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

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I think community support should be a factor.  It's no good if people aren't around to help you learn how to use the machine or play your homebrews.

 

Objectively, it has to be the C64.  Best games library, great music and a community that will never ever ever ever ever let this system go.

 

Emotionally, it was the VIC-20.  My parents had one when I was very young and it stopped working before I was old enough to experience it beyond vague memories of Blitz and Shark Attack.  When I learned that eBay could provide me with any system from the past and present that I wanted, the VIC was the first one I went for.  Still a great system, still a great community with lots of contemporary support and certainly not a bad starting point for the beginner.

 

I recently bought a BBC Micro  (11 years after buying the VIC-20) and I think my experience of other systems beforehand has allowed me to appreciate how much this system has to offer compared to the others.  It has upgrade paths that were far ahead of its time and it's impossible to not become fully immersed in this system.  It tempts you and pulls you in.

Edited by English Invader
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I'd probably agree with most people and say a C64.

Mostly because they are fairly available and affordable and have that great retro feel.

I think you have to add a modern storage device to it, so you need to add that price, but an SD2IEC or Pi1541 are pretty cheap.

Yeah, the BASIC isn't as good, but I don't see most people just getting into retro doing a LOT of BASIC.

Yes, some.  And the way the C64 BASIC editing works, I think it is great for that.  I don't think most people would miss the color / graphics commands for their first retro machine.

And of course, there is a LOT of great retro software that most people will remember.

(Note:  If you are somewhere else in the world, this answer might change to a ZX Spectrum.)

 

That said, it is funny that personally, someone who grew up with a C64, hasn't been as involved in the C64 retro world.

Love my Vic-20 (it was my first computer) and my Amiga.

 

Also, I think you can make a strong argument for an Apple II series machine.  Possibly the //c.

They are more expensive, but still can be found for a decent price if you are patient.

And with ADTPro and a cable, you don't need to buy a lot of other items to get going.

 

And, it is small which I think is a nice advantage. (The C64 isn't too much bigger if you don't use a real 1541, so I don't take that as a negative for the C64).

 

It is too bad that //c doesn't have audio in to use the Apple Online Game/Disk Server.

 

The Apple line has that great Retro feel.  A good BASIC.  Lots of software...

I'd say something like the //e, but that is taking a lot of space for an intro to retro.  Although it does have the audio in. ;-)

 

I'm not familiar enough with the Atari/CoCo line of machines to really weigh in on those.  I am sure they are great, but don't have that nostalgia for me.

 

Edited by desiv

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1 hour ago, Leeroy ST said:

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?

The Dragon has the same hardware as a CoCo 1/2, and the same BASIC.
So what I said about the CoCo, is pretty much true of the Dragon.
Regular floppy drives for the Dragon are really rare, so you'll probably have to buy a disk emulator.
There were several other CoCo clones around the world.  Some in Brazil, Mexico...

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13 minutes ago, fimbulvetr said:

Even easier than ADTPro for getting files onto Apple IIs is the FloppyEmu from Big Mess 'o Wires. It also has a smartport hard drive mode for the IIc.

Easier, but not cheaper.. ;-)

And make sure you have the right ROM for the //c.  (Those are the kind of gotchas that can really frustrate a new user...)

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12 minutes ago, desiv said:

And make sure you have the right ROM for the //c. 

True, but that only matters for the smartport hard drive mode. I never really used that, so when my ROM 3 IIc died I didn't bother updating my ROM 255 machine. 

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I'm a fan of C64 but i wouldn't recommend it  as "out of box" computer to start with retro computing.

The standard Basic is too limited  , of course you can use some other basic like the Excellent Simon's Basic , but it is not in standard.

Reliability it really depends on the C64.... you can be lucky  or not...

 

concerning the Game library , i think it hard to find better than the C64's one.    And there is also lot of modern device to improve your experience with that machine.

 

So in general, i would say the C128 is a better choice if you want do BASIC.  and as it is also backward compatible with the C64 , it is a very good choice.

 

But in general if i would suggest a good "out of the box" machine for retro computing / Gaming  , i would go for an MSX  or even better (but more expensive) an MSX 2.

 

These machines  are really reliable , there is lot of choice in term of brand, look etc...    The Microsoft Basic on them is really good  ,  there a very big game library with very good games.   And lot of game on cartridge also.   And the community is still extremely active!

 

Another very good machine would be the Amstrad CPC .  I would go for CPC 6128   or a CPC6128+   to have  a disk drive and 128k.

the locomotiv basic on these machine is also really good ,  the game library is also big  and there are lot quality games.  And also the community is very active. (mainly in spain and France )

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Throwing my two cents in, these are my thoughts on the matter.  The options for each category are as follows:

 

1. Price: Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, C64, Vic-20, TI-99/4a, Coco 2

2. Game library: A8, C64, Apple II, CoCo 2, Amiga, ST, Mac, MS-DOS / PC clone

3. Ease of file transfers to/from modern devices: A8, C64, and CoCo 2 have dead simple SD card solutions of some kind

4. Powerfulness (or whatever you call it) of the computer: A8, C64, Apple II, Amiga, ST, Mac, MS-DOS / PC clone

5. Ease of use: A8, C64, and CoCo 2 (due largely in part to #3)

6. Reliability: Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, Apple II, CoCo 2, MS-DOS / PC clone

7. Video output: A8, C64, MS-DOS / PC clone

8. BASIC: Apple II, Vic-20, C64, CoCo 2

 

Obviously my take on this is from a U.S. perspective and just my opinion.  Other machines to consider if one lives abroad could include ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, and Dragon 32/64 machines, apart from the Amiga and ST which I believe are easier and cheaper to find abroad, especially in England.

 

Regardless, there are lots of good options out there.  It is just a matter of what one likes, what one is willing to pay, and what one wants to do.  There are lots of computers for some good gaming, but perhaps not as much for more serious computing, or so it seems to me.

 

Hopefully this list and the other comments help someone out.

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I've completely forgotten about the MSX. They're very obscure in the U.S, but it would be a very good choice, now that I think about it. They're a bit expensive, but reliable, fun, versatile, easy to use, has a great BASIC(depending on the model) and has an equally great game library. If only they weren't so hard to come by in the U.S.

1 hour ago, Hwlngmad said:

Throwing my two cents in, these are my thoughts on the matter.  The options for each category are as follows:

 

1. Price: Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, C64, Vic-20, TI-99/4a, Coco 2

2. Game library: A8, C64, Apple II, CoCo 2, Amiga, ST, Mac, MS-DOS / PC clone

3. Ease of file transfers to/from modern devices: A8, C64, and CoCo 2 have dead simple SD card solutions of some kind

4. Powerfulness (or whatever you call it) of the computer: A8, C64, Apple II, Amiga, ST, Mac, MS-DOS / PC clone

5. Ease of use: A8, C64, and CoCo 2 (due largely in part to #3)

6. Reliability: Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, Apple II, CoCo 2, MS-DOS / PC clone

7. Video output: A8, C64, MS-DOS / PC clone

8. BASIC: Apple II, Vic-20, C64, CoCo 2

I'm sorry but I'll have to disagree with a few of those. The Color Computer line doesn't really have a game library that would appeal to people who want a retro computer to play classic, mainstream 80's games.

Also, don't forget DOS systems also have something called a Compact Flash to IDE adapter, they work well from my experience, and is very easy to use.

I'm not entirely sure how A8s and the C64 ended up in the same league in powerfulness with the 16 bit systems.

And also as most people have agreed upon, the early Commodore systems have a horrible BASIC. And CoCos that didn't come with Extended Color BASIC were pretty bad as well.

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2 hours ago, bluejay said:

I'm sorry but I'll have to disagree with a few of those. The Color Computer line doesn't really have a game library that would appeal to people who want a retro computer to play classic, mainstream 80's games.

Also, don't forget DOS systems also have something called a Compact Flash to IDE adapter, they work well from my experience, and is very easy to use.

I'm not entirely sure how A8s and the C64 ended up in the same league in powerfulness with the 16 bit systems.

And also as most people have agreed upon, the early Commodore systems have a horrible BASIC. And CoCos that didn't come with Extended Color BASIC were pretty bad as well.

Hey, it's cool to disagree with a few.  After all, those were just my opinions as I was to merely putting out possible/plausible options.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't provide some counterpoints.  Those are:

 

1) While the CoCo doesn't have the library of an A8, Apple II, and/or C64, I would argue it is a competent gaming machine in its own right.  Granted, it is definitely below the other 8 bit computers I listed, but I think it offers a lot gaming wise that a lot of people don't necessarily know about.

2) Very true, those Compact Flash to IDE adapters are quite slick.  I didn't remember and/or think about those, so those definitely those would be something to be in point #3.  No doubt about it.

3) The Amiga and ST are more powerful than 8 bit machines, full stop.  However, A8s (like the 800XL) and C64 are powerful enough in their own right and good enough for a lot of people.

4) Granted, Commodore's BASIC is not the best.  However, the manual for the Vic-20 is considered to be one of best for one wanting to learn BASIC.  I would have to say the BASIC in the Vic-20 and C64 are competent enough to be included, but certainly below other machines' offerings.

 

Again, just my opinion.  I am certainly no expert, especially concerning matters with BASIC.  But, again, I do appreciate your disagreements as hopefully this discussion as well as others in this thread help someone out going forward making choice(s) for him/herself.

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5 hours ago, Hwlngmad said:

3. Ease of file transfers to/from modern devices: A8, C64, and CoCo 2 have dead simple SD card solutions of some kind

You can add the TI-99/4A to this category.  The FinalGROM 99 is a "multi-cart" of sorts which will play all ROM/GROM titles from SD card.  The nanoPEB provides DSK1..3 emulation via a CF card and has the 32k memory expansion built-in.  It is a little more convoluted than just copying a file to an SD/CF card from PC, but the software to make the virtual volumes is simple to use.

 

5 hours ago, Hwlngmad said:

6. Reliability: Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, Apple II, CoCo 2, MS-DOS / PC clone

7. Video output: A8, C64, MS-DOS / PC clone

Add the TI-99/4A here, too.  These things are built like tanks and the most common failure I know of is the VDP RAM, much like PLA or CIA failures in the C64 though less easy to replace.  Video output is 240p composite like the A8 or C64.

 

Console BASIC on the TI is slow as balls but it is a good learning environment.  Readily available upgrades like TI's own Extended BASIC and the myriad third-party variations and enhancements (like "The Missing Link") are far better and more functional than the built-in BASIC, including command access to sprites.  For around $200 to $250 you can have a console, a nanoPEB, and an FG99, and from there the AA TI subs are your friends.

 

For software, there are a lot of good titles from the era and tons of great stuff from the past 10 years.  Adventure and Tunnels of Doom are highly regarded for the platform, and the TI has its own "personality" in exclusive titles like Parsec, The Attack, TI Invaders, and Munch-Man, among others.

 

I have refrained from pitching much because I have rather narrow experiences and cannot speak objectively regarding machines like the CoCo3 (we had one for two weeks before pitching it,) etc.  My computers were the TI-99/4A, which I abandoned due to the availability of less costly peripherals and "mainstream" software on the C64, dabbled with Atari 8-bit during the time, then on to Amiga.  I bought my first Amiga 500 for $500 with a shyttonne of software, and the prices are still relatively similar.   I made a connection with my Amiga that I am not certain retro-hobbyists of today will make, but that definitely is top of my list.

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8 minutes ago, OLD CS1 said:

You can add the TI-99/4A to this category.  The FinalGROM 99 is a "multi-cart" of sorts which will play all ROM/GROM titles from SD card.  The nanoPEB provides DSK1..3 emulation via a CF card and has the 32k memory expansion built-in.  It is a little more convoluted than just copying a file to an SD/CF card from PC, but the software to make the virtual volumes is simple to use.

 

Add the TI-99/4A here, too.  These things are built like tanks and the most common failure I know of is the VDP RAM, much like PLA or CIA failures in the C64 though less easy to replace.  Video output is 240p composite like the A8 or C64.

 

Console BASIC on the TI is slow as balls but it is a good learning environment.  Readily available upgrades like TI's own Extended BASIC and the myriad third-party variations and enhancements (like "The Missing Link") are far better and more functional than the built-in BASIC, including command access to sprites.  For around $200 to $250 you can have a console, a nanoPEB, and an FG99, and from there the AA TI subs are your friends.

 

For software, there are a lot of good titles from the era and tons of great stuff from the past 10 years.  Adventure and Tunnels of Doom are highly regarded for the platform, and the TI has its own "personality" in exclusive titles like Parsec, The Attack, TI Invaders, and Munch-Man, among others.

 

I have refrained from pitching much because I have rather narrow experiences and cannot speak objectively regarding machines like the CoCo3 (we had one for two weeks before pitching it,) etc.  My computers were the TI-99/4A, which I abandoned due to the availability of less costly peripherals and "mainstream" software on the C64, dabbled with Atari 8-bit during the time, then on to Amiga.  I bought my first Amiga 500 for $500 with a shyttonne of software, and the prices are still relatively similar.   I made a connection with my Amiga that I am not certain retro-hobbyists of today will make, but that definitely is top of my list.

Thanks for the input.  Yep, definitely the TI-99/4a has some appeal like the options you mentioned above.  Definitely a good machine to get into as well as.  Just depends on what tickles your fancy in the end as there are a lot of good choices out there.

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22 hours ago, bluejay said:

Also, don't forget DOS systems also have something called a Compact Flash to IDE adapter, they work well from my experience, and is very easy to use.

Good point.

Although for some reason, personally, I have never considered DOS in my retro world.  Which is weird.

I grew up with DOS.   All the while (well, most of it) I have had DOS machines along with my C64s and Amigas.

Started with original PCs, remember adding a 286 Inboard to one of mine.  Used GEM on the PC pre Windows.

And I still use PCs to this day.

But I don't do retro PC stuff and PCs don't generally come into my mind when I think of retro...

 

Maybe because they have been with me the whole time and I have just lived with the progression.

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Consider what kind of resources are available for the platform too.  I have an 800XL as my only in use retro computer, and between stores like Best Electronics still selling replacement parts and new old stock, Atarimania with an exhaustive library, Antic Podcast, and all the information on the system here, I've had a blast with it despite never having owned one or even used one in the 80s.  

 

Other computers may certainly have similar resources, so I'd suggest seeing what there is to support the system you're leaning too - it certainly increases the fun factor. 

 

For what it's worth, I had a C128 in the 80s.  The Atari still captures enough of the period nostalgia to scratch that itch too.

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6 hours ago, desiv said:

But I don't do retro PC stuff and PCs don't generally come into my mind when I think of retro... Maybe because they have been with me the whole time and I have just lived with the progression.

As a whole I don't think retro at all for PC. But certain early parts in the timeline do speak retro'ese to me. Think some 286 - 486 stuff, with strong emphasis on 486. Then there's Pentium II & III. Especially the Slot-1 variants. Substantial CPUs with heft. The epitome of elegance. Not at all interested in Pentium or Pentium 4. Not Core or Core Duo. And certainly not anything from AMD.

 

Still have my Slot-1 mainboard. An Intel AL440LX for a Pentium II. It's special to me because the guy at the computer store operating in the basement of an abandoned Precision Video shop (an 80's Hi-Fi and VCR shoppe) said it was of the first-run and just barely ready for production. It came in a white-box and has the word "secret" stamped on SouthBridge. Conjured up all sorts corporate espionage and leaked products and special ops stuff. Indeed, I had the board days or weeks before systems with it showed up on the market en-masse.

 

Co-incidentally I also got my first music CD from there when it was still called Precision Video.

 

The store was all full of nooks and crannies packed with all possible imaginable parts. Parts that would make anyone a multi-millionaire if sold at today's ebay prices. We're talking boxes full of everything we know as vintage and retro and classic. Whatever the fuck you want to call it.

 

Then of course there's the early 3D stuff. My favs were nVidia's offerings starting with the Riva-128, then the TNT2, and later the Geforce 4. A small pickin's of a vast array of early chips.

 

I did the 3DFx and PowerVR things but hated the respective passthroughs or excessive bus communication. Never got into ATi, Rendition, or Virge, or Permedia. Things were happening so fast so I had to pick what I thought was the best of the best and be done with it. But a lot of it is nostalgic to me.

 

I experienced great 'retroness' with my first real graphics card. We did a lot of Doom, Duke, and Raptor missions together. An STB Evolution ISA 1MB board built around the Cirrus Logic 5422. A basic Windows 3.1 accelerator and respectable 2D-VGA performer all around. It wasn't as fast as ATi stuff or Matrox stuff, but the chip family was in everything!

 

Sound cards? I was impressed and satisfied with the 1st SoundBlaster 16 ISA card. And that's all I ever needed to use. That or an immediate derivative like AWE32 or AWE64 Gold. But always ISA. That's retro. But anything else? Well.. The sound subsystem was absorbed into software and simple mobo DACs - and here we are!

 

3 hours ago, TemplarXB said:

Consider what kind of resources are available for the platform too.

I believe most old systems have good support in one form or another. You'll find programming books, hardware upgrade books, reference manuals, software catalogs, and eBay + new 3rd party developers can supply you with any part you'll ever need.

 

Shit. Man. I could even find parts for the gear-drive that moves the laser assembly of a 1993 CD-ROM drive. That's awesome.

 

Early in the 2000's there was a ton of e-waste being generated as people left DOS behind. Some of it still survives on eBay - but for a high price. Sometimes. And that whole Precision Video store I mentioned? That was all e-wasted as bulk scrap. Rent-a-cops were there when they crushed it all up and stuff. And that was like 1/100,000th of the scrap that was generated from the dot-com era and internet build-out.

 

In 2017 I was able to find a spare board. A simple, but motherboard specific & custom memory expansion board. Got it for $28.

 

In 2016 and 2018 I was able get some spare motherboards for my vintage PC rigs. Haven't seen them before or since.

 

What I would like to get as another spare is a Canopus Total3D128V graphics card. Have never seen one on eBay in all this time.

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I’ve always wanted a Coleco Adam Computer. Not sure if it’s technically a PC but it certainly isn’t an Apple product. My other computer want is an Apple Lisa 2.

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29 minutes ago, adamchevy said:

I’ve always wanted a Coleco Adam Computer. Not sure if it’s technically a PC but it certainly isn’t an Apple product. My other computer want is an Apple Lisa 2.

Yeah, with it being an amazing add on for such a popular console, being super duper easy to connect to the modern world, it's the absolute perfect computer for the beginner computer enthusiast!

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Yeah, with it being an amazing add on for such a popular console, being super duper easy to connect to the modern world, it's the absolute perfect computer for the beginner computer enthusiast!

True, maybe a 512k Mac or Amiga 500 would be a better choice. I also think an Apple G4 cube would be cool!

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3 hours ago, potatohead said:

In PC land, 386 is definitely retro.  486, maybe.

I have to argue that the 486 is as equally retro as the 386. In its first iterations it had a few new things over the 386 - the FPU, higher clocks, cache, one or two additional instructions. And superscalar architecture. From a programming standpoint the 486 was just a superfast 386.

 

Not only is the 386 definitively retro it had a bigger-than-monstersized role in shaping the future. Much much larger than is commonly known. The 386 hit the market and unseated IBM as the top PC developer - all by itself.

 

IBM had considered moving up to the 386 but got the wacko notion stuck in its collective head that the chip was too powerful for the common man. Overpowered. Expensive. Therefore it wasn't chosen in any PC design and no OSes were written for it (by IBM). They stuck with OS/2 and the 286.

 

But Microsoft, being the visionary company they are, buffed up real multi-tasking and got Windows/386 going. That in combination with Compaq, Gateway, and Dell, all using the 386, delivered the power to run a good GUI for the masses.

 

And when IBM got wind of what was happening it was much too late to retain control of the PC market. IBM desperately tried to regain control by doing proprietary things like that bastardized MCA bus. And that backfired because the patent process was too slow compared to the pace of technology. By the time a company could get approval to make an MCA peripheral, PCI was just around the corner.

 

I clearly recall when I was spec'ing out my first 486 that the catalog was equally divided between 386 machines and 486 machines. With 2 pages devoted to the specialty EISA-bus.

 

 

 

 

 

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EISA lived mostly in 386s, but also in some early 486s.  Mid 486 had VLB, and "VERY LATE" 486 had some early PCI implementations. (though those are semi-rare to find.)

 

 

 

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