The NABU Personal Computer is so obscure it doesn't have an entry at old-computers.com. 2,200 of them have been recovered from an old barn in Massachussets, in deadstock condition in their original boxes. To save the barn from collapse, they were all dumped on eBay for $60 each, where they were eventually noticed. Ernie Smith:
It took a while for anyone to notice these stylish metal-and-plastic machines from 1983. First, information spread like whispers in the community of tech forums, Discord servers, and Patreon channels where retro tech collectors hid.But then, a well-known tech YouTuber, Adrian Black, did a video about them, and these eBay machines, slapped with the logo of a company called NABU, were anonymous no more. …
For people who love tinkering with devices, there was a lot to work with here, especially in 2023. There was a real chance that this relic of the past could live again, with its network available to anyone who took a chance on buying one of these devices.
"The kind of hardware and software hacking that people are doing with those wouldn't have been possible 10 or even 5 years ago," says Sean Malseed, host of the popular YouTube channel Action Retro and one of the many people who bought a NABU from the mysterious eBay listing. "These machines were once considered basically e-waste, but instead they're seeing a very unlikely renaissance."
So where did this computer come from? Why did this seller have so many? And why didn't you know about the NABU until now?
Ernie's article is not just a history of an obscure machine, but of a doomed Canadian internet precursor along the lines of Minitel and Prodigy: more than Teletext, but less than AOL or Compuserve. It was a decade ahead of the infrastructure and culture it needed to take off. And, as usual, there's a collector to thank…
Something about this reminds me of those 1980s culture panic stories (such as Robert Maxxe's "Arcade" and the Polybius urban legend) which posed the new technology as a mysterious and dangerous influence. If everyone who turns on their "vintage" NABU gets hypnotized for the sequel, don't say I didn't warn you.