Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

No love for the IBM PC

Posted by Trixter on January 9, 2013

I’ve always wondered why the IBM PC never really gained a massive retro following that the Apple II, C64, Amiga, etc. have. There was the half-assed birth of the Abandonware movement, but otherwise nothing. Where are the podcasts dedicated to old PC hardware and games? I only know of two worth watching. Where are the Kansasfests and ECCCs for the IBM PC and old compatibles? Where are the cycle-exact emulators (PCem comes very close) and pixel-clock-accurate video emulation that other platforms enjoy?  And, other than the wonderful and excellent Vintage Computer Forum, where are the forums?

I think it’s because the PC won the home computer wars. All of the other retro revivals are for platforms that most definitely ended; the PC just stayed relevant and, today, is what everyone has on their desks. Even Mac desktops run Intel hardware. So the IBM PC never really went away, and you can’t revive something that never really died.

I think the classic Mac “scene” had/has the same problem. I haven’t seen any retroware emulation compilations with classic B&W Mac software that exist for other platforms.

15 Responses to “No love for the IBM PC”

  1. I’m actually trying to do something like what you’re talking about. I also have forums for this sort of thing.


    • Trixter said

      You seem to be duplicating some efforts; maybe download the PCem sources and start from there? PCem already comes close to a cycle-exact 8088, and the author even emulates CGA snow.

  2. Asterisk said

    It’s probably because modern PCs are an evolutionary descendant of the original IBM PC that there’s not the same type of nostalgia interest in the platform. Unlike the Apple II, C64, etc., there was no break with continuity to get from there to the current milieu, so I think even geeks tend to see old PC hardware as a previous iteration of the status quo than a uniquely different creature of the past. There’s still plenty of “retrocomputing” interest in the older PC era, it’s just not directed specifically at IBM’s hardware, and there are plenty of sites and forums dedicated to narrowly-defined aspects of historical PC computing. There’s a great deal of continuing interest in DOS gaming (I’d bet that DOSBox is probably used by more people than all Apple II, C64, and Amiga emulators combined), and other elements of the “classic” PC era, even if they weren’t specific to IBM PC hardware, e.g. the telnet BBS scene.

    I don’t know how many people had the actual IBM hardware itself, either. I never owned anything manufactured by IBM until I started collecting – my first IBM-compatible was an 8088 clone with a Yangtech BIOS and a Packard Bell EGA card. And, to follow the pattern above, my current primary desktop system is the result of almost 20 years of piecemeal upgrading; the hard drive of my Win7 box still contains school reports I created in the early/mid-’90s in WordPerfect for DOS.

    Essentially, PC nostalgia isn’t quite as “retro” as nostalgia for other, now-obsolete platforms is.

    • Trixter said

      While there is a giant interest in DOS gaming, there is hardly any interest in gaming for the first 3 years of the PC’s life, that which used a 4.77MHz 8088. Very few speed-sensitive games from that era are properly playable in most emulators. Most people use DOSBox to play games from 286+ era which had already learned to deal with different machine speeds properly.

      • Asterisk said

        I suppose that’s true; perhaps my perspective is a bit skewed, since my first PC was indeed an 8088 box, and I played plenty of early games from that era. Still, you can adjust DOSBox to play some of those early games well enough, even if the emulation isn’t cycle-perfect. I’ve got a few non-clock-adapting games from 1982-1984 that are passably playable in DOSBox.

        BTW, with respect to classic Mac gaming, there does seem to be some slight retrogaming interest; for example, the author of *Fool’s Errand*, Cliff Johnson, has posted the original monochrome Mac versions of some of his games for download: http://www.thefoolandhismoney.com/01-the-fools-errand/index.htm.

  3. Optimus said

    I know, I can dream how great it would be to see more DOS demoscene (says me, who wanted to start coding on my 386, but almost didn’t).
    Most people don’t see this as retro as you say, they even have the feeling that there was not spirit on PC, so there is a retro convention in my place and the oldschool PC is not even there.
    Maybe if the PC wasn’t alive things could be different, didn’t thought about that but could be one case.
    But I do have a positive feeling with the oldschool DOS era, I can clearly feel nostalgic, I have identified this era with pure software rendering, VGA programming, maybe it’s because there I started learning coding or discovered the demoscene (after my early CPC years when I was too young to understand).
    It’s just me. Most people think of old PCs as the modern soulless box that you have dramatically underpowered. Why would anyone do this they ask me?
    And thanks for the links!

  4. Jorpho said

    Isn’t Bochs superior to PCem as far as accuracy is concerned?

  5. Mikkel Christiansen said

    IBM aimed at the home market and failed big time. You did get more bang for the bucks than with any other computer, but the price tag was too big for private people. Business on the other hand loved it. IBM wouldn’t die soon, they were known for computers that would just go on ticking with no fuss, and good support. So IBM sold practically no PC without floppy drive and screen to the home market, but millions with floppy drive(s) and monitor to the business.
    So the IBM PC never got the groupies the other home market computers did. I am here only taking about the first PC, not XT and on.

  6. I wonder if part of the lack of nostalgia for early PC was the heterogeneity and fragmentation of the platform. My leading edge model D had different quirks than the IBMs or Compaqs that my neighbors had. While the 5150 (or 5160) is the canonical PC, it’s not everybody’s canonical PC.

    • Trixter said

      I think that’s certainly part of it. If you had a C64, you had a shared experience with all other C64 owners.

      • Scali said

        At the same time I’d say that it also means that a cycle-exact PC emulator is not required. Different chipsets had slight variations in timing. In fact, when it comes to VGA, it made a huge difference which chip you had. Some really bad (like Oak, Trident, Realtek), and some well above average (Paradise, ET4000, some Cirrus Logic etc).

        Dosbox takes too much liberty though, not bothering to do any timing for instructions for example (they’re all ‘1 cycle’ within the emulation logic). But I think PCEm does a nice job. The speed is comparable to a real PC with a similar configuration. And that’s about as good as it ever got anyway.

        • Trixter said

          Andrew Jenner and I have separately come up with effects that only work on the real hardware, so I still maintain that a cycle-exact emulator is necessary. Andrew in particular has succeeded in getting the entire system (video, DRAM refresh, interrupts) into lockstep which is a particular achievement for fine control, but such code won’t work on any emulator made today. There is certainly enough power in 2013 machines to emulate a 1981 system perfectly, so I guess it’s just a matter of time and desire. PCem comes very close.

          While different machines operated differently, just about every 4.77MHz 8088 system with a CGA card (IBM or clone) operates identically to each other. I can see the benefit of creating a class-specific emu just like any other C64, A500, etc. emu. The only difference being that the C64 etc. emus had classes of only one member :)

          • Scali said

            Yes, you’re right… The original PC had some rather faithful clones, and some stuff that would only work on the original (like California Games’ palette effects). And PCjr/Tandy were rather rigid standards as well.
            So there is a small class of PC hardware where cycle-exact emulation may be desired.

            But I joined the PC world when XTs at 9.54 MHz were all the rage. Mine could switch back to 4.77 MHz, but I have no idea if it would be cycle-exact to the original PC. At that point it wasn’t revelant anymore anyway.
            I know that everything I had since then could be tweaked in the BIOS, with all sorts of waitstates, shadow rom and all that, which greatly affected performance. So even if you had two identical machines, there was no guarantee that they’d perform the same. In fact, part of the whole PC experience was to maximize the performance by getting the right hardware, and then finding the most optimal settings. Especially in the 486-age, out-performing your friend’s machine was the thing :)

  7. […] been 2.5 years since I talked about how there’s no love for the IBM PC, and not much has changed.  I’ve discovered one more youtube channel that covers 808x-era […]

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