How-To Geek

Electric Dreams: Picking Out a Vintage 1980s Computer [Video]

What if you had to pick out a 1980s era computer for use in your home today? BBC show Electric Dreams walks us through the history with a “time traveling” family.

Electric Dreams is a show based on the novel premise that an average British family is starting, technologically speaking, in the 1970s and progressing over a month to the year 2000–restricted each step of the way to using technology available only in the era they are emulating.

In the above video clip they’ve reached 1982 and visit the National Museum of Computing to pick out a vintage computer. It’s interesting to see the kids interact with the computer and experience programming for, presumably, the first time. Have a vintage computer memory (mine is programming on a Timex Sinclair); let’s hear about it in the comments.

Electric Dreams – The 1980s ‘The Micro Home Computer Of 1982’ [via O’Reilly Radar]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/30/11

Comments (9)

  1. Jim Neelands

    I was running a rendering program for an animation I had done. It ran in DOS on a 386 , 8 mhz computer with 4 MB ram. It tended to freeze every few frames, requiring me to hit the space bar to wake it up to continue. I was going on vacation, and it looked like it would take a week to render, if it didn’t freeze. I could not be there to hit the space bar every few minutes, so I taped a pencil to the space bar, with the other end on the back of a chair. I tied a string to the pencil, ran it down and under one of the struts on the chair leg, and tied it to an oscillatiing fan, set on low.

    When I retruned from vacation, seven days later, it only had two frames left to render. The animation was 10 seconds long.

  2. Cathie

    Jim, that’s awesome!
    Reminds me of my 386. We had the Leisure Suit Larry game, and that was considered “pornographic”. Ran so darn slow.
    My first adult computer purchase was a Intel mmx model with 3.2 MB of memory, and we thought we would NEVER fill it up. It used to take sometimes 3+ days to download a song, and we had two phone lines so the computer didn’t tie one up.
    Now my kids have Ipods that download music in under 30 seconds!

  3. Jason Fitzpatrick

    @Jim: Very clever. I had a job once where a computer application would throw up an error message (but not crash). You had to press the space bar to make the error go away or else the program would halt. One of my coworkers eventually got so sick of it he just jammed a penny in the keyboard to permanently depress the spacebar. Problem solved? (surprisingly we never had any issues with the penny keyboard)

  4. Mike

    I remember programming on a Commodore PET, with 4 k (that is a K, not an M or G) of memory and a tape drive. It was surprisingly capable, especially once you learned how to use machine language using peek and poke from BASIC. (1979, 1980 about.)

  5. Jim

    Oh, where did my TI-99-4A? Save my programs on a cassette tape, and a 32 column dot matrix thermal printer. Oh, for simpler times!!!!

  6. James P. Dyer

    I remember playing blackjack on my TRS-80 model II After spending an hour typing in the program in BASIC and then saving it on the cassette drive. Still took about 20 minutes to load after that and that was fast for the time. Of course now I can play on my Blackberry, not that I do with my iPad 2, too many other games to play that take less time to download. Still had that 16k unit up till my mom lost her storage and it got sold. I miss that old thing.

  7. David

    I still have my original Commodore Vic-20 and 64 from 1982 or 83. I loved the text based games. Makes me want to break it out again!

  8. Meispod

    I still have an Atari 1024STFM with built in MIDI for running Creator and very early Cubase. It can still be used with current MIDI equipment and was far ahead of PCs at the time. It had a GUi based OS, the unfortunately named TOS (Tremelion) when PCs only had DOS. The games were free and plentiful and even had a TV out which was very useful, fond memories of Flight Sims and 3D games that PCs took years to catch up with. I cannot bring myself to junk this vintage classic, so I bought another, it really was by far the best home computer at the time (unless you were into video then the later Commodores were tops).

  9. Anonymous

    CoCo baby! CoCo!!! That’s the famous “Tandy Color Computer” 1, 2, and 3 to those of you who were still pooping yourselves in the Eighties. I seem to recall that it was also sold as a “Dragon Computer” in Great Britain too. Just whatever happened to Lonnie Falk of Falsoft Publishing, or for that matter Rainbow Magazine which was the bible for these systems anyway? Thankfully, Radio Shack still survives. But Radio Shack no longer “supports” any of their “orphan” systems like the CoCo.

    BTW, The U.S. Space Shuttle Program will be retiring soon and some of the systems on the Shuttle were developed under, and presumably still use, the same operating system that the CoCo was able to use – Microware OS-9 which is not to be confused with Apple’s OS9. Microware OS-9 was originally developed in part for Tandy and their Motorola CPU-based systems. OS-9 was never used with/by Apple and just why Microware never sued Apple for name infringement (since Microware was first) is anyone’s guess too. Still, Microware’s OS-9 was used with certain Shuttle systems much like Linux is used today with certain smart phones. Eventually, the CoCo 3 was developed with the Motorola 68B09E CPU where OS-9 also got a major makeover and became a true 16-bit OS called OS-9 Level II where it even had a true GUI. Eventually OS-9 Level II morphed again into OSK and possibly even something else. Although by then I was pretty much out of it and forced into the MS-DOS world (MS-DOS 3.0 on a Zenith XP I believe was my first experience there).

    Anyone else have a CoCo?

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