Thousands of 1980s PCs lived happily in a barn for 33 years and are now being sold for $120 a pop so you can relive the birth of PC gaming and the internet yourself

(Image credit: James Pellegrini)

A Massachusetts man is selling no fewer than 2,200 new 1980s PCs. Each and every one is box fresh and powered by the very same Z80 processor as used in epoch-defining computers from the '80s, including the TRS-80 and Sinclair ZX80. 

As of yesterday, over 500 had been sold with plenty still available. They're available as we write on Ebay for $120 a pop. That's a fair bit up on the $20 the machines were originally listed at on Craigslist. Just a few days ago, they were on Ebay at $100, so the asking price is still escalating.

Depending on how you look at it, $120 still seems like a reasonable deal for a bit of computing history. Anyway, exactly what is the story behind these PCs and how did the seller come to be offering such a huge batch?

The devices are NABU Personal Computers, hailing from Ottawa Canada. Originally sold in 1983 and 1984, they're sold as new old stock in box, though the seller is opening each one to verify that it boots before shipping.

Intriguingly, it was a so-called diskless machine that presaged the internet by virtue of the ability to download software over the existing cable TV network. How did that work? Yeah, we've no idea but you can read more about that here

Along with that Z80 processor, it has 64KB of RAM, and a Texas Instruments video chip shared with the ColecoVision and an early Sega console which has support for hardware sprites. Nice. It's all housed in a remarkably contemporary looking case that's more Hi-Fi than PC. It also comes with a full keyboard.

From what we can glean, the machines boot but will not function fully in the absence of the aforementioned cable TV-enabled network. For more technical details, you can check out this YouTube video.

Anyway, what of the seller? One James Pellegrini, he apparently had the bright idea back in the late 1980s of creating a telephone exchange system for small businesses using old computers.

The details aren't clear, but Pellegrini managed to snap up all remaining stock of now-defunct NABU in 1989, several years after it had ceased selling the machines.

The telephone exchange idea never took off, and eventually all 2,200 NABU PCs ended up in storage in a neighbour's barn. And there they stayed for 33 years.

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Apparently the barn recently began to suffer from structural problems, so the NABUs finally had to go. As the video above shows, the machines are in remarkable condition, both inside and out.

Even more remarkable, a community has already emerged and managed to resurrect the NABU network courtesy of an internet adapter, allowing the machines to become fully functional. There's even a port for the MAME emulator that now runs on the machine.

It's pretty much the perfect device to relive that more innocent age of early computing. Nostalgia gold for PC enthusiasts of a certain age.

Jeremy Laird
Hardware writer

Jeremy has been writing about technology and PCs since the 90nm Netburst era (Google it!) and enjoys nothing more than a serious dissertation on the finer points of monitor input lag and overshoot followed by a forensic examination of advanced lithography. Or maybe he just likes machines that go “ping!” He also has a thing for tennis and cars.