In a world where millions of people carry a 1990s-grade supercomputer in their pockets, it’s fun to revisit tech from a time when a 1 megahertz machine on a desktop represented a significant leap forward. Recently, a collector named Brian Green showed off his vintage computer collection on Twitter, and we thought it would be fun to ask him about why and how he set up his at-home computer lab.
By day, Green works as a senior systems engineer based in Arkansas. But in his off hours, “Ice Breaker” (as he’s often known online) focuses his passion on a vintage computer collection that he has been building for decades—and a bulletin board system (BBS) called “Particles” he has been running since 1992.
Green’s interest in computers dates back to 1980, when he first used an Apple II+ at elementary school. “My older sister brought home a printout from a BASIC program she was working on, and I was fascinated that you could tell a computer what to do using something that resembled English,” recalls Green. “Once I realized you could code games, I was hooked.”
Despite his early encounters with the Apple II, 1982’s Commodore 64 truly won his heart. As his first computer with a disk drive, it came at a dear price for a kid, so he spent an entire summer saving money from his paper route to buy one. “Most of my friends had one at the time,” he says.
Today, Green’s vintage computer collection spans a wide range of machines, with the rarest one being a Commodore B128-80 from 1982. As part of the failed Commodore B Series of computers, the model barely made it out of the door before the plug was pulled, according to Green. “Of the B-Series, this one is the most common, with about 10,000 made,” says Green. “Whereas other models had as few as just a few hundred.”
We asked him which computer was the hardest to track down, and he pointed to the ill-fated Apple III, which Apple launched in 1980 as a business-capable follow-up of its more famous prequel: “I probably hunted for an Apple III the longest. Most computers are obtainable if you’re willing to spend the money on eBay, but that’s not as fun as picking something up at a show or a flea market. I found a working Apple III at the last Vintage Computer Festival Midwest for a good price and have it displayed proudly.”
Setting up his computer lab
From these pictures, it’s clear that Green’s home computer lab is an exercise in weapons-grade tech nostalgia. His goal is to re-create the computing experience of the 1980s, when he grew up reading magazines like Family Computing.
“Every month, there was a new computer being announced or reviewed,” he says. “I was a kid then and couldn’t afford any of these computers, but I was always fascinated by all the different hardware. I wanted to try them all! I try to use as much ‘period correct’ hardware as I can, though there is a smattering of newer hardware in these machines, too.”
When it comes to displaying his vintage computer collection in a relatively small space, Green has been meticulous. He came up with a creative solution by using shelves from Wall Control, which offers color-coded options for metal shelving and accessories.
Three bookcases hold vintage software and magazines, and different-sized desks from Amazon support the usable machines. “It was a matter of measuring out the space I had and mixing and matching everything to fit,” he says.
While his friends are free to visit and use his vintage computers, Green says they are not as fascinated with the history of machines as he is, so the online community of vintage computer enthusiasts he’s found on Twitter and Mastodon has meant a lot to him. His girlfriend is happy to listen to him talk about his latest acquisitions, but she isn’t fully into the hobby herself. However, his daughter enjoys typing on old keyboards and playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego in the decked-out room.
A veteran 31-year BBS sysop
One of Green’s most impressive vintage achievements comes from running Particles BBS since 1992. Over the past 31 years, he has migrated the BBS between various platforms, including taking a decided turn for the retro when mainstream BBSing faded away and mostly became a nostalgic pastime.
“The BBS started off on a Commodore 64, moved to an Amiga 600, then to a Windows computer, and has been on a Commodore 128 for the last 20 years,” Green says. “I have had tens of thousands of callers from all over the world, from all walks of life, and from all different types of computers. I have met so many people that have become true friends.”
The BBS offers a variety of features such as message bases (where callers can leave messages for other callers to read and reply to), downloadable files, and online door games, making it a period-correct virtual meeting space to meet people interested in vintage technology.
For those who want to check out Particles BBS, its website includes a “Telnet Now!” menu item that connects directly to the BBS through a standard web browser. Green says that anyone with the means is welcome to visit. “If you want the authentic experience, pick your favorite old computer and connect to particlesbbs.dyndns.org port 6400,” he said.
We’ll see you there.