The Definitive Guide to Buying a Vintage Computer

So you have made the decision to take the plunge into the world of vintage computers. Let me be the first to welcome you to the club! Whether you are an experienced computer user or a noob, there are some important things to pay attention to before buying your new/old retro computer.

Where to Buy

The most common place to pickup a vintage computer is Ebay. There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of sellers offering vintage computers in varying conditions and prices. Some of these sellers have legitimate businesses selling antiques, and other non-related items, while others are just your average Joe cleaning out their attic. Nevertheless, on Ebay you should be able to find a large selection of the most common vintage computers, such as the Commodore 64, Apple II/IIe/IIc, Macintosh, Atari computers, as well many other common and even rare finds.

Vintage Computer Buyers Guide

The downsides of buying your vintage computer on Ebay is you will most likely end up paying a lot more for it. This is due to several reasons:

  1. Most everyone buys vintage computers on Ebay, which drives the prices up. More demand = higher prices.
  2. Ebay charges State sales tax on everything now. So you will end paying an extra 8% or so on your already higher priced purchase.
  3. Sellers commonly charge hideous amounts for shipping. It’s not uncommon to be charged $100 shipping for a computer that costs $400.

However, if convenience and selection are more important to you than price, then Ebay is the way to go.

There’s also a growing number of local selling apps, like letgo and 5miles. While it is rare to find vintages computers there, they do occasionally show up. One rising star in this category, however is Mercari. I’ve personally purchased several vintage computers/accessories on this site/app. Of course, we all know about Craigslist, but unfortunately, it is rare to see a vintage computer up for sale, at least in my area.

Other non-online places to pickup a vintage computer include estate sales, garage sales, and flee markets. Do you know of other great places to pickup vintage computers? If so, leave a comment below!

What to Look For

When buying a vintage computer, you want to look for some specific things depending on your level of knowledge and experience with retro computers, and whether or not you are willing and capable of repairing a non-functional computer.

Most people don’t have any knowledge or experience repairing computers. If you are one of these people, then here are some things to look for when evaluating which vintage computer to buy:

  1. Does the computer have a return option, or better yet a warranty? There are some sellers on Ebay who offer a return policy and even a warranty on computer. The later is very rare but I have seen it. If you are risk adverse, make sure you buy from a seller who will allow you to return the computer if it doesn’t work.
  2. Has it been restored? Restored can mean lots of things, but from the perspective of buying a solid, functioning vintage computer, you want one that has had all of their electrolytic capacitors replaced (i.e. “recapped”, more on this in a future article), and passes all diagnostics tests. Other restorations can be cosmetic, such as retrobrighting a yellowing computer case.
  3. Does it come complete with power supply, mouse and keyboard? It’s not uncommon for sellers to list a vintage computers without all the required accessories to use it. Don’t assume your computer will come with all that’s needed to use it day one.
Commodore 64 Recapped and Refurbished

If you know how to repair computers, or know someone who can help you, then you can potentially find some great deals on computers that are listed as “untested”, “for repair”, or “parts only”. Sometimes these computers work just fine and the seller is simply not knowledgable enough to test the computer before putting it up for sale. Obviously, you could end up with a vintage door stop, buy that’s the risk you are accepting when buying these computers marked in this condition.

Where to Find Software

Getting software for your vintage computer can be tricky, but not impossible. All of the software distributed for the computers was sold on either tape, or floppy disk. Due to the nature of magnetic media, software on these media are unreliable after 30+ years. Fortunately, there are still folks selling software on sites such as Ebay and Mercari, but be prepared to pay a premium if you end up buying there.

There’s also sites hosting digital copies of old vintage software. While I can’t speak to whether or not this is legal, it is worth mentioning. Several of these sites list the software as “abandonware”, which means that the original author (or authors/publisher) are no longer active or out of business. If you decide to procure software for your vintage computer using these sources, using a 3rd party product, such as SD2IEC, can make this very easy. We will be writing more about this in a future article.

Believe it or not, there are developers writing new software for vintage computers, such as the Commodore 64. In fact, there’s been a revival in retro games on this platform. We will soon be listing these games on our site, so stay tuned!

Where to Get Help

The best place to start is here! If you run into trouble getting your vintage computer going, using your computer, or if it stops working for some reason, post your question on the feed and see if our great online community can offer any advice. If for some reason we can’t help, there are lots of excellent support groups on Facebook that should get all your questions answered.

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