Looking to invest in a Windows 95 era machine

I’d like to invest in a Windows 95 setup where I can enjoy a '90s computing environment, browse the Oldnet, and write some C on Turbo C in the MS-DOS prompt. Does anyone have suggestions on where to get started looking for such a machine? I’d like to have:

  • An old CRT display
  • An SD card HDD substitute already in there
  • A cleanish tower that boots into Windows 95
  • A keyboard and mouse in good condition

Not sure if it helps (or hurts) that I’m in the Bay Area and there may be a large number of enthusiasts nearby. So far, I’ve only found some $300+ machines that are not even in great shape and do not always include an HDD on ebay (and that doesn’t include another $200-300 for the CRT).

I would like to have a setup like this but am not ready to drop that much on a novelty. I was hoping there may be some places I didn’t think to look like repair shops or auctions of some kind where people are cleaning out their garage and getting rid of old hardware at an affordable price.

Would appreciate any tips or pointers.

If you just want the experience, your best bet here is probably a laptop like a ThinkPad from a few years later. I have an X23 that I use for this purpose (I actually have WinXP on mine) with a docking station. The docking station even has a couple of half-size expansion slots so you can upgrade to video card. It’s great for running old games like Diablo, Warcraft 2, Janes 688i, and so on. I also use it for retro-projects where I need to communicate over a serial port. I bought it on eBay with a huge box of accessories (including a monitor - a small LCD) for under $200. The old IBM Thinkpads were built really well and last a long time (I have an even older 600E that still works!) so you can often find 1990s / 2000s vintage ones that are still in good condition for low prices. My personal favorite is the X41, but that’s from a slightly later generation than you’re talking about (1.2 GHz Centrino processor).

The reason I say “from a few years later” is that a real period Win95 machine will probably have a Pentium processor running at around 150MHz or so, no MMX extensions, and a very basic video card. I remember in 1997 struggling to play games like Unreal and Homeworld when my machine had a 200MHz Cyrix Pentium Pro clone and a 32MB S3 AGP video card [*]. If you go too far into the future, you will start having compatibility and timing issues, but if you use hardware from the same vintage as the software you’re trying to run (particularly games) you might not be able to run them well enough to get a good experience. In general, I think 5 years is about right when it comes to matching old hardware to old software. (I mean, if you want to play games from 1997, look at top of the line specs from 2002 or so.)

If you’re really committed to having a CRT, I think your best bet is probably just going to garage sales. Buying online, even if you find a good deal, CRTs are so heavy that they cost a lop to ship!

[*] Edit: Now that I think about it, I think I had a 4MB AGP card at the time. The 32MB S3 card was the one I upgraded to to let me run Unreal and Homeworld!

I’m not sure, but I think earlier may be better than later, because early Windows 95 hardware is before the “capacitor plague” era (1999+).

I don’t know where to hunt for this stuff for dirt cheap, though, because the overwhelming majority of these systems will have been thrown away. Also, very few will have been upgraded with an SD card HDD substitute. Very few. Approximately none, really.

Your best bet will be to install your own CF card to (PATA) IDE adapter, but bear in mind that it’s hit-and-miss whether it will work and/or boot.

I just sometimes post topics in facebook community of my part of my city - that I search for old h-w and classic 1981-2001 computers and “maybe you have that stuff gathering dust in storage room/attics/garage”. Doing so I bought a lot of interesting h-w, including IBM 5150, IBM 5160, 286 486 and p1 computers…) Also maybe there are local retrocomputer forums there)

I think most cheap ones are gone, either at collectors or defective.
As there’s a high demand for retro, the prices are of course high (for good working stuff in good condition etc).
And the more you wait the more rare and expensive they get.