VCF East: [Vince Briel] Of Briel Computers


Judging from the consignment area of the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend, there is still a booming market for vintage computers and other ephemera from the dawn of the era of the home computer. Even more interesting are reimaginings of vintage computers using modern parts, as shown by [Vince Briel] and his amazing retrocomputer kits.

[Vince] was at VCF East this weekend showing off a few of his wares. By far the most impressive (read: the most blinkey lights) is his Altair 8800 kit that emulates the genesis of the microcomputer revolution, the Altair. There’s no vintage hardware inside, everything is emulated on an ATmega microcontroller. Still, it’s accurate enough for the discerning retrocomputer aficionado, and has VGA output, a keyboard port, and an SD card slot.

The Replica I is an extremely cut down version of the original Apple, using the original 6502 CPU and 6821 PIA. Everything else on the board is decidedly modern, with a serial to USB controller for input and a Parallax Propeller doing the video. Even with these modern chips, an expansion slot is still there, allowing a serial card or compact flash drive to be connected to the computer.

Video below, with [Vince] showing off all his wares, including his very cool Kim-1 replica.

13 thoughts on “VCF East: [Vince Briel] Of Briel Computers

  1. I wish you would have let him show of “all of his wares” as you say.

    His latest project is the red circuit board in the foreground at the beginning of the video: the “Superboard III” is the first 8-bit replica computer kit that features a full custom keyboard (as far as I know). It replicates computers similar to the Ohio Scientific C1P and the UK101 and it will hopefully soon be available as a kit, later this year. I had the honor and pleasure to work together with Vince on that project and I’m very excited about it. Did he demonstrate it?

    1. He did have it, but the camera setup I took ate it. It really is awesome. IIRC, he’s using Cherry MX Blues with custom keycaps and it is *nice*. Much better than the real C1Ps at the show (I think I counted three…(

      I’m extremely sorry about the technical stuff, but I promise when Vince announces it, we’ll put it up as a post.

          1. JAMMA had the same connector pitch, but 56-pin. It was a standard made by many manufacturers; we just called them 0.156″ card edge connectors. The word “card” was sometimes dropped for convenience. So that’s a 44-pin .156″ edge connector.

  2. I wonder how much time you’d spend playing with something like this if you had one. Not sure what the point is, of an Apple ][ only it reads SD cards and has VGA graphics etc. Basically all the old limitations taken away, and replaced with something that’s no good compared to a modern PC, but more powerful than the original system. But then is not compatible with any of the software written in the 1980s for it.

    Old computers are *supposed* to be a bit crap and limited. It’s what they did despite the limitations, to make use of what was possible, that’s the genius in them, and the tricks programmers used to get round the limits.

    Adding on technology from now, that’s so everyday it costs just a couple of dollars, and was never cutting-edge or clever to start with, doesn’t add anything of any value. It stops being the old computer, with all your memories of the time, all the context, and just becomes a rather useless crippled PC. You *could* write software for it, you could give it a web browser, but nobody’s going to use it if they have Mozilla on their desk. Maybe if it was Internet Explorer…

    I think it comes from the slightly autistic, engineer’s mindset. People who’d prefer a brand new synthesizer to a Stradivarius, cos it has more functions, and Strads don’t have a MIDI port.

    I don’t think upgrading them to modern standards (albeit not-very-good modern standards), is the point of having old hardware. You need to use it for what it is, as it was meant back then. That’s the point of getting something old; instead of a new PC, or just making a computer to your own spec if you want to learn how.

    They did things differently in the past, but it’s not always “worse” and now isn’t always “better”. There’s little charm in a 486 box running Windows 3.1, but there’s some charm in a Spectrum or Atari 800. Because they are what they are. They’re different, from roads we didn’t take.

    1. Actually just to illustrate my point a bit more… I read about Bill Gates’s house when it was new. Apparently everyone in the house wears an RF tag, and there are screens mounted on the walls in every room. When you walk into a room, the screens change to display your favourite paintings.

      I imagine Bill thinks this is incredibly tasteful, and is a great way to style the place you live in.

      Apart from the massive bad taste, I can only think all those screens would give me a massive headache everywhere I went in there. The addition of my “favourite music” playing as I wander from room to room wouldn’t make me feel any better. Doubtless the system cost an absolute fortune, especially since big LCD panels were a new technology at the time.

      One morning too many of waking up to “the Windows sound” and I’d end up stabbing the wife. I wouldn’t even remember doing it when I came round in the mental hospital afterwards.

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