101 Classic Computer Ads

Some of the best, the worst, and the weirdest. 8 megabytes of JPEGs after the jump!

Many of these are from people on eBay who sell old ad clippings. If you want originals, that's the best place to search.

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

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  1. I had one of those Timex Sinclair computers when I was 16. I hacked BASIC on it all the time – I fondly remember the ginormous brick I plugged into the back to upgrade it from 1K of memory to 16K 🙂

    Now I write code all day for work, and it’s not nearly as fun. Helluva lot better than slinging fries or digging ditches, though.

    And… I could do the fun stuff all the time if I was willing to take a 70% pay cut and make the US family median wage, so it’s not like I have any legitimate complaint.

  2. Ah yes, the Sinclair RAM Pack, with its infamous ‘wobble’ – not to mention that part of the reason the ZX-81 (or TS1000 as I think it was in the USA) was so cheap was that the expansion port connectors weren’t gold-plated, so were prone to corrosion and thus very spotty connectivity.

    Sinclair once ran an advert claiming that you could use on of their computers “to run a power station!” A few years later, someone commented that clearly the Russians had tried that at Chernobyl, but the RAM pack fell off…

  3. Compuserve didn’t do bad for predictions, though. That’s a thought: what ever happened to Compuserve?

  4. When you’ve got lists of 101 items, especially large pictures, would it be possible to display just the first few through the RSS feed? People that want it can and will click through, and it’s a bastard to scroll through, considering it’s really not that interesting, to me, in the first place. : /

  5. Hmm,

    (Sinclar 1000 ad)

    “For $99,95 you get everything else you need, including our step-by-step learning guide that’ll have you running programs within hours. And writing them within weeks.”

    Try finding either of those statements on any computer ad these days. The first would probably have seconds instead of hours – or you wouldn’t sell any – and the second you wouldn’t find at all – for lack of interest by the costumer.

    Seems like something must have changed in the last 25 years or so.

  6. Oh wow. Does the Smiths Industries device look like a Blackberry on steroids?
    One created by “Q”?
    Ooooh want.

    To be quite frank, I have more than a few examples of some of these machines salted away. It’s an addiction.
    For whatever reason, I’ve actually been unable to throw them out.

    The Timex-Sinclair with the 16K add-on memory and the thermal printer.
    (160 lines of text to make a black dot vector around on the display)

    The Radio Shack CoCo.
    Actually used to make pretty good original polymorphic ringtones and sound bites to this day.

    The VIC-20.

    The C-64 with -all- the accessories including the dual floppies and the CGA monitor.
    Plus 300 5.25″ floppies with everything ever made for the C-64
    Just $20 at a yard sale three years ago…
    (400 lbs in eight huge boxes, a whole carload of stuff)
    (I had to take it -all- for that price)

    The PC Jr.

    The Adam.

    And even an Altair
    It’s fully assembled, but lacks I/O and display devices.
    the first computer you could actually afford. But one almost had to be a rocket surgeon to use it.

    So much crap, so little time to play with it….

  7. I love the intellivision ad!!!! “Either this is their best space game ever or my living room is going 165 miles an hour!” If anyone can track down a high res scan of this I’d love to have it printed up and framed. It’s pure bliss.

  8. …Dear God/Yahweh/Roddenberry, this made me feel so damn old I almost cried. About the only thing I can say right at the moment is that when it’s all said and done, Seymour Cray and his teams did not produce computers. They produced electronic sculptures capable of computational elegance that would still look aesthetically pleasing no matter how functional they were at the time of appraisal. A Cray was never meant to be junked when it was decommissioned. No, it was meant to be placed on display as a work of art!

  9. We still have some of the hard copy magazines with these original ads….

    we even have some of the original trade publications from the 60s and 70s

  10. I have a sweet Atari ad from a science magazine that was already several years old when I received it back in the early ’90s from my junior high science teacher. It depicted a male in his late teens/early twenties lying face down on the floor in front of a TV with an Atari, wearing a flight jacket and silk scarf. His hands were glowing bright red, as was the controller for the Atari. The game was Barnstormer, which was one of the earliest “flight” games I ever played.

    It was, of course, juvenile of me to think that the guy’s hands were red for some other reason, which of course made it the most awesome un-PC ad I’d ever seen for Atari. I made sure to save that magazine, and going through a stack of them to toss, I found it again and removed it to keep for posterity. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it from another gaming company.

  11. That Royal-McBee LGP-30 has two claims to fame in computing history:

    – it was the computer on which Edward Lorentz first discoverd computational “chaos”. See James Gleick’s Chaos, The Making of a New Science for the story.

    – it was the computer on which Mel, a Real Programmer, did the programming for which he is immortalized in The Jargon File.

  12. The first computer I used was the Timex Sinclair 1000. I actually bought one off eBay a couple months ago. Of course there was one problem, the keyboard connector ribbon dried out and cracked. So My father and I are wanting to replace the membrane keyboard with push buttons. I bought the push buttons and drew up a matrix schematic, but that’s as far as we have got on it..

    The next system was the Coleco Adam, then the IBM 8086 or was it the 8088…

  13. I tried to buy one of those Timex Sinclairs. I took several buses out to where they were selling it (a K-Mart, IIRC) and they were sold out.

    Many years later, I bought a Commodore 64, which was a much better deal.

  14. I didn’t see images at first either. Firefox was adblocking them? They show fine under IE.

  15. I had a vic-20 and then the Commodore 64…my wife asked me at the time, “Why are you spending money on those toys, they’re just going to end up in the attic.” I also bought a microwave oven and a cordless phone. Same response from her…but I knew…

  16. Note to self: adblock plus is *freaking awesome*… but it will block all ad images you *want* to watch, too.

  17. I worked for Headstart Computers, the folks who made the King Kong Bundy (bald wrestler guy) advert.

    Bundy appeared at two of the trade show booths I helped run for the company. Nice guy, but O.D.d on cocaine.

    The computer was a pretty ordinary PC clone, but unlike a lot of the others at the time came bundled with a whole bunch of software. I demo’d it, and trained hundreds of sales people. It was a horrible, tough job; remarkably few people could conceive of having a computer in 1989.

  18. Did I miss something? Where’s AMIGA? The best computer ever. PCs with Vista (do not even get me started on Microsoft’s ridiculous Project Mojave) can’t hold a candle to Amiga. 20 years and many gigabytes later, where are we?

  19. Amiga’s in there! 10 from top!

    I’d like to find ads for all the British game-branded A500/A600 packs, though.

  20. Dear Rob Beschizza,

    Nice article. It brought back many found memories for many of us. I am going to assume you only used ads you had access to and did not actually do any real research before posting this article. While you did include an ad, 10 down I believe of an Amiga 1000 you really “dropped the ball” by not including more ads to the one computer that truly was responsible for introducing modern America to the home computer, the Amiga 500. If I remember correctly, Amiga ads were also much more creative that anything seen here today. Also, it’s very ironic this article came from Boingboing. Back in 1978, yes I said 1978 at CES a little demo of a real time 3D animation of a bouncing ball called “Boing” was released that stunned everyone at the show. I’ve ran across Boingboing before and I always thought the two were connected somehow, I guess not. Rob, if you ever update this article in the future to release with new ads, you really owe it to the spirit of personal computing to include many more Amiga ads. Thank you.

  21. RE: The Timex ad at the top

    At $49.95 for 18K (!) of RAM, you would end up paying like $2775.00 for a megabyte!!!! The 4 Gigs I have installed would end up costing around $11.1 million!!!!

    (Did I do the math right on that…? I dunno, but you get the point 🙂

  22. @ TREETOP #7

    The C-64 with -all- the accessories including the dual floppies and the CGA monitor.
    Plus 300 5.25″ floppies with everything ever made for the C-64
    Just $20 at a yard sale three years ago…
    (400 lbs in eight huge boxes, a whole carload of stuff)
    (I had to take it -all- for that price)

    You can always upgrade to the Commodore 128!!!


  23. @22, Rthefly.

    As a longtime owner myself, I still love Amiga people, even if you are completely insane.

    We just don’t see that kind of dedication from Atari ST owners.

  24. If you like this kind of nostalgia, visit:


    I remember the hours and hours of typing in a program from Kilobaud Microcomputing or Creative Computing, only to have all my work wiped out by a wonky cassette recorder. TRS-80 fans: Remember the infamous “BS Error”? …’BS’ is right – these took me hours to figure out. Ah, the good old days.

  25. What really scares me is not just that I remember so many of these ads, but that I’m pretty sure the kid in the Apple/Pepperidge farm ad is Adam Savage…

  26. Why in the world would an Amiga fan want C=’s infamous award-losing advertising style on display? I’d expect ST and IIgs guys to be begging for more of that, and neither of those machines had great marketing either.

    Also, the Amiga Lorraine “Boing” demo at CES was either ’83 or ’84. All the people who designed it were still at Atari in ’78.

  27. Yes, it was the Winter CES 84′, I spotted my mistake right away but didn’t see an edit button and didn’t have time to correct it then.

    And I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Amiga advertising style award winning. But I stand by what I said, those ads were more creative than anything seen here. And it’s really not the point I was making. I think anyone here, who knew the Amiga would agree, it wasn’t represented here as it should have been ad wise. Which, is a shame.

  28. I miss my Commodore 128. It was so much better than my Pong, Atari 2600, or even my Intellivision. 🙁

  29. Some time in 198?, when Atari was offering $100 rebates for the 800, a cow-orker and I picked up a pair of demo floor models from a local retailer for $50 each. I didn’t bother to try the rebate, but Dan actually succeeded in getting Atari to pay him 50 bucks for the system (Yes, $100 rebate on a $50 purchase and he did send them the receipt). In percentile terms it’s STILL the best computer deal I’ve ever seen.

  30. I had the texas instruments home computer in 1984….god, that was a long time ago……I learned a lot about programming on it. The games sucked, the tape drive (cassette) really sucked, but I spent hours doodling away……. I can still hear the screaching as a program loaded…..

  31. Look through some old science-y magazines from the 50s and early 60s, and then despair at how uncreative and boring modern magazine illustration is today (for both articles and ads). Scientific American was particularly horrible for the past few years, with endless super-cheesy 3D, but it’s slightly better now. (Plus, SciAm in the 50s and 60s had real, in depth, science written by real scientists… my god, there’s even some math!)

  32. What a fun thread! I had an Atari800XL back in the early ’80s. Beat the pants off a Commodore anyday. Great to see all these old ads…

  33. #18 posted by EllisGL:
    Actually, when my membrane keyboard went bad on my Timex Sinclair, I replaced it… with a movable key keyboard from Texas Instruments! I wish I could remember which model it was…

    By fantastic luck, the pinouts were compatible. I don’t remember exactly how I got the wires to connect to the membrane ribbon connector… I think I either glued the wires onto a ribbon of the appropriate size, or I soldered them directly to the membrane connector socket.

    I do remember that I just screwed a brick of wood (a piece of a 2″x4″) on each side of the TI keyboard and had it straddle the TS computer, with a gray ribbon of wires from the TI keyboard looping back into the TS computer.

  34. I have a Sinclair sitting in my closet in it’s original box. Also have the RAM expansion and several unopened Program cassettes.

  35. Do you remember the size of a photo printer in those times and of course, any of us can remember the price.. cough… cough… Those were crazy times and normal people… Now we have normal times and crazy people.

  36. Co-worker had a Timex Sinclair. I converted a S-100 bus memory card into an expansion board for it. It didn’t have any wobble problems, he mounted it in a custom sheet metal box 😉

  37. Wow, those ads acted as a worm hole back to my childhood. Much appreciated as they reminded me of a blissful and innocent time before I was ten.

    I am confused though because our first computer was a Radio Shack TSR-80, I think. The thing is our computer didn’t look anything like the ones in the ads here, which are really basic Commodore 64 like computers. Our system was more complex with a built in monitor and we also had a separate huge Tandy dot-matrix printer that sounded like cattle was coming through the room whenever it typed out stuff. Maybe there was another line of TRS-80s, the “upscale” line for professionals, perhaps? No matter, I remember my mom loved that computer! Eventually we did leave Radio Shack and went the MAC way, and I grew up using an Apple MAC Plus. But now I am all about PC, though Mom is a die hard Mac user.

  38. yeah, if a digitized version of the original isn’t available home insurance, an “inspired” face would be good too. But notice the “1″, it has a flat top in the original whereas droid has the slope on the protruding top edge.
    I am trying to find out myself, I have been looking for a highly compressed, tall, very simple font (simple as it the clean lines, no slopes). I had been using Chalet Comprime for this purpose but this one is even taller and cleaner than Chalet. Although, this could just be a stretched version of some other face, or could be completely custom for this logo.

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