The Home Computers That Time Forgot

You’ll look at your PC or Mac in a new light after reading about some of these computers that have been lost in the murk and mist of time.

In an era where the computer is king and rules the roost in nearly every household and office, it’s easy to forget that only a mere four decades ago, a mouse was something you really didn’t want in your house, apples were something you ate, Macs were something you wore, Windows were something you looked out of, the web was something spiders spun, and surfing was what blond-haired dudes did in California.

How things have changed. In an age where click-button convenience affords us instant gratification and computers are capable of connecting us to the world in a split second, it’s easy to forget those slow, lumbering beasts of yore whose labored grunt and groan made the computer revolution possible.

If you can remember that horrific cacophony of white noise that accompanied the loading of games from audio tapes, the pathetically poor graphics, the nauseatingly green, orange, and blue text, the endless syntax and boot errors, and the primitive programs, then take our hand and join us for a trip down memory lane in honor of five home computers time forgot.

ZX Spectrum
ZX Spectrum

Remembered fondly for its rubber keyboard and distinctive rainbow motif, the ZX Spectrum was the brainchild of Sir Clive Sinclair and released in 1982. As the decade progressed, this pocket-sized marvel became a firm favorite in the U.K., especially amongst school children who loved the gaming opportunities it afforded them. There were eight different versions of the ZX Spectrum released, selling five million units worldwide and earning their creator a knighthood. Known affectionately as “Speccy” by its fans, over 23,000 games are available to users and some disciples of this ancient beast credit it as being responsible for the UK’s IT industry. A large beast perhaps, but a legitimate one.

Commodore 64
Commodore 64

Released in the same year as the ZX Spectrum, the American designed Commodore 64 was a contender in the UK for the “Speccy’s” undisputed crown, but in the first half of the 80s, despite offering superior sound and graphical specifications, it just seemed to lack the killer blow. However, as the decade drew to an end, the C64 had kicked some serious butt. Not only did it outsell the Spectrum from 1985 onwards, it also became the best-selling single personal computer of all time. During its peak, it left IBM PC compatibles, Apple Inc., and Atari in its wake, and such was its appeal, it is still used by certain computer connoisseurs today, but just not that many.

BBC Micro
BBC Micro

If you experienced the primitive joys of “computer studies” in a British school during the 1980s, chances are you are familiar with the BBC Micro. To kids, they were boring and bland bits of hardware that you couldn’t play any decent games on, but to teachers, the BBC Micro offered an operating system whose emphasis on education was bold, brave, and revolutionary. These dour looking beasts appeared ugly and clumsy when compared with the sexy “Speccy,” and teachers often resorted to banging them with their fists to get them to work. It was originally built by Acorn Computers for the BBC Computer Literacy Project and went on to become a staple of almost every UK school and a fair few homes too.

Amstrad
Amstrad CPC

Growing up in the 1980s, you sort of felt sorry for any child whose parents had unwittingly lumbered them with an Amstrad computer. Not only was it a struggle to get any decent games for them, but there was also something desperately uncool about them. It was designed to compete with the “Speccy” and C64 but failed miserably. Storing the computer, keyboard, and date storage device in a single unit and selling it with its own dedicated display monitor was a bold and forward-thinking move by Amstrad’s founder Alan Sugar, who wanted his baby to look like a real computer and not a pregnant calculator. However, Amstrad’s shrewdest move was to buy the worldwide rights to Sinclair computers in 1986 and launch the ZX Spectrum +2 and +3 to great acclaim.

Atari
Atari 800XL

Any child who owned an Atari 800XL back in the 1980s was a bit of an enigma. No one really knew all that much about these strange computers, except the graphics for the games were really good and they pre-dated games consoles by possessing a cartridge port. These machines looked very space age and hip and attracted people who seemed to know a little bit more about computers than the rest of us. And back then, that wasn’t hard.

Computers Gathering Dust
[Image via Leif K-Brooks | Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and resized | CC BY-SA 2.0]

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]