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Some Computers Before They Stopped Being Awesome

  • Jun 16, 2010
There was a time, I believe, when the awesomeness of computers was measured by more aesthetic and original means.  Today's machines are powerful by comparison, but they lack a spirit of design that was inspired by market competition.  Many computers from the 1980's gave the impression of potential through the production of  creative features.  Here's my list of awesome old computer things and why:
1
Commodore 64
In 1982, Commodore Business Machines upped the ante for personal computing by embracing 64K memory (!) and being retail savvy, creating a storm of software development which still holds sway on modern designs.
2
Apple Lisa Computer
Computers should have names. And wigs? Lisa is the Mac predecessor, but from a design standpoint she really shows how personality and creativity were hardwired into this era of computing.
3
TI-99 4A
As well as being the first 16 bit home computer, The 99/4 model of Texas Instruments machines had a voice box peripheral option. An innovation of text-to-speech programming and hardware, this toy allowed bored suburban kids of the 80's to prank call grumpy old neighbor ladies with complete anonymity.
4
Timex Sinclair 1000
We firmly believed, in 1982, that thermal keyboards would be the wave of the future! The wonderful thing about having such a limit to computing power is the creativity that necessity inspired. It was entirely possibly to do things that should not have been possible. If you're curious about what I mean, send me a message, but for now the 2 K of RAM I have to type about this beast is expired. *MEMORY ERROR*
5
TRS-80 Model III
The real "all in one" construction of the Model III made it seem indestructible. This was the first time I had seen a disk drive and monitor attached to the base unit, and it made the entire design seem so serious, so capable of hacking into the Pentagon à la Matthew Broderick and Co. in "War Games." In a way, it became a design paradigm for future Macs, but also boasted computing angles that were archival and strong. I wanted one very badly, and still kind of do for no reason other than appreciation.
6
Amiga
How brilliant is it to create an extended viability of old technology just by specializing its output options? Amiga was the video / photo editing standard for so long because of the attention to television peripherals and visual video options. Some Public Access television et. al. today still use these amazing tools, pumped up and Frankenstein jolted with more current technology.
7
Zilog Z-80
I was about to give a dozen examples of vintage computers that I admire, then I realized that most of them only exist because of the innovative engineering genius of Zilog. Therefore, by proxy, all modern computing fun should be credited to this creative evolution that at first seemed to inspire so much beauty of design. As our modern computing needs became more complex, the modern market closed its fist around diversity and creativity. I'm glad I grew up in the era of Zilog!

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June 07, 2011
I love this list - what a great idea and a fun read. Could I offer up the Atari ST? I got my footings in computers on that little Gem, if you excuse the pun.
June 08, 2011
Thank you, sir! Yes it is shameful that no Atari computer is on this list...*flagellate. My preference for an entry would be the 800XL...obviously the ST has more features and power, but the 800 set the standard for the Atari home computing era, in terms of software and support at least. GEM! Widows (tm) could learn a lot from that kind of interface :) nice. Thanks for reading.
 
June 07, 2011
A very fine and nostalgic overview, this. Jay Miner and his crew were so far ahead of the curve that they arrived too early.
June 08, 2011
Excellent comment, thank you. I agree, Amiga is one of the most innovative and super cool machines of the era. Have you ever considered how our daily computing would be different if these industry wars were won by the underdogs? heh
 
June 18, 2010
I've had hands on with 5 of those 7. My Heathkit H-8 with a 2 MHz 8080 would probably still work if it hadn't gotten flooded in a closet because of a leaky kitchen faucet. But that is the strange thing about the change in computers since the 80s. A netbook costs less than I paid for my H-8 and the change in processing power is ASTOUNDING to put it mildly. But this stuff just isn't as interesting.

The software these days is a pain in the ass when it isn't HILARIOUS. All of these viruses and malware are absurd. I swear, a Xerox 820 with 8 inch floppy drives would boot up CP/M faster than Windows XP boots from a hard drive.

That's AWESOME alright? Now if we could just get some reliable efficient software? That would be AWESOME^2.

But NO we've got Windows 7.
June 18, 2010
O Man, great comment thank you! The Heathkit and Xerox were pretty serious, should be on this list as well as the Kaypro and others built for/by tech lovers. I still sometimes operate my Atari 800xl or my Apple II or C64, but of course those exist more for games and entertainment. Plus I bought them in the 20 years later at garage sales for a fraction of their original value! The 'big boy' boxes were always a bit beyond me, but I still admire their design and power. It is so true...the more we "advance" the more we screw things up. Mr. Gates should spend some time in your or my closets/garage and get his stuff together. Cheers!
 
June 17, 2010
Chris, maybe I'm just nerdy, but this list is so friggin' awesome!  It's amazing how far technology has come in the past couple decades, and it's astounding to see all the trial, error and evolution that we had to go through to create the cool gadgets that we have today.  They're only going to get cooler.  Thanks so much for sharing!
June 17, 2010
Thank you, Debbie! I know I try to act cool but you gotta let out your inner nerd once in a while. I guess Lunch is kind of outing me, writing about Atari and Zilog in the same month. =) What a world, I hate to think what kind of great gadgets my son will eventually have and how little I'll understand about their operation. Thanks for reading.
June 18, 2010
Oh, I've got no inner nerdiness; it's all outward! Though it may not be apparent at first :P And there's always room for more nerds on Lunch!!! Something tells me that our generation is going to have an easier time keeping up with upcoming gadgets and technology better than our parents' and grandparents' generations....
 
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About the list creator
Christopher Eck ()
Ranked #250
I've spent most of my life getting paid to teach, mostly young children. Obsessed with the ancient world, I studied Classics with a focus on Roman poetry, contributing to my degree in English from … more
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