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Malta’s unofficial computer museum still seeking help

Maurizio Banavage in his workshop where he restores the vintage computers in his collection.

Maurizio Banavage in his workshop where he restores the vintage computers in his collection.

Malta has an unofficial computer museum, thanks to 20 years of dedicated work by Maurizio Banavage, who has a collection that dates back to 1976.

But his dream of having the appropriate premises and facilities to host the 80 models in his fine collection is yet to come true.

“I have been trying to open up a museum in Malta for the past eight years now,” he said. “I am currently in discussion with the authorities, but obviously the major concerns are the premises due to the large number of machines and peri-pherals I have. The place has to have various rooms for different areas and has to be centrally located and be self-sufficient. I have some members in the club who help me out when they can and my wife is the most active one – she supports me when I am tempted to quit. Some people don’t realise the potential of what I am doing. After all, this is our history; it has changed our lifestyle and one needs to imagine what the world would be without computers today.”

The collection started in 1992 by pure coincidence after Mr Banavage received an old Spectrum computer as a donation for a school project. Machines such as the SAM Coupe, ZX80 and Olivetti were added and a virtual club was launched online in 1998.

“I have always shown interest in computers and electronics – since I was four years old, maybe because at that time we were bombarded with cartoons featuring robots and nifty gadgets that the characters had. My first computer was a Commodore 64 bought by my uncle way back in 1983 and I still have it in my collection, boxed and with manuals and cables.”

Right now the important computers in the collection are the very early machines such as the KIM-1, Microwriter (first PDA) and the ZX80. The oldest one is the KIM-1 launched in 1976. These computers were the first produced for hobbyist and home users. But there are a couple of models which Mr Banavage could not get hold of, such as the Commodore PET, IMSAI and ALTAIR. The IMSAI and ALTAIR were produced in the US and a very limited number exist in Europe due to their price tags and shipping costs.

An important aspect of the hobby is the maintenance of the machines – they are in good working condition. Mr Banavage made some interesting revelations about computers through the ages.

“Today’s computers are made to last for a couple of years due to the heat they generate and the power they use,” he explained. “Previous computers, especially the ones produced in the 1970s and 1980s, were built to last 20 years compared to the present ones which last five years. Their lifespan can be extended by cleaning the interior regularly from dust. This applies especially to laptops as they are used outdoors. This will help the airflow inside the machine, and will keep the CPU and the motherboard cooler. A sign of a blocked CPU is usually a cooler that works constantly at full speed while the computer is running very slowly.”

Then there is fixing and replacing the motherboard. Most of these computers used custom chips to work and a great deal of research is required in the hope of finding a supplier with old stock. Mr Banavage orders components in quantities. The last part of the mainten-ance process involves stripping the keyboard completely and sometimes even taking the components on the motherboard apart to clean them well with non-alcohol chemicals and reassembling them.

Mr Banavage admits that maintenance and cleaning is the difficult part but the most rewarding of it all.

“The process on each computer takes about two weeks but the finished result is a computer looking as if it just came off the production line.”

While Mr Banavage curates our computing past, he is quite excited about what the future has in store, especially in terms of artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

“Computers have evolved in 50 years, and in the past 30 years the evolution was rapid. I think we are going to see devices that are unimaginable. It will be an exciting future which will re-change how we think and work. We need help from the general public to raise more awareness. I am grateful for the support over the years.”

The exhibits can be viewed at www.computersmuseum.com or on a dedicated Facebook page at www.facebook.com/vccmalta.

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