The 1977 Apple II, popular among retrocomputing hobbyists.

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 often starts when a computer user realizes that formerly expensive fantasy systems like IBM mainframes, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) superminis, or Silicon Graphics (SGI) workstations have become affordable on the used computer market, usually in a relatively short time after the computers' era of use.

Many hobbyists have personal computer museums, with collections of working vintage computers such as Apple IIs, IBM PCs, ZX Spectrums, Atari, Commodore, Amigas and BBC Micros. Early personal computers based on the S-100 bus are also very popular among collectors, as well as a wide variety of machines running the CP/M operating system, such as Kaypros and Osbornes. However, many users use emulation software on more modern computers rather than using real hardware, in order to enjoy the experience, while preserving the aging electronics of the original. This is not considered to be retrocomputing by some, as it is rather an application of modern computer hardware. A third option is the use of home computer remakes, dedicated appliances, which do the emulation using dedicated hardware.

Retrosystem 2010, a retrocomputing event in Athens

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:

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.

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".

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.


BBC Master with Retro Software games at the Wakefield RISC OS Show 2011

Acorn BBC & Archimedes

Tandy/Radio Shack





There are a number of sites on the Internet catering to vintage computer hobbyists, including web pages, mailing lists, newsgroups, discussion forums, etc. Some are dedicated to certain specific systems while others are more generic and cover many different systems. Erik Klein's Vintage Computer Forum [8] is one example of a discussion page covering all aspects of the hobby.

cctech, also known as the "Classic Computers Discussion List", is an electronic mailing list about old computer technology, and is run by the Classic Computing organization.[9]

Some old computers from Commodore International. Amiga 500 (top left), Commodore 128 (top right) and three different variants of the Commodore 64.

In an interview with Conan O'Brien, George R. R. Martin revealed that he writes his books using WordStar 4.0, an application dating back to 1987.[10]


Retrocomputing (and retrogaming as aspect) has been described by scholars as preservation activity and as aspect of the remix culture.[11]

See also


  1. 1 2 "The Retrocomputing Museum". Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  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. "The Vintage Computer: My Collection of Vintage Machines". January 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  9. Classic Computing
  10. "George R.R. Martin Writes on a DOS-Based Word Processor From the 1980s". Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  11. Yuri Takhteyev, Quinn DuPont (2013). "Retrocomputing as Preservation and Remix" (PDF). iConference 2013 Proceedings (pp. 422-432). doi:10.9776/13230. University of Toronto. Retrieved 2016-03-26. This paper looks at the world of retrocomputing, a constellation of largely non-professional practices involving old computing technology. Retrocomputing includes many activities that can be seen as constituting “preservation.” At the same time, it is often transformative, producing assemblages that “remix” fragments from the past with newer elements or joining together historic components that were never combined before. While such “remix” may seem to undermine preservation, it allows for fragments of computing history to be reintegrated into a living, ongoing practice, contributing to preservation in a broader sense. The seemingly unorganized nature of retrocomputing assemblages also provides space for alternative “situated knowledges” and histories of computing, which can sometimes be quite sophisticated. Recognizing such alternative epistemologies paves the way for alternative approaches to preservation.


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