11 Views of Vintage Microcomputers

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Fans of systems from the beginning of the personal computer era in the 1970s and 80s gathered last weekend at the Vintage Computer Festival West. The event hosted by the Computer History Museum here showcased some minicomputers and workstations in addition to early microcomputers.

A panel session with a number of the early Commodore engineers talked about their once-popular, early home PCs. Commodore International started as a calculator company. Later it bought MOS Technologies, the manufacturer of the iconic 6502 microprocessor used in the Apple II, and entered the home computer market. A no-show for the panel was Chuck Peddle, considered the father of the 6502 and the man who convinced Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel to move beyond calculators and into computers.

Two panels discussed the Xerox PARC Alto workstation, the inspiration for modern personal computers from both Apple and Microsoft. The Alto was made in the mid-1970s, yet almost all the bipolar TTL chips inside systems at the event were still working. Engineers only had to replace one inverter chip.

Engineers who restored the systems said their biggest challenge was cobbling into one working machine piece from multiple salvaged Altos using different disk drives, disk controllers, and other mismatched peripherals.

Clubs and private collectors showed their vintage computers and related peripherals at the event, with one booth specializing in every flavor of the floppy disk. Attendees could buy their own classic products at a mini flea market for computers, peripherals, chips, manuals, and other related odds and ends.