I love the Apple ][ (Apple II). I know that I will engender the ire of few readers, but I consider the Apple II as the best product ever made by Apple! Still reading? OK, so here are my arguments: a brilliant hardware, expandable by design, a huge software library, and an active hacker community! Last but not least, a pleasant look (https://goo.gl/pNeSvi).
It is during my high-school years that I had hands-on access to an Apple //e via our computer club. I even had the chance to have a physics teacher who, after hours, introduced us to the Apple Pascal OS and the Pascal programming language (Pascal UCSD with its p-System). Whoa, what a blast when your world was limited to BASIC and machine language!
Launched in 1984, the Apple //e’s price tag was a hefty ~13,000 FF (~4,000 € today accounting for the inflation). Of course, no-one among our gang could afford such marvel. Latter on, when I’ve picked my first personal computer – generously funded by my parents –, I’ve choose the Belgian DAI by InData (https://goo.gl/9RoJGd, https://goo.gl/fEKMce). It was a cheaper system, but had superior graphics & sounds, and performed better. However, it was not expandable, had no software, and arguably, was ugly. So, over the years, when I had the opportunity to grab an Apple II, I could rarely resist. Today, I am the happy owner of four Apple IIs.
A Modern Twist
Although the Apple II hardware is easy to find today, if you want to use one on a regular basis, it will require some extra time and resources. Indeed, in addition of the mandatory deep cleaning (https://goo.gl/AkE1c9), de-yellowing (or even painting – Pantone #453), you may need to repair some key components (floppy drives for example), and source replacement or missing parts (i.e. the cable for the DuoDisk unit – you can buy one here https://goo.gl/WPWerH). And, you will need to rebuild floppies from images available on the Web (https://goo.gl/qkHTDK) and even start collecting original software packages!
Beside the full software approach (see below), the best option to enjoy retro computing is to replace as much as possible the vintage peripherals with modern hardware. For example, I recently ordered a CFFA 3000 from the fifth and possibly last run of the product (https://goo.gl/yK965c). It should arrive this month. With such replacement, exit the failing floppy drives and welcome to megabytes of disk images stored on a USB key! Sure, you may miss the delightful drives’ music, but it’s a price I am ready to pay. The other main pain point is usually the display. Finding a working and quality display is not trivial. My personal preferred solution – after using an excellent monitor such as the SONY KX-14CP1 – is to leverage an upscaler. But even the Micomsoft XRGB3 (https://goo.gl/qBtsGz) will require some cable swapping at some point. Luckily, for the Apple II, one can buy a VGA adapter that plugs into a standard expansion slot! A2heaven used to sell the Apple II VGA Scaler for a reasonable price (https://goo.gl/ZGiw9s). The AIIVGAS outputs with a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels, using one among the 20 available modes. Using such system will only require a power socket and a VGA monitor (your LCD TV should also work well). That’s all! Cycling between the modes to get the right look-and-feel is done by a simple button press. I love the Apple II!
Last but not least, if you want to try before opening up your wallet going physical – or if you really don’t like vintage hardware – you can always use an emulator. I personally use the excellent *AppleWin*that I recommend (https://goo.gl/CwFCFN). Have a great WE!