Old Computers: Vintage or Garbage?


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I was at a classic bike show recently, organized by the Lothian and Borders Classic Vintage Motorcycle Club and held at the Drill Hall in Peebles, Scotland. I don’t ride myself – I haven’t the time or the money to get my license or buy and run a bike. I do enjoy shows like these, though: the sheer amount of effort put in to restoring these classic bikes is breathtaking. One of my favorites is pictured below; a 1953 BSA C11 (250 cc) owned by a Mr. Joe Stark was recovered in an awful state from a barn. The paintwork and chrome are all beautiful and the bike almost looks like new. The bike is 57 years old and at least as popular now (if not more popular) than when it was first made.

Classic bikes are beautiful, but what about older computers?
Classic bikes are beautiful, but what about older computers?

It struck me, as I walked through the hall that contained 40 of these wonderfully restored and cared for bikes from 1927 to 1990, that we really don’t take the same care over computers. My father and I both have hobbies: mine is computers and his is motorbikes (of which he has three). Despite the almost fanatical way both hobbies are followed by thousands of people, old computers are rarely sexy. Typically beige boxes that used to run ugly operating systems – and slowly –  fill garbage dumps around the world. There are rare exceptions: pre-x86 computers such as the ZX Spectrum and others are often cherished by their owners but could never draw the same crowds as a classic motorcycle show. For reference – this show is in Peebles, a small town in the Scottish Borders, and people flock here from a hundred miles away to show and to see these motorbikes.

Yet, as I type this, I do rather like older computers – but exotic ones. I often browse Ebay looking at older Sun and SGI machines. For some reason, I’d rather like to have one. I have no idea what I’d do with it. To be honest, they just seem different…special. I’d love to get an old Sun machine, fix it up, put Linux or Solaris on it and probably run SETI or Rosetta on it (for the mere credit per day I’d probably accumulate).

There are some examples of exotic machines on the forums, mainly multi-CPU Pentium Pro machines. Thideras posted some details of his 5-CPU Pentium Pro server recently to quite a reception from our users. Another member, 3line, has built and benchmarked a dual PPro machine recently and got a stunning SuperPi 1M time of … 9 minutes 36 s.

Thideras' 5-CPU Pentium Pro machine.
Thideras' 5-CPU Pentium Pro machine.

3line's dual PPro machine.
3line's dual PPro machine.

I’d be interested to hear from readers on this topic. Do you think it’s worth time and effort repairing and tweaking older machines? Feel free to post your thoughts below.

David

About David 21 Articles
I am an Overclockers.com Editor and OCForums Super Moderator. I help prepare articles for publication, as well as writing the odd article, news piece or review myself. I'm very keen on maintaining a high quality of writing in the articles on Overclockers.com, and emulating the objectivity and clear writing style of scientific journals. If you're writing for Overclockers.com and need some help with preparing your piece, or presenting data, please feel free to email me.I'm a chemist by trade, having completed a degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008. I'm currently studying towards a PhD at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland) in Physical Organic Chemistry on the topic of substrate structure/activity relationships in ruthenium-alkylidene catalysed olefin ring-closing metathesis. In my spare time I like to relax with a book or browse the forums.

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