Archive for June, 2008

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Where’s the Bits?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Timex-Sinclair 1000 Ad - 1982Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic computer….

The tiny computer you see above originated in the UK as the Sinclair ZX81, a wildly successful build-it-yourself kit computer. Due to strong sales, Timex struck a deal with Sinclair to market a fully assembled version of the ZX81 in the United States. They rechristened the unit “Timex-Sinclair 1000,” and the minuscule wedge became the first PC to sell for under $100 (US) fully assembled.

The diminutive, Z80-based 1000 was severely limited in function by its tiny membrane keyboard, its black & white display, no sound capabilities, and only 2K RAM. Despite that, it sold well in the US thanks to an incredibly low price. These days, Timex-Sinclair 1000s are relatively easy to find, and thanks to their nice shape, they make great doorstops.

[ From Personal Computing, 1982 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What’s the cheapest computer you’ve ever bought?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

Ten Things Everyone Should Know about Space Invaders

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Space Invaders 30th Anniversary

Yep, it’s that time again: time to premiere a new Benj-crafted VC&G-related article from another site. Today we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of Space Invaders, and my ode to the seminal space shooter can be found on I think the piece turned out well — 1UP did an especially good job with the illustrations. Here’s a blurb from the introduction:

Thirty years ago this month, Taito released Space Invaders, one of the most important and influential videogames of all time, to Japanese arcades. You might know that it set its native Japan ablaze and drove America crazy, but have you ever wondered why? Well, you’re about to find out. Here are 10 things everyone should know about Space Invaders.

Feel free to check out the article; I think you’ll enjoy it. When you’re done, tell us some of your Space Invaders memories. When was the first time you played it? What did you think of it at the time?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Virtual Reality, Real Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Video Game Glove Controller Ad - 1998“…easy after you spend a day on it.” Then your hand snaps off.

Of all the weird contraptions pitched by obscure third-party controller manufacturers, the Video Game Control Glove ranks among the worst. I have but a simple question: in what way was the regular Nintendo 64 controller bad enough to inspire someone to redesign it into an impractical novelty shape that likely promotes wrist injury? Better yet, why does anybody do anything stupid?

Because somebody, somewhere, thought it was a good idea at the time. (And someone else gave them money.)

Image DescUpon closer inspection of this ad, you’ll notice that the company behind this needless exercise in hand strain called itself “Reality Quest.” That explains a lot: exactly 83% of the dumbest video game peripherals ever made were ill-conceived attempts to capitalize on the early 1990s media hype around “virtual reality” (case in point, the StuntMaster headset). At the time, virtual reality was always just around the corner, courtesy of strap-on goggles and gangly game gauntlets that engulfed your hand in gaudy gadgetry.

I’ve never used the Glove; my guess is that it falls somewhat short of turning Mario 64 into an immersive virtual reality experience. But the next time I need a controller whose function requires rapid, repetitive contortions of one of weakest and least durable joints in the human body, I’ll keep it in mind.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1998 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What’s the worst video game peripheral you’ve ever bought?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

2008 VC&G Forum Contest Winners

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Vintage Computing and Gaming Forum ContestWell, our first forum contest was a spirited one. Its goal was to stimulate activity on our previously stagnant forum, and it succeeded. We saw many new members arrive and many interesting discussions held.

After a month of battling it out for post supremacy, I’m sure our contestants are anxious to hear the results. So without much further ado, I’m proud to announce the winners of our 2008 VC&G forum contest.

[ Continue reading 2008 VC&G Forum Contest Winners » ]

30 Years of x86 on PC World

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

30th Anniversary of 8086 / x86 StandardThirty years ago this month, Intel released the 8086 microprocessor, the originator of the now-famous x86 standard and the ultimate progenitor of most modern consumer CPUs.

But what, exactly, does all that mean? Well, think of it this way: any assembly language program written as far back as 1978 for the Intel 8086 will run, unmodified, on Intel’s latest Core 2 Extreme released in 2008 — only 180,000 times faster.

The thirty-year tale of x86 began when an Intel engineer named Stephen P. Morse defined the 8086 instruction set (the core group of instructions that define what a microprocessor can do) while working at Intel in the late 1970s. That same instruction set would go on to form the basis of the world’s most popular personal computer architecture. Even the once-insular Macintosh platform, the last mainstream bastion of the non-Intel world, now runs on x86 processors.

Stephen P. MorseWhat’s going on here, and how did it get that way?

PC World recently published a feature I wrote on the anniversary that answers those questions, along with an in-depth interview I conducted with Stephen P. Morse, designer of the 8086 and the original x86 instruction set.

Anyone interested in PC history, or how this standard came to be, should check them out. For better or for worse, x86 is what we’re stuck with, so I feel that it is important for computer users to understand it.

I hope you enjoy the article.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Stunning IBM PC Paper Art

Monday, June 16th, 2008

IBM PC Service Ad - Construction Paper Art - 1986Click on the image above to see the full advertisement.

I scanned this incredible piece of vintage computing artwork from a 1986 magazine advertisement for IBM PC service. It looks like it was rendered in layers of colored construction paper to achieve a 3D effect. The result is very unique, vibrant, and friendly. Does anyone know the artist responsible for this work?

By the way, here’s a high-resolution version of this piece in PNG format for those of you out there who might want to turn it into a desktop background. Heck, print it out and put it on your wall.

[ From Personal Computing, March 1986 ]

Discussion topic of the week: Have you ever paid someone to fix your computer for you?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Hand-to-Handheld Combat

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Irem Game Boy Ad - R-Type - Kung-Fu Master - 1991Of Aliens and Men

This richly illustrated advertisement for Irem’s R-Type and Kung-Fu Master on the Game Boy made me bristle with excitement as a kid. Unfortunately, most Game Boy games (when played on the blurry, slow-response, low-contrast, pale green LCD display of the original GB unit) didn’t live up to the promise of their vivid, colorful ads. Sure, I tried my hand at many action games on Nintendo’s famous handheld, but the lackluster experience made me mostly stick with Tetris until the vastly-improved screens of the Game Boy Pocket and Color came along.

[ From Handheld Video Games, Spring 1991 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What was your first portable electronic/video game experience? Describe it for us.

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

Inside a Classic: The TRS-80 Model 100

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Inside a Classic: The TRS-80 Model 100 on PC World

Some of you might remember the Apple IIc teardown I did for PC World back in March. Now it’s June, and my workbench is back in the spotlight again. This time I dissected the venerable TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computer, which happened to turn 25 this year. Below, I’ve posted an excerpt from the slideshow. I hope you enjoy it.

Twenty-five years ago, Radio Shack released the first wildly successful laptop computer in the United States. The TRS-80 Model 100 was simple, rugged, plentiful, and reliable, selling over six million units during its eight-year life span. With ample battery life, light weight (about 3 pounds), compact size, instant-on capability, and a small suite of built-in applications, the Model 100 served as the portable computing workhorse of its day. Bill Gates’ also ranks it as one of his favorite computers of all time, in large part because he and a friend wrote the firmware it uses.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Transistor

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

RCA Transistor Ad - 1953The transistor — need I say more?

Let’s give a big round of applause to the electronic component that made our current computer revolution possible: the transistor. Here’s an advertisement from RCA touting the benefits of solid state transistor technology from a time when it was still novel. 55 years later, we’d be cramming 300 million of these onto a single piece of silicon smaller than a penny. And Microsoft Word still runs slowly.

[ From Scientific American, April 1953 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What was your first computer’s CPU clock speed?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.