Image 1 of 24
Vintage Computer Festival West XI
Vintage Computer Festival West XI, held August 6-7, 2016 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, featured dozens of hands-on exhibitions of historic computers, peripherals, and software.
Highlights included DEC minicomputers, an IBM mainframe, all manner of 8-bit microcomputers, a Xerox Alto emulator, a replica differential analyzer that won the best-of-show award, and several examples of homemade CPUs–all of which were up-and-running.
VCF West is owned by the Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-profit serving hobbyists. The Federation also operates VCF East, the Vintage Computer Forum discussion site, and chapters including its founding Mid-Atlantic group. (Disclaimer: I am the president of the Vintage Computer Federation.)
IBM 1130 Mainframe
Carl Claunch restored an IBM 1130 mainframe from about 1965. He also brought his homemade replica 1130. The real one is shown here.
IBM Card Reader
An IBM mainframe can’t do much without a way to read punched cards. The huge peripheral is the model 1442 reader.
Replica differential analyzer
Before there were computers, there were differential analyzers based on the work of M.I.T.’s Vannevar Bush. Tim Robinson built a fully working replica out of Meccano toys! The machine took up several tables.
Not happy with the available crop of CPUs at Fry’s? Build your own! It may not have the specs to rival the latest from Intel, but this homemade “BigBit” lets you step through every instruction and follow along bit-by-bit.
HP-35 calculator prototype
This was the smallest thing on display at the show, but possibly the most important: a prototype of Hewlett-Packard’s world-changing HP-35 handheld calculator from 1972.
This left many attendees speechless. It’s a homemade Monopoly game with status LEDs atop every property, Texas Instruments calculators to control your turn, and central processing handled by an IMSAI 8080. Originally built in 1978, the owner polished it up for this year’s show.
Josh Dersch, of Paul Allen’s Seattle-based Living Computer Museum, brought his Alto emulator. Alto was a computer built by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s and was far ahead of its time. Here it’s running the Xerox Bravo word processor program.
Eight-bit Star Wars
Michael Hill demonstrated video processing using a Commodore 64. That’s Luke and Leia on the screen!
Eight-bit Star Wars, continued
Obi-Wan and Darth engaged in an epic battle. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
Pavl Zachary brought out his Northstar computers from 1977, but everyone was blown away by the backdrop. If you know computer history, then you know about 8-inch disks. Here’s an 80-inch disk! He even put fake residue over the edges where the write-protect sticker would have fallen off.
“Spacewar!” is a game made by M.I.T. students for the Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-1 mainframe in the early 1960s. That computer is up-and-running in a permanent exhibit at the Computer History Museum. A version for slightly newer PDP-8 computers is shown here.
Tomy Tutor and more
Japan’s Tomy Tutor series had myriad versions and accessories. This is an amazing collection of the full suite, which is even more impressive to find in the United States.
This colorful pattern on a modern LCD may not look like much, but it’s a huge part of computer history. The screen is connected to a computer running the Cromemco Dazzler board from 1976, back when nobody had ever seen color and graphics on a personal computer.
“Adventure” was among the earliest text-adventure games for computers. This exhibitor demonstrated it on an IBM PC 5150, complete with a map of the landscape you’ll explore.
Radio Shack Color Computer artwork
MacPaint? Commodore Amiga? Nope! This is a Radio Shack Color Computer showing what it can do with graphics.
Not all microcomputers of the mid-1970s were for hobbyists–IBM and others sold professional machines, albeit using custom circuitry, not microprocessors. This one is the 50-pound IBM 5100 series, which IBM called “portable”… relatively speaking. The monitor on top is from a different computer. Most users were fine with the built-in CRT.
Hewlett-Packard was also in the technical microcomputer game in the mid-1970s. The 85B was advertised as a calculator, but it was really a full computer.
Good dog! It’s an ASCII artwork image, based on a program from the Hewlett-Packard computer.
Data General One
Laptops evolved in 1981-1982. Data General’s DG One, from a few years later, was among the earliest full-screen clamshells to bring laptops into the mainstream view.
Not all computers are digital. Systems using analog technology–essentially electronic slide rules–were popular deep into the 1970s. You programmed it by placing the wires in the right configuration. Output goes to an oscilloscope.
Play chess on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1? Sure, why not! Checkmate.
Digital Logic Trainer
Michael Holley traveled from Seattle to show his microcomputer trainer, based on an article in the April 1970 issue of “Popular Electronics” magazine–the “Make” of its day.
Apple 1 Prototype
Here’s yours truly holding what is believed to be a prototype of the Apple 1. Charitybuzz is auctioning it to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The auction ends Aug. 25, 2016. Update: The pre-production Apple 1 sold for $815,000.
- Photos: Apple II clones, an ENIAC emulator, and more from Vintage Computer Festival East XI
- Ghosts of tech past: Photos of data storage from the 1950s – 1980s
- Dinosaur Sightings: Computers from the 1970s
- Dinosaur Sightings: Computers from 1980-1983
- Dinosaur Sightings: Computers from 1984-1989