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AdamAnt316

What makes something collectible?

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Hello, folks. First time posting to this blog thing. I've managed to accumulate several dozen computers over the past several years. A thread from a few months ago has had me thinking about exactly what makes a computer collectible. Here are the criteria which I consider:

1. Age: A given, but what's the cut-off? Personally, I think that, barring a few exceptions, a computer has to be 25 years old or older. Others, naturally, may have a different definition when it comes to their own collection.

2. Technology: Goes hand-in-hand with age most of the time, but at least some of my exceptions owe to this. One example is the Hewlett-Packard 200LX, which was introduced in 1995, but makes use of an 8088-class CPU.

3. Identity: This is where things get more complicated. How do you identify a system? The name on the front goes a long way, sure, but how can you be sure?

In the early days of computers, things were generally fairly cut-and-dry. Systems had a brand name and model number stamped on the front: DEC PDP-8, IBM System/360, etc. etc. etc. This persisted into the microcomputer era with the Altair 8800, Apple II, Commodore 64, etc. If the nameplate on the case said Commodore 64, you could be reasonably sure what was inside the box bearing said name.

However, as time went on, the concept of internal upgrades muddied the waters. With most early small microcomputers, upgrades were generally of the external sort; disk drives, RAM expansions, modems, etc. plugged into connectors on the back and/or side of the computer. Some early microcomputers could be upgraded internally, but these were generally limited to added RAM or mild functionality upgrades.

With the advent of the IBM PC, however, things became more murky. A good part of this was that the disk drives were internal to the system. At first, a PC would have one or two full-height floppy drives. However, companies soon offered half-height drives which meant that four drives could be squeezed where two one sat. Then came the advent of the hard disk drive, which changed specs further. In addition, the (relatively) open architecture meant that major pieces like the graphics hardware could be changed out for something entirely different.

So this brings us to the dilemma: When is a PC still a PC? I own a computer whose front nameplate and rear badge identifies it as an IBM Personal Computer, model 5150. However, instead of one or two full-height 360KB disk drives as it may have once been equipped, this computer bears two half-height floppy drives of unknown size, plus a Seagate ST-238R half-height hard drive. Does it still qualify as a 5150, or has it become something else altogether? I'll tend to lean towards the nameplate, but somehow it just doesn't seem quite right.

4. Clones: Some early mini/microcomputers were popular enough to warrant imitation, but they usually stuck fairly closely to the formula of the original (in some cases, like the MicroAce and Franklin Ace, a bit too closely ). However, again, the PC era made things more confusing. Some of the clones had an established-enough name brand and/or enough unique features to give them an identity, but there were many more which were just plain generic. And even the named clones could drift from their original identity thanks to upgrades.

So this all brings us to a tale of two PC clones which I own: a Tandy 1200HD, and an unknown IBM XT clone. The Tandy has a well-known brand, and all of its upgrades were of the sort which Radio Shack themselves offered. The 1200 was sold alongside other Tandy computers like the 1000 and 2000, but does not have as much of an identity as those, having been made for Tandy by Tandon. Even so, its provenance can be traced through catalogs, which definitely helps in proving its identity.

The generic clone, however, it not nearly as known an entity. It has the external appearance of an XT, but is quite obviously not of IBM origin (the "nameplate" consists of a fractal graphic on a piece of paper stuck to the front panel). I have no idea who made it, or when it was made; this trend was to continue on, with many post-286 computers being custom-built into generic cases which offered little or no identity of their own. I could possibly identify this XT clone by whoever produced the motherboard, but that seems to me like rather of a stretch.

I consider the Tandy 1200HD part of my collection, sitting nicely alongside my 1000SX, even if it's far closer to being an outright clone (the 1000 series bears several unique features which set them apart from the clone pack). The generic XT clone, however, remains an outlier. I'm glad to own it, but if I were to put together a museum of the computers I own, it would be presented as an example of a generic XT clone, and nothing more.

Anyway, I apologize for the length of this rambling rant. I just figured I'd put forth my own personal criteria for what I consider to be collectible and not-so-collectible as far as vintage computers go. As always, your mileage may vary, offer may not be available in all states, and do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

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Updated October 3rd, 2018 at 07:29 PM by AdamAnt316

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