Of all of those
I only found the cray research, and the PS3 to be sexy. And I'm honestly surprised you missed off the Piston Steambox.
Does a computer need to look sexy? You might say that the looks of such a pragmatic gadget don’t matter. After all, most of us have, at one time or another, had to make do with bland, beige boxes almost exactly like everyone else’s bland, beige box, and it didn't hinder us from getting the job done, or made play any the less …
And the inclusion of the PS3 is laughable, as that's not even a computer in the most traditional sense.
But the Cray is sexy, very very sexy. At the same time as the cray all IBM could manage was the system 36's and towards the end of the 80's the as400 (although I do have a soft spot for the 36's).
Was the Cray the only computer to have upholstery?
I'm not so sure about the Archimedes. All the designs ended up being a bit too redolent of beige box syndrome. The A400 case with the slanted front section for the floppy drive was excellent in terms of ease-of-use, but made the box look a bit squint. Likewise, the RISC PC design was great for access and modularity but was incredibly fussy --- too many angles and weird lumpy bits --- and those semicircular shutters were definitely weird.
I'll admit to having a soft spot for the ZX80. It's just so incredibly ugly and cheap you have to love it. And the ZX Spectrum *is* a masterpiece, even by today's standards; it's a computer stripped down to its very essence, with nothing left to take away. Shame the keyboard was nigh unusable.
Seeing those funky clones reminded me of all the adverts I used to see in the computer rags of the time, featuring replacement cases for the Spectrums and similar. Giving them hard keys, better angles, all the works really while largely just moving the internals from one case to another.
Oh, I do like the look of the white Slovakian one...
The XMP had upholstered seats - actually they covered up the boxes that housed the power supplies etc. The YMP still had the same approach but didn't have nice comfy upholstery on the "seats" just painted metal.
Little know fact (urban myth perhaps) about the immersion cooling systems is the flurocarbon could in theory decompose at high temerature to form PFIBs, which were supposedly toxic by inhallation in ppb concentrations. So in principle a short circuit in all those old circuit boards could cause this to happen. This was one reason Cray moved to the use of "cold plates" between the circuit boards on the YMP.
Still a really sexy design though.
quote: "And the inclusion of the PS3 is laughable, as that's not even a computer in the most traditional sense."
I'd have to disagree, it has all the same bits, doing the same functions (CPU, GPU, IO, volatile and non-volatile storage). It runs a base operating system with a GUI, from which you can start seperate programs based on the task you wish to perform. You are, I'd hazard, equating the OS with "not computer" rather than the hardware, in response to an article about hardware design.
Even then, console OSs these days have web browsers, IM clients, streaming media services and many other applications that grace the default "computer" OSs. They don't have productivity suites, however that's because nobody [i]has[/i] written one, not because nobody could; the PS3 will recognise USB keyboards ok, and the controller has analogue input that can mimic a mouse / trackpad ;)
Also before Sony nerfed it, you could install Linux on a PS3. I'm pretty sure most people would agree that "hardware running Linux" = computer in that sense ;)
Although it looked alot like other early Thinkpads, the 701 had the Butterfly keyboard that folded up when closed so you got a full sized keyboard in a 10 inch horizontal clamshell. Very useful and unique .... a precursor to the netbook in a way.
Of course when the color screens got larger and less expensive, the laptops grew to a larger size anyway, but the 701C was a great small laptop.
One site I occasionally visited to kick their hardware had a StorageTek setup consisting of two (octogonal) silos, with tapes being passed between them through a hatch (only one of the silos had tape drives installed, the other was just expansion space). Tape barcodes were read using video cams on the gripper mechanism, and for amusement value they had monitors connected to them. Seeing the grippers pass a tape between them was fascinating.
Oh yes! We had a CM-5 in our computer centre. That was seriously cool. The Cray J-932 right next to it mainly had an ultra-cool power led (rectangular, 1 x 10 cm or so affair), but the CM-5 looked like it would fit in in the higher budget class of SF movie.
The Elan Enterprise brings back memories, I used to have an Enterprise 128 as a kid. These had a nifty expansion slot at the side which allowed all sorts of people (students too) to build their own extensions (I once saw a working (!!) home-brew 4MB hard drive attached to one). It was a lot easier to get on with than the CDC-6600 (aka Cyber 74) on which I did my first computer practicals.
Is there no nostalgia icon?
"It was a lot easier to get on with than the CDC-6600 (aka Cyber 74) on which I did my first computer practicals."
My (required) assembly language course would normally have been on PDP-11s in the Computer Science lab. As EE students, we were guests, which meant we would get secondary access (i.e.: early morning) to the machines. But the semester I was to take the course, we had a one-time opportunity to use the newly installed Cyber-74. The course was taught by a guest lecturer, a CDC software engineer we got as part of the machine purchase (actually, I think we go it used when someone else upgraded).
Anyhow, I learned assembly programming on a machine with a 60 bit word, hardware floating point and was introduced to the "count bits" instruction. Totally useless to me in my future career, but fun, nonetheless. As was watching the vector graphics operator's console and distributing the contents of the card punch chad box among the underwear of a particularly obnoxious neighbour in my residence hall.
As a graduate student, I was able to take the PDP-11 assembly language course during a summer job at Digital, so I didn't miss out.
I'd forgotten about all those Cray advertisements that were in the piles of old National Geographic magazines I was bought up with. The adverts stated that they were supercomputers, but they always looked like modernist furniture.
There are a range of products and brands I'll always associate with that magazine and era: Rolex, SLRs (usually pictured next to a marble chess set and a whisky glass), Seiko digital watches, Datsun, Betamax VCRs, Wildlife as Canon sees it, BMW, various airlines...
The PET has always been my favourite case design, right up to the present day. There was something innately "Buck Rogers-ish" about the trapezoidal shape of the monitor housing, and it was all angles and lines and chunky solid shapes. Remove the green-screen CRT and replace it with a modern flat-screen and it still wouldn't look out of place in any sci-fi show you'd care to name!
Can't beleive you're including stuff like the PS3 (just another black box under the TV alongside everything else with a Sony badge on it) and not including SGI gems like the Indigo, Indy, Onyx, etc. In a time still dominated by the beige box, they were anything but.
I especially liked the Indy, since the case split and opened along the main diagonal slice. It was form and function in harmony vs. the usual process of asking a collague to kneel on a cheap pressed steel case so that you could align the screw-holes and put it back together.
I used an Indigo back in about '94 - it even looked better on screen.
It always made me wonder when this amazing system was sat in the same office as a brace of early 486 PCs that it got mostly ignored in favour of Windows 3.11, even for some of the more intense QSAR and modelling stuff for which it was bought.
I was thinking the same. We used to have loads of Indigo's and Onyx back in the late 90's, really cool looking. Started to phase out SGI and replaced them with Sun Ultra 10 and 60's which has since been replaced by DELL Precision workstations run Linux. Also rememeber going to UWE to see Silicon Graphics demo the SGI Visual worksation running NT4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SGI_Visual_Workstation
The indy looked like it should open along the diagonal slice, but alas the top was simply moulded plastic and it slid off like the lid of any other desktop of the day.
The Octane was actually far more modular, and easier to service than the indy while still looking pretty cool. I still have one in my garage that sees occasional use, it was my main workstation for many years.
... ah, the good, old SGI Indigo ... that clumsy, though functional, design would still give my dehumidifier a run for the money ... I kind of agree with Apples MacBook Air being a fine design (not very original but, again, functional and most certainly very challenging) ... I personally hate the black keyboard ... so, her we go again: "You can't argue about taste" ... rewording a toaster (Apple Power Mac G4 Cube) second place is, without arguing, ridiculous ... but hey I'm just glad the classic Macintosh didn't get mentioned. Oh, from that time, one of my all time favorite, not mentioned here either, is the Atari ST ... which, by the way, was the first home computer with integrated MIDI support and, thanks, to this was able to run music-sequencer software and controlling musical instruments.
Totally agree with SGI. Replace the NeXT borg cube with any of the SGI's: Indy, Octane, Onyx.
And the PS3? It looks about as interesting as corrugated iron and is too fat, overweight, and hot.
Then you have the Tandem's with their huge size and the KITT heartbeat monitor on them.
But the absolute sacrilege? Not putting Bletchley Park's Colossus on the list. Not only one of the first computers, it still looks better than any pimped out gaming rig with all of those glowing valves...
Sexy? Well, we thought that the updates to VME that came with the Series 39 were sexy but I've always thought of the ICL boxes as looking more purposeful than sexy. The Trimetras are too redolent of missed opportunities these days; lovely looking boxes, but all replaced by nondescript racked servers. Those Cray boxes, however, are still pure filth. Mmmmmmmm ....
Okay, your point holds- you can connect a mouse, keyboard, local storage and an external monitor to both the PS3 and SG3 to satisfy some definition of 'computer', but personally I find the SGS3 to be a little generic-looking to be featured in a 'top ten sexy' list.
Curiously, the original Playstation was a deliberate homage by the Sony Design Centre to Frog Design's work for Apple... especially the use of grill-like lines in the casing. Frog have worked with Sony in the past though, since they worked with Wega before Sony bought it. And having just looked at their site, I see they designed my first ever mouse, a Logitech that came with an Olivetti 8086.
I visited their NY studio once, and on display was a 90s-era black cast-magnesium PC case with the same ridges... only this time more functional as the case itself would act as a heatsink. I can't remember who the client was, I think I just assumed it was IBM.
I seem to recall that one of the Crays had optional leather seats that could be arranged around the core.
I always thought the the ZX80 was the best looking Sinclair, but there was certainly some inspired design in there.
Some other ones perhaps:
* The Lilith - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilith_%28computer%29
* GRiD Compass - http://oldcomputers.net/grid1101.html
* Apricot Xi - http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=500
Surely the Apricot (not at all) Portable was their best looking machine. Infra red link from the keyboard to the base station/screen, or light pipe if you had too much paper in the way.
Always wanted to own one of these.
Not sure the Siri-like microphone ever worked that well though.
Still have an original Apricot though.
I still have one somewhere....they were amazing for 1985 or whatever it was. IR keyboard and voice, when most PCs didnt have anything like that. It kind of worked too, the only only thing that used to drive me nuts was that it would only boot after a while in my loft after a lot of hitting, I never did discover why. Worked fine once it booted once.
Didnt realise they were so expensive, hope I didn't throw it in the skip a few years ago when I moved!
I always used to love the look of the Apricot F1."
Yes, very nice at the time. Handy for formatting many floppies as one IR keyboard could control as many F1's as you could get on the desk. Well, 3 or 4 was a practical limit.
The number keypad also acted as a stand-alone calculator too with a "send" button that sent the result as a series of keypresses to whatever program you were running at the current cursor position. Not sure if the F1 k/b had the LCD display of if that was one other models.
I'm sure I remember hearing that another Cray feature was that they'd provide it with the panels and seating in any colour that you wanted.
There was a possibly apocryphal story circulating at the time that some university professor ordered one in "nipple pink". When Cray asked exactly what colour that was, they got a polaroid of the bloke's girlfriend's tit by return, with the appropriate section circled and a helpful arrow pointing at it and labelled "this colour".
 Or rather "color". It was a Yank story.
The cray did have seats around the core.
My first IT job was a PFY for Rutherford Appleton labs with 5 other PFY's. We got shown around the whole computer centre, one of the other PFY's decided to sit on those nice leather seats and kick his heals against the underside, before being asked stop as he was kicking a rather expense machine. None of us had clue what it was then.
I'm sure I still have a picture in the 1976 "Electronics Tomorrow" special edition of the magazine Electronics Today International (the one that also had pre-release articles about Star Wars) of a PET 2001 prototype that was curvy.
When the production PETs came out, I thought the steel case and chiclet keys were just plain ugly, although that did not stop a group of us on the college staff-student consultative committee from trying to get one bought for the college. Unfortunately (for us), the council voted for a mini-bus instead. In hindsight, that was probably the best choice, but it did not seem so at the time.
obviously, we're talking about REAL computers, so the omission of the SGI Indigo and Cobalt Networks RAQ's is a shame......and I did have a soft spot for the Atari ST...
personally, I always thought the computers used in "Time Tunnel/Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea/Lost in Space" TV series were wonderful, full of flashing lights and whirling tape drives.... :)
I am shocked and unimpressed.
How can you have any list of 'ten sexiest computers' without the Connection Machine at the top of it?!
(and perhaps an honourable mention for something *very* obscure; the Panda Archistrat:
I nearly cried when I saw the Cray-1 in the London Science Museum - just perfect.
Suprised there's no Sun kit in here (disclaimer: I'm ex-Sun..)
I thought the E10K was good, and the sun4m and dinnerbox chassis machines (IPC/IPX/Classic) were good too.
The mac stuff looks nice but it's form over function - fewer ports, non removable batteries etc.
>The mac stuff looks nice but it's form over function - fewer ports, non removable batteries etc.
When Apple did do removable batteries, they did them well (each had a little button that showed its charge level through some LEDs).
Anyway, replacing a battery is not a weekly operation - some greater inconvenience every four years is for some a fair trade-off if it means the thing is lighter to carry every day. Design, like engineering, is a succession of compromises.
" replacing a battery is not a weekly operation - "
No, it would be a twice-daily operation for field workers. If current models allowed removable batteries, it still would be.
Before Jobs made them sealed units, Mac laptops used to have a very useful "warm-swap" feature: put the computer to sleep, and you could pop the battery out for up to 10-15 seconds without affecting the RAM. Makes it very easy to swap batteries and continue working.
That, and their low power consumption meant that packing one or two spare batteries could get you a full day's use of a laptop far away from any power source (very useful for long-haul business travel with long stopovers).
Design isn't just about what a product looks like. Apple used to make well-designed products; these days their stuff only *looks* well designed...
These "top 10" lists are usually on a bit of a "sticky wicket" (perhaps understandably, people will almost always disagree with the choices), but I think this is a pretty decent attempt :-)
For myself, I'd probably substitute the Cube with an iMac G4 - now THAT was a design I liked (the one with the "anglepoise lamp" display). I prefer it to the later iMacs (one of which we own at home), as sometimes you just want to reposition the screen a bit more radically than the later iMacs allow.
Never understood why the iMac G4 design didn't last - was it a flop, unreliable, etc.?
Oh, and I've always had a soft spot for the Cray-1 - if I were more creative, I'd want to build a tiny replica as a case for my Raspberry Pi (which ISTR someone said has more power in some respects than a Cray-1 did)...
No, no, no, no! You should build a full-sized replica of a cray, along with flashing lights and seat. Then have a single Raspberry Pi sitting there, hovering on its own in the centre. Pointless and stupid I admit, and would take up loads of space, but would at least give you one very uncomfortable sofa on which to seat any visitors you don't like too much...
Love the iMac G4. We have two that are still ticking along quite happily, and still allow us to play Baldur's Gate (I and II) and the first Neverwinter Nights. When I got mine, I showed it to my then-boss, and he was stunned that the whole computer was in the gumdrop base.
Some people deride its looks, but it actually has a personality, with the swivel arm and adjustable screen. Plus it's quiet, since the fan rarely runs thanks to the the design to allow natural convection. Reliable as hell, too.
>Never understood why the iMac G4 design didn't last - was it a flop, unreliable, etc.?
The article cited a dodgy power switch and production problems with the case.... but it was also said that some people (pointy-haired bosses?) would place paperwork on top of it and thus block its vents.
Another reason is that it was pricer than the Mac Pros at the time, and less upgradable.
I liked the way the Cube was designed around the thermal considerations- having the motherboard arranged to form a chimney to encourage air convection was a good idea. The other obviously good idea (even to tech-illiterate PHBs, who shout 'Who will rid me of this snake's nest of cables on my desk?!") was the single cable from the Cube to the monitor, carrying video signal, power, audio and USB- the latter daisy-chained to the keyboard and onto the mouse.
Macbook air isn't really that sexy. its just a thin piece of metal which doesn't really have any design to it what so ever, other than being thin. Its like saying a skeleton is sexy because there is 0 fat. I would accept the MacBook Pro over that as it actually took time to design. I would put most vaio z series over both of those.
> doesn't really have any design to it what so ever
It is because so many wrongly take 'design' to only refer to the appearance of things that Dieter Rams prefers the the term (translated into English) 'Form Engineering'.
'Design' should mean no less than the consideration of every aspect of the product, from engineering, ergonomics, aesthetics, storage, disposal, marketing.... the works.
"Apple stuff is just horrible,"
I realize this is probably flame-bait, but I can tell you from personal experience that Apple hardware, while not perfect, is pretty darn good. I'm trying to think of the man-years my Macs have run in useful service, and it has to be more than sixty. I recently sent my Performa 631-CD, from 1995, to a recycler, but it still ran fine with no hitch. The only problem I've had is that one fan bearing went bad after about 7 years of heavy use, a couple mice got worn out after that amount of time, and an original (mac-only, Firewire-only) iPod's battery has gone phut after ten years.
You can call them overpriced, but I've found them damn reliable and trouble-free, and surely that is worth something (unless your time is worthless).
I wish my Wintel junk I've been given for work were that horrible ...
Of the Macs, the original compacts (128 up to Classic 2 / Color Classic) would be worth a mention. Then their spiritual successor, the iMac G3/4.
Mac Mini G4. Took the cube, made it smaller.
And, without meaning to sound like an Apple fanboy, the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, which effectively previewed the iMac flat panel.
The C64 facelift in C128 style was a nice machine.
I own, and have owned, various consoles. The PS3 slim is reminiscent of the PS2 slim, though the sliding drive cover does feel like it could fail at some point. The Xbox 360 is a bit of an ignorant slab design, though the face panels offer a little in the way of customisation. I'd say the Wii would be the best looking box under the TV if it was in black, and lying horizontally. Compact yet still has the Gamecube ports on the side.
The IBM PC110 was like a shrunken Thinkpad.
The Packard Bell 'corner' desktop from the 90s, solved the problem of huge desktop/monitor combinations on small desks by being designed to be placed in a corner, with the keyboard/mouse to the side. (A common setup back then!).
Ah! blast from the past, I loved my Elan (Or Flan) Enterprise. Owned a Specie and ZX80. Would have liked a Next box but too expensive and
Never owned a Cray but enjoyed using their X-MP, I think the X-MP and Y-MP are far sexier with the seats.
Like others, wondering why the PS3 is in the list.
And why the C128, why no the A1000? Maybe not from looking at (like the C128) it but the OS was so far out there when compared with anything else on the market at the time.
While I was getting revved up to raise merry hell if you'd not included the ZX Spectrum, I too have to echo the above about a lack of SGI entry - or was it just that pretty much everything they built was sexy as hell?
SGI's look so good people even use them as housings for the mundane, look for the Onyx/Challenge Fridge, the rOctane, or my personal favourite, the Espressigo.
While I agree with you about the Series 3 and 5 looked awesome, sadly both had massive design flaws in the hinges. I reckon my 3a went back 3 times in a year for new hinges, and my series 5 went back twice.
You can have clever designs that look gorgeous, but the real test is if they spontaneously combust if you as much dare look at them. Which is a shame because boy did I love my 3a (the 5 I could take or leave).
Yes, although I do struggle a bit with the idea of finding a computer sexually arousing. But OK, I'll play along.
The handheld computer I liked most was the Palm derived Sony Clie, specifically the NX70 series
It was ahead of its time (already did video recording), was damn useful once you installed a decent calendar app and small in the way Apple made its name with a couple of years later. It was genius. As a matter of fact, I have been toying a while back with digging one up on eBay, but by now the batteries must be all but dead.
Which brings me back to especially the S3 - it ran on 2 AA cells. Never a problem buying those when you travel..
>> And as for the PS3 bread bin...
You also have to factor in here that Sony, from the off, quite deliberately marketed the PS3 as an all-round entertainment device rather than "just" a games console.
Which makes having a design that stacks into a cabinet with your A/V amp, VCR, etc. in the same way that square pegs fit round holes even more daft.
I suppose that's what you get for letting designers loose on something while forgetting to include "practicality" on the requirements list.
The 6128 was the best of the CPC's. Amstrad had refined the keyboard and slimmed the entire thing down. They also printed the colour chart on the disc drive which FASCINATED me as a kid. Also gave you bragging rights as it listed the CPC's 27 colours which was good ammo to wind up visiting Spectrum and C64 owners.
The problem with this article is that ten just isn't enough to celebrate good design. The original ThinkPad really deserves recognition, arguably even more than the MacBook Air does (and I think that the Air is one of the finest laptops available today). The Apple II, original Mac and the first iMac are more deserving of a place than the Cube. The C128 certainly doesn't deserve plaudits - just another beige wedge (and I'd have given the Beige Wedge prize to the Atari ST) - and leaving it out would have made space for the Psion Organiser or the original Palm Pilot. What about the AgendA? No room? Of course there was no room! The PlayStation got an undeserving mention. Mention that might better have been given to the NES, or the Atari VCS. And what about the Grid Compass? Far better in terms of design than the Spectrum…
Ah well, it's a divisive subject I suppose.
The thing about the NeXT cube was not only the box, which sat there growling wonderfully at you from its SCSI disk, but also the screen and even the design of the printer. All utterly wonderful and oh, so out of reach. I was fortunate (no really - they were different times) to sit through a demo by Jobs of the NeXT in London in 1990, and the cube as a development station really was astonishing. I recall, at that conference, Gates was on after Jobs. He came on and simply said "Wow. How can you follow that?" How indeed.
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Just picking up some old computers fairly at random, missing some iconic ones.
Like the Connection Machines, known for having thousands of little processors each one with their own LED. Or the later multiprocessor Crays which used a Macbook in their case to display a spinning Cray logo.
Or that Hungarian computer which looked like a sewing machine.
"A REAL computer has ONE speed and the only powersaving it permits is when you pull the power leads out of the back!" I blurt. "In fact, a REAL computer would have a hole in the front to push trees into and an exhaust pipe out the back for the black smoke to come out of."
None of the 'top 10' really fit the bill. OK, maybe the Cray ....
As much as I have apathy for Apple's software, the design of their computers since the late 90's has been something to behold. I love the G4 Cube, its a shame there's no x86 based version (other than some unofficial hack jobs).
Id like to see what Dyson could come up with if they set their mind to computer design.
Of the look of my old Apricot Qi 300 PC (my first proper PC, after coming up through the ranks of the ZX80,81, VIC 20, BBC B).. It won me a few contracts in the day because of the built in security (infrared key card and security chip on board that prevented anything working unless you authenticated using the key, as long as you had it enabled)... It looked pretty neat too!
That's another Rick Dickenson special IIRC. Because of the complexity of designing the portable computer, Sugar was talked into using a top notch industrial designer.
Pity Dickenson wasn't around for the PCW. A lovely machine that was a superb Word Processor (arguably better than PC's 3 or 4 times its price for word crunching, but was pig ugly.
Definitely should be in the list. The Series 3 was beautifully constructed with a sligthly dappled & tactile textured exterior & clearly lots of thought put into the ergonomics.
The Series 5 had the more impressive slide-out keyboard but was substantially bigger, more plasticky and felt like one too many designers had had their input.
I have a number of problems with this list:
1) how can the mac book air win when it left ethernet and other connections. It doesn't look so sexy with all the necessary dongles hanging of it.
2) The PS3 only if you work work the North Korean Airforce would you be desparate enough to include this a a "computer".
3) What about the Sinclair QL (or at least the Spectrum+).
There I feel better now.
Where are all the geeks? Wasn't Eniac sexy? Look at all those tubes. "...17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints. It weighed more than 30 short tons (27 t), was roughly 8 by 3 by 100 feet (2.4 m × 0.9 m × 30 m), took up 1800 square feet (167 m2), and consumed 150 kW of power. . Just try and spill a soda on that!
"even the most eager Xbox aficionado ...has to concede that Sony has the best looking console."
Best looking (or not) console aside, the PS3 still has the worst CONTROLLER IMHO.
It feels like its been designed for a kid. It lacks weight or sturdiness or something.
Moreover, for a long time after the launch good luck finding games that had Split-Screen...
The monitor was an RCA XL-100 television, spray-painted "Space Patrol Silver."
The name plate covered up the holes where the channel knobs would normally have gone.
The monitor cable came out of the hole where the vertical hold knob would have gone --with a "V" still prominently embossed above it.
Jony Ive and frogdesign only *wish* they could have been this sleek and innovative in their design.
As others have said, Thinking Machines CM-series (I used to work on a CM-5, we had it in our data center), Kendal Square Research KSR-1, Cray as mentioned, Oracle's nCube, , SGI - take your pick, Tandem Himalaya, MassPar, and who can forget Teradata with their early Y-net machines? They were all built in a day when these machines were HUGELY expensive, and had the looks and styling to match. Today's supers are just lines of equipment racks with blades or subchassis, and look like nothing special (that is why I omitted the IBM SP-series off this list, even though it was a contemporary). They are built to a competitive price, not to let you know that your data centre holds something special. But back in those days, machines LOOKED the part - something that could change the world and wanted you to know it visually. Compared to these, the PS3, and indeed most of this list just are not that sexy - I'll give you the Next and Apple cubes, but a lot of that list is fairly boring. For that matter, I think an IMSAI 8080 should have made the list too - who doesn't like paddles and lights?
N.B. - When Thinking Machines went bankrupt, there were CM chassis literally picked out of their Cambridge, MA dumpsters, that had a retail price of hundreds of thousands of dollars... :-( I don't know where I would have stored it...but I wanted one. Sigh.
Paris, because she knows all about the importance of "style"...
Arguably the first (certainly ONE of the first) colour desktop computers.
8088 based, with 16k (32k on the posh model) PROM, 32k RAM and 4k workspace
CP/M operating system and a BASIC interpreter.
8 colour display
Graphics plotting on a 128H x128Vgrid (I laugh at your 1080p scans!)
51k + 51k capacity 5 1/4" FDD
And a nasty propensity for one of the PSU capacitors to wee electrolyte across a 100V track that was routed between its pins. Always made a very satisfying KZZZRRRTT!
Had one of the nicest keyboard actions I have ever used.
This article is proof the Reg fetishizes computers instead of understanding them. Computers aren't sexy because of what they look like; they are sexy because of what you can do with them. REG!!! Hire someone who actually knows how to program and stop wasting our time with articules ike this!
When the title mention Apple I thought for sure the 20th Anniversary Mac would have made the cut. While it wasn't the most powerful of the Mac line of the time the design was surely sexy. You could definitely see that machine sitting on any CEO's desk. It also had the Bose sound system.
Speaking as a long-time Mac user, imho the Air and the Cube may have looked cool from the outside, but the MacBook Air's inability to upgrade memory, its lack of internal Ethernet, and limited USB capacity -- and the Cube's various technical issues -- made them far less sexy. The MacBook Air would've been much sexier if it had expandable memory and more ports (I would've settled for it being a bit thicker for that) and the Cube would've been way sexier if not for the power switch issue, the defective polycarbonate issue, and its limited expandability. Too bad, really -- they looked really cool. What a lot of designers don't realize is that functionality adds to "sexiness", too.
The criteria for me is really whether a design changed the way I thought about computers. So a ZX Spectrum really doesn't cut it for me. In no particular order:
5. The Cray 1A. (Criteria: "you mean it comes with seats?!")
4. Thinking Machines CM-5. The most badass blinkenlights ever.
3. Sinclair ZX-81. A keyboard on a computer instead of DIP switches? Outrageous.
2. SGI Indy. I have yet to recover from the visual effect of seeing the purple peril on my desk the day after we migrated from the venerable sparcstations. Though SGI do lose house points for the O2 toaster design.
1. The ThinkPad 701. Of butterfly keyboard vintage. The video of the keyboard opening still elicits a wow! from anyone who sees it.
I'll agree on the Air, the Cray and the Sinclairs, but the others are ordinary. Elegance in computing also has to do with the instruction set architecture, so I'd go for the Burroughs stack-based systems and the Floating Point Systems FPS-164 long-instruction-word machines. Runner-up - the original IAS machines designed by Von Neumann.
I'm listing it here as my first programming experience - especially since it remembered its programming, and so it was no problem when teachers switched it off at school :)
I've also played with a KIM 1, but that wasn't not going to win any design awards (it was basically a motherboard with hex keyboard and hex display).
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Most of these look reasonably well designed, but the Commodore 128 looks like a clackety old IBM PC keyboard with a case attached and the less said about the Sinclair machines the better (neither of them look good and the less said about the quality of the build materials, the better).
A bit surprised the fruitily coloured iMacs didn't make it in here - the all-in-ones with the striking colours is probably the sexiest design Apple have come up with (I'd have dropped the Cube myself).
Having said all that, I've never really cared about how my computers looked - for desktop PCs it's totally irrelevant to me because they spend their time on the floor under a computer desk!
Good to see a few mentions of it. Here's mine:
Interesting thing about these small ones: you turn the key in the back to the 'unlock' position, and a little motor lifts the *whole perspex cube cover* up in the air, exposing the innards... style! :-)
http://tinyurl.com/cxmxoe7 - this is the American version of the Sinclair Spectrum, the Timex/Sinclair 2068.
I owned one and am sorry I sold it. It was beautiful inside and out. Among its strong points: a cartridge connector to allow instant loading of software from ROM cartridges. Unfortunately, it came out just before Timex Computer Corporation folded, so that no ROMs were forthcoming for us Sinclair fanatics in the United States.
But look at that case!
I loved the discreet glow, the compact size but most of all the way it just seemed to work. I (a self taught dabbler) was told by my then employer to specify, build from parts (my boss was too tight to buy ready built!) and get running a new server for 40 users. I chose MS SBS (ok, that was stupid!), ordered my parts and managed to get the job done and working well, but it took me nearly a week.
A year later, in a new company, I got talked into doing the same thing again. Ordered a Cobalt Qube and had everyone running in a morning. I know someone who still has one on a shelf, and I keep thinking about setting it up as a retro home server.
My Timex/Sinclair 1000 (the American clone of the ZX-81) was my very first computer. It's still my favorite. Part of that was the way cool black shell, part was the way cheap entrance price ($100 originally, and toward the end of Timex's venture into fine computing hardware, you could get them new for $20 in discount stores) and part was the Sinclair BASIC operating system, which had error trapping just as good as Hewlett-Packard's desktop being sold at the same time. The "A"s I got in FORTRAN are largely due to being able to work out the program logic on my ZX-81 at home, then got to college and type out a working program in FORTRAN on cards the first time. Best $100 I ever spent.
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Mine was my first computer in 1981. The Heathkit ET-3400. http://www.vintage-computer.com/heathkit3400.shtml
It awoke me to the fact that I can program this to do what I want or dreamed up. It was a tool that I can customize to my imagination. It was not anything I had before. Well there was building blocks and erector sets:-). That New Math really came in handy.
William B. Higinbotham, The ASCII Guy, Bellport, NY, USA
A Coward said: "Commodore PET (1977) Atari 400 (1979) and the ZX80 (1980)"
The PET computers were generic looking... I grew up in that era. The Commodore B128 was like a Porsche, too bad not many were made. But that was a major problem with C= typically, over the course of 10 years (1977~1987) they made dozens of computer models that ran pretty much the same hardware (6502) that was INCOMPATIBLE with each other. Some of it is understandable... can't expect C128 software to run on a VIC20. But common...! The C128 and C128D(Euro) were among the best looking 8bit computers.
I don't agree with the Atari400... its keyboard SUCKED! But the Atari 600~800 gets thumbs up. The Sinclairs looked neat, but thats because they were cute little things... not serious computers. They were smaller than an iPad. A sexy small computer with a mostly usable keyboard would be the failed C= Plus/4.
From Outcast: "Wot No Amiga A3000T & 4000T ? Even the A1000 was a sexy bit of kit"
Yeah, the Amiga1000 SHOULD be on this list. It looked great, hell - better than the original Macs. It has a garage for the keyboard even! Plastic rear end so it looked nice from that side too... unlike typical PCs and future Amiga 2000~4000. Mac has always made sure their computers looked nice and non-generic from all sides.
The MacII and others from that era looked cool... even the Apple IIgs. The Atari ST & Falcons always looked slick.
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