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What Is Retrocomputing?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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Retrocomputing is a term that is used to identify the use and collection of computer hardware and software that was used in days gone by. While much of this type of collecting involves systems and software that was produced since the advent of the personal computer, some serious enthusiasts also collect older equipment produced from the 1940s up until the introduction of the personal computer in the middle of the 1970s. In the cases of software, some enthusiasts choose to run those older programs on new equipment, allowing them to enjoy the look and feel of computing as it existed in earlier time frames.

Collectors who enjoy the hobby of retrocomputing often create their own personal computer museums. The various systems they collect are put on display in a room of the home, and are often set up so they can actually be used. For example, a collector may load game software from the late 1970’s on a desktop system of the same vintage, making it possible to play a game that was designed for use on older DOS systems, and does not require the use of a computer mouse. A museum may also include working models of mainframe systems that are built to a smaller scale, but still provide a semblance of the same type of functionality.

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The hobby of retrocomputing often helps to satisfy several goals or desires of the collector. As with most collections, the idea is to preserve what the collector feels is an important legacy from the past. By assembling a collection of older systems and software that tell the story of how computers advanced over the years, the hobbyist can share that story with others. At other times, the retrocomputing may provide the hobbyist with the opportunity to relive cherished memories from the past, such as playing games with friends as a teenager.

Another aspect of retrocomputing is known as a home computer remake. With this approach, emulation software that is designed to imitate the function of older systems is loaded onto a modern computer. This eliminates the need to secure older hardware, while still allowing the collector to simulate the experience of using early computer hardware along with early computer software. Emulation software is also often used to recreate the experience of playing vintage computer games on a vintage computer, a process that is sometimes referred to as retrogaming.

Enthusiasts of retrocomputing will search high and low for the hardware and software they need for their collections. This has led to the creation of online forums and social clubs that allow collectors to come together and share information on where to find various equipment and software. Those same sites often offer insights into how to set up the systems, and in general provide collectors with communities where they can share their interest with others who appreciate retrocomputing as a hobby.

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