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Sunday, December 31, 2006


Most hard drives of the pre-IDE period used MFM (Modified Frequency Modulation) encoding. Floppy drives still do. MFM was not the only twin-cable hard drive interface though: aside from its close relative RLL, there was also the now long forgotten high-end competitor to SCSI, EDSI.

MFM was relatively simple to implement, and quite robust. RLL (Run Length Limited) encoding used the same electrical interface and cables but a different data format (much as Morse Code and Baudot code are different). An RLL format squeezes the information more tightly onto the disc and increases the effective areal density by 50%.

So a 10MB MFM drive, if formatted with an RLL controller, could now store 15MB, and can be up to 50% faster too. Almost all MFM drives had 17 sectors per track, but RLL drives squeezed 26, or even 32 sectors onto each track. RLL did, however, require a very accurate drive mechanism.

Early attempts to increase speed and storage capacity by adding an after-market RLL controller to an MFM drive system often resulted in poor reliability. This gave RLL an undeserved bad name. Later on, many drive manufacturers introduced RLL certified models, and these were generally just as reliable as their cheaper, smaller MFM drives. (See Miniscribe 8438 below.)

Technically, there was no such thing as an 'RLL drive'. The drive type (MFM or RLL) was solely determined by the low-level format, and this in turn, depended on the drive controller card. In theory, any ST-506 (two-cable) drive could be formatted with either an MFM or an RLL controller. Not many early drives, however, were capable of taking an RLL format reliably.

All modern drives use an embedded controller (usually IDE or SCSI), which is built into the drive itself. The card we used to call a 'controller card' and plug into IDE-equipped 386 systems was actually just an interface between the drive controller proper (on the actual drive) and the PC bus. It should really have been called a 'host adaptor'. (Since late 486 days, this is integrated into the motherboard and it is unusual to have an IDE host adaptor as a separate, plug-in component.) Until the advent of PRML in the mid-1990's, all IDE and SCSI drives actually used RLL encoding internally. IDE and SCSI drive electronics are 'smart' enough to take care of encoding in such a way that we no longer need to know the details.

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Vintage Computer Manuals

Kalok Octagon KL-230

Kalok Octagon KL-230
Kalok was founded by a former Seagate engineer, the same man who had been largely responsible for the ST-225. The company seemed to live on the edge of bankruptcy most of the time, and later morphed into JTS. Like all Kalok drives, the KL-230s had a dreadful reputation but we always found this model pretty good. We never saw new ones, only second-hand, so maybe all the duds had already expired by then.

Picture: A Kalok Octagon 330 — essentially an RLL certified 230 — with Western Digital 1002A-WX1 MFM XT controller. Western Digital had missed out on the biggie — the IBM contract for the XT, but they soon established themselves as the controller manufacturer of choice.

Performance 0.19 Reliability AA2
Data rate 5 Mbit/sec Spin rate 3600 RPM
Seek time 48ms Actuator Stepper
Platter capacity 10.5MB Interface MFM
AT drive type 2 or 6 Form 3.5" half-height
KL-230 21MB 4 thin-film heads
KL-330 30MB 4 thin-film heads

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Microscience HH-1050

Microscience HH-1050

Microscience were a high-cost, small-volume maker of quality drives — back in the days when you didn't have to be a multinational giant to afford hard drive research and development. They made a range of beautifully crafted 5.25 inch voice-coil drives, all with a distinctive rippled top. The HH-1050 was the smallest and most common of them, and very fast for its day.

Notice the odd number of heads: voice-coil drives need to have positioning information encoded onto the drive itself, so that the heads can find the correct track. (Stepper drives just step in or out the required number of times and hope for the best.) Until the development of embedded servo technology in the early 1990's, all voice-coil drives had to sacrifice one complete surface for head positioning — you can't put data on the servo tracks. This meant that it was uneconomic to make small voice-coil drives — in a single-platter drive, you'd waste 50%, but in a big 8-platter drive, you only waste 12.5%. Notice that a few new drives still did this until about 1995.

Picture: Two MFM drives. The 5.25 inch Microscience HH-825 on the left was high-end class, almost equivalent to a Cheetah X15 today. The little 20MB Miniscribe 8425 was an early 3.5 inch stepper drive, still mass-market but a cut above the big old 3650s and ST-225s. This one was manufactured on 24th August 1989. The Microscience goes back to June 1987.

Performance 0.29 Reliability AA1
Data rate 7.5 Mbit/sec Spin rate 3600 RPM
Seek time 28ms Actuator Voice coil
Platter capacity 16.8MB Interface RLL
AT drive type 2 Form 3.5" half-height
HH-1050 42MB 5 thin-film heads 1987
Vintage Computer Computing History
Vintage Computer Manuals

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

21. Eyetop Wearable DVD Player (2004)
Some things just aren't meant to be done while walking or driving, and one of them is watching DVDs. Unfortunately, that message was lost on, makers of the Eyetop Wearable DVD Player.

This system consisted of a standard portable DVD player attached to a pair of heavy-duty shades that had a tiny 320-by-240-pixel LCD embedded in the right eyepiece. You were supposed to carry the DVD player and battery pack in an over-the shoulder sling, put on the eyeglasses, and then... squint. Or maybe wear a patch on your left eye as you walked and watched at the same time.

Up close, the LCD was supposed to simulate a 14-inch screen. Unfortunately, the only thing the Eyetop stimulated was motion sickness.

22. Apple Pippin @World (1996)
Before Xbox, before PlayStation, before DreamCast, there was Apple's Pippin. Wha-huh? That's right--Apple had an Internet-capable game console that connected to your TV. But it ran on a weak PowerPC processor and came with a puny 14.4-kbps modem, so it was stupendously slow offline and online.

Then, too, it was based on the Mac OS, so almost no games were available for it. And it cost nearly $600--nearly twice as much as other, far more powerful game consoles. Underpowered, overpriced, and underutilized--that pretty much describes everything that came out of Apple in the mid-90s.

(Photo courtesy of The Mac

23. Free PCs (1999)
In the late 90s, companies competed to dangle free PCs in front of you: All you had to do was sign up, and a PC would eventually show up at your door. But one way or another. there was always a catch: You had to sign up for a long-term ISP agreement, or tolerate an endless procession of Web ads, or surrender reams of personal information. may have been the creepiest of them all. First you filled out an extensive questionnaire on your income, interests, racial and marital status, and more. Then you had to spend at least 10 hours a week on the PC and at least 1 hour surfing the Web using Free-PC's ISP.

In return you got a low-end Compaq Presario with roughly a third of the screen covered in ads. And while you watched the PC (and the ads), Free-PC watched you--recording where you surfed, what software you used, and who knows what else.

We can't say whether this would have led to some Big Brotherish nightmare, because within a year merged with eMachines. By then, other vendors had similarly concluded that "free" computers just didn't pay.

24. DigiScents iSmell (2001)
Few products literally stink, but this one did--or at least it would have, had it progressed beyond the prototype stage.

In 2001, DigiScents unveiled the iSmell, a shark-fin-shaped gizmo that plugged into your PC's USB port and wafted appropriate scents as you surfed smell-enabled Web sites--say, perfume as you were browsing, or cheese doodles at But skeptical users turned up their noses at the idea, making the iSmell the ultimate in vaporware.

25. Sharp RD3D Notebook (2004)
As the first "autostereo" 3D notebook, Sharp's RD3D was supposed to display 3D images without requiring the use of funny glasses. But "auto-headache" was more like it, as the RD3D was painful to look at.

When you pressed the button to enable 3D mode, the notebook's performance slowed, and the 3D effect was noticeable only within a very narrow angle--and if you moved your head, it disappeared. Maybe the funny glasses weren't so bad after all.

Vintage Computer Computing History
Vintage Computer Manuals

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

Numbers 16 to 20

16. Comet Systems Comet Cursor (1997)

Click for enlarged view.

Thank Comet Cursor for introducing spyware to an ungrateful nation. This simple program had one purpose: to change your mouse cursor into Bart Simpson, Dilbert, or one of thousands of other cutesy icons while you were visiting certain Web sites. But Comet had other habits that were not so cute.

For example, it assigned your computer a unique ID and phoned home whenever you visited a Comet-friendly Web site. When you visited certain sites, it could install itself into Internet Explorer without your knowledge or explicit consent. And it was bundled with RealPlayer 7 (yet another reason to loathe RealPlayer). Some versions would hijack IE's search assistant or cause the browser to crash.

Though Comet's founders insisted that the program was not spyware, thousands of users disagreed. Comet Systems was bought by pay-per-click ad company FindWhat in 2004; earlier this year, Comet's cursor software scurried down a mouse hole, never to be seen again.

Editor's note: After publication of this article, we heard from a founder of Comet Systems who took issue with our characterization of Comet Cursor's behavior. In response we have amended the description of how Comet Cursor got installed on PCs. See PC World's Techlog for more information.

17. Apple Macintosh Portable (1989)

Some buildings are portable, if you have access to a Freightliner. Stonehenge is a portable sun dial, if you have enough people on hand to get things rolling. And in 1989, Apple offered a "portable" Macintosh--a 4-inch-thick, 16-pound beast that severely strained the definition of "laptop"--and the aching backs of its porters.

Huge lead-acid batteries contributed to its weight and bulk; the batteries were especially important because Portable wouldn't run on AC power. Some computers are affordable, too; the Portable met that description only if you had $6500 of extra cash on hand.

18. IBM Deskstar 75GXP (2000)

Click for enlarged view.

Fast, big, and highly unreliable, this 75GB hard drive was quickly dubbed the "Deathstar" for its habit of suddenly failing and taking all of your data with it.

About a year after IBM released the Deskstar, users filed a class action suit, alleging that IBM had misled customers about its reliability. IBM denied all liability, but last June it agreed to pay $100 to Deskstar owners whose drives and data had departed their desks and gone on to a celestial reward. Well before that, IBM had washed its hands of the Deathstar, selling its hard drive division to Hitachi in 2002.

19. OQO Model 1 (2004)

The 14-ounce OQO Model 1 billed itself as the "world's smallest Windows XP computer"--and that was a big part of its problem. You needed a magnifying glass to read icons or text on its 5-by-3-inch screen, and the hide-away keypad was too tiny to accommodate even two adult fingers.

The Model 1 also ran hot to the touch, and at $1900+ it could easily burn a hole in your wallet. Good things often come in small packages, but not this time.

20. DigitalConvergence CueCat (2000)

Appearing at the tail end of the dot com craze, the CueCat was supposed to make it easier for magazine and newspaper readers to find advertisers' Web sites (because apparently it was too challenging to type into your browser).

The company behind the device, DigitalConvergence, mailed hundreds of thousands of these cat-shaped bar-code scanners to subscribers of magazines and newspapers. Readers were supposed to connect the device to a computer, install some software, scan the barcodes inside the ads, and be whiskered away to advertisers' websites. Another "benefit": The company used the device to gather personally identifiable information about its users.

The CueCat's maker was permanently declawed in 2001, but not before it may have accidentally exposed its user database to hackers.

Vintage Computer Computing History
Vintage Computer Manuals

11. Priceline Groceries and Gas (2000)

The name-your-price model worked for airline tickets, rental cars, and hotels--why not groceries and gas? Unfortunately, even Priceline spokescaptain William Shatner couldn't keep these services in orbit. Grocery shoppers could find real discounts bidding for products online, but only if they weren't picky about brands and were willing to follow Byzantine rules on what they could buy and how they paid for them.

Fuel customers had to pay for petrol online, wait for a Priceline gas card to arrive in the mail, and then find a local station that would honor it--a lot of hassle to save a few pennies per gallon. In less than a year, WebHouse Club, the Priceline affiliate that ran both programs, ran out of gas--and cash--and was forced to shut down.

12. PointCast Network (1996)

Click for enlarged image.

Back in the mid-90s, so-called "push" technology was all the rage. In place of surfing the Web for news and information, push apps like the PointCast Network would deliver customized information directly to your desktop--along with a healthy serving of ads. But push quickly turned into a drag, as PointCast's endless appetite for bandwidth overwhelmed dial-up connections and clogged corporate networks.

In addition, PointCast's proprietary screensaver/browser had a nasty habit of commandeering your computer and not giving it back. Companies began to ban the application from offices and cubicles, and push got shoved out the door. Ironically, the idea of push has made a comeback of sorts via low-bandwidth RSS feeds. But too late for PointCast, which sent out its last broadcast in early 2000.

13. IBM PCjr. (1984)

Talk about your bastard offspring. IBM's attempt to build an inexpensive computer for homes and schools was an orphan almost from the start. The infamous "Chiclet" keyboard on the PCjr. was virtually unusable for typing, and the computer couldn't run much of the software written for its hugely successful parent, the IBM PC.

A price tag nearly twice that of competing home systems from Commodore and Atari didn't improve the situation. Two years after Junior's splashy debut, IBM sent him to his room and never let him out again.

(Photo courtesy of the Oldskool Shrine to the IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000.)

14. Gateway 2000 10th Anniversary PC (1995)

After a decade as one of the computer industry's major PC builders, the folks at Gateway 2000 wanted to celebrate--not just by popping a few corks, but by offering a specially configured system to show some customer appreciation.

But instead of Cristal champagne, buyers got Boone's Farm--the so-called 6X CD-ROM spun at 4X or slower (a big performance hit in 1995), the video card was a crippled version of what people thought they were getting, and the surround-sound speakers weren't actually surround-capable. Perhaps Gateway was sticking to the traditional gift for a tenth anniversary: It's tin, not gold.

15. Iomega Zip Drive (1998)

Click for enlarged view.

Click-click-click. That was the sound of data dying on thousands of Iomega Zip drives. Though Iomega sold tens of millions of Zip and Jaz drives that worked flawlessly, thousands of the drives died mysteriously, issuing a clicking noise as the drive head became misaligned and clipped the edge of the removable media, rendering any data on that disc permanently inaccessible.

Iomega largely ignored the problem until angry customers filed a class action suit in 1998, which the company settled three years later by offering rebates on future products. And the Zip disk, once the floppy's heir apparent, has largely been eclipsed by thumb drives and cheaper, faster, more capacious rewritable CDs and DVDs.

Vintage Computer Manuals

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

These products are so bad, they belong in the high-tech hall of shame.

6. Disney The Lion King CD-ROM (1994)

Few products get accused of killing Christmas for thousands of kids, but that fate befell Disney's first CD-ROM for Windows. The problem: The game relied on Microsoft's new WinG graphics engine, and video card drivers had to be hand-tuned to work with it, says Alex St. John. He's currently CEO of game publisher WildTangent, but in the early 1990s he was Microsoft's first "game evangelist."

In late 1994, Compaq released a Presario whose video drivers hadn't been tested with WinG. When parents loaded the Lion King disc into their new Presarios on Christmas morning, many children got their first glimpse of the Blue Screen of Death. But this sad story has a happy ending. The WinG debacle led Microsoft to develop a more stable and powerful graphics engine called DirectX. And the team behind DirectX went on to build the Xbox--restoring holiday joy for a new generation of kids.

7. Microsoft Bob (1995)

No list of the worst of the worst would be complete without Windows' idiot cousin, Bob. Designed as a "social" interface for Windows 3.1, Bob featured a living room filled with clickable objects, and a series of cartoon "helpers" like Chaos the Cat and Scuzz the Rat that walked you through a small suite of applications. Fortunately, Bob was soon buried in the avalanche of hype surrounding Windows 95, though some of the cartoons lived on to annoy users of Microsoft Office and Windows XP (Clippy the animated paper clip, anyone?).

Mostly, Bob raised more questions than it answered. Like, had anyone at Microsoft actually used Bob? Did they think anyone else would? And did they deliberately make Bob's smiley face logo look like Bill Gates, or was that just an accident?

8. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (2001)

Full of features, easy to use, and a virtual engraved invitation to hackers and other digital delinquents, Internet Explorer 6.x might be the least secure software on the planet. How insecure? In June 2004, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) took the unusual step of urging PC users to use a browser--any browser--other than IE. Their reason: IE users who visited the wrong Web site could end up infected with the Scob or Download.Ject keylogger, which could be used to steal their passwords and other personal information. Microsoft patched that hole, and the next one, and the one after that, and so on, ad infinitum.

To be fair, its ubiquity paints a big red target on it--less popular apps don't draw nearly as much fire from hackers and the like. But here's hoping that Internet Explorer 7 springs fewer leaks than its predecessor.

9. Pressplay and MusicNet 2002

Click for enlarged view.

Digital music is such a great idea that even record companies finally, begrudgingly accepted it after years of implacable opposition. In 2002, two online services backed by music industry giants proposed giving consumers a legitimate alternative to illegal file sharing. But the services' stunningly brain-dead features showed that the record companies still didn't get it.

PressPlay charged $15 per month for the right to listen to 500 low-quality audio streams, download 50 audio tracks, and burn 10 tracks to CD. It didn't sound like an awful deal, until you found out that not every song could be downloaded, and that you couldn't burn more than two tracks from the same artist. MusicNet cost $10 per month for 100 streamed songs and 100 downloads, but each downloaded audio file expired after only 30 days, and every time you renewed the song it counted against your allotment.

Neither service's paltry music selections could compete against the virtual feast available through illicit means. Several billion illegal downloads later, an outside company--Apple, with its iTunes Music Service--showed the record companies the right way to market digital music.

10. Ashton-Tate dBASE IV (1988)

In the early days of the PC, dBASE was synonymous with database. By the late 1980s, Ashton-Tate's flagship product owned nearly 70 percent of the PC database market. But dBASE IV changed all that. Impossibly slow and filled with more bugs than a rain forest, the $795 program was an unmitigated disaster.

Within a year of its release, Ashton-Tate's market share had plummeted to the low 40s. A patched-up version, dBASE IV 1.1, appeared two years later, but by then it was too late. In July 1991 the company merged with Borland, which eventually discontinued dBASE in favor of its own database products and sold the rights in 1999 to a new company, dataBased Intelligence, Inc.

Vintage Computer Manuals

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

These products are so bad, they belong in the high-tech hall of shame

The Worst Five

1. America Online (1989-2006)

How do we loathe AOL? Let us count the ways. Since America Online emerged from the belly of a BBS called Quantum "PC-Link" in 1989, users have suffered through awful software, inaccessible dial-up numbers, rapacious marketing, in-your-face advertising, questionable billing practices, inexcusably poor customer service, and enough spam to last a lifetime. And all the while, AOL remained more expensive than its major competitors. This lethal combination earned the world's biggest ISP the top spot on our list of bottom feeders.

AOL succeeded initially by targeting newbies, using brute-force marketing techniques. In the 90s you couldn't open a magazine (PC World included) or your mailbox without an AOL disk falling out of it. This carpet-bombing technique yielded big numbers: At its peak, AOL claimed 34 million subscribers worldwide, though it never revealed how many were just using up their free hours.

Once AOL had you in its clutches, escaping was notoriously difficult. Several states sued the service, claiming that it continued to bill customers after they had requested cancellation of their subscriptions. In August 2005, AOL paid a $1.25 million fine to the state of New York and agreed to change its cancellation policies--but the agreement covered only people in New York.

Ultimately the Net itself--which AOL subscribers were finally able to access in 1995-- made the service's shortcomings painfully obvious. Prior to that, though AOL offered plenty of its own online content, it walled off the greater Internet. Once people realized what content was available elsewhere on the Net, they started wondering why they were paying AOL. And as America moved to broadband, many left their sluggish AOL accounts behind. AOL is now busy rebranding itself as a content provider, not an access service.

Though America Online has shown some improvement lately--with better browsers and e-mail tools, fewer obnoxious ads, scads of broadband content, and innovative features such as parental controls--it has never overcome the stigma of being the online service for people who don't know any better.

2. RealNetworks RealPlayer (1999)

Click for enlarged view.

In order for your browser to display the following paragraph this site must download new software; please wait. Sorry, the requested codec was not found. Please upgrade your system.

A frustrating inability to play media files--due in part to constantly changing file formats--was only part of Real's problem. RealPlayer also had a disturbing way of making itself a little too much at home on your PC--installing itself as the default media player, taking liberties with your Windows Registry, popping up annoying "messages" that were really just advertisements, and so on.

And some of RealNetworks' habits were even more troubling. For example, shortly after RealJukeBox appeared in 1999, security researcher Richard M. Smith discovered that the software was assigning a unique ID to each user and phoning home with the titles of media files played on it--while failing to disclose any of this in its privacy policy. Turns out that RealPlayer G2, which had been out since the previous year, also broadcast unique IDs. After a tsunami of bad publicity and a handful of lawsuits, Real issued a patch to prevent the software from tracking users' listening habits. But less than a year later, Real was in hot water again for tracking the habits of its RealDownload download-management software customers.

To be fair, RealNetworks deserves credit for offering a free media player and for hanging in there against Microsoft's relentless onslaught. We appreciate the fact that there's an alternative to Windows Media Player; we just wish it were a better one.

3. Syncronys SoftRAM (1995)

Back in 1995, when RAM cost $30 to $50 a megabyte and Windows 95 apps were demanding more and more of it, the idea of "doubling" your system memory by installing a $30 piece of software sounded mighty tempting. The 700,000 users who bought Syncronys's SoftRAM products certainly thought so. Unfortunately, that's not what they got.

It turns out that all SoftRAM really did was expand the size of Windows' hard disk cache--something a moderately savvy user could do without any extra software in about a minute. And even then, the performance boost was negligible. The FTC dubbed Syncronys's claims "false and misleading," and the company was eventually forced to pull the product from the market and issue refunds. After releasing a handful of other bad Windows utilities, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1999. It will not be missed.

4. Microsoft Windows Millennium (2000)

This might be the worst version of Windows ever released--or, at least, since the dark days of Windows 2.0. Windows Millennium Edition (aka Me, or the Mistake Edition) was Microsoft's follow-up to Windows 98 SE for home users. Shortly after Me appeared in late 2000, users reported problems installing it, getting it to run, getting it to work with other hardware or software, and getting it to stop running. Aside from that, Me worked great.

To its credit, Me introduced features later made popular by Windows XP, such as system restore. Unfortunately, it could also restore files you never wanted to see again, like viruses that you'd just deleted. Forget Y2K; this was the real millennium bug.

(Photo courtesy of

5. Sony BMG Music CDs (2005)

When you stick a music CD into your computer, you shouldn't have to worry that it will turn your PC into a hacker's plaything. But that's exactly what Sony BMG Music Entertainment's music discs did in 2005. The discs' harebrained copy protection software installed a rootkit that made it invisible even to antispyware or antivirus software. Any moderately clever cyber attacker could then use the same rootkit to hide, say, a keylogger to capture your bank account information, or a remote-access Trojan to turn your PC into a zombie.

Security researcher Dan Kaminsky estimated that more than half a million machines were infected by the rootkit. After first downplaying the problem and then issuing a "fix" that made things worse, Sony BMG offered to refund users' money and replace the faulty discs. Since then, the record company has been sued up the wazoo; a federal court judge recently approved a settlement in the national class action suit. Making your machine totally vulnerable to attacks--isn't that Microsoft's job?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Early Predictions of Vintage Computer Game Platforms

Vintage Computer Computing History
Vintage Computer Manuals

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Windows 95 Screenshot

Windows 95 Commercial

Windows 95 Commerical:

Vintage Pac Man 80's Video Game

Vintage Computer Gaming Pac Man

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Vintage Computer Gaming Nintendo NES

Vintage Computer Gaming Nintendo NES

Demand for Vintage video rises

Demand for Vintage video rises
PlayStation, Xbox and Wii are hot commodities these days, but collectors are snapping up the arcade games from the 1970s and 1980s.
By John Reinan, Star Tribune
Marc Jensen is a geek's geek.
At 35, he has a master's degree in computer science and a job as director of technology for Space150, a Minneapolis digital-marketing firm. Jensen spends his days developing interactive computer programs for some of the world's largest businesses.
Then he goes home and plays the same video games he loved as a 7-year-old.
"I'm trying to slow down, because I only have so much space in my house," said Jensen, whose Golden Valley home displays eight full-size arcade machines, about 40 hand-held video games and more than a dozen computer-based home video game systems, all from the 1970s and '80s.
As the first generation that grew up on video games comes of age -- and into earning power -- vintage video games have become hot collectibles. A "Pac-Man" game in its original arcade cabinet that sold for $300 five years ago now commands as much as $1,500, and prices are continuing to rise.
The same is true for computer-based home systems, or "consoles," as they're known in the gaming world. Prices for vintage Atari and Nintendo consoles have doubled in the past three years, and some rare game cartridges, once available for a buck or two at garage sales, sell for more than $100.
These are the great-granddaddies of the video game world, products that fueled the growth of a $10 billion business. Compared with modern games, they're crude, slow and clunky. But they're also the entertainment equivalent of comfort food: easy, fun and full of warm childhood memories.
"Sometimes it's weird to look back and think, 'Am I that old, that what I played with as a kid is collectible?' But it is," said Joe Esposito, a 36-year-old Minneapolis social worker and video game collector.
Esposito has 10 consoles in his collection, including Intellivision, Colecovision and three generations of early Atari. He also has about 850 games, but it's getting harder to fill the gaps.
"It's very difficult to come across it in the wild, as they say in the collector realm," Esposito said. "There was a time when you could walk into any garage sale or thrift store and find boxes and boxes of this stuff. Now ... forget it."
The appeal of vintage games, Esposito and others said, is partly based on nostalgia. People like the games they played as kids.
But it's also a reaction to the complexity of modern video games, with their 3D graphics, high-definition video and steep learning curves. With modern games, a player can easily spend 40 or 50 hours playing and never reach an endpoint.
"I don't have time for the complicated games anymore," Esposito said. "If I'm going to play a video game, I just want to pop it in and invest 15 minutes. If I've got to read a 64-page instruction manual and manipulate a 15-button controller, I've got better things to do."
Jensen is an avid historian of video games and teaches a class on video game history at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His goal, he said, is to write the definitive academic book on video games.
"You can take any modern game and trace it back to the old games," he said. "Any game you see nowadays is generally an outgrowth of games created in the late '70s to mid-'80s."
That was the golden age of arcade games, when "Pac-Man" and "Space Invaders" sucked countless quarters from the pockets of American youths. Jensen loves the clean lines and crisp graphics of the classic arcade games, which faded in popularity as computer-based home systems took over.
"A lot of the old games have a depth to them that's not obvious," Jensen said. "We have "Joust" at work -- I've been playing it for four years, and I'm still figuring out new things about it."
Weddings with 'Ms. Pac-Man'
Todd Erickson, owner of Summit Amusements in St. Paul, sees another side of the vintage video game boom. The arcade games have become popular attractions at weddings, parties and corporate events, said Erickson, who has sold and rented pinball machines and video games for more than 30 years.
"I can bring a "Ms. Pac-Man" to a wedding, and everybody plays it," Erickson said. "Kids and adults, they all love it." There's also a trend toward home game rooms, he said, and people with game rooms need something to put in them.
In his cluttered showroom on University Avenue, Erickson maintains a sort of video game Hall of Fame. There's "Centipede,"Galaga" and "Lunar Lander."Space Invaders,"Asteroids" and "Missile Command." Few companies bother to make arcade video games anymore, Erickson said.
"They figured out that they can make more money selling millions of cartridges for the home unit than they can selling 5,000 [arcade] machines," he said.
Gamemakers are starting to ride the vintage wave. Versions of classic games are being produced for use on modern consoles made by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. That could further expand the appeal of video games, said Steven Brown, owner of Cedar Cliff Collectibles in Eagan.
"Today's games are produced for a very narrow segment of the gaming community: people who can spend 80 hours a week on it," said Brown, whose store sells vintage video games along with collectible toys, comic books and sports memorabilia.
Brown's shop sells about 30 Super Nintendo systems a month and has trouble keeping the 15-year-old consoles in stock. There's such a demand for game accessories, such as joysticks, that he's arranged to have them specially manufactured.
Customers tend to be between 25 and 45 years old, Brown said, and equally divided between men and women.
"There's so much more money to be made in vintage video games than in [regular] video games," Brown said. "I raised my prices significantly this year, without any guilt. And we still sell them."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402 •

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Best Geek Quotes Change Subject

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- Unknown

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Submitted by sundayx, 9/15/2004 6:12:19 PM [profile]


A Favorite of
64 Users

If at first you don't succeed; call it version 1.0

- T-Shirt

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Submitted by ziveeman, 9/1/2005 12:30:53 AM [profile]


A Favorite of
55 Users

Microsoft: "You've got questions. We've got dancing paperclips."

- Unknown

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Submitted by hoppinstars, 5/10/2005 4:06:57 PM [profile]


A Favorite of
51 Users

My pokemon bring all the nerds to the yard, and they're like you wanna trade cards? Darn right, I wanna trade cards, I'll trade this but not my charizard.

- Unknown

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Submitted by mgriff, 3/10/2005 10:22:31 PM [profile]


A Favorite of
50 Users

1f u c4n r34d th1s u r34lly n33d t0 g37 l41d

- tee shirt

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Submitted by sundayx, 9/15/2004 6:12:03 PM [profile]


A Favorite of
48 Users

I'm not anti-social; I'm just not user friendly

- T-Shirt

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Submitted by Alkdarf, 8/11/2004 10:33:53 AM [profile]


A Favorite of
43 Users

I would love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code

- Unknown

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Submitted by Alkdarf, 8/11/2004 10:42:13 AM [profile]


A Favorite of
43 Users

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.

- Unknown

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Submitted by Alkdarf, 8/11/2004 10:43:31 AM [profile]


A Favorite of
36 Users

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.

- Unknown

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Submitted by Anonymous Guest, 9/9/2002 8:49:35 PM [profile]


A Favorite of
35 Users

My software never has bugs. It just develops random features.

- Unknown