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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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5 minutes ago, Keatah said:

Because I had a color composite monitor and vcr and couldn't use it with those.

 

Well, you could use it with those; just in monochrome. ;-)

I did a video project for a film class and used monochrome ("borrowed" - with accreditation) Amiga animations.  Worked well and looked artsy, but the reason I did them that way was that I didn't have any other option.  My Amiga came with a 1084s, so I didn't think about color composite output until then.

 

And I do agree it was stupid.  Why?  Mostly because the original Amiga 1000 had color composite output.  I honestly can't believe they saved much (if any) money doing that.

I think they just wanted to sell more monitors and/or the A520 modulators personally.

 

As for nowadays, that is a great point; and it bring up the whole PAL/NTSC issue, which can be a big deal for newbies.

As there is a lot of great software in PAL-land, an A500 with composite is going to be a bit confusing for some people as to why some games don't work or work properly.  Now, it's not a huge issue, as there are LOTS of great NTSC and PAL programs for you to enjoy for your region.  But something to consider.

 

Luckily, a GBS-8200 (I think that is it?) is pretty cheap and it's not difficult to make a cable for it and use any VGA monitor nowadays.

 

But I agree, the monochrome composite was a bad idea. And the A520 RF modulator didn't produce great color composite either. ;-(

 

From an "ease-of-use" perspective, the 600/1200 are much better options.  But the prices go WAY up for those...

 

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9 hours ago, bluejay said:

I mean, as much as I love the CoCo, it just can't beat the c64 which is only slightly more expensive.

The question always goes back to "for what". 
The C64 certainly has a huge game library, and had an enormous amount of support.

I'm not going to post a lot of CoCo 1/2 stuff, people can find it on youtube, but I will share this.

This is a recent BASIC game:


Video Playback (one of many demos):


The CoCo 3 is more expensive, but if you can afford one, it's well worth it.
Here are some examples.
Pooyan is actually a CoCo 1/2 game patched for a different palette on the CoCo 3. 
There are several patches like this for CoCo 1/2 games

 

Now for games made specifically for the CoCo 3:

In addition to be able to run some CoCo 1/2 games with a different color palette, there are also some games that have received patches to make them run faster.
This was a test of a work in progress, but some games have been optimized with faster code.
Note that when the GIME X comes out, it also has a higher speed mode that people have also shown tests of 'Rescue on Fractalus' on




And normal CoCo 3 games (sorry for the commentary on some of them, I didn't do it)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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The Color Computers are great computers, but for pretty much the same price, you could get a C64 over a CoCo 2, or a C128 over a CoCo 3. Commodore computers are just much better suited for the beginner computer enthusiast. They are iconic, popular, well supported, full of great games, and all in all, better than Color Computers.

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23 minutes ago, bluejay said:

The Color Computers are great computers, but for pretty much the same price, you could get a C64 over a CoCo 2, or a C128 over a CoCo 3. Commodore computers are just much better suited for the beginner computer enthusiast. They are iconic, popular, well supported, full of great games, and all in all, better than Color Computers.

Yeah, it's a slam dunk for the C-64. It's easy to acquire, there's tons of old and new stuff for it, there are tons of communities out there, it still has pleasing graphics, sound, and performance, it's easy to hook up to a variety of displays, there are countless flash drives/cartridge/etc. in every price range and capabilities to easily use all kinds of software, etc. I genuinely can't think of another 8-bit computer with that type of package on offer, and certainly the 16-bit+ computers add in whole other levels of complexity, especially for first timers.  

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7 hours ago, Bill Loguidice said:

Yeah, it's a slam dunk for the C-64. It's easy to acquire, there's tons of old and new stuff for it, there are tons of communities out there, it still has pleasing graphics, sound, and performance, it's easy to hook up to a variety of displays, there are countless flash drives/cartridge/etc. in every price range and capabilities to easily use all kinds of software, etc. 

 

Pretty much this, and I'm not even a great fan of the machine ... but it really is probably the best machine for a newcomer to "retro computing".

 

If you're not already well versed with the machines and the capabilities of the time period, and you go on to find that you really don't see *something* to like in the C64, then IMHO you're unlikely to like any of the other machines of that era.

 

Having said which, I would always recommend anyone new to try emulation before they start spending money on hardware that they don't know.

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The C64 is a very good choice for someone jumping into retro computing for the first time, no doubt about it.

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On 9/20/2020 at 11:34 PM, bluejay said:

If you don't have too much room to sacrifice for your retro computer, I'd actually recommend the Tandy t-series laptops(preferably the Tandy 200, but the 102 or 100 is fine as well). They're cheap, they never break, they're pretty powerful, they have a bunch of built in applications, they don't require any external storage device for permanent storage, file transfers are easy with things like mComm, they have a really nice version of BASIC built in, and to top it all of, they're cheap. Really, the only drawback is the lack of games, which is the internal LCD's limitation. I'd recommend this as a secondary computer, unless their intention is anything other than gaming, then I'd recommend this as their first retro computer.

 

For now, I've put together this:

 

<$50......TRS-80 Color Computer

<$100....Commodore 64

<$150....Commodore 64+SD2IEC/pi1541 zero

<$200....Amiga

<$250....Amiga+GOTEK

<$300....Commodore 128

>$300....Refurbished Commodore 128+Ultimate 1541 II+1571x2+1902+new power supply

 

Whattaya think?


Out of the box, the C64 has also has the most cryptic DOS system.
For a beginner, it's not very user friendly. 
The C64 really needs a fast load cart, or Jiffydos ROMs so that it loads at a decent speed, and to add a DOS "wedge" to make the machine easier to use. 
Was that included in the price of the C64, and if not, what does that cost?

All the other machines have an easier to use DOS, and faster loading out of the box.
 

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26 minutes ago, JamesD said:


Out of the box, the C64 has also has the most cryptic DOS system.
For a beginner, it's not very user friendly. 
The C64 really needs a fast load cart, or Jiffydos ROMs so that it loads at a decent speed, and to add a DOS "wedge" to make the machine easier to use. 
Was that included in the price of the C64, and if not, what does that cost?

All the other machines have an easier to use DOS, and faster loading out of the box.

I beg to differ. Although the C64 has a rather weird I/O system, so did quite a bit of computers at the time. Apple required you to type PR#X where X is the card slot your disk controller is in. The Tandy laptops required you to type in "LOAD"COM:XXXXX(XX)" Where XXXXX(XX) is the configuration for your serial port. I really have no clue what the disk commands are on the CoCo, but I'm not entirely sure if it would be much simpler than LOAD"filename",X.

Yes, the 1541 drive is slow, but I mean, it's I've yet to find a program that takes longer than 5 minutes to load from disk. It's not very fast but it isn't absolutely unacceptably slow either. And if you're playing on a cartridge, loading time is zero(but then again, the same can be said about any other system that uses cartridges.) 

 

Another drawback of the CoCo: it uses proprietary joysticks. Commodore systems use traditional Atari 2600 style connectors, and 2600 joysticks are very easy to come by. Meanwhile, color computers use those horrible analog sticks that use DIN connectors and are not compatible with any other joysticks. And they can be quite pricey if they don't come with the computer.

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36 minutes ago, JamesD said:


Out of the box, the C64 has also has the most cryptic DOS system.
For a beginner, it's not very user friendly. 
The C64 really needs a fast load cart, or Jiffydos ROMs so that it loads at a decent speed, and to add a DOS "wedge" to make the machine easier to use. 
Was that included in the price of the C64, and if not, what does that cost?

All the other machines have an easier to use DOS, and faster loading out of the box.
 

Every early computer has a challenging operating system or DOS if you're coming into it new. The C-64 really is no more complicated than anything else. Cartridges are plug and play. Cassettes use simple Load "name" commands. Disks use simple Load "name",8,1 commands. Not that hard. A lot of the flash solutions also further simplify the process. While speed is an issue for cassette and disk stuff, it's not always really bad, and there certainly are plenty of plug and play solutions to help speed things up. No classic computer is without some type of learning curve, even if it's limited in its feature-set or software options.

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3 minutes ago, bluejay said:

I beg to differ. Although the C64 has a rather weird I/O system, so did quite a bit of computers at the time. Apple required you to type PR#X where X is the card slot your disk controller is in. The Tandy laptops required you to type in "LOAD"COM:XXXXX(XX)" Where XXXXX(XX) is the configuration for your serial port. I really have no clue what the disk commands are on the CoCo, but I'm not entirely sure if it would be much simpler than LOAD"filename",X.

 

As much as I like the CoCo, I must admit that I've struggled with how to load and work with disk software on it even moreso than the C-64, Apple II, Atari, and other computers. The TI-99/4a can be another more challenging computer (in my experience) specifically when working with disks. I've also personally struggled with the BBC Micro. Again, though, learning curves are to be expected, especially if it's not a computer you grew up with and spent years getting to know all the ins and outs of.

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2 minutes ago, bluejay said:

I beg to differ. Although the C64 has a rather weird I/O system, so did quite a bit of computers at the time. Apple required you to type PR#X where X is the card slot your disk controller is in. The Tandy laptops required you to type in "LOAD"COM:XXXXX(XX)" Where XXXXX(XX) is the configuration for your serial port. I really have no clue what the disk commands are on the CoCo, but I'm not entirely sure if it would be much simpler than LOAD"filename",X.

Yes, the 1541 drive is slow, but I mean, it's I've yet to find a program that takes longer than 5 minutes to load from disk. It's not very fast but it isn't absolutely unacceptably slow either. And if you're playing on a cartridge, loading time is zero(but then again, the same can be said about any other system that uses cartridges.) 

 

Another drawback of the CoCo: it uses proprietary joysticks. Commodore systems use traditional Atari 2600 style connectors, and 2600 joysticks are very easy to come by. Meanwhile, color computers use those horrible analog sticks that use DIN connectors and are not compatible with any other joysticks. And they can be quite pricey if they don't come with the computer.

We aren't talking about a Tandy Laptop. 
I said all the other machines, none of which were a Tandy laptop, but for the sake of argument, lets say CoCo 2 (and I'd suggest CoCo 3 really). 
The problem here is right in your message "I really have no clue...". 
You aren't speaking from experience, and clearly, Bill doesn't know either based on his last response.

So let's see how difficult the CoCo DOS really is.
Feel free to post C64 equivalents so people can make up their own minds what is easier.
RUN"<filename>"  runs a basic program.  The drive number is optional, so yeah, it's even easier than LOAD"<filename>",X , but if you want it, just change it to RUN"<filename>:<drive #>" where drive #'s start at zero.
LOAD"<filename>"  loads a BASIC program without running it
LOADM"<filename>"  loads a machine language program, if it doesn't automatically execute, type EXEC to start the program.
DIR  displays the disk directory
KILL"<filename>"  deletes a file
RENAME"<filename>" TO "<filename>"  renames a file
COPY"<filename>" TO "<filename>"  copies a file from one to the other
PRINT FREE(<drive #>)  will show how much space is available on a disk

BACKUP <drive #>  will make a backup of a disk using one drive,  BACKUP <drive #> TO <drive #>  will backup a disk from one drive to another
DSKINI<drive #>  formats the disk in the specified drive
If you don't have an early DOS, games that are written for OS-9 can be launched simply by typing "DOS", like it will say on the disk label.
You now have a summary of the DOS commands. 
What is obvious to me is that you couldn't be bothered to learn any of that because you have little or no interest in the CoCo
no matter how much you pretend to be unbiased.
BTW, the Plus/4, and C128 have similar commands.  Why would they add similar commands if the C64 is easier?

There are several commands for dealing with sequential or random access files from BASIC, but you'd want to download the DOS manual for that since it has a lot of examples.
I hadn't used that in 35 years but I was still able to convert a program from using a huge list of data statements to using a sequential file in about a half hour.
That included making a separate program with the DATA statements to create a file, and replacing the DATA statement read routine with a disk read routine.
I spent more time looking up the syntax for OPEN, and reorganizing the rest of the code than writing the new file I/O code.
It took a little longer to convert the graphics code from Plus/4 to CoCo 3 due to some issues with the original program.
The code is on the CoCoTalk discord server in the BASIC area if you care to look. 

The CoCoSDC requires mounting a disk image if you want to control it from DOS, and there are several videos on youtube on how to use that,
however, there is also a menu system that lets you browse for the game you want to run, you simply highlight it, and hit enter. 
People have even created SD images with everything in the CoCo Archive already setup.
Some of the multi-disk games have even been modified so no disk changing is required, and it all loads off of one disk image.

Someone on Discord has also been working on converting some of the disk games to cart images.
He's written a program to extract the game from the disk, code to load it from a cart instead, and he's successfully tested it with some games.
Any un-copyprotected game up to 32K that doesn't perform disk I/O can be converted, and a lot of the CoCo games are like that.
He hasn't released anything yet, but if a multicart is more your thing, that should appear some time in the near future.
Conversely, existing cart based games can be loaded, and played from the CoCoSDC.

The CoCo will load faster than the C64 even if you use a high speed loader on the C64 because the CoCo uses a parallel disk interface.

The CoCo *does* use proprietary joysticks, and/or you have to buy an Atari joystick adapter, though Atari joysticks won't work well with all games.
But then how many people that have no experience with a classic system have Atari joysticks sitting around either?
GOOD Atari type joysticks with leaf switches aren't super cheap either, though crappier ones are a dime a dozen.
Atari joysticks aren't great for certain games either.  Good luck playing a game like 'Doubleback' without an analog stick.
There is a reason modern gaming systems use controllers with short throw analog controllers, and directional buttons.
If you already own a game console or computer that required Atari type joysticks, then using what you already have will obviously be cheaper than buying something new.
 

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To each their own, James. If you want a vintage computer for gaming, I'm sorry, but the CoCo series is not a great choice. There are too many major omissions from the library and performance issues (games tend to run much slower than on other 8-bits, for instance). The Atari 8-bits have a great variety, but some major commercial holes post mid-80s as well. That leaves the Apple II and C-64. The Apple II has a great selection of classic games, but fewer games are made for it today than other platforms like the Atari 8-bit and C-64, plus the audio-visuals, like on the CoCo series, are a bit rougher than some other 8-bits, so might be a bit harder to get into.

 

If you want programming and/or productivity (although I'd say that using a classic computer for productivity purposes would be a curious usage in most cases), I'd argue most classic computers do just fine in that area. Unless you have very specific needs, I'd say one vintage computer has few significant advantages over another in most of these areas.

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@JamesD I thought you had to load the Extended Disk BASIC via disk to use those commands? How exactly do you do that in the first place?

 

Also, those commands aren't enough to justify the other drawbacks of the CoCo imho. They certainly are better than Commodore computers but Commodores just have way too much more advantages over CoCos for it to matter. Commodore BASIC 2.0 is nice and simple for beginners to learn BASIC on. Unless they plan to do relatively advanced BASIC programming I think the C64 BASIC is okay. Again, Extended Color BASIC is obviously better, but not good enough to make it better than the C64 as a computer.

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13 minutes ago, JamesD said:

We aren't talking about a Tandy Laptop. 
I said all the other machines, none of which were a Tandy laptop, but for the sake of argument, lets say CoCo 2 (and I'd suggest CoCo 3 really). 
The problem here is right in your message "I really have no clue...". 
You aren't speaking from experience, and clearly, Bill doesn't know either based on his last response.

So let's see how difficult the CoCo DOS really is.
Feel free to post C64 equivalents so people can make up their own minds what is easier.
RUN"<filename>"  runs a basic program.  The drive number is optional, so yeah, it's even easier than LOAD"<filename>",X , but if you want i <snip>

 

 

Let's also consider a reasonable setup. Do you get a CoCo 1, CoCo 2, or CoCo 3? And if you pick a particular one, how much memory? They range from 4K to 128K. Only the CoCo 3 has composite output unless you mod a CoCo 1/2 or get an education model (I happen to have an education CoCo 2, so it fortunately has composite, even though a CoCo 3 is my main CoCo machine). And if you have a CoCo 3, do you want to output RGB? You'll need the right cable or converter. If you want a disk drive, you're almost certainly going to want an MPI of some type. You'll then need to track down a working disk drive and controller. Etc. It can be a pretty involved process unless you're specifically motivated to explore the platform.

You can get the CoCoSDC (which I highly recommend), but it is a bit of a challenge to get working optimally unless, as you state, you use one of the pre-packaged images and related menu systems that help a lot.

On the C-64 side, you just get a C-64. No need to worry about which model or how much memory. If you want to add a disk drive, you add a disk drive that connects directly to the computer with one cable. You can easily hook the C-64 up to either a composite or S-VIDEO ready display. No other output to worry about and you're not limited to just RF like you are on most CoCo 1/2's. 

And again, there are countless multi-carts, flashcarts, flashdrives, etc., with all kinds of features on the C-64, including some with built-in fast loaders or shell commands that make accessing and working with files even easier. If you're going in fresh to vintage computing, I don't think you can do much better than a C-64 unless you have specific reasons for looking elsewhere (and there's nothing wrong with that).

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A lot of this hinges on the interests of the individual. There are variety of different machines out there, and by and large they are all fascinating or distinguished in a variety of different ways. Are you interested in the hardware architecture (graphics, CPU, sound)? The software (games, business)? The OS? The cultural significance? Nostalgia? History? Differences to their peers? So many reasons. ;)

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2 minutes ago, Geoff Oltmans said:

A lot of this hinges on the interests of the individual. There are variety of different machines out there, and by and large they are all fascinating or distinguished in a variety of different ways. Are you interested in the hardware architecture (graphics, CPU, sound)? The software (games, business)? The OS? The cultural significance? Nostalgia? History? Differences to their peers? So many reasons. ;)

Absolutely, and all have their own headaches and challenges to either acquire in proper working condition or use optimally. For instance, I love the TRS-80 Model IV (I have a particular fondness for vintage all-in-ones), but it required a Herculean effort to both get one with what I wanted and then both get it into full working condition and upgrade it effectively. 

While I love vintage computer and video games and always will, they're not for the faint of heart or most casual users. It's a hobby you have to put some effort into.

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2 hours ago, Bill Loguidice said:

 

Let's also consider a reasonable setup. Do you get a CoCo 1, CoCo 2, or CoCo 3? And if you pick a particular one, how much memory? They range from 4K to 128K. Only the CoCo 3 has composite output unless you mod a CoCo 1/2 or get an education model (I happen to have an education CoCo 2, so it fortunately has composite, even though a CoCo 3 is my main CoCo machine). And if you have a CoCo 3, do you want to output RGB? You'll need the right cable or converter. If you want a disk drive, you're almost certainly going to want an MPI of some type. You'll then need to track down a working disk drive and controller. Etc. It can be a pretty involved process unless you're specifically motivated to explore the platform.

You can get the CoCoSDC (which I highly recommend), but it is a bit of a challenge to get working optimally unless, as you state, you use one of the pre-packaged images and related menu systems that help a lot.

On the C-64 side, you just get a C-64. No need to worry about which model or how much memory. If you want to add a disk drive, you add a disk drive that connects directly to the computer with one cable. You can easily hook the C-64 up to either a composite or S-VIDEO ready display. No other output to worry about and you're not limited to just RF like you are on most CoCo 1/2's. 

And again, there are countless multi-carts, flashcarts, flashdrives, etc., with all kinds of features on the C-64, including some with built-in fast loaders or shell commands that make accessing and working with files even easier. If you're going in fresh to vintage computing, I don't think you can do much better than a C-64 unless you have specific reasons for looking elsewhere (and there's nothing wrong with that).

Very valid points.  A composite mod for a CoCo 1/2 will set you back as much as the computer.
4K & 16K machines may not have EXTENDED COLOR BASIC, which is why I usually tell people to look for a 64K CoCo 2 if they are going for a 1 or 2.
That takes the guesswork out of whether it has EXTENDED COLOR BASIC or 64K.  64K machines have ECB
The CoCo 3 always comes with ECB, and runs games you couldn't think of doing on a CoCo 1/2.

I'm not going to dispute all the hardware options for carts for the C64.  There are a lot of them. 
As long as people remember they cost extra, that's fine.
 

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2 hours ago, bluejay said:

@JamesD I thought you had to load the Extended Disk BASIC via disk to use those commands? How exactly do you do that in the first place?

 

Also, those commands aren't enough to justify the other drawbacks of the CoCo imho. They certainly are better than Commodore computers but Commodores just have way too much more advantages over CoCos for it to matter. Commodore BASIC 2.0 is nice and simple for beginners to learn BASIC on. Unless they plan to do relatively advanced BASIC programming I think the C64 BASIC is okay. Again, Extended Color BASIC is obviously better, but not good enough to make it better than the C64 as a computer.

There is no loading, Disk BASIC is built into the ROM on the controller, or on the CoCoSDC.  It's instantly available when you turn on the machine.
That's pretty obvious if you've ever turned one on.
Now, if you want to load OS-9, then that does require loading, but I wouldn't recommend a Unix like OS for a newb anyway.

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4 hours ago, Bill Loguidice said:

You can get the CoCoSDC (which I highly recommend), but it is a bit of a challenge to get working optimally unless, as you state, you use one of the pre-packaged images and related menu systems that help a lot.

I didn’t find it challenging at all, and I had never touched a CoCo until I picked up a CoCo 2 and CoCoSDC earlier this year. I didn’t even know there were prepackaged images or a menu system until this thread.... I guess I’ll have to check it out. 

 

I would still vote the ZX Spectrum for a fun, cheap, and easy beginner computer. I recommend a grey 128k +2 or a brand new Harlequin 128. Get a DivMMC or DivIDE to go with it and you are good to go, as those give you an easy to use file storage system and a Kempston Joystick port so you can use any standard Atari joystick. The Spectrum has an absolutely massive library and very active community ... the Spectrum Computing Forum lists over 100 new games released so far just in 2020:

https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2191

 

 

 

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23 minutes ago, fimbulvetr said:

I would still vote the ZX Spectrum for a fun, cheap, and easy beginner computer. I recommend a grey 128k +2 or a brand new Harlequin 128. Get a DivMMC or DivIDE to go with it and you are good to go, as those give you an easy to use file storage system and a Kempston Joystick port so you can use any standard Atari joystick. The Spectrum has an absolutely massive library and very active community ... the Spectrum Computing Forum lists over 100 new games released so far just in 2020:

https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2191

 

I guess if you're in the UK it makes for a fine beginner's computer, but it's not something you'd want if you were in the US. The audio-visuals are wonky (especially if you don't have nostalgia for it) and how it's programmed via its keyboard shortcut system is unusual to say the least. With that said, I'd say it's definitely worthy of being in the discussion (again, as long as you're not in the US since you have to convert both the power and video).

I used to have a really solid ZX Spectrum collection (and Timex Sinclair 2068 collection for that matter), but it didn't make the cut when I purged a good portion of my collection. Again, no real nostalgia for me and not compelling enough compared to what else I have. With that said, I'm glad I do have a ZX Spectrum Next (I didn't bother getting in on the second Kickstarter, though - what I have is good enough). 

 

And speaking of FPGA systems, certainly something like a MiSTer is a good choice if you want to explore vintage systems without having lots of original hardware around. Of course, that requires a certain intellectual investment all on its own. It's typically not for the casual person.

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22 minutes ago, Bill Loguidice said:

long as you're not in the US since you have to convert both the power and video

 

I am in Canada No power conversion was necessary! You just buy a cheap 9v centre pin negative dc wall wart (about $15 delivered). For video, just plug it into the composite port of an LCD tv (most do PAL) and you are good to go. 

 

24 minutes ago, Bill Loguidice said:

how it's programmed via its keyboard shortcut system is unusual to say the least

 

That is why I recommended the grey 128k +2. Excellent keyboard, no odd keyboard shortcuts for programming, and a built-in cassette deck if you are into loading things that way. I like the classic 48k ZX Spectrum, but that rubber keyboard and shortcut system is an acquired taste.

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But definitely, if what you are looking for is the quintessential North American retro 8-bit computer experience, get an Atari 800xl or Commodore 64. The Apple IIc is a runner-up. The rest will be too weird, different, missing big hits, or obscure. 

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29 minutes ago, fimbulvetr said:

But definitely, if what you are looking for is the quintessential North American retro 8-bit computer experience, get an Atari 800xl or Commodore 64. The Apple IIc is a runner-up. The rest will be too weird, different, missing big hits, or obscure. 

If you want to go weird, grow up in Europe as an Atari user when everyone around you has a ZX Spectrum, C64, or some flavour of Amstrad.  It's a lot like what I imagine being an NTSC BBC Micro owner would have been like at the same time.

 

By the way, if anyone really wants to go obscure on the ZX Spectrum family tree and is intending to use it in North America, track down one of the Chilean models.  Apparently, they were the only ones to be NTSC from the factory.

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11 hours ago, x=usr(1536) said:

If you want to go weird, grow up in Europe as an Atari user when everyone around you has a ZX Spectrum, C64, or some flavour of Amstrad.  It's a lot like what I imagine being an NTSC BBC Micro owner would have been like at the same time.

Not really comparable in my opinion. The North American BBC Micro didn't sell a lick. I'm no expert on the European market, but I'm pretty sure Atari software was at least somewhat available and the platform somewhat supported over there. The vast majority of people never saw or even heard of the American version of the BBC Micro. I think there might have only been one obscure magazine ad as well and no other advertising. I'm not really sure what their plan was to sell over here, but whatever it was, it wasn't a good one.

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