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Posted on December 27th, 2011 by Mike Jennings

The computing relics unearthed in the PC Pro Labs

Old MacsThe PC Pro Lab is a dark, dingy place full of cardboard boxes, benchmarks and more motherboards, processors and PCs than we care to count, but it’s also home to a variety of kit that’s slipped through the net –  some of it even dating back to before PC Pro launched in 1994.

From iconic machines like the IBM PC to the silliness of Sony’s £1,190 netbook, we’ve scoured the darkest corners and blown dust off some of the oldest, oddest and rarest kit we can find – starting with a true icon of the industry.

IBM PCIBM PC

Introduced on August 12 1981, IBM’s Personal Computer was the first machine to popularise the now-ubiquitous term – and one of these antiques sits at the back of the PC Pro Lab.

IBM PC

Processing grunt was provided by the single-core, 4.77MHz Intel 8088, and floppy disks and cassettes are both supported. There’s a mighty 256KB of RAM, with 64KB of that soldered onto the motherboard. The IBM PC didn’t come cheap, either: a barebones model without any drives cost $1,565 and the top-end model came with bells, whistles and a monitor for $20,000.IBM PC

The motherboard includes five eight-bit Industry Standard Architecture slots, with three of ours occupied: there’s a floppy disk drive controller card a SixPakPlus memory expansion board packed with 64KB chips, and a multidisplay adapter that’s actually two slabs of PCB stuck together. In the middle of the machine is an IBM 5 ¼in Diskette Drive.

Only one question remains, though, once we’ve blown the dust off this venerable old machine – can it run Crysis?

Apple Macintosh PlusApple Macintosh Plus

The Macintosh Plus might be a disturbing shade of yellow but that’s hardly surprising – it first saw the light of day in 1986. Released for £2,599, it was produced until October 1990 – the longest production run of any Macintosh – and was supported by Mac OS up to 1996.

It broke ground in other ways, too. As the first Macintosh to include a SCSI port it paved the way for external devices such as hard disks, tape drives, printers and CD-ROM drives, and this was also the first Macintosh to use SIMMs for its memory – with a massive 1MB of the stuff included as standard across four 256KB sticks.

Our particular model bears the familiar Cupertino, California label on its rear, but the sticker also reveals that this machine was “Assembled in Ireland” – a far cry from today, where most technology seems to be produced in Asia.

Apple Macintosh Colour ClassicApple Macintosh Colour Classic

Fast forward a few years – and look under a different test-bench – and you’ll find another piece of Apple history. It’s the first compact Macintosh computer to come with a colour display, and we wouldn’t have the iMac – the world’s finest all-in-one PC – without the Colour Classic paving the way.Apple Macintosh Colour Classic

Originally priced at $1,400 in February 1993, it ran on Mac OS 7.6.1 – the first version of the OS to drop the “System” from its name so the more distinctive moniker could be trademarked and the OS licensed to third-party Macintosh manufacturers.

Apple Macintosh Colour Classic

This ancient all-in-one was more upgradeable than most of today’s models, too. The Processor Direct Slot was used with the Apple IIe Card, and ran software designed for the older Apple II. This backwards compatibility was supposed to entice the education market to upgrade from Apple II machines to fully-fledged Macintoshes, but other upgrades were also available, from CPU accelerators to Ethernet and video cards.

This versatility means the Colour Classic enjoys a cult following today: users have modded the machine with Power Mac parts so its screen runs at 640 x 480 rather than 560 x 384, and others have fitted motherboards from more powerful models.

Casio CassiopeiaCasio Cassiopeia E-115

Technical editor Darien Graham-Smith found the Casio Cassiopeia E-115 hiding at the back of his cupboard, but it first arrived back in October 2000 when PDAs, rather than smartphones, were big news.

So, what did you get for £422? There’s the sturdy exterior, which we described as “dull-grey silver” and “resting on its laurels”, alongside a cradle that “feels cheap and doesn’t engage with the Cassiopeia as solidly as we’d like” in its full review.

It wasn’t all bad news, with a 240 x 320 LCD screen that was better than its rivals, and a 131MHz StrongARM processor that was “fast enough to ensure instantaneous contact searches and speedy application switching”, according to us. It also had 16MB of ROM and 32MB of RAM memory – “about as much as you currently need”, at least back then.

Oh, and the software? Microsoft Windows CE 3.0 PocketPC Edition. Our model is old and, presumably, scarred by Darien’s cupboard, so it wouldn’t turn on – although that’s probably for the best, given that we concluded that the Casio simply couldn’t “match the standard” set by Compaq’s iPAQ.

Apple iMac G4Apple iMac G4

The G4 marked the first major redesign of the iMac, but the forlorn model found in the PC Pro Lab has clearly seen better days. It’s missing its monitor bezel, the distinctive round base is looking grubby, and it wouldn’t turn on – although that chrome, cantilevered arm is as smooth as it was when the G4 was eased from its box in 2002.Apple iMac G4

We described the G4 as “smooth and elegant design that puts other computer makes to shame”. Even now it stands out in a sea of modern all-in-ones that all look a little too familiar.

Apple iMac G4Our review also highlighted Apple’s concentration on “excellent design and ease of use”, but that has downsides – a specification we described as “Paleolithic”. It’s the first time we’ve seen computers compared to dinosaurs, but the SDRAM was slow and the GeForce 2 MX graphics chip was a generation behind the curve. It might look nice – as Apple devices are wont to do – but PCs ran our Photoshop 7 benchmark almost twice as quickly.

Dell LatitudeDell Latitude

The oldest laptop we managed to find demonstrates the changing of technology. This Dell Latitude isn’t quite as backward as we first thought. It’s either a C540 or C640 – we’re not sure which, as it’s been hidden on a high shelf for far too long – and it’s a mix of old problems and forgotten boons.Dell Latitude

It’s running a Pentium 4 chip with Windows XP, but the most striking thing about this machine is its design – or lack of it. Plain plastic is the order of the day, and the lid features the familiar Dell logo, along with the kind of build quality that we’d slate if this machine were reviewed today.

The base doesn’t cover itself in glory, either, with stickers, flaps, screws, feet and even some exposed fans. It’s also obvious where laptops have fallen backwards as companies rush to build slim, snazzy Ultrabooks: we rarely see keyboards with the kind of comfort, responsiveness and travel as this Latitude offers, and the 4:3 screen has a native resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 – a huge amount of desktop real estate compared to the 1,366 x 768 and 1,600 x 900 screens that now seem to be the norm.

Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT, 7600 GS and AMD Radeon HD 2600 XT

We’ve a big plastic tub full of graphics cards in the Labs and, while most of them are recent, a trio of PCBs lurking amid the anti-static bags and DVI to D-SUB adapters come from decidedly older stock. Two Nvidia cards, the GeForce 7300 GT and 7600 GS, are joined by AMD’s Radeon HD 2600 XT.Graphics Cards

They were launched in 2006 and 2007, and they handily illustrate the impressive speed at which technology is pushed forward. The first 28nm GPU has just arrived but, back then, Nvidia and AMD were using 90nm and 65nm processes – and the 390 million transistors in the AMD card pales when compared to the 4.3 billion in AMD’s latest.

The bandwidth statistics are telling, too: the Radeon card churns through 35.2GB/sec in its 512MB incarnation, with the 7300 GT and 7600 GS offering 10.67GB/sec and 12.8GB/sec respectively. The latest high-end card, the Radeon HD 7970, chews through 264GB/sec – and even modest boards, such as Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 550 Ti, handle 98.5GB/sec.

Oh, and our benchmarks? The 7600 GS played Call of Duty 2 at 18fps when run at 1,280 x 1,024. Bless.

Sony VAIO P-seriesSony VAIO P-series

Sony senior vice president Mike Abary famously said his company would never join the “race to the bottom” when netbooks hit the big time, and he wasn’t joking – Sony’s VAIO P-series cost £1,190 inc VAT for the top-end model.

That money paid for radical design, with a base occupied entirely by the keyboard,  that’s still so small and fiddly that you have to peck at the keys, prod at the trackpoint and squint at the 8in 1,600 x 900 screen. The Z-series Atom was decidedly Z-list, too, thanks to performance that couldn’t match £350 rivals.

ultimate035

Sony executives demonstrated the device by deftly pulling it from jacket pockets, but we thought it should stay there: laptops editor Sasha Muller said that its “sluggish performance and high price” limited its appeal, and it’s been gathering dust in a plain box in the Labs ever since. Sony can’t have been too keen on it, either: it followed this up with the sensible, £399 Mini W-series netbook.

Did you own any of this kit, or have any fond memories of these classic computers? Let us know in the comments, and check out the rest of the pictures in the gallery below.

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31 Responses to “ The computing relics unearthed in the PC Pro Labs ”

  1. David Staples Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Why is the PC Pro Lab so full of Mac kit? Is the MacUser equivalent full of IBM clones?

    C’mon guys, Our Lord Steve may have had it in for Flash but as far as I know he never outlawed subtlety.

     
  2. David Wright Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 10:54 am

    My first “portable” was a Compaq. About the same size a Singer manual sewing machine and twice as heavy!

    It had a small CRT display and dual 360KB floppy drives and a full travel keyboard!

     
  3. Greemble Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    “– the world’s finest all-in-one PC – ”

    Is that really necessary? Can we please have an article which includes Apple stuff that doesn’t gush like an iPhan?

     
  4. Alan Ralph Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    From the age of some of that kit, they must have been left there by the folks at Computer Shopper. :)

    Never owned any of them, but I remember using the Mac Plus and Mac Color Classic at university many moons ago – there were several labs of them, plus a Laserwriter, which were heavily used for essay-writing and some coursework.

    The oldest working kit that I still own is a Dell Inspiron 500m laptop. With a PC-card wireless adaptor to replace the built-in one (which only supports 802.11b), it still works well for occasional troubleshooting work.

     
  5. formula86 Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    The first ever computer I used was the Apple Macintosh Colour Classic back in 1996. The place it was at still has that computer now and it is still going strong.

     
  6. pt Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    still got an amiga 1000…

     
  7. Wiebsomean Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve oft lamented at the decrease in vertical resolution of modern laptops with their 16×9 screens, so ably demonstrated by your Dell Latitude. As a power Excel user, a decent vertical resolution is sorely missed in recent years, although I don’t mind quad core calculation speeds. I guess the march of progress must occasionally detour around price points.

     
  8. Nick Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 1:36 am

    A ZX80, a ZX81 (good old Sincalir BASIC!), then a Sinclair QL – which I loved and which had the fastest and most flexible word-processor I’ve ever used, called The Editor and hand-written in machine code. Then a beige PC around 1995 and after that I built my PCs. This laptop is a Thinkpad T43 – because I can use a screen with a 4:3 aspect-ratio. My girlfriend’s new T420 may have a Core i5 and ‘better’ resolution, but the screen has hopeless proportions and to be useable has to be taken off it’s ‘optimum’ resolution, so it is actually fuzzier than my old T43. Battery life is not really any better either, ands the keyboard is worse. If it weren’t a necessity I’d quit using PCs altogether: I used to prefer Unix mainframes and workstations back when.. and I have gone back to itallic nibs, black ink and paper for correspondence – people read letters differently to email, and pay more attention. AND they’re harder to hack…

     
  9. David Wright Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    @Wiebsomean Not just portables. Most desktop monitors are now cut down TVs, without a tuner, not computer monitors.

    My old screen was 1920×1200, nearly all the new screens are 1920×1080 – those 120 pixels make a big difference!

    Our main supplier has over 30 different 22″ – 24″ models on offer, yet only 2 of those are actual monitors and not TV panels without a tuner!

    As to old computers, I started with a ZX81 (with Kayde keyboard & 16KB RAM pack from BigByte), then I got a VIC=20, with 32K RAM pack, then my all time favourite computer the Memotech MTX500, which mixed the best bits of the BBC Micro, the C64 and the ZX Spectrum into a terrific bundle, it also had a range of SSD drives, as well as Winchester drives and floppy drives. But it never sold in numbers. :-(

    I used an Amstrad 6128 to do my college work on and moved to an Amiga 500 and later a 1200, before finally “downgrading” to a Windows PC because of work.

    The Amiga was great, and really opened eyes at work, it ran Mac emulation and PC Emulation – the PC emulation (MS-DOS only, no Windows) was basically a virtual machine and multi-tasked with the main OS! But when Windows came along, I needed to go PC.

    At one time, I was supporting so many systems, that I had a VT220 terminal, a DEC Rainbow, Burroughs BTOS terminal, IBM PC, HP-150 and HP-125 on my desk! There was hardly room to swing a cat!

    My favourite OS is still VMS, which I sorely miss.

     
  10. John Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I still have a 56Kb external modem sitting in a box on the cupboard (connects to a PC via RS232 port). Not sure how old it is but I haven’t used it for over 5 years since moving to broadband.

     
  11. pt Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    @Nick- what’s wrong with the good old cleft stick with a trusty native bearer?

     
  12. pt Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    …although the clay tablets do tend to break when they stumble…

     
  13. Slob Says:
    December 28th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I still have one of those Dell Latitudes, which I use as my current laptop :-(

     
  14. Robert Highfield Says:
    December 29th, 2011 at 8:58 am

    My first computer was a slightly updated PC, still with the 8088 CPU, but 640k of ram, with double 5 1/4 floppy drives. It worked fine to run Wordstar and Lotus 123. It had the best case I have ever had, with a flip top opened just by pressing two buttons on the sides, thus exposing all the innards with ease. Monitor was a green screen, no graphics.

     
  15. David Wright Says:
    December 29th, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    @Robert Highfield yes, we had one of those as well. Very nice design, for the time.

    I miss 1-2-3 on an MDA or Hercules screen! Ah, nostalgia!

     
  16. KevPartner Says:
    December 29th, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    The first computer I used at work was an IBM XT (this was 1989) – at home I used the far superior Atari STFM which was the first computer I’d had that really opened my eyes to the creative possibilities. Still have a couple of Speccies in the loft!

     
  17. Steve Cassidy Says:
    December 30th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I had the third IBM Portable in the country, and the first or second (we couldn’t really tell) IBM PC. Like Kevin, at home I splashed out on an Atari 520 ST, rapidly moving up to a 1040 (eee! luxury! etc). As for the griping about all that superannuated Mac kit, remember that the Apple turnover (groan) rate is a whole lot slower than the PC marketplace, and having things like that in the labs distracts visitors from whatever is currently being looked at…

     
  18. John Fairhurst Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    My first computer at home was a shared ZX Spectrum then a personal Jupiter Ace (points if you had one too…). This was replaced by an Amstrad 1512 with 10Mb hard disk card.

    The first PC at work (1986) was an IBM something – there was only the one and we used it for Multiplan, then a Mac Classic with a(nother) 10Mb hard drive and AppleWriter printer used to run an application by the name of Excel…

    It’s been a succession of PCs since, both at home and work though I only retired the Gateway running Windows 95 (from 1996) because I needed the sockets.

     
  19. clckmss Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Ah. Nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be.

    Back in 1978 I bought a TRS-80 with 4k of memory.
    I then built myself a Nascom 2. When I added a floppy disk drive I had to buy the wife a new kitchen to balance the spend.
    After waiting forever for a colour card that never really arrived I bought a BBC micro.
    In those days the Personal Computer market was alive and varied with Dragons and Acorns, Exidy and CBM as well as the newcomer ZX-80.
    And there was trench warfare between the fans of the Z-80 and the 6502.
    My first business machine was an Apricot with 2 x 720Kb 3.5″ floppies.
    This was really cutting edge and all before IBM decided to dip its toe in the water.

     
  20. Mark Powell Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Ah the SixPackPlus – anyone else get ‘chippers thumb’ from shoving rows of memory chips into the thing?? But for it’s time a massive 384Kb RAM and a CLOCK!! Yes! A CLOCK!! How times have changed.

     
  21. Solihin Garrard Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 9:24 am

    ZX81 with 1K memory and the need for a TV screen. And when I was head of computing at a secondary school in the 2nd part of the ’80s we ran a 20-station network on a 20MB (yes MB) hard drive as server.

     
  22. Coltch Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 11:03 am

    ZX81 then Speccy was my starting point followed by the C64, at School we had RM 480Z followed by the RM Nimbus.

    My first PC at home was a Sanyo MBC550 – 1 x 160KB 5 1/4 FDD, 8088, and running MS-DOS 1.25!!.

    Had loads of PC’s/tech since then and still have a couple of i387’s in the draw that I got given to upgrade my 386sx laptop. My old Dell Latitude C400 (PIII @ 850MHz) is still going strong.

     
  23. Denis. Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    LOL, brilliant list, think I used most of these items at one point.

    U should add my ageing/creaking desk bound laptop to the list:

    Dell Inspiron 5100: 14″, P4 2.4Ghz, 768MB RAM, 30GB HD.

    Yes, Its still being used everyday for work.

     
  24. wittgenfrog Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Its Deja vu all over agin (sorry).

    I started into this adventure punching cards (or at least using a teletype to punch cards) on the UNI mainframe in about 1978\9.

    I sort of lost interest for a while, then got inspired by a ZX80, but then spent some time in foreign parts, often without ‘leccy, let alone computers!

    Next up was a BBC ‘B’ in the early 1980s I currently have 3 plus an assortment of add-ins disk drives etc. I must resurrect them!

    I did my first ’serious’ work on a BBC B (with a CP/M add-on)and wrote a payroll application in BBC BASIC (you’d better believe it!).

    Sometime in the mid -late 1980s I bought a Viglen 286-based machine with 512K of RAM and a 10MB (Thats Mega Byte) Winchester (or HD). This also had VGA color[sic] graphics, though I couldn’t afford a colour monitor. It cost around £1500 as I recall, possibly more)

    Subsequently I upgraded this device with various new Mobos & chips, a new Floppy Drive, Power Supply, etc. etc. I used it to run the original builds of NT 3.x, eventually managing to upgrade to a whole 16MB of RAM…..

    From then on in I’ve built dozens of PCs….

    Happy days!

     
  25. MegsL Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    I hope you’ve found space for the first Amstrad wordprocessor (1985). A million and a half of those sold, I believe, and so many people of my generation (b. 1933) would never have discovered computing without it.
    Mathematics – numbers even, and symbols certainly – terrified so many of us. Words, we understood. Thanks, Alan.

     
  26. David Sangster Says:
    January 6th, 2012 at 11:37 am

    My first computer was a Ferranti Advance – one of the first IBM clones and it had an 8086 cpu twin floppy drives and yes, you could connect a tape recorder to it as well. It ran on GWBasic and I used to run Word, when it wasn’t wysiwyg.

     
  27. Philip Walduck Says:
    January 6th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    My first (home) computer was a 16K sinclair spectrum that I broke whilst typing in a very large programme for my GCE in Computer Science (well I typed the programme in saved it ran it and it crashed on me and never worked again). I got it replaced with a 48K model in early 84. I progammed a scheduling application in 1985 on a “Torch” cant remember the model number but it was similar to the BBC micro but with more memory and built in disk and monitor. The first work computer in 1990 was an old 16K Commodore PET attached to a pair of 5.25 inch disk drives (whgich unfotunately broke in 92 and we repalced it with an 8K PET (yes we downgraded but it was the only available machine at the time) until we replaced that with a “Tandon DiscPac” which had an 80286 chip and removable, supposedly indestructable 30Mb hard drives using DOS3.1 and IBM Basic. We also had an IBM PS/2 Model 50Z which i think was also a 286 chip. My first personal PC was a hand built 486DX100 (I still have the chip) with 4Mb RAM and 320Mb Hard Drive, which I eventually upgraded to 8Mb Ram (which cost £160 at the time [1994]), and a 1Gb hard drive that cost me abut £150!

     
  28. John Latty Says:
    January 8th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    As a onetime shop steward and branch secretary who couldn’t get his head around using a typewriter, I bought an Amstrad PCW to do my correspondence on. So what are these ‘other bits for’ I thought? Spreadsheet, Database? meant nothing to me but in time, I had the companies pay structure in a spreadsheet and it blew the bosses away when I used graph printouts in the pay negotiations! and of course, a membership database helped me no end. Eventually I ‘toyed’ with, (correct me if I’m wrong), CPM plus; so this lead to my realisation I was actually using ‘A COMPUTER’. When I got the gaming urge I wanted something with ‘high-end colour graphics’ so a PC, (win 3.1), was out and Apple way too expensive. So I ended up with an Amiga 500, which at the time, (I seem to recall), so referred to as ‘the poor man’s Apple Mac’; I can’t think why because not only was it more expensive than a PC, I actually paid £700 pounds for 8Meg of RAM, yes that was £87.50 a Meg. I later bought the ‘big box’ Amiga 200 HD then ‘downsized’ to an ‘a 1200 HD’ before the demise of CBM.

     
  29. John Latty Says:
    January 8th, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    OOPS, ‘Amiga 2000 HD’

     
  30. Tom MacDonald Says:
    February 7th, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I still have a plastic 386 old gateway laptop running windows 2000
    Still powers and and runs all the old software still happy days

     
  31. Will M Says:
    April 19th, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    @Tom MacDonald – How did you get a 386 to run Win2k????
    I remember that processor was slow running Win3.1, and could barely run Win95.

    My own recent loft clearance found a Mac Plus similar to that in the article.
    Similarly yellowed, it needed a bit of soldering to get the display to work. Also, the mouse differs from later ADB mice, so it is difficult to find such a peripheral. Disks are 400/800k, so PC or 1.44MB Mac disks wont work.

    Also found a BBC Master Compact. Couldn’t get it to boot, sold it to a collector who found a dead spider was shorting a circuit – a literal bug!

    Various laptops – Thinkpad 380Z booting Win3.1/95 and Win2000, Toshiba T2130CT booting Win3.1/95, few broken ones amongst which is a headless Dell Latitude XP. Can’t find a screen for this, as when I search ebay for Latitude XP, it brings up machines *running* XP!

     

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