Apple 1 goes up for auction

Motherboard for sale: no graphics, no hard disk, 8K memory. $50,000 ONO.

It might not look like much of a bargain, but for the price of a top-end BMW you could be the proud owner of a computer with no graphics, no hard disk and 8K of memory. Oh, you get a 9-inch monochrome monitor thrown in.

This is no ordinary computer, of course, but one of the handful of remaining Apple 1 single board microcomputers. It's coming up for auction this weekend, under the auspices of the Vintage Computer Festival -- a West Coast organisation devoted to keeping the memories of ancient hardware alive.

Designed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak while he was still working for Hewlett-Packard, the Apple 1 inspired Steve Jobs to set up the company and talk Wozniak into leaving the day job. HP wasn't interested in the idea, so let Wozniak have all rights: only 200 were ever sold, initially confirming HP's instincts. The follow-up product, Apple II, did somewhat better.

The Apple 1 is of historic interest, not just because of its importance in the company story. It was the first all-in-one microcomputer that could hook up to a keyboard and a monitor and work straight away - prior to this, home computers had switches and lights, or needed extra circuitry to display text. Only around 50 are thought to have survived, following a part-exchange deal where Apple swapped two Apple 1s for one Apple II and destroyed the older computers.

The board on offer comes with Apple Basic on cassette, keyboard, display, cables and power supplies -- all the components to make it a fully working computer, although the lucky winner will have to write their own applications software. Apple did market five games at $5 a pop, including Star Trek, Mastermind and Lunar Lander, but none are included in the current bundle.

The top price ever achieved for an Apple 1 board is $50,000, although the VCF says that with the stock market in much more sober mood these days it's expecting a price in "the mid-teens". The Apple 1 originally retailed for $666.66.

See the Hardware News Section for the latest update on everything from MP3 players and PDAs to supercomputing.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.