Retrocomputing is the use of older computer hardware and software in modern times. Retrocomputing is usually classed as a hobby and recreation rather than a practical application of technology; enthusiasts often collect rare and valuable hardware and software for sentimental reasons. However, some do make use of it.[1]

Retrocomputing 2010 Athens Greece
Retrosystem 2010, a retrocomputing event in Athens
The 1977 Apple II

Historical retrocomputing

A more serious line of retrocomputing is part of the history of computer hardware. It can be seen as the analogue of experimental archaeology in computing. Some notable examples include the reconstruction of Babbage's Difference engine (more than a century after its design) and the implementation of Plankalkül in 2000 (more than half a century since its inception).

"Homebrew" computers

Some retrocomputing enthusiasts also consider the 'Homebrewing' (designing and building of retro- and retro-styled computers or kits), to be an important aspect of the hobby, giving new enthusiasts an opportunity to experience more fully what the early years of hobby computing were like.[1] There are several different approaches to this end. Some are exact replicas of older systems, and some are newer designs based on the principles of retrocomputing, while others combine the two, with old and new features in the same package. Examples include:

  • Device offered by IMSAI, a modern, updated, yet backward-compatible version and replica of the original IMSAI 8080, one of the most popular early personal systems;
  • Several Apple 1 replicas and kits have been sold in limited quantities in recent years, by different builders, such as the "Replica 1", from Briel Computers.;[2]
  • A currently ongoing project that uses old technology in a new design is the Z80-based N8VEM;
  • The Arduino Retro Computer kit is an open source, open hardware kit you can build and has a BASIC interpreter.[3] There is also a version of the Arduino Retro Computer that can be hooked up to a TV.;[4]
  • There is at least one remake of the Commodore 64 using an FPGA configured to emulate the 6502.;[5]
  • MSX 2/2+ compatible do-it-yourself kit GR8BIT, designed for the hands-on education in electronics, deliberately employing old and new concepts and devices (high-capacity SRAMs, micro-controllers and FPGA).

Vintage computers

The personal computer has been around since approximately 1976. But in that time, numerous technological revolutions have left generations of obsolete computing equipment on the junk heap. Nevertheless, in that time, these otherwise useless computers have spawned a sub-culture of vintage computer collectors, who often spend large sums to acquire the rarest of these items, not only to display but restore to their fully functioning glory, including active software development and adaptation to modern uses. This often includes so-called hackers who add-on, update and create hybrid composites from new and old computers for uses for which they were otherwise never intended. Ethernet interfaces have been designed for many vintage 8-bit machines to allow limited connectivity to the Internet; where users can access user groups, bulletin boards and databases of software. Most of this hobby centers on those computers manufactured after 1960, though some collectors specialize in pre-1960 computers as well.

Microcomputer Collection 2
Altair and IMSAI computers with drives


Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) produced the Altair 8800 in 1975, which is widely regarded as starting the microcomputer revolution.


IMSAI produced a machine similar to the Altair 8800, though considered by many to be a more robust design.

Processor Technology

Processor Technology produced the Sol-20. This was one of the first machines to have a case that included a keyboard; a design feature copied by many of later "home computers".

Microcomputer Collection
SWTPC and Altair computers from the 70s


Southwest Technical Products Corporation (SWTPC) produced the SWTPC 6800 and later the SWTPC 6809 kits that employed the Motorola 68xx series microprocessors. The 68xx line was to be followed later by the 6502 processor that was used in many early "home computers", such as the Apple II.

Apple Inc.

The earliest of the Apple Inc. personal computers are among some of the most collectible. They are relatively easy to maintain in an operational state thanks to Apple's use of readily available off-the-shelf parts.

  • Apple I: The Apple-1 was Apple's first product and has brought some of the highest prices ever paid for a microcomputer at auction.
  • Apple II: The Apple II series of computers are some of the easiest to adapt, thanks to the original expansion architecture designed into them. New peripheral cards are still being designed by an avid thriving community, thanks to the longevity of this platform, manufactured from 1977 through 1993. Numerous websites exist to support not only the legacy users, but new adopters who weren't even born when the Apple II was discontinued by Apple.[6]
  • Macintosh: Perhaps because of its friendly design and first commercially successful graphical user interface as well as its enduring Finder application that persists on the most current Macs, the Macintosh is one of the most collected and used of the vintage computers. With dozens of websites around the world, old Macintosh hardware and software is put into daily use. Many maintain vast collections of functional and non-functional systems, which are lovingly maintained and discussed on worldwide user forums. The Macintosh had a strong presence in many early computer labs, creating a strong nostalgia factor for former students who recall their first computing experiences.


  • The COSMAC ELF in 1976 was an inexpensive (about $100) single-board computer that was easily built by hobbyists. Many people who could not afford an Altair could afford an ELF, which was based on the RCA 1802 chip. Because the chips are still available from other sources, modern recreations of the ELF are fairly common and there are a number of fan web sites.


  • The IBM 1130 computing system from 1966 which still has a following of interested users, albeit via an emulator[7] rather than the actual machine.
  • The 5100 also has an avid collector and fan base.
  • The PC series (5150 PC, 5155 Portable PC, 5160 PC/XT, 5170 PC/AT) has become very popular in recent years, with the earliest models (PC) being considered the most collectible.
BBC Master with Retro Software games
BBC Master with Retro Software games at the Wakefield RISC OS Show 2011

Acorn BBC & Archimedes

  • The Acorn BBC Micro was a very popular British computer in the 1980s with home and educational users, and enjoyed near universal usage in British schools into the mid-1990s. It was possible to use 100K 5¼" disks and it had many expansion ports.
  • The Archimedes series - the de facto successor to the BBC Micro - has also enjoyed a following in recent years, thanks to its status as the first computer to be based around ARM's RISC microprocessor.

Tandy/Radio Shack

  • The Tandy/RadioShack Model 100 is still widely collected and used as one of the earliest examples of a truly portable computer. Other Tandy offerings, such as the TRS-80 line, are also very popular, and early systems, like the Model I, in good condition can command premium prices on the vintage computer market.


  • The Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum series were the most popular British home computers of the early 1980s, with a wide choice of emulators available for both platforms. The Spectrum in particular enjoys a cult following due to its popularity as a games platform, with new games titles still being developed even today. Original "rubber key" Spectrums fetch the highest prices on the second hand market, with the later Amstrad-built models attracting less of a following. The earlier ZX81 is not as popular in original hardware form due to its monochrome display and limited abilities next to the Spectrum, but still unassembled ZX81 kits still appear on eBay occasionally.


  • Although nearly nonexistent in the United States, the MSX architecture has strong communities of fans and hobbyists worldwide, particularly in Japan (where the standard was conceived and developed), South Korea (the only country had a MSX based game console, Zemmix), Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Chile, the Middle East and others. New hardware and software are being actively developed to this day as well.
  • One of the latest fundamental (from hardware and software perspectives) revivals of the MSX is the GR8BIT.


  • The Robotron Z1013 was an East German home computer produced by VEB Robotron. It had a U880 processor, 16 kByte RAM and a membrane keyboard.
  • The KC 85 series of computers was a modular 8 bit computer system used in East German schools
Commodore Computers of the 1980s
Some old computers from Commodore International. Amiga 500 (top left), Commodore 128 (top right) and three different variants of the Commodore 64.

In popular culture

In an interview with Conan O'Brien in May 2014, George R. R. Martin revealed that he writes his books using WordStar 4.0, an MS-DOS application dating back to 1987.[8]


Retrocomputing (and retrogaming as aspect) has been described in one paper as preservation activity and as aspect of the remix culture.[9]


Though many retro computers pre-date widespread use of the internet many enthusiasts find way to connect their machines using technologies such as Retronet that emulate the modems and X.25 protocol the machines were designed at the time to use[10].

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Retrocomputing Museum". Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Arduino Retro Computer with SD card and LCD display and Keyboard input with BASIC interpreter". Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  4. ^ "Arduino Retro Computer TV". Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  5. ^ "C-one Reconfigurable computer". Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  6. ^ Weyhrich. Steven. "The Apple II". p. 2. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Simulating the IBM 1130 on 21st-century hardware". Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  8. ^ Lily Hay Newman (14 May 2014). "George R.R. Martin Writes on a DOS-Based Word Processor From the 1980s". Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  9. ^ Takhteyev, Yuri; DuPont, Quinn (2013). "Retrocomputing as Preservation and Remix" (PDF). iConference 2013 Proceedings. Fort Worth, Texas: iSchools. pp. 422–432. doi:10.9776/13230. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  10. ^ "CodePlex Archive". CodePlex Archive. Retrieved 2018-12-21.

External links

1541 Ultimate

1541 Ultimate (often abbreviated 1541U) is a peripheral, primarily an emulated floppy disk and cartridge emulator based on the FPGA Xilinx XC3S250E, for the Commodore 64 home computer. It became available in 2008.

The unit is developed by Gideon Zweijtzer and is a cartridge that can emulate other cartridges such as the Commodore REU, Action Replay, The Final Cartridge III, Super Snapshot, Retro Replay or TurboAss with Codenet-support, and an almost fully compatible (including JiffyDOS support FPGA-cloned Commodore 1541 (including 1541, 1541C, and 1541 II models) floppy disk unit that can use Commodore 64-compatible files like .D64/.G64 disc images or .PRG files via a SD card reader. Additionally, the 1541 Ultimate is suitable for making archives of floppy disks. All units after the initial production have 32 megabytes of RAM, while the original production run only had 16 megabytes.

The 1541 Ultimate is capable of running both CP/M and GEOS.In 2010, the 1541 Ultimate II was developed. The Ultimate II is about 30% smaller than the 1541 Ultimate, comes in a plastic case, and adds support for dual SIDs (plus a SID/MOD player), a USB host controller, tape emulation via a tape adapter (though use with a Commodore 128D requires modification), a real-time clock (for accurate file date and time), and the SD card slot is replaced by a microSD card slot. In addition, all firmware and VHDL code for the Ultimate II is available under an open source GPLv3 license, allowing hobbyists and others to freely modify all aspects of its functionality, including the FPGA-emulated hardware.

The 1541 Ultimate has an option for on-board Ethernet, while the 1541 Ultimate II supports Ethernet via a compatible USB to Ethernet adapter.Besides being useful to retrocomputing hobbyists, it has also found use in educational laboratory settings.

Code reuse

Code reuse, also called software reuse, is the use of existing software, or software knowledge, to build new software, following the reusability principles.

Commodore 64 software

The Commodore 64 amassed a large software library of nearly 10,000 commercial titles, covering most genres from games to business applications, and many others.

Cornell University Programming Language

Cornell University Programming Language (also called CUPL) is a procedural computer programming language developed at Cornell University in the late 1960s.

CUPL was based on an earlier Cornell-developed programming language, CORC. It was used to teach introductory computer programming classes.

CUPL was developed by R. W. Conway, W. L. Maxwell, G. Blomgren, Howard Elder, H. Morgan, C. Pottle, W. Riddle, and Robert Walker. CUPL had a very simple syntax similar to BASIC and to PL/I. The processor was designed to offer extensive error correction and diagnostic capabilities. This would allow student programs to execute even if they contained minor syntax errors. The compiler also included spelling correction capabilities so that if a variable name is referenced only once, the compiler would assume that it was a misspelling of some other intended name.

CUPL also offered an extensive set of matrix operations and offered dynamic run-time memory allocation. At the time, Cornell's computer was an IBM System 360 Model 40 with only 64K of core memory. CUPL was able to process a large batch of student programs quickly by remaining resident in core memory, but the compiler occupied 58K of memory, leaving only a small amount for the program code and variable storage.

Heirloom Project

The Heirloom Project is a collection of traditional Unix utilities. Most of them are derived from original Unix source code, as released as open-source by Caldera and Sun.

The project has the following components:

The Heirloom Toolchest: awk, cpio, grep, tar, etc.

The Heirloom Bourne Shell sh

The Heirloom Documentation Tools: nroff, troff, dpost, etc.

The Heirloom Development Tools: lex, yacc, m4, and SCCS

Heirloom mailx

The Heirloom Packaging Tools: pkgadd, pkgmk, etc.Although in general the intention of the project is to provide versions of Unix programs whose behavior mimics that of the classic versions, some improvements have been made. In particular, many of the Heirloom programs have been adapted to handle UTF-8 Unicode. Most programs have both a classic version and a POSIX conformant variant.

Index of recycling articles

This is an index of recycling topics.

Individual Computers

Individual Computers is a German computer hardware company specializing in retrocomputing accessories for the Commodore 64, Amiga, and PC platforms. Individual Computers produced the C-One reconfigurable computer in 2003. The company is owned and run by Jens Schönfeld.

Laser Magnetic Storage International

Laser Magnetic Storage International (LMSI) was a subsidiary of Philips that designed and manufactured optical and magnetic media. It began as a joint venture between Philips and Control Data Corporation. It later become Philips LMS.

Mac OS X Tiger

Mac OS X Tiger (version 10.4) is the fifth major release of Mac OS X (now named macOS), Apple's desktop and server operating system for Mac computers. Tiger was released to the public on April 29, 2005 for US$129.95 as the successor to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Some of the new features included a fast searching system called Spotlight, a new version of the Safari web browser, Dashboard, a new 'Unified' theme, and improved support for 64-bit addressing on Power Mac G5s. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger shocked executives at Microsoft by offering a number of features, such as fast file searching and improved graphics processing, that Microsoft had spent several years struggling to add to Windows with acceptable performance.Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was included with all new Macs, and was also available as an upgrade for existing Mac OS X users, or users of supported pre-Mac OS X systems. The server edition, Mac OS X Server 10.4, was also available for some Macintosh product lines. Six weeks after its official release, Apple had delivered 2 million copies of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, representing 16% of all Mac OS X users. Apple claimed that Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was the most successful Apple OS release in the company's history. At the WWDC on June 11, 2007, Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, announced that out of the 22 million Mac OS X users, more than 67% were using Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.Apple announced a transition to Intel x86 processors during Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger's lifetime, making it the first Apple operating system to work on Apple–Intel architecture machines. The original Apple TV, released in March 2007, shipped with a customized version of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger branded "Apple TV OS" that replaced the usual GUI with an updated version of Front Row.Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was succeeded by Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on October 26, 2007, after 30 months, making Mac OS 10.4 Tiger the longest running version of Mac OS X. The last security update released for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger users was the 2009-005 update. The next security update, 2009-006 only included support for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The latest supported version of QuickTime is 7.6.4. The latest version of iTunes that can run on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger is 9.2.1, because 10.0 only supports Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and later. Safari 4.1.3 is the final version for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger as of November 18, 2010. Despite not having received security updates since then, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger remains popular with Power Mac users and retrocomputing enthusiasts due to its wide software and hardware compatibility, as it is the last Mac OS X version to support the Classic Environment, a Mac OS 9 compatibility layer, and PowerPC G3 processors.


The Mockingboard (the name is a pun on the Mockingbird) is a sound card for the Apple II family of microcomputers built by Sweet Micro Systems. The standard Apple II machines never had particularly good sound, especially when compared to competitors like the SID chip-featuring Commodore 64. With the notable exception of the Apple IIGS, all an Apple II programmer could do was to form sounds out of single clicks sent to the speaker at specific moments, which made the creation of complex sounds extremely difficult to program and made it mostly impossible to do any other processing during the creation of sounds. Early (1978) hardware accessories such as ALF's Apple Music Synthesizer focused on producing only music. In 1981, Sweet Micro Systems began designing products not only for creating music, but speech and general sound effects as well. Its specialized hardware allowed programmers to create complex, high-quality sound without need for constant CPU attention. The Mockingboard could be connected to the Apple's built-in speaker or to external speakers. However, as the quality of the built-in speaker was not high, the instruction manual recommended obtaining external speakers.

The Mockingboard was available in various models for either the slot-based Apple II / Apple II Plus / Apple IIe systems or in one special model for the Apple IIc. Sound was generated through one or more AY-3-8910 or compatible sound chips, with one chip offering three square-wave synthesis channels. The boards could also be equipped with an optional speech chip (a Votrax SC-01 or compatible).

Some software products supported more than one Mockingboard. Ultima V supported two boards, for a total of 12 voices, of which it used eight. Most other programs supported at most one board with six voices.

Applied Engineering's Phasor was compatible with the Mockingboard. It had 4 sound chips and thus provided 12 audio channels. Few programs supported using it for more than six voices, however.

In 2005, an Apple II retrocomputing hardware company,, cloned the Mockingboard and offered it for sale. It is also fairly easy to build a clone on a prototyping board, since the Mockingboard contains relatively few components.

An IBM PC-compatible version was developed, but was only distributed with Bank Street Music Writer.

Remix culture

Remix culture, sometimes read-write culture, is a society that allows and encourages derivative works by combining or editing existing materials to produce a new creative work or product. A remix culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. While a common practice of artists of all domains throughout human history, the growth of exclusive copyright restrictions in the last several decades limits this practice more and more by the legal chilling effect. In reaction, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig who considers remixing a desirable concept for human creativity, has worked since the early 2000s on a transfer of the remixing concept into the digital age. Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001 which released Licenses as tools to enable remix culture again, as remixing is legally prevented by the default exclusive copyright regime applied currently on intellectual property. The remix culture for cultural works is related to and inspired by the earlier Free and open-source software for software movement, which encourages the reuse and remixing of software works.


Repurposing is the process by which an object with one use value is transformed or redeployed as an object with an alternative use value.


Retrobright (stylized as Retr0bright) is a chemical mixture used to remove yellowing from ABS plastic computer and electronics cases, including computers that were manufactured by Commodore and Apple in the 1980s and 1990s, and various video game consoles and cartridges. This classical meaning has been expanded, so that now the term "Retrobright" often gets used to indicate any H2O2 based process to remove yellowing from ABS plastics.

Yellowing is caused by both bromine and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Many of the ABS plastics used in consumer electronics devices are typically “brominated”—combined with bromine as a fire retardant—to meet fire safety standards. The method was first discovered in 2007 in a German retrocomputing forum, before spreading to an English blog where it was further detailed.. The process has been continually refined since.There is still some debate over the long-term effectiveness of this technique. Some have discovered the yellowing reappears, and there is discussion of factors that may result in this happening. There are also some concerns that the process weakens the plastic.


Retrogaming, also known as classic gaming and old school gaming, is the playing or collecting of older personal computer, console, and arcade video games in contemporary times. Usually retrogaming is based upon systems that are obsolete or discontinued.

Retrogaming has three main activities; vintage retrogaming, retrogaming emulation, and ported retrogaming. Vintage retrogaming includes games that are played on the original hardware. Emulation involves newer systems simulating old gaming systems, while ported retrogaming allows games to be played on modern hardware via ports or compilations. Additionally, the term could apply to a newer game, but with features similar to those of older games, such as an "retro RPG" which features turn-based combat and an isometric camera perspective.

Participants in the hobby are sometimes known as retrogamers in the United Kingdom, while the terms "classic gamers" or "old school gamers" are more prevalent in the United States. Similarly, the games are known as retrogames, classic games, or old school games.Retrogaming has existed since the early years of the video game industry, but was popularized with the popularity of the Internet and emulation technology. It is argued that the main reasons players are drawn to retrogames are nostalgia for different eras, the idea that older games are more innovative and original, and the simplicity of the games that requires less hours of gameplay.

Retrogaming and retrocomputing have been described as preservation activity and as aspects of the remix culture.

Software archaeology

Software archaeology or software archeology is the study of poorly documented or undocumented legacy software implementations, as part of software maintenance. Software archaeology, named by analogy with archaeology, includes the reverse engineering of software modules, and the application of a variety of tools and processes for extracting and understanding program structure and recovering design information. Software archaeology may reveal dysfunctional team processes which have produced poorly designed or even unused software modules. The term has been in use for decades, and reflects a fairly natural metaphor: a programmer reading legacy code may feel that he or she is in the same situation as an archaeologist exploring the rubble of an ancient civilization.


The Old School Emulation Center (TOSEC) is a retrocomputing initiative founded in February 2000 initially for the renaming and cataloging of software files intended for use in emulators, that later extended their work to the cataloging and preservation of also applications, firmware, device drivers, games, operating systems, magazines and magazine cover disks, comic books, product box art, videos of advertisements and training, related TV series and more. The catalogs provide an overview and cryptographic identification of media that allows for automatic integrity checking and renaming of files, checking for the completeness of software collections and more, using management utilities like ClrMamePro.

As the project grew in popularity it started to become a defacto standard for the management of retrocomputing and emulation resources. In 2013 many TOSEC catalogued files started to be included in the Internet Archive after the work quality and attention to detail put into the catalogs was praised by some of their archivists.

As of release 2018-12-27, TOSEC catalogs span nearly 300 unique computing platforms and continues to grow. As of this time the project had identified and cataloged more than a million different software images and sets (more than half of that for Commodore systems), describing a source set of 5.80TB of software and resources.


The VAX-11 is a discontinued family of minicomputers developed and manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) using processors implementing the VAX instruction set architecture (ISA), succeeding the PDP-11. The VAX-11/780 is the first VAX computer.


Viewdata is a Videotex implementation. It is a type of information retrieval service in which a subscriber can access a remote database via a common carrier channel, request data and receive requested data on a video display over a separate channel. Samuel Fedida, who had the idea for Viewdata in 1968, was credited as inventor of the system. The first prototype became operational in 1974. The access, request and reception are usually via common carrier broadcast channels. This is in contrast with teletext.

Web counter

A web counter or hit counter is a computer software program that indicates the number of visitors, or hits, a particular webpage has received. Once set up, these counters will be incremented by one every time the web page is accessed in a web browser.

The number is usually displayed as an inline digital image or in plain text. Image rendering of digits may use a variety of fonts and styles; the classic example is the wheels of an odometer. The counter is often accompanied by the date it was set up or last reset, without which it becomes impossible to estimate within what time the number of page loads counted occurred. Some web counters were simply web bugs used by webmasters to track hits and included no visible on-page elements.

Counters were popular in the 1990s, but were later replaced by other web traffic measures such as self-hosted scripts like Analog, and later on by remote systems that used JavaScript, like Google Analytics. These systems typically do not include on-page elements displaying the count. Thus, seeing a web counter on a modern web page is one example of retrocomputing on the Internet.

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