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Just like anything in the World, when it comes to collecting vintage computers, too much of a good thing can be a serious issue. If you’re just starting a vintage computer collection, whether it’s just one computer or several, you must be mindful of your goals. Now, these goals can change as time goes on, but stop every once in a while to really think about your investment. Why are you collecting? Are you simply trying to relive your old school days? Do you want to collect particular systems, or are you going to go broadscale and get everything you can from a particular time frame?
In my case, it started out simple enough. I wanted to get the same computer I used in college. Once I had it, and got a few upgrades to match as closely as possible to the system in my old college computer lab, I found that I wanted more. One very bad thing happened during my search for the perfect IBM PC. I saw mention of a piece of hardware that looked so simple, yet it turned out to be quite rare. The item in question was an original IBM 5161 expansion unit made specifically for the IBM PC. It was quite unfortunate that I saw that article. Because rather than being happy with owning the best possible specimen of an an IBM 5150 PC with dual floppy drives and 640 K RAM etc, I had to find an expansion unit too.
That began a year long search. Eventually, one became available, but at a cost. The unit I found had all of the major parts that made it a true IBM 5161. It had the passive 8 slot ISA back plane. It had the correct power supply, and cables. It even had the correct IBM badges. What the expansion unit lacked were the hard disk drives and controller. But the price was right at only $40.00. After shipping, the total came to $68.50. It took another two months to locate the proper controller and hard disk drives for the unit, and in the end, it all came together. Now the expansion is outfitted with an Intel 8/16 LAN adapter, modem, and a dual 9 pin serial port adapter. Normally those cards would have been installed into the main PC, but because of other expansion cards installed in the PC, these had to be added to the expansion unit. But also since the PC was never designed to have a hard disk drive installed, these also had to be installed into the expansion unit. There are other limitations to the 5150 PC, like the fact that it only has a maximum of 5 expansion slots, versus 8 in all of the next generation PCs like the 5160 XT. So adding the expansion unit for me was a great idea.
However, it didn’t need to be. The 5150 may not have been designed with adding a hard disk drive in mind, but by swapping out the power supply for a more powerful unit, a herd disk drive can be added to replace on of the floppy drives normally installed. Plus, by installing the right adapters, all 5 of the PCs internal expansion slots could have been used to provide all of the functionality gained by using the configuration I ended up with. There is one thing in my favor though. And that is value. All together, I have about $500.00 invested into this system. But this system is certainly worth more than the sum of it’s parts. I have been offered far more than $500.00 for the entire system as it is configured; enough so that if I had been inclined, I could have easily started over with another PC. The problem is that of rarity. There is a reason I am not selling this system. That is because the expansion unit by itself is worth a lot more than the PC simply because they are so rare. See, I got lucky and kept my eyes open for opportunity. These don’t come up for sale every day, and when they do, some of the most important parts are missing. None of the parts that make the entire system are missing. In fact, I was given a complete set of extender and receiver cards for connecting the PC and expansion unit together about 12 weeks prior to my locating the actual unit. The person I bought the unit from was missing the extender card. So, I made an offer. To my surprise, he accepted. It is the extender card more than any other piece that is missing from most of the expansion units found. And currently, there are no manufacturers making any to replace them. So that makes a working system complete with IBM PC and 5161 expansion unit worth all that much more.
The main point I wanted to make here is this. I could have, and should have been happy with the perfect IBM PC system. But because I knew of the expansion unit, I had to have one. The system certainly didn’t need it. But now that I have one, and everything works, I can’t just give it up so easily. Think of that as you begin restoring or purchasing your vintage computers or systems.
That’s all for today. As always, I hope you found this useful.