As someone who grew up in the 80s, my idea of retro computer gear might differ greatly from yours. It’s all about perspective, right? If you’re younger, you might think the Xbox 360 is retro, which it is in some respects. On the other hand, if you are older a built-in CD-ROM drive might seem newish and fancy-like. Well, I’ve tried to take that all into account as I dug up some of my favorite retro computer and game gear.
Commodore 64 Tape Drive
As far as retro computer gear goes, this is the perfect place to start. The Commodore 1530 Datasette Tape Drive was a magnetic tape storage device that allowed home computer users to store data on inexpensive, easily obtainable and perfectly familiar cassette tapes. The Datasette was notable for using a ‘square-wave’ method of writing data, which featured bit-parity. In other words, it wrote your data twice. This made it the most reliable, but also one of the slowest data storage devices available at the time.
In the early 80s there were many pre-recorded tapes that contained games and software for the Commodore 64. Running pre-recorded software became much more convenient after the introduction of software like Turbo Tape, which greatly sped up the read and write process. The tape drive could also be used to store up to 100k of user data (1000k with Turbo Tape), but required you to remember the tape position for accessing it again. Hence, many notebooks filled with tape counter readings. By the mid-80s, floppy drives would force the tape drive into extinction.
Prentice Star 103-232 Modem
The Prentice Star 103-232 is an acoustic coupler modem that was popular in the late 70s and early 80s. You might remember these types of modems from classic 80s films such as Weird Science and War Games. In a nutshell, the user would dial a number on their traditional rotary or push-button telephone. Then they would lay the receiver down in the cradle of the modem. The modem would then translate sounds into electrical signals and back again, allowing two (or more) computers to communicate remotely. While these were cool, trendy and, at the same time, exceedingly nerdy, by the early 90s they had vanished.
R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy)
When I was a kid, there was nothing I was more excited for and disappointed by than R.O.B. Nintendo’s Robotic Operating Buddy appeared to be the coolest, hippest, mostly insanely amazing piece of technology that was ever created. Instead, with experience and wisdom, I learned that R.O.B. was nothing but a novelty, aimed at distracting retailers from the video game market crash of 1983.
For a kid, though, that’s not why R.O.B. stunk. It stunk because it only had two games, Gyromite and Stack Up, both of which were ok, but not that great. However, as a piece of retro computer gear (game consoles are computers, after all) R.O.B. really shines. It appears retro and futuristic at the same time. It’s also very much within the 80s robot stereotype, closely resembling the robot Rocky gave Pauly in Rocky 4. From those humble beginnings the Nintendo Entertainment System (and modern gaming) took off, and R.O.B. didn’t. But, he sure looks cool at that shelf in my office.