For various reasons, including needing to make space in my garage to bring the Beetle in so I can work on it under cover, I recently decided to start disinterring, cataloging, in some cases restoring, and in most cases properly mothballing my vintage computer collection. I also want to bring out at least one Commodore 8-bit machine permanently on my desk – probably a C128 – and put an SD2IEC on it so I can play my favorite demos and games on real hardware. While I obviously own a lot of floppy drives (and tape drives, for that matter), keeping those mechanical storage devices operational is way more trouble than I want to participate in – and I also don’t have enough time left in my life to transfer hundreds of floppies of demos and so forth from PC to magnetic media. Not to mention that NOS 5.25″ double-density disks, while still fairly readily available, are both expensive and bulky!
The machine with which I’m most intimately associated is the VIC-20, since it was the first family computer in my household, but I’m a
hoarder collector of many 8-bit and 16-bit micros. I abandoned a fairly large collection when I left Australia, but started rebuilding it when I lived in New York. Not all of those machines made it to Florida with me – and I’m still not sure exactly what did and did not arrive – but I definitely have somewhere between 20-30 VIC-20s, a few C16s and Plus/4s, an unknown number of C64s (and, worryingly, no C64Cs found so far – no idea if those are just in a box I haven’t opened yet, or if they somehow got left in New York) and several C128s, in addition to a plethora of cables, disks, tapes and peripherals. I also have a bunch of other machines – particularly Sinclair ZX81/TS1000s and ZX Spectrums imported at great cost from the UK, plus a few Atari 400/800XL/???, Apple IIs, classic Macs, various TRS-80s, etc – but all those other machines aren’t quite so important to me. I believe I also have an Atari ST or two and maybe a couple of Amigas, but those haven’t raised their heads yet.
The C128s were a bit of a surprise. I had almost no contact with this machine when it was actually on the market, except for seeing demo machines out on the counter at Myer’s in Melbourne. When I got into acquisition mode in the early 2000s, I just so happened across a couple of cheapish C128 auctions on eBay and so added – I thought – two 128s to my collection. Much to my surprise, when unpacking machines here in Florida years later, I discover that I actually have four! (Though, only two power supplies that I’ve found so far). Two of the computers have one or two sticky F-keys, and a third is rather yellowed, but all four work perfectly and are in very good cosmetic condition. So I think I’ll use the yellowed one as my desktop machine, and pack the other three away from ultra-violet.
Unfortunately, the degree of success I’ve enjoyed with the other machines is considerably lower. This equipment has all been stored in a non-climate-controlled environment in Florida for nearly seven years, but I’m not sure if this is the whole reason for the high failure rate. So far I’ve only tested some of the VIC/64/128 hardware that isn’t in original retail boxes, which is to say four C128s, five breadbox C64s and ten VICs (of which two or three are VIC-20CRs). All the 128s work, two of the C64s work, and two of the VICs work. This is odd to me, because the 128 is vastly more complex than either the VIC or the 64, it has a very large motherboard, and it’s known to have serious heat-related failure issues. Yes, the 128s are younger, but we’re talking the difference between 1981-1982ish and 1985-1987ish here. If age was the only factor, then I’d expect the 128s to have a similar failure level as the slightly older breadbox machines.
For the moment I’m not delving too deep into the nonfunctional machines – I’m disassembling and scrubbing the dirt off the machines that work, reassembling, wrapping them in bubble, and putting them in boxes, while cataloging them in a spreadsheet with photos. I am not bothering to retr0bright them because it’s time-consuming, requires a lot of materials for such a large quantity of equipment as I have to deal with, and it only provides temporary results anyway as the bromine continues to migrate out of the plastic. For mothballing purposes, I’ll be adding a dehydrator pack to each box, taping it shut, then using a full layer of cling film to make each box mostly airtight. In this configuration I should be able to re-shelve them in the garage with a much lower deterioration rate than they’re currently suffering.
I will, however, be rainy-day investigating the nonfunctional machines to see what sort of failure modes they’re experiencing. Whether I actually repair them or not depends what’s bad on them; at the very least, I should be able to reach some sort of intelligent guess as to what spare parts are still good on those machines.