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Strider

Odd, rare, or just bad computers you've owned?

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To keep the retro computing theme going, what was the oddest or non-mainstream computer you ever owned? Perhaps something that was a commercial flop, rare, or just weird.

Mine has to be the Coleco Adam. I got one in late 86 i think it was, second-hand from a local shop. It didn't work but I thought I knew the issue, and I was right, the PSU had stopped working. After replacing a blown capacitor, it was up and running.

 

adam1.jpg.0fb0af326ab1d58f26eb07d6b24f89b1.jpgadam2.jpg.7306398051b257068008dc0d09647c8c.jpgadam3.jpg.5ba77b1bee162cfc6db6472bc0f9615f.jpg

I also had another one given to me many years later (late 2000's). I tore through my photos but can't find any of my Adam, sadly, I got rid of it a few years ago. Taking up way too much space and kept having to me maintained. They were VERY prone to failure. 🥴

I had the dual cassette version with no expansions and never owned the disk drive, but I did have a large games library since I had so many Colecovision games at the time. I also managed to snag some of the "Super" versions of the games, basically enhanced versions of games that came on cassette with "better/more" graphics, sounds, and sometimes more content than their cartridge counterparts. I had Super Buck Rogers, Super Donkey Kong, and DK Junior.

I only had the "Smart Filer" (organizer software) and "Smart Basic" programs for it, and I managed to kill the Smart Basic cassette becasue I was unaware of a huge issue the system had back then.

Overall, it was a neat system with far too many flaws, many I could not just look past. Especially compared to other systems.

 

> It  could release an electrical pulse that damaged cassettes or disks that happen to be close to the system when powering it on. Yeah, it had a friggin' EMP. lol

> It booted to it's built in word processor software. It wasn't bad, but I much preferred loading  into BASIC. The WP software was also glitchy and required a hard power reset to get out of.

> You want BASIC, you have to load it from cassette.

> The cassettes were proprietary, as were the drives, to maximize space and speed. They were not compatible with off-the-shelf cassettes. The loading of software was also done automatically, no load commands.

> The PSU was located IN the printer. NOT the computer itself. So there was no option back then to use the Adam without the printer. It was also prone to failure.

 

Here is a very good video I found that sums up the Adam quite well.

 

I did  have fun messing with it, but compared to Commodore or Apple, it just didn't stand a chance. Maybe that's one reason it was a huge flop.

Either way, what's your story? 🙂

 

Edited by Strider
fixed formatting :P

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3 hours ago, Strider said:

adam3.jpg.5ba77b1bee162cfc6db6472bc0f9615f.jpg

 

I had a keyboard from one of those. It was a Radio Shack surplus item. It probably wound up getting tossed in the bin.

(Radio Shack also at various points also sold Commodore Vic-20/64/16 and TI-99/4A keyboards as surplus items as well.)

And speaking of Radio Shack, the worst computer I've ever owned is one I got for free, and fairly recently — a TRS-80 MC-10. I still have it. It's completely stock, which means that it has 4K of RAM. There's no monitor output, so you have to hook it up to a TV with an NTSC tuner. It has the cassette port and printer-serial port from a Color Computer, but no slot for Program Paks. It does have a connector for attaching a 16K RAM expansion. And since that connector's pinout is basically the entire CPU bus, it could have been a way to attach more sophisticated peripherals like a disk controller, but Radio Shack never built anything like that. And that CPU is a 6803, not a 6809, so it isn't capable of handling OS9. Worst of all, it has a hard plastic tiny chiclet keyboard.

To its credit, it will run most Color BASIC programs, as long as they aren't too large or depend on features specific to the CoCo. And it has similar graphics capabilities, though limited by available RAM (with the 16K RAM expander, it'll handle 256×192 in 1-bit color), as well as similar, i.e., extremely limited, sound capabilities, too.

The 6803 has an onboard UART, but since the system was clocked at 3.58 MHz for the sake of NTSC video, the UART doesn't sync to normal baud rates, so the serial port has to be bit-bashed.

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I already posted in another thread that I had a two floppy monochrome supertwist LCD "luggable" PC compatible from Amstrad, the PPC640.

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7 hours ago, kelli217 said:

And speaking of Radio Shack, the worst computer I've ever owned is one I got for free, and fairly recently — a TRS-80 MC-10.

I actually can't recall if our Radio Shack sold surplus or not, I don't think they did, but I could be wrong. I would have found that cool. :)

I never owned the MC-10, in fact, back then I really didn't care for the TRS-80 line of computers. I was talking about that in another thread, while many people called the TRS-80 Color Computers "Coco", we called them "Trash-80's". It wasn't until many years later, after they were long obsolete, that I grew to appreciate them. I really never got into the small form factor computers of the era, with the only exception being the ZX Spectrum. Or any of the pocket computers, I just didn't see the point of them at the time.

56 minutes ago, BruceMcF said:

I already posted in another thread that I had a two floppy monochrome supertwist LCD "luggable" PC compatible from Amstrad, the PPC640.

I have never seen one of those before, looks neat actually. I also never had any luggables, I didn't get my  first "laptop" until sometime in the mid 90's I think it was. Pretty much for the same reason I didn't care for other portables or small form computers, they could not do what I wanted and were so expensive for what little they could do. That's how younger me looked at it anyway. haha

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2 hours ago, Strider said:

I have never seen one of those before, looks neat actually. I also never had any luggables, I didn't get my  first "laptop" until sometime in the mid 90's I think it was. Pretty much for the same reason I didn't care for other portables or small form computers, they could not do what I wanted and were so expensive for what little they could do. That's how younger me looked at it anyway. haha

Yeah, I got that one basically BECAUSE it wasn't a big hit in the market, being less portable than a laptop and less powerful than a desktop with a hard drive: I bought it from an electronics discounter who seems to have got stock being liquidated. For me, it was a cheap PC cheaper than a desktop + monitor would have been. The ability to be car-mobile with a cigarette lighter plug was a pure bonus.

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8 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

Yeah, I got that one basically BECAUSE it wasn't a big hit in the market, being less portable than a laptop and less powerful than a desktop with a hard drive: I bought it from an electronics discounter who seems to have got stock being liquidated. For me, it was a cheap PC cheaper than a desktop + monitor would have been. The ability to be car-mobile with a cigarette lighter plug was a pure bonus.

The cigarette lighter power option would have been awesome!

About 20 minutes from where I lived was a huge computer/hardware reseller. Basically, they would go in and buy up all the "old" hardware from large compaines after they do upgrades, repair and sell hardware, and buy from other liquidators to sell on their floor. They literally had pallets of computers and racks upon racks of hardware for sale. No idea if they are still there, I moved away in the early 2000's, but I would go in a buy up barebone systems, get them up and running, and sell them in my small hometown. A nice little side-business at the time. Profits I sunk into my own computers and hardware. That's also where I got my first laptop.

Looking back, I really wish I had given the luggable portable computers more of a chance, there are a few I would love to have today. Hindsight is 20-20, live and learn, and all that jazz. 🙂

 

Edit: Wow, that place I would go to buy all my used hardware from is still around, and it looks like they have expanded a lot in the past 15+ years since I moved away. Now I want to to go back and see what they have. haha

https://www.epcusa.com/about-us/

Edited by Strider
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11 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

I already posted in another thread that I had a two floppy monochrome supertwist LCD "luggable" PC compatible from Amstrad, the PPC640.

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I had one of those. I worked on it for a while. Was working for this company in NL and they'd given me the original IBM PC to work on (the 4.77Mhz 8086 one), using interpreted BASIC. It was so slow .... it could keep up with the typing, let alone run anything.

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This is a UK machine I had the Memotech MTX.  I had some disk drives for it as well. It's all solid metal case, so it weighed a ton.

In many ways it was a MSX type machine - Z80 + RAM + TMS9918, though it wasn't actually MSX compatible, and most of the games were ports from similar machines. It had plenty of RAM though, mine had 64k, and banked ROM, which included a sort of Hypercard type program, a fairly advanced machine code monitor, and oddest of all, a BASIC which took inline assembler, but it didn't work like the BBC ones, it was more like an editor built into the BASIC itself. I also remember it had a cartridge that was supposed to run Spectrum programs ..... that never worked. I can't quite see how it would work.

 

Edited by paulscottrobson
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25 minutes ago, paulscottrobson said:

This is a UK machine I had the Memotech MTX.  I had some disk drives for it as well. It's all solid metal case, so it weighed a ton.

In many ways it was a MSX type machine - Z80 + RAM + TMS9918, though it wasn't actually MSX compatible, and most of the games were ports from similar machines. It had plenty of RAM though, mine had 64k, and banked ROM, which included a sort of Hypercard type program, a fairly advanced machine code monitor, and oddest of all, a BASIC which took inline assembler, but it didn't work like the BBC ones, it was more like an editor built into the BASIC itself. I also remember it had a cartridge that was supposed to run Spectrum programs ..... that never worked. I can't quite see how it would work.

It's got a very clean look to it, never seen one of those before either, very cool! I had issues getting programs to work on the Adam as well, I remember some carts not wanting to load, but they worked in my Colecovision. Never did figure out why.

The "heavy" construction from the 70's and 80's is something I actually miss at times. My first computer was a TI-99/4A, and I had a Peripheral Expansion Box with it. That thing was heavy! Almost all metal, housed it's PSU, disk drive, and expansion cards (many of them were in metal enclosures themselves). That thing weighed a ton, and oddly enough, I loved it.

TI99-4A_PES_top.jpg.79783855da1780044aabe63b9c5be2b7.jpg unnamed.jpg.fa113325798ffddcf16aa4de723eee35.jpg

 

To this day, my modern system sits in an almost all steel case (HAF 932). I dislike plastic and thin sheet-metal cases. I think it's more due to quality and robustness than anything. I do a lot of work inside these machines, so I want them to hold up. 🙂

Edited by Strider
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8 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

I had one of those. I worked on it for a while. Was working for this company in NL and they'd given me the original IBM PC to work on (the 4.77Mhz 8086 one), using interpreted BASIC. It was so slow .... it could keep up with the typing, let alone run anything.

Yes, it had a NEC V30, which was an 8MHz 8086 chip, so roughly equivalent to an XT, but slightly faster due to some instructions running in fewer clock cycles. For running WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS to write my dissertation, it was quite smooth, as well as running AWK scripts in a DOS port of an open source Linux AWK. For running my maximum entropy estimator, written in C, it was SLOW, and glacially slow when running in debug mode, but if it hadn't been for the PowerC with integrated debugger, I doubt I would have ever finished that program.

Really, the only part of it I am nostalgic for as I type on my hand me down and now "old" SONY Viao laptop is the keyboard. It wasn't a sweet Cherry mechanical switch keyboard, but it was full size, full travel, with all of the keys in the right places.

So the primary reason I wish I still had it (it died in a flooding of my US storage unit during my decade in Australia) is that the V30 also has a direct 8080 opcode emulation mode, so it can run CP/M directly at 8Mhz, which is otherwise quite a trick for an IBM-XT class system.

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On 2/20/2021 at 12:14 AM, Strider said:

I never owned the MC-10, in fact, back then I really didn't care for the TRS-80 line of computers. I was talking about that in another thread, while many people called the TRS-80 Color Computers "Coco", we called them "Trash-80's". It wasn't until many years later, after they were long obsolete, that I grew to appreciate them. I really never got into the small form factor computers of the era, with the only exception being the ZX Spectrum. Or any of the pocket computers, I just didn't see the point of them at the time.

The Trash-80 moniker fits for the original Model I. It was rushed to market, and it shows in the quality of the machine; not just in the manufacturing, but the underlying design as well.

The Color Computer and its sequels and derivatives are just so different from the other TRS-80 machines that it's difficult for me to put them in the same category.

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Growing up in the 80s my house had an Apple ][e and my best friend's had a C64.  But, sitting unused in one corner of the 'office room' at that friend's house were two slightly older computers that I didn't really appreciate until it was too late.  One was a HeathKit that, supposedly, his parents had assembled themselves.  The other was a CompuColor.

When I was 6, my father had bought a decent-quality VHS camera, and by the time I was 10, I was using it to film home movies, usually sci-fi stories starring my stuffed animals.  😅  So, when I got word that my friend's family was throwing out their old computers, I asked if I could keep the keyboard to the CompuColor, because it was really cool-looking, and I thought I could  use it as a prop in my little movies - as the bridge of a spaceship, or something. 

Alas, and to my eternal regret, 10-year-old me did not foresee that 40-year-old me would have a hobbyist's interest in old computers, so I didn't ask for the computer part of the CompuColor, just the keyboard!

But it is cool looking:

P1050266-m.thumb.JPG.ff8cd2a6a3ffbbe589a16d1c8947c93c.JPG

Look at all those keys!  Although the keyboard unit is as thick as a C64 breadbin, it contains only the keyboard: the guts of the CompuColor was built into the monitor.  The 'gimmick' of the CompuColor  is that they built the computer to fit inside an already-existing line of color TVs, with the front control panel of the TV replaced with the disk drive.  From what I've read, turning the CRT monitor on or off created an EMP that would wipe any disk in the drive, which was positioned right next to the CRT.  To counteract this, they simply put a line in the instruction manual telling user not to have a disk in the drive when turning the monitor on or off.  Solved! 😆

P1050268-mm.thumb.JPG.95d36c79e8181e7963ac762b7475ca9e.JPG

I don't know how I've been getting along all these decades without a dedicated BL/A7 OFF key.

The idea to have (apparently) dedicated keys for certain common commands is interesting.  Apparently "poke" is too hard to type, so let's give the user a "poke" key?  At least this way one can literally poke 'poke' with one's finger.

Still kicking myself for not asking for the monitor+cpu unit.  It probably ended up in a landfill, what a shame.

Edited by John Chow Seymour
fixed a typo
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9 hours ago, kelli217 said:

The Trash-80 moniker fits for the original Model I. It was rushed to market, and it shows in the quality of the machine; not just in the manufacturing, but the underlying design as well.

The Color Computer and its sequels and derivatives are just so different from the other TRS-80 machines that it's difficult for me to put them in the same category.

I was just too much of a Commodore "fanboy" back then. I often compared most other computers to Commodore, and in my 80's mind, most fell short. I think I expected more from Radio Shack since I was a huge fan of the company in general. My loss really.

Either way, once I revisited the Color Computers, I really liked them. I didn't like the chicklet keys on the CoCo 1 or the flat keys on one of the CoCo 2 models, but I owned a CoCo 2 64K with standard keycaps and CoCo 3 128K. Loved them both. I ended up giving them to a friend and Tandy collector in 1999. 🙂

2 hours ago, John Chow Seymour said:

Growing up in the 80s my house had an Apple ][e and my best friend's had a C64.  But, sitting unused in one corner of the 'office room' at that friend's house were two slightly older computers that I didn't really appreciate until it was too late.  One was a HeathKit that, supposedly, his parents had assembled themselves.  The other was a CompuColor.

I got to see a CompuColor II, at a "friend of a friends" house, it was before I owned or even liked computers, that didn't happen until 1981. The one thing I remembered the most was that keyboard! It did look so cool, so sci-fi. Especially since I was a Star Trek fan. I think that's why I liked the TI-99/4A so much, it was my first computer, and I thought it looked like it came out of a sci-fi movie.

I often wonder if any of the hardware I owned is in a landfill now. If I could, I would give it all a proper home. As I got rid of my collections, they went to other collectors, but who knows.

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For a time i had a Sharp MZ-700 (more precisely it was the MZ-731 but the label on the chassis apparently always says MZ-700). I never knew how / where my parents picked that one up. It had a built in 4-colour plotter and tape for programs which was really cool. I did a lot with that and once scored a free set of the min-pens it used on CeBIT. Some very limited sound capability (more of a beeper) but I did a lot on that machine in basic back in the day. Only looking it up now I realize it also had a Z80 at its heart and 64K. Somehow I wish I had a plotter unit again. It feels kinda neat.

http://www.idealine.info/sharpmz/mz-700/first700.htm


mz-7311.jpg.df9d1c7eb8f129fac127189fda6df601.jpg

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1 hour ago, Falken said:

For a time i had a Sharp MZ-700 (more precisely it was the MZ-731 but the label on the chassis apparently always says MZ-700). I never knew how / where my parents picked that one up. It had a built in 4-colour plotter and tape for programs which was really cool. I did a lot with that and once scored a free set of the min-pens it used on CeBIT. Some very limited sound capability (more of a beeper) but I did a lot on that machine in basic back in the day. Only looking it up now I realize it also had a Z80 at its heart and 64K. Somehow I wish I had a plotter unit again. It feels kinda neat.

http://www.idealine.info/sharpmz/mz-700/first700.htm

That's a neat design with the plotter and color scheme, never seen that particular model, didn't even know it existed. I did see an MZ-800, but it was all beige, same shape, just with a tape drive. I know there were quite a few MZ variants, but never owned any. The 800 I seen was in a second-hand shop, no idea if it even worked, that was in the mid 90's sometime.

It amazes me how many different "personal computers" existed, especially in the 1980's. Almost all of them incompatible with anything outside of their own line, and even within some of their own lines. It was definitely a different world, and in my opinion, a more exciting one.

🙂

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4 hours ago, Strider said:

It amazes me how many different "personal computers" existed, especially in the 1980's. Almost all of them incompatible with anything outside of their own line, and even within some of their own lines. It was definitely a different world, and in my opinion, a more exciting one.

Me too! Incompatibility was a big obstcale. Another big obstacle was lack of information, communication and communities. Today these two obstacles are no more of an issue, but everytime I see picture of another 8 bit computer, I realize that we lost a lots of excitement today.

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I still have an Amstrad PPC640 - actually, it's a replacement for an old friend from my vocational study days! Being a modest tertiary student, I could only afford to buy a PPC512 (the slightly lower-spec model of this machine) - but I'm still in awe of what I could achieve with a grey-on-green CGA screen and two floppy drives! The crisp, spritely keyboard was a dream, putting many modern examples to shame. I only traded the PPC512 to upgrade to a 'modern' PC, though I've since consoled myself with a vintage PPC640, complete with manual and custom backpack!

 

Interestingly, I also own a complete TRS-80 MC-10 outfit - computer, memory expansion module, tape deck, printer... the works, and boxed! I haven't explored it much, though it does seem reminiscent of my Dick Smith VZ300 in an on-screen sense. Funny, but I wasn't much of a fan of anything TRS-80 back in my primary school days, when my friends had somewhat primitive 'CoCos' and I had a relatively sophisticated Commodore 64 - but the electronics shop-origins of these machines seem very cool in the current age of bland corporate-branded products!

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Somewhere in a closet around here I have a notebook sized Epson LCD screen'd machine with a full mechanical keyboard (and I think a thermal printout) but it's probably not worth digging out because I've seen the two extremes already posted in this thread.  Amstrad being one.

But the other... oh my... I remember two things about the Coleco Adam; a good friend had one.  1. It played Donkey Kong  2. It had a Daisy Wheel printer.

The winner (loser) has to be the company that invested so much $$, engineering, and licensing into a full end-to-end line of support (as demonstrated by the collector I that video) only to fail so miserably.  I'm both shocked and amazed to see the other 128 things that Coleco Adam had and did.  Thank you for posting that and bringing back the memories.

 

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Speaking of "odd" computers, we all remember the Commodore Plus/4. Not a popular computer, but I actually liked mine.

Anyway, ran across this on Amazon, and had to laugh. This would have been the most powerful computer on the planet in 1984. I love how they had to note "NOT AN AMD Ryzen 7- the year was 1984!". haha

I just had to share it. 😛

https://www.amazon.com/Commodore-Computer-Vintage-Retro-Gaming/dp/B07H4XBY4M/

 

plus4ryzen.thumb.jpg.c5f88de464653737f6b3fc4facde1d15.jpg

 On 2/22/2021 at 5:10 AM, Lucky Phil said:

Funny, but I wasn't much of a fan of anything TRS-80 back in my primary school days, when my friends had somewhat primitive 'CoCos' and I had a relatively sophisticated Commodore 64 - but the electronics shop-origins of these machines seem very cool in the current age of bland corporate-branded products!

Same here. Even with all their flaws, the sheer variety of different computers and styles back then was exciting!

On 2/22/2021 at 9:39 AM, EMwhite said:

But the other... oh my... I remember two things about the Coleco Adam; a good friend had one.  1. It played Donkey Kong  2. It had a Daisy Wheel printer.

The winner (loser) has to be the company that invested so much $$, engineering, and licensing into a full end-to-end line of support (as demonstrated by the collector I that video) only to fail so miserably.  I'm both shocked and amazed to see the other 128 things that Coleco Adam had and did.  Thank you for posting that and bringing back the memories.

They spent a lot of money on the Adam, tried so hard to market it, and keep the price down. It just had too many flaws and didn't stack up to it competition. A real shame really, it was neat.

Especially the fact it could create and EM field and damage your tapes/disks nearby. I mean, it had shielding, not sure what they did wrong, but that was huge. As was it's high failure rate.

Edited by Strider

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Things I'm gonna describe was not odd at my region, but might be odd for the rest of the world.

 

I had a POISK computer (it's an IBM PC clone with integrated CGA graphics). It was a simple MS DOS PC. It could run from compact cassetes, but I used 5 inch floppy drive with it. And despite CGA graphics was poor, I was always astonished what could be achived with only 4 colours and dithering. Metal Mutant, Playhouse Strippoker, Accolade Grand Prix, Accolade Cycles are few examples of how one can make a pretty CGA picture.
image.png.2d1c174d6b1583c470a9e404ae465d7d.png

 

My friend had a Robik computer (ZX Spectrum clone). Was used with compact casseted only. Had great games, but loading from cassete was always a frustration...
image.thumb.png.e313b78410413bb9d848a09699fc5723.png

 

And my other friend had a Dendy game console (NES/Famicom clone). Not a computer, but also a tech of my childhood. Had tons of games on cartriges, and we smashed its controlllers like mad. By the way, may be it's just nostalgia, but I still find this controller the most comfortable for me.
image.png.2ed8548a9f5d006f90449e4d1383084a.png

 

I always had mixed and contradictory impressions when compared these devices. I could never say which one is better and more powerful. Each one had its own edge. POISK always seemed inferior with its 4 colours graphics, but actually it was more modern and sophisitcated machine. While Dendy (NES) had more dynamic games with rich graphics and sound, POISK (PC) had some more complex and more advanced games (and also had great programs for the era). Robik (ZX Spectrum) was much simpler and much cheaper than POISK (PC) but had 16 colours graphics, which was always strange to me.

Even today I'm still surprised why IBM PC line started with CGA? PC itself was pretty competitive, but CGA was a huge downside. EGA (which arrived later) was much better for competition. Wonder why didn't (or couldn't) they start with EGA kind graphics.

Edited by Cyber
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Cyber, these computers are great! I especially love the POISK and its imposing plug-in cartridges (at least, that's what I assume them to be). Ukrainian machines, perhaps...?

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Strider, I still have a boxed Commodore Plus/4 in storage... perhaps one day I'll fish it out and explore further? It had a really nice form factor and tactile nature, that much I can remember. Despite its shortcomings, I really don't think that the Plus/4 had its day in the sun... probably because of no other reason than it wasn't compatible with its older 64K sibling! Apparently, many of its original developers subsequently worked on the Commodore 128 - so I guess that the Plus/4 project wasn't exactly an unmitigated disaster, after all...?

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The word "clone" just isn't used enough anymore, now we just call anything not from a mainstream manufacturer a "knockoff". lol

Back then, while some "clones" were indeed of poor quality, many were not bad, and some were great, just underrated and never hit the mainstream for whatever reason.

Yeah, I used my Plus/4 mainly for productive work at the time, but I did have about a dozen games for it if I recall, most on cassette of course. I actually liked the built in word processor and owned the 1551 drive. I just wish it had done better, but I fully understand why it didn't do well and it was at least much better than the C16.

Though the C64 and Amiga 500 were my favorite all time computers in the Commodore lineup. :)

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14 hours ago, Lucky Phil said:

Cyber, these computers are great! I especially love the POISK and its imposing plug-in cartridges (at least, that's what I assume them to be). Ukrainian machines, perhaps...?

Yes, Poisk and Robik both are Ukrainian machines (from the times of USSR).

And it's not cartridges, it's cased expansion cards (which they decided to call "adapters"). I had only two of them: one for floppy, other for joystick. But you could also add expansions for HDD, MIDI, printer, plotter, LAN, serial and parallel interfaces. Also you could add expansion for RAM and ROM with BASIC (so yeah, it's a BASIC cartridge after all). I loaded GW BASIC from floppy.

Here is a cute pic of what you could get for your Poisk:
soviet_pk_3_26_b.jpg

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I like how "CENTRONIX" is still in Latin letters, as there is no attempt make it into a Russian word, even phonetically. Even more interesting is that the Centronix parallel port is only used for the plotter and not the printer, which uses some entirely different protocol.

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