Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

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Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Carcenomy on Sat Sep 25, 2010 5:23 pm

So sometimes in a vintage machine's lifespan, it's just not economical to repair it, or it's not of significant enough historical value to warrant the time restoring it to its former glory. That's where one of my other hobbies beyond maintaining the old girls comes in - the fine arts of case modification and retrofitting.

Call me out on it if you think any of what you're about to see is sacreligious, but be assured now that all of the machines in question were not in a state where they could be repaired to working condition feasibly.

First up is an IBM. Not a valuable IBM like a PS/2 or an XT machine, but an Aptiva 2176. It was originally a Pentium 166, and its mainboard was completely non-functional. I was in need of a spare machine and decided it would be the first in what ended up being a few rebuilt vintage boxes. The 2176 like most OEM boxes at the time used the LPX form factor, but with an alternate riser to most makes. So I got to measuring and cutting...

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MicroATX'd! Now the IBM was ready for action. I actually had another IBM at home just aching to donate its componentry, a far more modern NetVista P4. Once complete, the Aptiva looked something like this... (clickable links to big pics!)

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Functional AND retro, all at the same time! The IBM is now for sale as it's no longer needed - it was primarily a media machine for in the bedroom, its duties now being handled by an Intel Atom based machine.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Carcenomy on Sat Sep 25, 2010 5:33 pm

The far more vintage of the set and by far the most heavily modified and definitely my favourite, is my Commodore PC10-III. It'd already been modified once in its life, with a 486 setup grafted in replacing the standard 8088.

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The 486 however was missing far too many parts to tidy up and reuse - the CPU was long gone, the drive controller and graphics card had gone AWOL and the drives were all missing. However I did have another machine I was wanting to build, a new home theatre box. So the PC10's been undergoing some major surgery to make it capable of its new role in life.

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Socket 3 gone, Socket A in. It was converted to mATX and fitted with an AthlonXP initially. It also received some other goodies including a water cooling setup... :)

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However the performance from the Athlon setup was not good enough for the role it ended up acquiring...

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So it received an Acer G31 board (which needed a couple of new caps first), a Pentium Dualcore 2GHz CPU, a GeForce 8600GT and a new Zalman waterblock. There's also a Hauppauge HVR4000 hybrid TV tuner too, so it'll replace my FreeView decoder. There's a few bits left to do, such as a new USB bracket to fill the hole where the standard AT keyboard connector went and finishing the respray on the chassis - sadly, the beige bodywork was very heavily damaged and although I would have liked to have kept it standard, as it's going in my home theatre cabinet it needed to match everything else. Looks spectacular next to the CDTV, I tell you what! :)
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby tezza on Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:27 am

The most interesting retrofit I ever saw was a Pentium 3 inside a Commodore SX-64!! Amazing.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby lizardb0y on Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:18 am

tezza wrote:The most interesting retrofit I ever saw was a Pentium 3 inside a Commodore SX-64!! Amazing.


I blogged my top 10 favourite retro case mods a wee while ago http://www.evil.geek.nz/node/143.

There are a couple I have in mind myself :)
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby tezza on Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:57 am

Interesting list Andrew, thanks for posting it.

This sort of activity has crossed my mind once or twice. Particularly as there are some pretty good emulators out there now. Your could have something that looks just like the real deal, works like the real deal but you don't need to repair it every few months :) . Keyboard interfacing is the big barrier of course.

Ironically, in the late 80s/early 90s I thought how cool it would be to have a real System 80 board running inside a real PC case and using a PC keyboard and mono screen. This was in the days before emulators existed for the machine. Of course the technical challenges involved meant this was no more than a fanciful dream!
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby nama on Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:38 pm

Unfortunately this thread makes me shudder out of fear that someone will take a true classic and turn it into a Taiwanese hybrid piece of junk with a 2-3 year lifespan...but thats just my personal opinion ;-)

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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby lizardb0y on Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:10 pm

nama wrote:Unfortunately this thread makes me shudder out of fear that someone will take a true classic and turn it into a Taiwanese hybrid piece of junk with a 2-3 year lifespan...but thats just my personal opinion ;-)


Hi Phil,

I have the same fears. While I have a couple of retrofits in mind, I'm cautious about what I'd be willing to take a dremel to. I can take the idea of the pico-ITX ZX81 refit, but I'd go berzerk if someone did the same to a ZX80. The SX-64 fitout was only just bearable because it was so nicely done, but it still sent a cold shiver down my spine.

Another related project that I quite like are the ZX Spectrum laptops by Sami Vehmaa: http://user.tninet.se/~vjz762w/
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Carcenomy on Thu Oct 21, 2010 9:41 pm

The thing to bear in mind is that most people who would consider such an undertaking know the value of their base machine, and if it's worth repairing the existing machine or if it's beyond repairs and suitable only as a gorgeous retrofit. The C64 is a great example - modifying a ciassic C64 wouldn't really be sacrilege as there's plenty of supply and not a lot of demand. An SX64 however... you just wouldn't (or at least shouldn't).
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby tezza on Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:39 pm

Yes, this subject of retrofitting gets bought up from time to time on this kind of forum. It's actually a lot like vintage cars. For some owners, the pleasure they get from the hobby is to keep the cars as original as possible but well maintained and in "showcase" condition. For others, they enjoy "modding" the cars to look like vontage hotrods or to make a statement.

My attitude is if you own it, it's yours and you have the say of what you want to do with it. However, I would hope owners of rare and valuable machines consider carefully before gutting them. They are not making any more of these things.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Carcenomy on Fri Oct 22, 2010 8:37 pm

Indeed that's the only issue with retrofitting. You've gotta tread with caution to not destroy an actual rarity.
Just the local Commodore hobo and middle-aged PC hoarder.
eisa on Trademe. A lasting reminder of a Compaq fetish when I was younger.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Gibsaw on Sat Apr 09, 2011 1:26 am

Carcenomy wrote:Indeed that's the only issue with retrofitting. You've gotta tread with caution to not destroy an actual rarity.


And to take this one step further, when one takes the time to read the care and attention that is given to bringing machines back to life by those who enjoy them... It's very important to make sure that "uneconomic" isn't just an excuse.

In some cases it's true, and it's like the pancreas. For it to live, another one will have to die, like Tezza's Mac SE flyback saga.

Even then however, everything is relative. Transformers can be rewound. Components can be found, or sometimes MADE if you are willing. It's VERY, VERY relative.

It's possible that a machine being "uneconomic" to repair means that you're no longer the best possible custodian of it.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Carcenomy on Sat Apr 09, 2011 11:57 am

The same can be said of vintage cars however. Anything steel can be repaired, in theory, rust is no reason to consider a car beyond repair, but even the best classics can be deemed a writeoff due to rust or other damage. In a lot of cases where vintage computers get retrofitted, it's because the machine has no significant historical value, no monetary value and is non functional. I can't speak for every modder, there's lots of brainless folk who would take a fully operational machine of great interest and gut it apart in order to JB Weld new parts in. They're the ones that demand scrutiny.
Just the local Commodore hobo and middle-aged PC hoarder.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Gibsaw on Mon Apr 11, 2011 3:07 pm

A better example would be vintage aircraft. There are more Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes flying today than there have been since the 60's because people have one by one revisited the "uneconomic" examples and done what needs to be done.

Gradually it gets to the point where one by one, the examples of a type become "uneconomic". It's a hump any class of antique needs to get over. Eventually it gets to the point where there's almost nothing available... at which point people who ARE prepared to spend the money, go back to all the "uneconomical" examples that have SURVIVED, and start fabricating new parts.

The sad part is, (The initial period of obsolescence notwithstanding.) the transition period before something becomes rare enough to motivate people is where the most is lost. That's when it's quite important that people don't go destroying too many examples simply because they're unfixable to them.

It's already unfortunate enough that only the well known will survive... There's already people (mike willegal) making rev0 apple II motherboards, but will the necessary intersection of skills, resources and motivation happen so that someone will make parts for something less common like the Jupiter Ace? Probably not.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby tezza on Mon Apr 11, 2011 3:24 pm

Gibsaw wrote:It's possible that a machine being "uneconomic" to repair means that you're no longer the best possible custodian of it.


I have some agreement with this view. I know for myself, if I have something that I don't want to or can't repair and I don't want to keep it just for aesthetics then I will give it to someone who does want it. I'll do this rather than junk it. What I would do is post it here or put it on TradeMe for 50 cents.

The problem arises when people might want it, but it is "uneconomic" for them to come and pick it up (in other words, they don't want it THAT much), and the owner (justifiably) doesn't want to spend any money/time or trouble to get it to any new custodian. Then things are junked. I'm afraid quite a few rare, lesser known or broken computers with no market value (but are interesting from a curio/design point of veiw) may well be going this way.
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Re: Retrofitting - making your oldies go another round.

Postby Gibsaw on Mon Apr 11, 2011 3:29 pm

Also, it's unfortunate that too often the requisite intersection of skills, resources, time, and motivation don't coincide.

It's not just things like retrofitting that erode the survival numbers...

When a machine with a repairable motherboard (lets say it's a motherboard capacitor problem) gets junked to steal a power supply, when the PSU it's replacing was also repairable, but the person doing the restoration has no electronic knowledge - then two machines just became one, plus some parts.

Not that I wish to sound too negative... I'm really just lamenting the very process by which cool things become rare and hard to obtain, even when they were made in their millions.

It's a shame we can't predict how many should be kept. :)
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