Top Five Vintage Computers Turn Dust into Dollars

Computers that are gathering dust could be rare and valuable; experts list their picks for the real finds.

Those who think the computer gathering dust in their crawlspace is worth big bucks can peruse experts picks of top-selling vintage microcomputers before having to check eBay, where computer collectibles tend to be overvalued.

Sellam Ismail, the Software Collections manager for the Computer History Museum; Erik Klein, who runs; and Bruce Damer of the DigiBarn Computer Museum shared their picks with eWEEK.

Apple 1—Apples first computer was designed originally by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, and of the 200 originally made, fewer than 50 still exist.

Many were later traded back in for Apple ][ systems, Klein said.

"Theyre really sought-after because the Apple fans are so outrageous with the amount of money theyll throw at stuff like this," said Ismail, who has auctioned off three in the past five years.

In two months, hell be auctioning another, which has an original letter sent to the dealer signed by Steve Jobs, complete with handwritten notes.

Ismail estimates it will fetch $20,000.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about museums and collectors boosting the market for vintage computers.

Apples Lisa—The predecessor to the Macintosh, the Lisa was Apples first commercial computer.

"It was sort of a commercial flop," Ismail says.

It sold well, but, according to Klein, the original Apple Lisa with the "Twiggy" 5.25-inch drives was both "seminal and buggy."

Apple then upgraded consumers to Lisa 2s with 3.5-inch disk drives or in some instances, Mac XLs with new ROMs to run Mac software.

Both Klein and Ismail say they have seen Lisas sell for more than $10,000 on eBay, while Damer values them at $2,000 to $4,000.

The Digital Equipment Corporations PDP-8—This first computer defined the mini-computer class, allowing small businesses to own a computer.

Ismail describes the PDP-8 as looking like a "giant brain."

It was also the first long-line computer, lasting through the 70s, with eight different models.

In 1965 it cost $18,000; today, with less than a dozen in existence, Ismail estimates the value at $10,000, though it could go as high as $15,000 to $20,000.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the opening of the Computer History Museum.

MITS Altairs 8800—The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics heralded the arrival of the Altair 8800, a DIY kit based on Intels third-generation microprocessor, the 8080.

It signaled to the general public that it was possible for them to own their own computer, and is widely credited with starting the PC revolution.

("And motivating Bill Gates to start Microsoft," says Klein.)

"Back then, computers were still these big machines that were unreachable, they were behind glass walls in universities or corporations, and only the high priests could get access to them," Ismail said.

"So to actually be able to have your own computer that you could control and even be able to put on your desk was pretty spectacular."

Adds Damer, "I think it is the media and emotional connection."

He suggests that Robert Cringleys 1996 PBS Special "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires" popularized the computer.

The going rate for the Altair 8800 is anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000.

Though with so many produced, says Ismail, the value is slightly inflated.

IMSAI 8080—Immortalized in the movie "War Games," the 8080 was first released in 1975, and over the next 11 years IMSAI produced between 17,000 and 20,000 units.

"They are always highly prized and typically sell for $1,500 minimum," says Ismail, while Damer prices them slightly lower.

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