How far we’ve come: The top 5 retro gadgets from the Vintage Computer Festival

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How far we’ve come: The top 5 retro gadgets from the Vintage Computer Festival

VR in the 90s? Computers with gears? TechCrunch brings you five of the coolest retro gadgets and gizmos from this weekend’s Vintage Computer Festival West XI at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.


Solid-State Monopoly Game: Stephen Casner (1977)

This 1977 throwback Monopoly game comes equipped with everything needed for a night of family fun. Players input numbers with calculators embedded in the board. Player tokens are symbolized by LEDs and the entire table top opens up like a piano to display an internal S-100 chassis and power supply. The game was created in assembly language by Casner over multiple years while working full time.


Differential Analyzer: Tim Robinson (1934)

Before modern computers gave us Netflix, researchers used mechanical devices called differential analyzers to perform mathematical integration on linear and non-linear differential equations. The model on display uses Meccano toys to recreate the impressive machine. Surprisingly, Meccano was used to create one of the first difference analyzers back in 1934 that was put to real use.

If you’re interested in how these mechanical beasts work, go here, here and here.


Analog Computing: Dwight Elvey (~1959)

Between the time of differential analyzers and modern digital computers, systems such as this leveraged underlying physics to solve problems. Elvey rigged up a bouncing ball (seen in the monitor on the top right) using a Healthkit EC-1, a Comdyna LGP-20 used by the US Navy, and more cables than the back of your grandparent’s TV set.


HP-85 and Peripherals: Marc Verdiell (1979)

The powerful HP 85 with a 625 kHz NMOS 8-bit processor is capable of doing more than math with available peripherals. One in particular could draw mathematical graphs much in the same way as a human – stroke by stroke. Verdiell instead rigged up the HP 7225 pen plotter to sketch Anime.


VirtualBoy: Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (1995)

In our age of Oculus Rift, it’s easy to forget that we had VR back in 1995. The Nintendo VirtualBoy only lasted a year, but was able to build up quite a legacy. The headset and accompanying controller offered gamers the ability to immerse themselves in the 3D worlds of Tetris and Mario. Not quite the OLED of today, but just as addicting once you start playing.