doesn't have that many mainstream games because Radio Shack was an idiot. It has a hidden gems, and I'm almost sure a lot of people with CoCos as their first retro computers will fall in love with it despite its downsides, people who are expecting to find classic mainstream games will be pretty disappointed.

CoCo 3s are too expensive. They seem to go for $300+, and for that price, you could buy the much better Commodore 128.

I totally forgot about the CoCoSDC! But then again, not that many CoCo software came on disk; at least not interesting ones.

I have to agree, CoCo's extended BASIC is one of my favorite versions of BASIC. The text using RF video, especially on a small 9" CRT like the one I use, can be a bit hard to read, and the keyboard isn't the best, but the BASIC is very capable and easy to learn with the original manuals the computer came with. Radio Shack apparently sold a BASIC learning binder thingies for the CoCos at one point; my CoCo 2 came with one. They aren't all that helpful but are certainly very interesting.

AAAAAAND there's the cassette interface. This would be the primary method of loading and saving programs(that is, unless you have the expensive floppy drive or a CoCoSDC) and god is it unreliable. This is actually one of the main reasons I quit using my CoCo so much; because it wouldn't load or save whatever I did on it very well, and I'd end up losing my code or progress in Dungeons of Daggorath so often. Very frustrating.

But all in all, I'd say if you have a very limited budget the Color Computer line is a very affordable, nice retro computer for the beginner.

Edited by bluejay

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My answer would be: Go with what you had back in the day. Most people get into retro computers for the nostalgia angle. You don't really meet people born after 1999 who want to go play with a 8-bit computer. 

 

If I had to choose one  from an Apple II, C64, TI-99/4a, Dragon 32, Sinclair Spectrum, Oric, BBC Micro, Atari 400/800 or TRS-80 I would pick the C64 every time as its the one I had back in the 80's and it takes me back to a happy place.

 

So my answer to the categories would be:

 

1. Price. C64 - no shortage of them and you can get one easily at next to no cost.

2. Game library. C64. Had pretty much everything. usually the best version as well. Plus loads of new game titles coming out as we speak.

3. Ease of file transfers to/from modern devices. C64. So many devices to choose from to get this done. Some cheap. Some expensive but very powerful.

4. Powerfulness(or whatever you call it) of the computer. C64. Very expandable at not much cost to do so.

5. Ease of use. C64. Switch in on and there you go. No loading of anything needed.

6. Reliability. C64c as long as you ditch that power supply.

7. Video output. C64. Plenty of cable options and other things to get a good output.

8. BASIC. C64. Full screen editor is big. Yes, the basic has a lot of POKE and PEEK commands but that is a good stepping stone to understanding assembly language, which is what you really need on any machine if you want to write games.

 

Yep, I'm biased. But if I had grown up with one of the others then I'd probably put that. Although I did have a VIC-20, TI-99/4a, C16 and Plus/4 during the 80s and eschew all those for the C64.

 

But at the end of the day, If I met someone who wanted to enjoy retro computing and was not a child of the era I would probably steer them towards a 'TheC64' first since they can just plug that into their modern TV and see what they think and not spend too much money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Arnuphis
grammar
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2 hours ago, bluejay said:

The CoCo 2 or a keyboard modded CoCo 1 are very reasonable computers for their prices. A good working setup with proper cables seem to go for less than $100, at least the last time I've checked. I would have definitely chosen the CoCo 2 64k over the C64 if it weren't for the game library! The RF modulator inside the thing is horrible and from what I've gathered a composite mod for the CoCo 2 is rather complicated. Dealing with RF is a complete pain in the rear, but if you're willing to fiddle with the thing a bit it's not THAT bad. However, the CoCo doesn't have that many mainstream games because Radio Shack was an idiot. It has a hidden gems, and I'm almost sure a lot of people with CoCos as their first retro computers will fall in love with it despite its downsides, people who are expecting to find classic mainstream games will be pretty disappointed.

CoCo 3s are too expensive. They seem to go for $300+, and for that price, you could buy the much better Commodore 128.

I totally forgot about the CoCoSDC! But then again, not that many CoCo software came on disk; at least not interesting ones.

I have to agree, CoCo's extended BASIC is one of my favorite versions of BASIC. The text using RF video, especially on a small 9" CRT like the one I use, can be a bit hard to read, and the keyboard isn't the best, but the BASIC is very capable and easy to learn with the original manuals the computer came with. Radio Shack apparently sold a BASIC learning binder thingies for the CoCos at one point; my CoCo 2 came with one. They aren't all that helpful but are certainly very interesting.

AAAAAAND there's the cassette interface. This would be the primary method of loading and saving programs(that is, unless you have the expensive floppy drive or a CoCoSDC) and god is it unreliable. This is actually one of the main reasons I quit using my CoCo so much; because it wouldn't load or save whatever I did on it very well, and I'd end up losing my code or progress in Dungeons of Daggorath so often. Very frustrating.

But all in all, I'd say if you have a very limited budget the Color Computer line is a very affordable, nice retro computer for the beginner.

A composite mod for the CoCo 2 can be purchased for $50 shipped. 
The CoCoSDC can be purchased from the same site or BoysonTech
https://thezippsterzone.com/video-adapters/
https://boysontech.com/

Cassette unreliable?  It was one of the most reliable out there. 
The small cassette cable wires needed repaired on a regular basis, but that wasn't the computer's fault.
I never had a problem with the Radio Shack cassette deck once the TONE knob was set to... 8?
And by never I mean as long as I didn't screw up and save after typing the high speed POKE without slowing it back down first.
There was set of parameters for the tape timing you could POKE into RAM to load a tape accidentally saved at the higher speed in an issue of Rainbow, but I'd moved on by then so I never tried it.
I had pretty good success with a cheap Panasonic tape deck too, but it clearly wasn't as good.  I still got by with it for some time.

IF you get a CoCo...

I would suggest a CoCo 2 from when the main chips were still fully socketed. 
Probably get one of the last ones that were fully socketed if you can find what model number that is.
The last ones made require desoldering chips if you want to do certain repairs or drop in a 6309 CPU.
If the Color Computer badge says Tandy, it's one of the last ones.  It should have a 6847 that can display lower case characters though so... tradeoff?
I suggest a CoCo 2 because it's sure to work with the high speed POKE, and after the very first one they had decent keyboards.
They are easier to upgrade to 64K, and should come with Extended Color BASIC if you get a 64K one.
16K units might not have the Extended Color BASIC ROM, but you can probably get Extended BASIC from the Zippsterzone but I think you'll have to ask.
White CoCo 1's, and the later silver 1's aren't bad, the high speed POKE should work, and the 64K upgrade isn't bad if it's required... but you don't get the better keyboard.
Some early CoCo 1's may need a capacitor(s) removed to use the high speed POKE, they are difficult to upgrade the RAM, etc... so an F board is best if you get one.
The later ones have the Radio Shack Color Computer badge centered above the keyboard.
You can buy a CoCoVGA to hook the machine to a VGA monitor, and it can add some new features.  It gives a beautiful display output.

The CoCo 3's have jumped in price due to all the recent upgrades available, and the new games. 
Mine has a 2MB RAM board, larger are on the way, and a GIME chip replacement that lets it run at a higher speed, adds more video modes, etc..

The CoCo machines get several new games a year now. 
Some are CoCo 3 only, and those are really good, but there are ones for the original machines too.
Several new games have actually been released in the last month.  Digger III, Omnistar, Rally-SG, and a decent BASIC game, Cosmic Aliens.
A Poker Squares game came out last month, 3D Monster Maze in July, Bomb Threat, Gunstar, Timber Man, a cart with a Hunt the Wumpas patterned after the TI-99 version, Farfall (spelling?), Knight Lore on cart, Digger II, and around 100 game ports via Arcade Game Designer last year.
A guy is working on moving some of the old disk games to cart, so we may see a bunch of those appear ready to put on a multicart.
Just the single load stuff at the moment, but he may get more sophisticated in time.

It's a busy time in CoCo land.

Edited by JamesD
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It would seem others are recommending their favorites or what the prospective purchaser had back in the day.

 

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I would personally suggest a 486, or early pentium system.

 

People who are "brand new" to retro computing will have "Too alien an experience" going straight to an 8bit micro, since they will not have "First experienced the 8 bit way of doing things" like us old fossils did.

 

The 486/early pentium era has 24bit color (in theory. 256 color in practice, but the pallet space for those 256 colors is 24bit), stereo sound, and decent-ish music generation.  It is also not THAT expensive, and there is a FOCKHUGE game catalog.  This makes it on par with modern pixel-art based titles that have become popular on mobile devices, so there is some familiarity that can be leveraged.

 

This would get the prospective retrogamer some experience with the warts of old systems, and thus get them into a more experienced position to better grasp the 8bit world.   THEN they could move to an Apple II, CoCo, or similar system, and not be quite so lost, confused, and ultimately turned off by the alien-ness of the experience.

Edited by wierd_w

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56 minutes ago, JamesD said:

Cassette unreliable?  It was one of the most reliable out there. 

Definitely.  Was fast, supported filenames and very tolerant of speed and level issues.

 

If all one has is cassette, the CoCo capability is very good.

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Just now, potatohead said:

Definitely.  Was fast, supported filenames and very tolerant of speed and level issues.

 

If all one has is cassette, the CoCo capability is very good.

The problems are (often) noise, and speed (especially without a fast loader).

 

Many old 8bit micros would pipe the modulated tape sound out through the speakers. This was useful to know if the tape was janked up, not playing, etc--- but was not pleasing to the ears.

 

Additionally, modern gamers are very spoiled when it comes to loading times.  You have to get them acclimated to the loading times, and other warts of the ages of yore--- not throw them straight to the wolves.

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27 minutes ago, Keatah said:

It would seem others are recommending their favorites or what the prospective purchaser had back in the day.

 

Getting what you had as a kid is great if you want to relive your childhood.
But if you wanted to play a game that was never on your machine, maybe try something else?
And the best machines for games aren't necessarily the best for BASIC.

If you want to game, the C64 and Atari are the top choices for size of game library.
If you want to program in BASIC, I'd pass on them.
The Sinclair Spectrum also has a big game library.
So, it's great for games, but if you want to program in BASIC?
The BASIC is capable but slow, maybe slower than Atari BASIC slow, and if you get one, I'd get a later machine where you can type commands out, and there is a sound chip.
I'd probably only suggest it if you had one as a kid.  You also have to worry about PAL video if you wanted one in North America.

One of the best things I can suggest with programming, is edit the code on a modern PC, then load it into an emulator.
Once it seems to be far enough along, test on real hardware.

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2 minutes ago, wierd_w said:

The problems are (often) noise, and speed (especially without a fast loader).

 

Many old 8bit micros would pipe the modulated tape sound out through the speakers. This was useful to know if the tape was janked up, not playing, etc--- but was not pleasing to the ears.

 

Additionally, modern gamers are very spoiled when it comes to loading times.  You have to get them acclimated to the loading times, and other warts of the ages of yore--- not throw them straight to the wolves.

If you wanted to pipe the cassette sound through the speakers, why didn't you type AUDIO ON ?
It's part of the BASIC.

The CoCo cassette operates at 1500 baud, it's not exactly a machine that attracted fast loaders. 
The C64 is excruciating without one, as it's tape is around 300 baud, and the Atari is around 600 baud.
If you had a disk drive, the CoCo uses a parallel interface, and doesn't need a fast loader.
Really, nobody should be using cassette on the CoCo these days. 
The CoCoSDC is $58 for the board, a little more with case.
You can also use high speed serial at 115200 (or higher) using Drive Wire to talk to a PC program that serves up disk images. 
Drive wire has been around since... the early 90s?  Possibly late 80s?
The Glenside IDE interface has been around since the first half of the 90s. 
 

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You are mistaking my statement (which was for 8bit micros in general), for being specific to CoCos.

 

The TI99 for instance, piped the sound of the tape through by default, and was painful slow.

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4 minutes ago, wierd_w said:

You are mistaking my statement (which was for 8bit micros in general), for being specific to CoCos.

 

The TI99 for instance, piped the sound of the tape through by default, and was painful slow.

EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!
Okay, that would be horrible!
But hey, TI supported dual cassette drives if you had the right cable.

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Going by OPs list, for the first microcomputer, C64 is indeed the best choice. The only real letdown is its horrible BASIC.

 

For the second you can't go wrong with any of the rest of the Big Four - Atari, Sinclair, Amstrad. DOS machine can also be a great fun, though it's probably the closest to what we are working with now, hardware wise,  so does not have that retro-allure.

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2 hours ago, youxia said:

Going by OPs list, for the first microcomputer, C64 is indeed the best choice. The only real letdown is its horrible BASIC.

 

For the second you can't go wrong with any of the rest of the Big Four - Atari, Sinclair, Amstrad. DOS machine can also be a great fun, though it's probably the closest to what we are working with now, hardware wise,  so does not have that retro-allure.

trust me, DOS is sufficiently retro to most kids these days.

 

Especially when you throw in the obscure bits about memory management and pals, and the "slow" speed of the older generation processors. (sub 100mhz).

 

The key point of the question is "JUST getting into."  You WANT it to be familiar, but sufficiently alien to be alluring, and to coax them further down the rabbit hole.  Going straight to the mad hatter and march haire is more accurate to the experience of entering wonderland, but you want them to have the table with the bottle that says DRINK ME first. :P

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4 hours ago, wierd_w said:

trust me, DOS is sufficiently retro to most kids these days.

 

Especially when you throw in the obscure bits about memory management and pals, and the "slow" speed of the older generation processors. (sub 100mhz).

 

The key point of the question is "JUST getting into."  You WANT it to be familiar, but sufficiently alien to be alluring, and to coax them further down the rabbit hole.  Going straight to the mad hatter and march haire is more accurate to the experience of entering wonderland, but you want them to have the table with the bottle that says DRINK ME first. :P

Exactly. DOS computers are very similar to modern computers, especially 486/pentium era computers. These can still be classified as retro and and can play many retro DOS games.

But the problem is, desktops from this time period are very bulky, expensive, and complicated to deal with. Would you want to deal with broken cheapo floppy drives, bad hard drives, BIOS settings, operating systems, RAM, etc. when you've just gotten into retro computers? Trust me, someone who's never had to deal with this kind of stuff will strangle themselves.

A C64, for example, you can turn on and start typing into it right away. Yes, laptops are much simpler, but they are also very expensive, unless you find a good deal at a flea market or something.

Also, when I first got into retro computers, I was curious and excited to use cassette as storage. I mean, I've never dealt with this kind of stuff, but if you think about it, it's a pretty interesting way of storing data. Commodore cassettes work fine, and it's very, very reliable. I've never had a loading error. The thing is, it's terribly slow. Besides, a lot of C64 games came on disk.

A Color Computer would be the biggest reason to use a cassette. Most modern devices don't have mic jacks. So unless you have an old enough device that actually has a mic jack, you're gonna have to stick with the good old cassette deck. The CoCo's cassette interface is completely analog and I found it to be very annoying. The volume knob has to be just right, the tone knob(if you have one) has to be just right, and even then it doesn't work all the time. Seriously, cassettes are absolutely horrible.

Edited by bluejay

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19 minutes ago, bluejay said:

Exactly. DOS computers are very similar to modern computers, especially 486/pentium era computers. These can still be classified as retro and and can play many retro DOS games.

But the problem is, desktops from this time period are very bulky, expensive, and complicated to deal with. Would you want to deal with broken cheapo floppy drives, bad hard drives, BIOS settings, operating systems, RAM, etc. when you've just gotten into retro computers? Trust me, someone who's never had to deal with this kind of stuff will strangle themselves.

A C64, for example, you can turn on and start typing into it right away. Yes, laptops are much simpler, but they are also very expensive, unless you find a good deal at a flea market or something.

Also, when I first got into retro computers, I was curious and excited to use cassette as storage. I mean, I've never dealt with this kind of stuff, but if you think about it, it's a pretty interesting way of storing data. Commodore cassettes work fine, and it's very, very reliable. I've never had a loading error. The thing is, it's terribly slow. Besides, a lot of C64 games came on disk.

A Color Computer would be the biggest reason to use a cassette. Most modern devices don't have mic jacks. So unless you have an old enough device that actually has a mic jack, you're gonna have to stick with the good old cassette deck. The CoCo's cassette interface is completely analog and I found it to be very annoying. The volume knob has to be just right, the tone knob(if you have one) has to be just right, and even then it doesn't work all the time. Seriously, cassettes are absolutely horrible.

Just doing a passing glance on the E of Bay, I'm seeing sold C64's (that are shown to be working) go for the $100-$150 mark and I've seen some 386 machines go for around the same.  Shipping on some wasn't total evil depending on the size.  I saw some working laptops go for the $115-$150 mark shipped.  So it really depends on if you hit the right deal, especially in the time we currently live in.

 

As for complicated-I guess that's in the eye of the beholder.  I think it would be less complicated because, unlike many of us, the new enthusiast has the Internet on their side.  For the real old machines, like your 8088 boat anchors with dip switches-if you lost the sticker on the case or didn't have the manual, you had to reach out to either the company (if they'd give you the information) or local computer groups to see if you could find the right information.  For general PC info (how to set up DOS, etc.) it was a trip to the library to find one of those "how to" manuals (I did that to find out how to manage memory to eek out enough base RAM to play "Star Wars:Tie Fighter").  Now it's just a flip of the smartphone and a few taps and there's loads of info and how-tos at your eyeballs.  Once it's up and running (if it needs any massaging to get to working speed), getting around DOS isn't all that bad to a newcomer.

 

 

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Back in the day the experiences I had with a brand-new Apple II in the late 1970's vs what I had with a Gateway 486 were vastly different. And that despite both being NIB.

 

With the Apple II I had to learn what a modulator was. I remember being actually upset at having to wait till the next day to visit the TV repair shop to get all the details. And then having to trek to Data Domain to purchase it for $34.95. Then install it by actually messing around inside with wires and power voltage! After that I was on my way to discovery - guided by 800+ pages of included manuals. There was no one available to tutor or help an 8-year-old learning computers. Had to put on my big-boy pants and do it myself. Thank the gods of olympus and their beautiful daughters that I didn't have to battle with recalcitrant intermittent hardware.

 

There was the guy with the 'fro at Compu-Shop who did introduce me to several software packages and games, and how to load them. Maybe a little BASIC stuff. But that's as far as that went. It was sales stuff. Over the ensuing years my rudimentary electronics skills would continually be tested and buffed-up whenever I added expansion cards and stuff. It was similar to the earlier hobby computers minus the tons of soldering. But there were some minor mods to connectors, cables, and even the motherboard.

 

The manuals were heavy into programming. Had a whole 200 book that had monitor listings, another had BASIC described in detail, another for DOS, another was a BASIC tutorial - like classroom instruction.

 

The technical manual had complete schematics, those monitor listings, address charts, ASCII charts, screen formatting details, important memory locations, power supply schematics and specifications, CPU instructions, slot pinouts and game port pinouts, and a ton more. Most everything you needed to design and create things.

 

Compare that to 14 years later.

 

In 1992/1993 when I finally got into the PC everything was 100% ready to go out of the box. 100% turn-key from the delivery guy. There were 2 ~700 page manuals, 2-120 page guides, and a 10 page quickstart guide showing how to connect cables and flip the power switch.

 

There was local online help in both DOS and Windows. And in every application that was pre-loaded, no shovelware either! Did I mention the 900 page book for Word 2.0a? Or its 5x 100 page guides for each add-on module?

 

AND they even threw in a binder of "technical" information like BIOS settings, Dip-Switch settings, internal connector locations, motherboard component layout, how to add SIMMs and expansion cards, and parallel/serial port pinouts and multi-function I/O card jumper settings. Things like that. Really basic stuff. Stuff an office worker or his tech support lackey might use.

 

Anything and everything programming related was nowhere to be found. Everything was USER ORIENTED without question. All I reviewed was the 10-page cartoonish quickstart guide to connect everything.

 

From box to power-on and typing in Word it took like 1/2 hour with most of that time spent shuffling around all the papers, manuals, boxes and install/backup disks. And positioning the beast on a table. From then on everything was point-n-click or drag-n-drop. Everything just worked and most all was intuitive.

 

Over the weeks and months ahead I flipped through and read sections of the 2000+ pages of books and manuals. Learning some essential DOS commands. Learning what left/right clicks did. Exploring some exotic features like macros and styles and even fonts! Fonts! Now that blew me away! I was under the impression that was mostly for MAC systems. But they were here! So cool.

 

Everything was about productivity and doing things.

 

 

 

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My first computer was a ti99, so I have a soft spot for that one. That is the only computer I've done basic programming on, and that was back in the 80's so I can't really speak to what is the best 8-bit computer for programming. They are reasonably cheap, there is a very active community, and the hardware is extremely robust and reliable. If you buy a couple cheap modern add-ons (Final Grom 99 and 32 k expansion) you can easily access 99% of what is available for it. But, compared to some of the other 8-bitters, the software library is pretty small.

 

I also have an Apple IIc, ZX Spectrum +2, and CoCo 2. but of those computers I would recommend the spectrum. PAL is not a big deal, as a lot of LCD screens support PAL. Just plug it in and go. It has an absolutely massive software library, and there is a huge active community for the spectrum, lots of new games coming out, and lots of new hardware. It is weird, quirky, still pretty cheap, and people are still making brand-new spectrums (e.g., the Omni, Spectrum Next, Harlequin, etc) so you don't have to rely on 30+ year-old hardware. It is definitely a quirky computer with lots of really weird games, but I like that. It is never boring.

 

I've never really warmed up to the Apple as a games computer and they can be expensive, but there is a lot out there for it. I guess I just find it a kind of boring.

 

The games library for the CoCo isn't that great and the joysticks are TERRIBLE, even the "good" Deluxe joysticks. I have never been more frustrated with controllers than with the CoCo. There are also a very limited selection of sources for hardware upgrades for the CoCO, so when they are out of stock you are out of luck. Maybe it was because I had no nostalgic connection with the CoCo, but I found it underwhelming and disappointing. 

 

Speaking as someone with WAY too many old dos computers, don't get a 486 or whatever. An 8-bit computer will give you a much better retro experience. Dos machines are their own thing, and fun if you know what you are doing, but really frustrating if you don't. Too many parts to go wrong, to many chances for incompatibilities, loads of memory management, IRQs, DMAs, etc to mess around with. And the boot time. 8-bit computers just start up. There is little reason to not just run DosBox to play with dos-era software unless you really love the hardware experience.

 

DON'T GET AN OLD LAPTOP. They suck. They are delicate, impossible to repair, the batteries are always dead and impossible to replace, parts are impossible to find, and old laptops run like crap compared to a contemporary desk top. I have a couple. These are advanced-level collector toys only.

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2 hours ago, bluejay said:

Exactly. DOS computers are very similar to modern computers, especially 486/pentium era computers. These can still be classified as retro and and can play many retro DOS games.

But the problem is, desktops from this time period are very bulky, expensive, and complicated to deal with. Would you want to deal with broken cheapo floppy drives, bad hard drives, BIOS settings, operating systems, RAM, etc. when you've just gotten into retro computers? Trust me, someone who's never had to deal with this kind of stuff will strangle themselves.

 

 

Ummm, seems you and wierd_w have missed that bit where I said "for the second". Meaning "second retro computer after you are not a noob anymore and want to explore a bit further" :)

 

Also, about DOS machines, it does not have to be such a bad trip as in your description. It could be if you really trying to put together a 386/486 from scratch, but there's no need for that. You can get a complete and working early-Pentium system (~100USD) + Win 98 and use its DOS mode, which is much easier than dealing with a 486-era box.

 

Tapes are great fun to mess about with. At least on Spectrum, because loading time is <5min. I know on other micros it can get ridiculously long. But even so, every one of them (even PET :)) has some sort of SD/flash solution so tapes/disks are strictly optional.

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22 hours ago, bluejay said:

Keep in mind the computer has to be from the 80s.

With this restriction, you are limited to 386s and under for dos computers (the 486 *just* squeaks in at 1989, but really is more an early-90s machine). 

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If you're in Europe I have heard talk Dragon computers are so easy and straight forward it may be the best way to learn entry level programming, anyone from Europe also hear this?

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20 minutes ago, fimbulvetr said:

Speaking as someone with WAY too many old dos computers, don't get a 486 or whatever. An 8-bit computer will give you a much better retro experience. Dos machines are their own thing, and fun if you know what you are doing, but really frustrating if you don't. Too many parts to go wrong, to many chances for incompatibilities, loads of memory management, IRQs, DMAs, etc to mess around with. And the boot time. 8-bit computers just start up. There is little reason to not just run DosBox to play with dos-era software unless you really love the hardware experience.

It has been said that 486 machines are the worst to get. They came at a time when a lot of options were exploding onto the market. And at a time when software was really ramping up in versatility and complexity. A time when office productivity software was moving down into the consumer arena. All of that meant pushing and bending specifications to make things work.

 

The 486 ushered in many new things. A refined DOS. It oversaw two versions of Windows, 3.1 & 95. And it of course got the ball rolling at a good pace for DOS gaming.

 

And that's right, with DOSbox, PCem, and maybe other virtualization/emulation software, there is little reason to get a 486, let alone build one up. Just figuring out which processor variant works in which motherboard is fraught with details. Details which you discover only after you've gotten into it or purchased half your parts.

 

Having said all that I found playing Doom and Raptor through DOSbox on a modern i9 to be extraordinarily close to the real deal. Though even an earlier generation i3 is more than sufficient.

 

20 minutes ago, fimbulvetr said:

DON'T GET AN OLD LAPTOP. They suck. They are delicate, impossible to repair, the batteries are always dead and impossible to replace, parts are impossible to find, and old laptops run like crap compared to a contemporary desk top. I have a couple. These are advanced-level collector toys only.

Second that. Even applies to so-called 'modular' or 'upgradable' machines too.

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