Modern computers are wonderful things. They are capable beyond the wildest dreams of engineers working only a few years ago. They are not, however, very friendly to people with an interest in taking things apart and finding out what makes them work. Some of the romance and the joy of computing has been eroded. During the birth of personal computing, hobbyists and tinkerers were some of the earliest adopters of miniaturized computer technology. They have been all but pushed out of the way by tech giants wanting to protect trade secrets and maximize profits.
This explains the rise in popularity of retrocomputing: a hobby concerned with the building, collection, use, and maintenance of computers from bygone ages. It also partially explains the development of user-accessible operating systems such as Linux and the bizarre Temple OS.
Retrocomputing can be a fun, challenging, and rewarding hobby. At some point, however, every retrocomputing enthusiast comes up against one common challenge: finding rare and obsolete electrical components.
Forums Are Your Friend
Websites like the Retro Computing Forum and the RetroBrew Forum are great places to find information about spare parts, as well as being the venue for some sales of very hard-to-find components. Forums can feel a little bit intimidating at first, but once you get embedded into a community, you’ll often find people who share your interests.
Use Your Network
Those people that you meet on forums, at conventions, or at gear swaps? They are your network. Mutual aid between peers is always the hallmark of a good community. If you are stuck trying to find a part, pool your knowledge and resources with your friends. Perhaps one of your retrocomputing peers has information that might lead to the whereabouts of your elusive missing component.
Hop on a Search Engine
By far, the simplest way of getting rare replacement parts is by looking on a part number search engine. Of Course, this requires you to know the number of the part you are searching for, which can be a journey in itself. Using your network and consulting the forums are great ways in which you can identify a part number. A search through old user manuals and magazines can also sometimes yield results. Part number search engines allow you to scour lots of different manufacturer and distributor catalogs in a simple way. A seemingly rare part might actually just be a few clicks away thanks to a search engine.
Head to the Auction House
Heading to a physical auction house should be your last resort. Auctions of rare computing componentry do happen, but usually only for the rarest and most sought-after bits of kit. The rarest components can fetch huge prices when the hammer falls. An entire Apple-1 computer was recently sold at auction in New York City for almost 1 million dollars. Parts typically go for much less but be prepared to spend money if you are bidding against other retrocomputing enthusiasts.