The retro computing scene has been a massive deal the last few years. People have been feeling nostalgic for the early days of computing, particularly for the machines and games they grew up with.

With the rise of retro computing, there have been people who will try and sell any old machine as ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ for whatever inflated price they can get for it. Sometimes this works, other times they don’t sell because the market just doesn’t see the significance of the machine they are selling.

Given we have launched the GeekJabber YouTube channel and we have a few videos under the belt, it’s probably worth defining the concept of retro computing a little more.

So what is this retro computing nonsense?

The term “retro computing” covers a multitude of sins. At its most broad, it covers any computer equipment that is no longer current that people feel nostalgic for. It essentially relegates any computers that are “obsolete” to “retro” status. At its narrowest, it is a collection of older machines and platforms that represent significant milestones in computer history. An Apple II might be considered “retro” as it represents one of the first entries into the home computer market. A generic beige box from the late 1990s might not.

The true answer probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. The reason for this is that, as more generations of people are exposed to computers, the machines they are nostalgic for will change. Where an older generation might not consider a generic beige box of the late 1990’s as not historically significant, a younger generation might find significance in such a machine as it represents what they grew up with.

Whatever definition you choose, it should be flexible enough to understand that “Retro” will mean different things to different people. The definition will need to adapt over time as people find different reasons for their nostalgia.

So what makes a machine truly retro?

Despite what I’ve said above, it is still possible to work out if a machine is truly retro in at least a general sense. They will loosely fall into two camps.

The first camp contains machines that are historically significant in some way. For example, the Apple II is a significant example of one of the first “home” computer to achieve commercial success. The Commodore VIC-20 is significant because it was the first computer to reach a million sales. These are the machines that tend to attract “collector’s prices”, particularly for machines that still function, due to their historical significance.

The other group contains machines that aren’t necessarily historically significant, but represent machines people grew up with. These might include the plethora of generic beige boxes common in the late 90s. While they aren’t significant in the historical sense, they represent a generic class of computers that people were using in that time period. It is this that has led some people to inflate prices for certain machines that might not be historically significant.

So how do I get into retro computing?

Retro computing can be an expensive hobby. This is particularly true for working examples of historically significant hardware. It definitely can help if you have deep pockets.

The other thing to take into account is what we now call social networking. There are many online communities, particularly through social media sites like Facebook, that specialise in either retro computing or on various specific platforms.

Start by investigating some Facebook groups or vintage computing forums that specialise in the machines you are interested in. This will give you not only a source of advice for the inevitable reliability issues, but also a sense on what you might expect when it comes to restoring a machine. Learn as much as possible about the platforms you want to work with so you can be confident in your hardware choices.

Once you’ve got that network in place, you can start sourcing the machines you want to work with. Online auction sites such as eBay can be a great resource, however keep in mind you often end up paying “collector’s prices”, particularly for more in-demand items. Other services like Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace can occasionally give you some options, and often offer you a chance to inspect the equipment before buying.

Resources to get you started

There are a number of resources you can use to get started. Of course, there is the GeekJabber YouTube channel and Discord channel. On top of that, there’s also the Vogon forums and the Vintage Computer Federation Forums. These resources are a great place to start your journey into retro computing.

About Author

Head honcho and tech guy behind the GeekJabber website, I also do my fair share of writing. I am a fan of vintage technology, casual gaming and music.