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Older Personal Computers Aging Like Vintage Wine (if They Dodged the Landfill)

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We have moved so far so fast with personal computing that older machines are acquiring a cultural patina. Everyone, seemingly, has a memory of  “old computers,” even if some people think having a hard drive under 100 gigabytes fits the definition.

e-Waste, by curtis palmer, on Flickr
e-Waste, by curtis palmer, on Flickr

There are perhaps two ways to think about obsolete computers. One is as trash or e-waste, which is a serious environmental problem. The issue has been building for years as computers and related peripherals age-out after a few short years and are replaced by equipment that itself will be tossed in the near future. Even if they work just fine, older machines often are perceived to be too slow, too clunky or too uncool to keep around. Recycling is possible, but it doesn’t always happen the way it should, resulting in exposures to dangerous chemicals and other materials.

Ironically, some older machines that escaped being dumped have a second life that far exceeds their original intended purpose. All you have to do is glance at the vintage computing section of an online auction website to see how valuable certain kinds of equipment has become. And, if you are lucky, you can even find good stuff for free: I liberated a fully functional Osborne 1 portable computer from a trash heap a few years ago, for example.

The rarest personal computers are the original models dating back to the 1970s.  I found a great picture on Wikimedia that shows some of the earliest models, now exhibited at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Early Personal Computers, Wikimedia Commons
Early Personal Computers, Wikimedia Commons

All this goes to say that if you know about a stash of old computer equipment it might be worth checking to see if it has secondary value. Older machines can live on for functional purposes, such as reading old software. Or they might simply have aesthetic value as reminders of the early days of computing. Either possibility beats adding to the e-waste problem.

Comments (11)

  1. You realize, of course, that this is only encouraging me in my quest to never throw away anything that “might be useful someday”.

    • Harriet: Yes, I know that I might be accused of enabling certain tendencies that we all have. But I’m seeing it as encouraging people to imagine a broader range of choices. Especially if they have a MITS Altair to get rid of!


  2. Bill, thanks again for a practical idea. Switzerland was the first European country to introduce country-wide recycling:
    “Europe In Switzerland, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991, beginning with collection of old refrigerators; over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. The established producer responsibility organization is SWICO, mainly handling information, communication, and organization technology.[5] The European Union implemented a similar system in February 2003, under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive, 2002/96/EC).”
    I personally, have proposed an ‘advance payment for recycling’ on new buildings, but have met with little resonance.

  3. Moffat Field is enough space to store two of everything so we all can get over useless junk and tools in our face. Mass has Gravity and Magnetism, but you do the Math.

  4. Where can I send my first generation desktop computer with external screen to recycle? I live in Michigan.

  5. i am thinking now that don’t throw a anything if it is very useful time comes. unless if its totally damage.


  6. Where is the location of the photographs? I wonder if they have any old word processors and type writers?

    • There are piles of discarded equipment at most county and municipal dumps, but many places discourage taking stuff away, for some reason.

  7. I HATE that photo! i would salvage everything there 1st for parts and if i see a nice machine i will restore it!

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