Everything is happening so fast. Computers that are only 20 years old are completely outmoded, and even today PCs that are only five years old are considered outdated. Somewhere in a junk heap near you lies the neglected, yellowed carcass of a computer once loved and admired. And while you may not want to admit it, your brand-new zillion-gigahertz whiz-bang tower of power likely will be covered in a blanket of dust in a few years, too.
The power and speed of today's computers make their forerunners look punier. However, a growing band of collectors are gathering retro computers, considering them important relics and even good investments. They have become the new collectibles and there has been a real upward trend in prices lately. There is even a booming marketplace for vintage computers.
As in other hobbies, tech enthusiasts scour Internet sites and eBay for offerings, attend swap meets (where the old machines are sometimes demonstrated) and rely on word of mouth to obtain rare finds. Some items cost just a few dollars; jewels go for thousands of dollars. Private demand is so intense it is making it more difficult for museums to obtain certain models.
These days people are holding on to their first (and second, and third) desktops and laptops. Some keep them for nostalgia's sake, others for the kitsch value. Whatever the motivation, the urge to hang on has turned yesteryear's outmoded computers into today's historic artifacts -- giving them a growing value in the ever-so-hungry collectibles market.
More than 700 microcomputers were made worldwide between 1971 and 1993. From an early 1975 Altair 8800, named after a planet in a "Star Trek" episode, to a 1981 IBM Personal Computer that a young Bill Gates helped develop, what's on the collectibles menu covers a broadening taste. Some of these computers are rare. Some are actually quite common and may be sitting in people's basements right now.
Ten years ago, the mantra was that old computers were worthless -- smushed, forgotten, unbought in roadside yard sales. Today, the chances of scoring undiscovered gems at Sunday flea markets, or thrift shops on Nowhere Boulevard, or computer recycling centers on Faraway Street, are still pretty good, but even casual collectors spend a great deal of time shopping and researching online.
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