Lately I have been feeling a little nostalgic (thanks no doubt to heavily rose-tinted glasses) about the kind of machines I first learned *nix on, 486 and 686 PCs with 16MB or 32MB of RAM, IDE drives, ISA and PCI cards. When the Pentium processor arrived, everybody upgraded and these older machines were sold used very cheaply, so even a high school student could buy several of them and build a little bedroom network.
Today, good God, the eBay prices for this kind of machine are so high! And I get that they're pretty well retrocomputers by now, but they must have been produced in much higher numbers than Commodore/Atari/Amiga/MSX gear, and their modular nature makes them much easier to repair and keep in working condition, so I have a hard time believing they are genuinely scarce, with real rarity value. Or did their mass production actually work against them, because nobody hesitated to recycle/scrap them and now they genuinely are hard to find?
@solderpunk Back in the day old pc's were very easy to acquire. I used to disconnect the fan and make routers out of them for folks https://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/netos/article.php/1107911/FreeSCO-Build-A-Router-With-A-386-And-A-Floppy-Disk.htm
by early 2000s you'd even find them put outside or in skips as trash and we had mini hackspaces in squats which reused them for various purposes (even early Pentiums capable of running Windows could be found).
But I suspect many of these were cleared out from teenagers' rooms or the motherboards were scrapped and the case re-used for newer hardware in the 2000s, so the older kit is genuinely harder to find and wanted by retrogamers..
also (at least in the UK, until about 1995) 486 PCs were still fairly pricey and mostly confined to businesses and middle class households with family members working in tech - so there weren't that many around to start with. It was only after Windows 95 became a thing that PC prices seemed to drop (I think Microsoft was, and still is subsidising hardware in many markets and "giving away" the licence to maintain their market share)
@vfrmedia @gemlog If I remember rightly it was the very late 90s when I first started accumulating these machines. Maybe it was indeed Windows 95 and not the release the of the Pentium that drove their cheap availability - I just double checked and the first Pentiums were released in '93, and that was definitely well before I had any machines of my own. And, yes, a few years into the naughties they were literally street-side garbage (even Pentiums were by then).
@solderpunk I recall paying $100 at a tag sale for a 486DX2 about 20 years ago. Ebay suggests that a working machine of that vintage might go for as much as $400, which is above inflation but not completely unreasonable for something pristine. What prices are you looking at?
We scrapped my late grandmother's souped-up 486 PS/1 (with an OverDrive CPU!) in 2018. That I kinda regret, but no one had any space for it.
(I did save the hard drive and take a dump of it, though. I'm not a monster.)
@trurl $100 for a 486DX2 at a garage sale in the year 2000? That feels very expensive to me! Just a few years after that, in my experience, people were just leaving machines like that out on the kerb for garbage collection. Was that including a monitor and all peripherals, or just the machine itself?
Something by a big name manufacturer like IBM, HP or Compaq, if in totally original factory configuration and pristine cosmetic condition, I agree has value as a collectors item and I wouldn't be so baffled by a high price. But I'm seeing totally generic beige boxes put together by local corner computer stores, in entirely average cosmetic condition, being sold for $200, $300 prices. Even bare motherboards sometimes for over $100. I'm really surprised that there's so much demand for these machines that they can apparently sell for a lot more than, say, a nice refurbished Thinkpad from the early naughties which is of much more practical use today.
@solderpunk It was an HP Vectra, with monitor and keyboard, and had the same case and internal layout as seen at https://ancientelectronics.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/hp-vectra-vl-series-3-5-90/. Still booted 18 months ago.
Now that I think about it, I must have bought it before 2000, since it was affected by the Y2K bug: the BIOS clock went from 1999 to 1900. But I manually set the year to 2000, and it behaved properly on every boot after that.
@solderpunk spending hundreds on an old generic machine that might crap out due to age seems nuts. My best guess would be that people who grew up in the early 90s want to re-create some sort of vintage MS-DOS environment and are willing to spend about as much as they would on a modern console. Pulling machines off the curb back then gave me really inconsistent results. Was it bad RAM, bad parallel cable, cracked motherboard tracing, ... ? Machines that are bootable today might be rare.
@solderpunk to add to your hypotheses about why these machines are so pricey today, maybe they were more likely to be junked because someone who had a PC in the mid-90s was likely to upgrade and ditch the old. (No multimedia? Technically capable of running Windows 95 but slow as molasses? Didn't come in a cardboard box that looks like a Holstein? To the bin with you!)
An old Commodore or Atari might have occupied a different household niche and been forgotten, instead.
@trurl I guess retrogaming must indeed be the driver. I enjoyed playing DOS games in the 90s, but I certainly wouldn't spend a modern console's worth to get a better recreation than an emulator. To each their own, though, honestly.
@trurl That is a nice looking machine! Very strange that the clock wrapped around at 1999 but was happy being manually set past that number.
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