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Getting a Classic PC Working After 25 Years? 533

Posted by kdawson
from the lotus-123-baby dept.
tunersedge writes "Yesterday I dug out of my parents' basement a PC they had bought brand new in 1984: Epson Equity I personal computer; 512K RAM; 82-key keyboard; 2 (count 'em!, 2) 5.25" floppy disk drives; 13' RGB monitor (with contrast/brightness knobs); handy on/off switch; healthy 25-year-old yellowed plastic; absolutely no software. (My mom ran a pre-school, and they used it to keep records and payroll. I cut my programming teeth on this thing. GW-Basic was my friend. Kings Quest screens took 2 minutes to load when you walked into a new one.) When I resurrected this machine I pulled the case off, dusted out a little, and plugged it in. It actually fired up! I'm stoked, except the disks we had are missing. What I'm looking to do is either buy some old working disks with whatever I can find (MS-DOS 3.22, GW-Basic, whatever), or try and recreate some using a USB-based floppy drive and some modern software. Has anyone tried to resurrect a PC this old before?"
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Getting a Classic PC Working After 25 Years?

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  • by Cheviot (248921) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:18AM (#28649367)

    Ebay is your friend!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      True enough - I did the same thing with my ancient Mac Plus. Between Ebay and the dedicated enthusiast forums, I was able to get all the software I needed to get it up and working.

      • OT: sig (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192) * on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:48AM (#28649811) Journal

        An operating system should be like a light switch... simple, effective, easy to use, and designed for everyone.

        I'd like my operating system to have more than two possible settings. Operating systems are complex because the world is complex.

        • Re:OT: sig (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 10, 2009 @11:52AM (#28650833)

          I'd like my operating system to have more than two possible settings.

          1) ON
          2) OFF
          3) NEITHER ON NOR OFF
          4) SOMEWHAT ON
          5) ROOTED
          6) FROZEN
          7) DEAD
          8) JUST MOSTLY DEAD

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      eBay is fine for obtaining a supply of disks, but not necessarily so fine for finding software. However, see the FreeDOS site [freedos.org] for a likely operating system. That software should allow you to connect a CD-ROM drive (again eBay can be your friend), after which you should be able to find all sorts of DOS software you can run (eBay, again!).
    • by Larryish (1215510) <larryish@nOsPaM.gmail.com> on Friday July 10, 2009 @11:02AM (#28650035)

      Thrift stores.

      You should check out thrift stores.

      I see 5 1/4 inch floppy disks in those places all the time. Cheap.

  • 512k! (Score:5, Funny)

    by webax (1034218) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:18AM (#28649375)
    Well it's not *that* old, it's not like anyone has or ever will need more than 512K of ram...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      har har har har. That stupid fucking joke is about as old and lame as his computer. It stopped being funny about 24 years ago.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It stopped being funny about 24 years ago.

        Well then I guess it's not quite as old as the computer then, is it?

      • Re:512k! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday July 10, 2009 @11:06AM (#28650107)

        Nevertheless it's a tradition deeply engrained in slashdot culture.

        In other words, you must be new here.

    • Re:512k! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Hatta (162192) * on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:56AM (#28649955) Journal

      No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

  • USB 5.25 Floppy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:20AM (#28649397)

    I've been wanting one of these for years... they need to make one that's compatible with all systems, not just IBM Compatible. I wonder if one of the numerous C64 floppy adapters (that uses parallel) would let you write to IBM format.

    For DOS, I'm pretty sure FreeDOS would work.

  • FreeDOS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:21AM (#28649415)

    FreeDOS probably would boot on this machine.

    I actually know the machine you're talking about - except I had a HDD. I know for a fact the thing will run MS-DOS 5.0.x

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by general_re (8883)

      FreeDOS probably would boot on this machine.

      I actually know the machine you're talking about - except I had a HDD. I know for a fact the thing will run MS-DOS 5.0.x

      Heh. I had the same Equity I also, but since my dad was something of a computer geek himself, he sprang for a 20MB hardcard for it. At the time, 20MB seemed like it would be enough space to last me the rest of my life :/

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:22AM (#28649419) Journal
    I know that may be a joke to you but call up Epson or submit a ticket [epson.com] explaining to them your situation. Who knows? Maybe they have a storeroom with old floppies lying around so you can get the original software back? I imagine those disks wore out all the time. Just ask them if they have any of the original software for that model lying around. That would be amazing support if they did.

    They do host the manual [epson.com] that indicates you have a parallel port and a RS-232C serial port to play with and also something that looks like expansion slots designed for peripherals. Good luck and have fun!
  • by ak3ldama (554026) <james_akeldama AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:22AM (#28649437) Homepage Journal

    Yesterday I dug out of my parents' basement a PC they had bought brand new in 1984: Epson Equity I personal computer

    Just admit it, it was under your bed wasn't it? At least now it's on that thing you call a table.

  • by tuorum (1001313) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:24AM (#28649461) Homepage
    Thought they make them, they are probably all 1.2MB ones, which use a much smaller write head and might not be easily readable on the old 360KB drives. YMMV and it can't hurt to test. Good luck!
    • by Glonoinha (587375) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:34AM (#28649613) Journal

      Just a thought - unless I'm mistaken, the floppy cable that plugs into a 3.5" drive also fits in a 5.25" drive - and the power connector for regular PATA hard drives also fits the 5.25" floppy drive. If that is still the case, all he needs to do is put his old 5.25" drive next to a new computer, plug in the cables and fire it up. Create a boot floppy using the Windows 95 'create a boot floppy' utility or however you make boot floppys now (I have a .img file of that boot floppy I use to create boot CDs, so it's been a while since I made a boot floppy - format a: /s maybe?)

      Put the 5.25" drive and your new boot floppy back in and Voila! you are all set.

  • I've never tried to resurrect a "PC" that old. I did try to resurrect a 1981 Osborne 1, though, as well as an old Kaypro, both predating the "PC" by a yiddle. CP/M, yeah baby!
  • by rs232 (849320)
    Replace the 5.25" floppy disk drives with 3 1/2 inch and download DOS from some site. As to what you can run on it, you may have better luck with one of the smaller Linux distros, like Damn Small Linux [damnsmalllinux.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Problem is Linux runs on 386+. You might be able to run something like ucLinux on 286, but i doubt you'll be able to run anything like Linux on a 8088/8086/80186. With 512k RAM you won't be able to boot any kernel, no matter how old.
    • No version of Linux will ever run on this machine - unless you don't mind running everything as root.

    • by toygeek (473120)

      Linux requires a 386 or greater for the kernel. Back to square one.

  • Quality that lasts. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Qwrk (760868) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:26AM (#28649485)
    Getting these things up and running is no surprise to me. It seems that they used quality stuff in them days. I have loads of these oldies that haven't been booted for 10+ years and upon plugging them in they start off as if nothing ever happened. Drives with a ST-506 interface in particular seem to be of an indistructible kind of quality-make. Feel free to contact me for disks, or as stated; check eBay of contact Bruce Damer of the DigiBarn [http://www.digibarn.com/].
    • by causality (777677)

      Getting these things up and running is no surprise to me. It seems that they used quality stuff in them days. I have loads of these oldies that haven't been booted for 10+ years and upon plugging them in they start off as if nothing ever happened. Drives with a ST-506 interface in particular seem to be of an indistructible kind of quality-make. Feel free to contact me for disks, or as stated; check eBay of contact Bruce Damer of the DigiBarn [http://www.digibarn.com/].

      Is it really quality, or is it more like that engineering principle that the more complex a thing is, the more likely it is to break down? Because today's machines are one hell of a lot more complex ...

      • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:44AM (#28649741) Homepage
        Nah, it's a typical lifecycle for expensive products that become commodities. When that PC was new, it probably cost upwards of $5,000 in 1984 dollars. Many parts were Made In USA instead of by some faceless penny-scraping OEM in Taiwan. Heck, people used to actually send hard drives in for repair instead of just RMA'ing them and getting a new one. You'll see this in other products too...automobiles, washing machines, sewing machines, etc.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by demonlapin (527802)
        Like the others are saying, when a thing is going to cost $4000, an extra $200 for quality construction is a worthwhile investment. When the whole thing costs $200, not so much. Keyboards are really emblematic of this - they used to be a selling point for computers, while now people think it's strange if you'll pay $70 for a Unicomp keyboard. (I've never understood this idea; why would you cheap out on mouse and keyboard when they're the primary interface with the computer? You use them ALL THE TIME.)
  • Microsoft (Score:5, Funny)

    by frozentier (1542099) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:27AM (#28649507)
    Microsoft is claiming that Windows 7 will work on such a machine, if you can wait a little while.
  • Easy (Score:2, Funny)

    by XPeter (1429763) *

    Slap Vista on that baby and it'll run like a champ.

    • Re:Easy (Score:4, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:46AM (#28649785)
      I hear that you can even order Vista on 2,000 5.25" floppies.
  • Pimp tips ! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by T-BoneX (223972) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:28AM (#28649517)

    Cool, it is very educational to work with old computer's

    Nice things to do:
    - add extra ram by using an ISA memory expansion card (up to 2MB !!!), running windows 3.0 would then be possible !
    - 200mb+ IDE/MFM drive (the latter where mostly smaller though and a bit hard to get)
    - ISA VGA card
    - ISA Soundblaster
    - ISA ethernetcard
    - run Arachne and surf the WEB !!!!!!!!!!!!, heheh yes you can this baby on slashdot :)
    - a lot more upgrade options, FPU etc.. etc..

    Greetings and Enjoy and good luck hunting down Dos software

    • by armanox (826486)
      I'd also recommend getting a 3.5" floppy drive if the system supports it (don't know if it does, but I do know that my Toshiba T1000 has 2 3.5" drives (and a 10MiB HDD, and full 640K RAM!))
  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:30AM (#28649533)

    My parents dug up an Amstrad PC1512 while tidying their house and called me up asking me what to do with it. I said throw it away. They said isn't it worth something? I laughed.

  • This might help... (Score:5, Informative)

    by drakaan (688386) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:30AM (#28649545) Homepage Journal

    ...healthy 25-year-old yellowed plastic...

    This [wikispaces.com] might help with that part of the restoration (cheap and DIY)...

  • Disks? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sepelester (794828) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:30AM (#28649547)
  • Impressive (Score:5, Funny)

    by rjstanford (69735) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:30AM (#28649555) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I'm more impressed with the 13 foot monitor. I'm assuming its some sort of front projection device. Wonder what the resolution is? :)

  • I'm assuming this is either an 8088 or 8086 chip. Many people learned embedded programming on these chips, and there are probably millions of them in use in embedded systems around the world.

    This sounds like a great opportunity to program your own embedded OS for the machine. Get a PROM burner and your favorite compatible compiler and have some fun! You're a programmer, and you cut your teeth on this PC. Learn another aspect of programming with it.

  • I got a TRS-80 working but try to find the BIG floppies for it, and you're headed to eBay and similar places quite a bit.

  • FreeDOS has been discussed here before, at length. It should work on your machine well enough to get you started. There are a lot of resources available related the FreeDOS efforts; so, you may be able to find a lot of what you are looking for.

    The USB drives likely won't work with this old machine -- but you now that are I'm assuming you're talking about creating the floppies. I haven't seen a 5 1/4" external for some time... You may need to put a 3 1/2" disk into the old machine initially.

  • Dear God, why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Abalamahalamatandra (639919) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:37AM (#28649661)

    I guess it must be the difference between ages that causes someone to think that a cruddy DOS machine is actually something worth bringing back up.

    Me, I cut my teeth on Radio Shack Model 4 machines, quickly discovering how much more software I could run once I got Montezuma CP/M running on it and downloading public domain software from the local (multi-user) CP/M bulletin board system.

    Once the actual PC came along, I think just about anyone who had run a CP/M system saw it for what it was: a crappy copy that took none of the good from CP/M and just about all of the bad, running on a machine that supported a bit more RAM (not 640K yet, RAM was way too expensive) and a slightly faster processor.

    I'm sure users of any of several pre-PC architectures would feel the same way - that the PC came along and the party stopped, kind of like that kid everybody hated at school showing up to a (previously fun) private party with a few of his friends.

  • by samalex01 (1290786) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:38AM (#28649675) Journal
    Hi!

    What an awesome find! You can actually download all the software you'd ever want for the system here - http://www.vetusware.com/ [vetusware.com] - which is a website with hundreds of abandoned software titles for download free. They do have various versions of MS-DOS, which I'd suggest MS-DOS 5.0 or higher because I still have nightmares of edlin *cringe*. They do have MS-DOS 6.22 for download along with GWBasic, QBasic, Borland C++ for DOS, etc for development. I assume since you said the system is from 1984 that's it's an 8086 or 8088 which rules out Windows 3.x.

    After years of using TRS-80 systems I moved to an 8088 XT clone in 1990 running MS-DOS 3.3, and as you that's where I really started learning to code with GWBasic. About 6 years ago I had some stuff in my closet shift one evening and that old system fell from the top shelf to the floor never to boot again. I wish I still had it, but a few years ago I did pull out an old 486SX system I picked up used in college (around 1996) and played with some of these old DOS languages and games.

    Have fun though... so many people cast away these old systems as boat anchors, but they're awesome to work with if you have some patience.
  • I went to school for programming, and I've only been out for a year, so I'm still pretty new to all this. But what on Earth does "Cut your teeth" mean?

  • by Zombie Ryushu (803103) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:47AM (#28649793)

    You need to upgrade the RAM to 640 KB. Generally Radio Shack has some SIPPs you can add to the motherboard to add the last 128 KB.

    You will need to find a Double density 3.5 floppy drive with a Card edge adaptor. This will allow you to use double density 3.5 floppies in the computer. (High Density will not work.)

    You can network this be getting an 8-bit NIC that has a BNC and AUI port, then adding an AUI to UTP tranciever, but you can't use DHCP with it. The WATTCP stack for Dos will require a static IP.

    If the video card is in an ISA slot, (and some times even it it isn't.) get a 16 bit ISA Trident VGA Card. This will give you VGA, EGA and CGA support. You can then plug the Computer into a standard monitor.

  • It's not that old... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FRiC (416091) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:49AM (#28649825) Homepage

    At work we have PC's much older than that, running manufacturing equipment. If any of them break down, I have a whole room full of old PC's that I could simply search for parts. Eventually we'll run out of parts (the equipment need ISA bus to operate), but at this rate, we're good for another 25 years or so.

  • Vintage Computing (Score:4, Informative)

    by orsty3001 (1377575) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:49AM (#28649827)
    http://www.vintagecomputing.com/forum/ [vintagecomputing.com] These guys have a lot of experience with knowing where old stuff is today and keeping stuff like that working. One of thousands of places to check out online.
  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday July 10, 2009 @11:13AM (#28650221) Journal

    Okay, this may not help but then again it might...

    I dug up an old Laser 128 (Apple II compatible) with no working software and was able to get it working using the following method. I don't know if your machine has a compatible feature, though.

    http://adtpro.sourceforge.net/bootstrap.html#Starting_from_bare_metal [sourceforge.net]

    In short: using a second machine (In my case, running Win98) and a homebrew serial cable, configure the machine to be revived to treat serial port input as keyboard input, then keyboard input direct into memory (like a DEBUG prompt) - If you can do that then the rest of the procedure might actually work with compatible software.

    The support machine "types" the software directly into the host machine's memory and executes it. In the link above, you start with a ProDOS image which then gets written to disk so you can boot the machine normally.
    =Smidge=

  • by linebackn (131821) on Friday July 10, 2009 @11:21AM (#28650349)

    This looks like a more or less standard boring old IBM PC compatible computer. There are truckloads of great old DOS programs floating around out there if you look around (although sadly most people only feel inclined to preserve games, not utilities and such)

    Probably the easiest thing to do is connect a 360k drive to a somewhat more "modern" networked computer that has an internal floppy disk controller, and write disk images or files directly to it. One hint though, do not write 360k floppies with a 1.2mb 5.25" drive, they usually won't work due to differences in the size of the magnetic track written. If you need 5.25 floppy disks, you can usually find them on eBay - heck there are still 8" disks and punch cards floating around!

    That system might be able to run up to MS/PC DOS 6.22 or perhaps even FreeDOS, but if there is no hard drive you probably would be best served with DOS 2.x or 3.x, they take up less disk space and memory.

    There are various other OSes for 8088/8086 IBM PC compatibles (CP/M 86, and Xenix come to mind) as well as GUI shells (Visi-On, GEM, GEOS, and Windows 1.0 through 3.0) but most of the useful stuff for that class of machine is for plain old DOS.

    If you are looking to add hardware, there is also plenty of old ISA stuff floating around on eBay. You might be able to add a 720k 3.5" floppy drive (check the physical bay size and connector compatibility) or a 1.4mb drive using an ISA controller card with a BIOS. 8-bit MFM/RLL hard drives and controllers, I'm sure I have even seen 8-bit IDE controllers before. There are ISA VGA cards that will work in 8 bit ISA systems (often they look like 16-bit cards but will still fit and operate in an 8-bit slot)

    Anyway, lots of options but not as unique as TI-99/4a, Apple II, TRS-80 or such.

  • laplink (Score:3, Informative)

    by ae1294 (1547521) on Friday July 10, 2009 @12:38PM (#28651437) Journal

    If you can get to a DOS prompt don't forget about the old trusty program called laplink. You can transfer files via serial or parallel port and you only need to have the laplink program on the one computer to get started but you gotta have da DOS first.

    P.S. You gotta get a hard drive... you'll go mad with floppies very quickly.. remember 512MB is the limit for IDE without using the umm overlay ummm I've forgot what it was called... o well nothing of value was lost...

  • Modern DOS will work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac (43301) * on Friday July 10, 2009 @01:07PM (#28651709) Homepage Journal

    Unless the system has some funky ROM (like Tandy used that locked in a specific OS) there's no reason not to use a modern DOS. I still have a working XT and 286, and they both run M$DOS 6.00 -- it's MUCH faster than the older versions and a lot more capable, and is extremely stable (my very busy 286 routinely ran for up to *two years* between reboots). M$DOS7 from Win9x is the same as M$DOS6 but adds FAT32 support, and would work just as well. I presume one of the free DOS replacements, like FreeDOS, would also work.

    The standard MSCDEX and Mouse drivers (v8.20 is best) should also work. You can get USB-to-some-other-port gadgets -- try cablenbits.com or tekgems.com, both are reliable vendors and carry all manner of oddball connectors and adapters.

    What was the question again? :)

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