How to start collecting microcomputers

Microcomputers are an interesting part of the history of computing and video games. In the 80s and 90s, the home computing revolution led to a large number of microcomputers on the market across the world. This means that if you want to start collecting microcomputers, knowing which system to choose first can be overwhelming.

This is where we come in. This guide will show you the ins and outs of collecting microcomputers and the best options for your first purchases of microcomputers and games.


Microcomputers to start your collection

There are many excellent microcomputers out there, but not all of them are good beginners. Most microcomputers have thrived on their game libraries, but running those games these days can be expensive. There’s also the uptime factor, an issue you might run into depending on your budget and region. With that in mind, here are some of the best picks.

Commodore 64


Commodore 64
Image Credit: Bill Bertram/Wiki Commons

The Commodore 64 is a great starting option for collecting microcomputers, for several reasons. First, it was quite popular around the world, so it’s pretty easy to find a working machine almost anywhere in the world. Second, the Commodore 64 has a massive library of games to buy, and most of them are inexpensive.

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The only real downside to the Commodore 64 is the need for peripherals. When you buy a Commodore 64, without any add-ons, you won’t be able to play a lot of the games. That’s because, by default, the only way to get software on a C64 is through the cartridge slot on the back. But a lot of software arrived on tapes or floppy disks. Additionally, you will need a joystick to play some games, and few used systems will come with one.

Related: Atari VCS Review: A Nostalgic Hit With Gaming And Productivity In Equal Measure

Fortunately, some of these disadvantages are compensated by the system’s huge community. You can buy products that emulate hard-to-find floppy disk drives and get advice on repairs. You might even find 3D printed cases to replace broken or missing parts.

ZX Spectrum


ZX Spectrum
Image Credit: Bill Bertram/Wiki Commons

The Spectrum is another decent choice, but it has major downsides depending on where you live. In mainland Europe or the UK it is quite easy to find a ZX Spectrum as they were very popular in those areas in the 80’s. They are a little harder to get in America, but they are not impossible to find .

It gets better because once you have a machine, you just need an audio device and an audio cable, and you have access to the entire software library. The ZX Spectrum uses a standard 3.5mm audio jack as its data input source. This means that you can download audio files from the Internet, put them on an audio device and play them.

Being able to easily use software on the device is a big advantage, but there are plenty of reasons to consider another system first.

The ZX Spectrum keyboard is, frankly, horrible to use by modern standards. As with many computers, you’ll have to find out how to use this fucking thing online if you want to go anywhere. On the plus side, the Spectrum and its various clones and editions are some of the smallest microcomputers you can get. If you’re limited on space, keep that in mind.

8-bit Atari family


Atari 800

In addition to producing some of the most popular home consoles of the time, Atari also released home microcomputers. The most common variants seem to be the Atari 400 and Atari 800 computers, neither of which are great machines to start with. Although these machines have great software, they are quite expensive these days no matter where you are in the world.

On top of that, less popularity also means it’s harder to get support or fan mods for these systems compared to others.

Apple II / Apple Macintosh


Apple IIPlus
Image Credit: Bilby/Wiki Commons

As iconic as the Apple II and the Apple Macintosh are, they are among the worst microcomputers for a collector. For one, they are quite rare and expensive these days, as serious collectors dominate the market. They also have unique issues that can make them difficult to use or keep working for long periods of time.

While the Apple II is quite compact, the Apple Macintosh is huge, heavy, and comes with a built-in CRT display. CRTs can be dangerous to use if you don’t know what you’re doing, so it’s not a good plan to buy a broken Macintosh with the intention of fixing it yourself.

The best microcomputer for beginners is the Commodore 64


Commodore 64 with 1541 disk drive and floppy disk
Image credit: PrixeH/Wiki Commons

The Commodore 64 is readily available almost anywhere, with a huge library of games to choose from. It also comes with a large community of other users who can share tips, instructions, and modding ideas.

As they are fairly simple machines, they are also much easier to repair, which is something to get used to with many old microcomputers anyway. Even better, more than almost any other microcomputer, many modern games and demos are produced for the Commodore 64. Game developers like David Murray and Achim Volkers released new games for the system. In some cases, they released new peripherals alongside them.


Where to buy your first computer


A flea market
Image Credit: Arnold Reinhold/Wiki Commons

The best place to start looking for your PC will probably be online, unless you live near lots of garage sales or flea markets. eBay tends to be the best place to find specific machines.

Other places to look are definitely some of the bigger thrift stores or charity shops. They’ll often have the most popular machines, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an Apple II or Atari 800 that an enterprising collector hasn’t yet purchased.

Related: How to emulate a Commodore Amiga on your PC

If you’re very lucky, you might be able to find a Warehouse Liquidator who specializes in Ancient Tech. These places aren’t very common, but they’re great for getting started with old microcomputers at a decent price.

Here’s how to start collecting microcomputers

You need to know exactly what to do when it comes to picking up your first microcomputer. Whether you go for the simpler option or the one you’ve always wanted, you should probably think about trying out some of the games before investing.


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