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Poll: Have you ever restored a vintage computer?

Colossus, the first digital, programmable, and electronic computing device was rebuilt by a team in the UK. Have you ever rebuilt a vintage computer?

Built by engineer Tommy Flowers in 1943, the Colossus computer was the first digital, programmable, and electronic computing device. The machine was used by British code breakers during World War II to help decipher messages encrypted with the German Lorenz SZ40/42 machine.

In 1993, Tony Sale started the Colossus Rebuild Project and in 1994 a team led by Sale began to recreate the massive machine at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park in the UK. On June 6th, 1996, the recreated Colossus was first switched on, and by 2007 a fully functional replica of the Colossus Mark 2 was completed.

Photo by: Andy Taylor

Andy Taylor, a systems analyst and retro computer enthusiast in the UK, visited the museum in March 2010 and took these photos of the rebuilt Colossus and dozens of other vintage computing devices, including Alan Turing's Bombe (designed to decrypt messages encrypted with the German Enigma machine), the WITCH from Harwell, early mainframes, integrated computers, desktops, and laptops.

I have put together a gallery from his pictures. Many thanks to Andy for allowing TechRepublic to republish these photos. For more information on Andy's collection of vintage computers, check out his website Retro Computers or his Flickr photostream.

Have you ever restored a vintage computer?

While the Colossus Rebuilt Project was a massive undertaking, restoring vintage computers isn't only a project museums. IT pros from around the world take pride and pleasure in refurbishing and rebuilding old computers. What about you? Take this TR Dojo poll and let me know if you ever rebuilt an old computer.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

17 comments
wdg3rd
wdg3rd

Yeah, I've rebuilt several. Admittedly none manufactured before I was born. I concentrate on the machines I grew up with in my 20s (after I got out of the USAF). Those were mostly Tandy/Radio Shack boxes, running Microsoft BASIC and operating systems that Microsoft never got close to. LS-DOS, OS-9, these were great Operating Systems on Tandy's Z-80 and MC6809 systems. Then there was Xenix, actually a Microsoft product (yes, Bill actually licensed the source code from Ma Bell), but they weren't competent to sell it to end users, so they licensed it to IBM, Altos, Tandy and SCO. For a couple years, Tandy had the largest number of Unix CPUs in the field. And I was the top tech support guy in southern California on Tandy Xenix systems. (Wasn't bad on the rest of the product lines either, I still keep LS-DOS and NitrOS-9 running). Yeah, I got a Mod One, A Mod 4, a Mod 4p, a Mod 12, a Tandy 6kHD, and just about every version of the Color Computer running. Plus a few Mod 100 laptops. While I plan to acquire a Tandy 2000 (it's kinda unique), the MS-DOS machines are not a priority, I have no interest in any Tandy MS-DOS machine except for the Tandy 2000, I've set a number of Tandy MS-DOS and Windows machines at the curb. But my Mod One, my Mod II, my Color Computers, my Mod 100s my T6kHD, all still work fine. They do what I want them to do. Just like my Linux boxen do. I don't expect miracles. I build them from scratch. Ward Griffiths wdg3rd@comcast.net

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

A great old "B" movie for a rainy day.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Old microprocessors & chips aren't produced anymore. This could be quite a problem. Suppose you produced an industrial machine with... say Motorola 68HC11 inside. 68HC11 used to be very common microcontroller, built into all kinds of stuff. Mechanics can last 10, 20 years or more, while microprocessor/microcontroller lifespan is much shorter. If you can't get spere microcontroller... what are you going to do? Scavenging is often the only option.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

That could mean the end of life as we know it. ;-)

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Built by engineer Tommy Flowers in 1943, the Colossus computer was the first digital, programmable, and electronic computing device. In 1993, Tony Sale started the Colossus Rebuild Project and in 1994 a team led by Sale began to recreate the massive machine at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park in the UK. While the Colossus Rebuilt Project was a massive undertaking, restoring vintage computers isn?t only a project museums. IT pros from around the world take pride and pleasure in refurbishing and rebuilding old computers. What about you? Take this TR Dojo poll and let me know if you ever rebuilt an old computer. Post, gallery link, and poll: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=2020

pgit
pgit

I ran a flight dept with a 286 laptop (whopping 10MB HD!) running Deskmate. I remember Tandy looked like it was going to run away with the market, it was doing so for a spell with the hardware. Deskmate was pretty solid and really (arguably at least) superior to Microsoft DOS. I had one calculation I had to do to show the bosses what buying airline tickets and renting cars would have cost versus flying our own airplane into Podunk directly. (aka "justify my job") Fortunately for me at the time it was a lot cheaper to operate your own aircraft, and there was one huge "intangible" in that key employees were only gone one day (or less) as opposed to three days on the road and hotels etc. The operation was very democratic, it wasn't just a boss's luxury. One time we flew a college student/intern by himself to a far flung factory where the Co wanted him to get his feet wet. Anyway, I couldn't figure for the life of me how to craft the calculation with MS-DOS. (one input was a seat-tax calculated by equivalent airline air-miles for the same trip) But for some reason it was breeze on Deskmate. I had it hammered out in a couple days. Those were the days few had seen a laptop, other pilots would corner me everywhere I went with it and ask me questions, but they all asked one: 'is this thing actually useful at all?' Indeed it was, without solid numbers to go on the CEOs assumed it had to be cheaper to fly commercial and rent cars. They didn't consider employee's loss of productive time nor their 'mental health' being away from home so much. But even without those factors the numbers were clear, we saved at least 40% over airlines because destinations were just about always Podunks all over the eastern 1/2 of the united states. I remember telling people this Deskmate thing was going to be big for Tandy... in other words don't take any stock recommendations from me. =\ I think I still have the 3 CDs Deskmate came on around here somewhere.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Most people don't know it was a trilogy. Excellent movie by the way. And although the techonolgy is dated, the concept is still possible.

pgit
pgit

I saw the heading and "Forbin" jumped straight into my head. My foray into 'retro' was rebuilding an i386 IBM with Micro Channel Architecture. MCA was pretty good but they shot themselves in the foot by keeping it proprietary and not letting other vendors build for it. It was hard to find working cards for the thing but I eventually got it going, and ran OS/2 warp on it. (386DX) It actually runs pretty good, I've seen Pentium II machines running win98 that are slower than this. IIRC OS/2 came on 48 floppies, at least my boxed set did. The computer does have a CDROM, though.

genep2004
genep2004

I got an Atari 800 working by using parts from several different Atari 800s and a 400. The Atari floppy disk drive isn't working yet. Does this count as a vintage computer?

jfuller05
jfuller05

adding RAM, hdd storage, and a video card to an old Compaq, then, yes I have restored a vintage computer.

robo_dev
robo_dev

The photos are amazing...everything from the Colossus to a Wang VS to a Commodore VIC 20. For you youngsters, look at the photo of a 200MB drive from the 1980s. (200 MB Disk Pack). Note that it's about the same size as a modern washing machine. I just cannot even begin to imagine the amount of work that went into rebuilding the Colossus ....thousands of vacuum tubes and a whole room full of equipment.

pgit
pgit

I didn't know that. I assume like always the book(s) are better than the movie...

B.Kaatz
B.Kaatz

Well, considering that all of these are over 30 years old now, I should think that they count as "vintage". I recently got a C64 back up and running after clearing the bugs from the ports (literally) and doing some maintenance on the floppy drive to get it functional again. It made me miss my old C64.

pgit
pgit

it doesn't yet count as a completion. The goal is it's gotta be 100%, that it can do what ever it could do fresh out of the box, if I'm not mistaken.

andytuk
andytuk

Plenty more retro delights on my website/flickr.

ntrewartha_germany
ntrewartha_germany

@andytuk Super Photo of Colossus . Could I use your Photo on my new home page?

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