Memories of your first computer can be priceless. Or they can cost $2,600. That's how much Dan Budiac, a New York Web developer, recently paid on eBay to buy the same model Apple II he grew up with two decades ago.

Though bidding on vintage computers can often start as low as $1, this Apple IIc from what was then called Apple Computer Inc. was more valuable: It was still in the original packaging and had never been opened.

"When this auction came along, I knew I had to have it," Budiac said in an interview. "The prospect of unboxing a mint, 20-year-old computer was simply too good to pass up."

Dan Budiac, having paid $2,600 for an original Apple IIc, is not about to let it go anytime soon. Photo by Kathryn Yu

He won the bidding on Jan. 26, paying $2,553 for the computer and another $47 for shipping.

It was a small price to pay to get back a computer model Budiac hadn't seen since his father sold the family IIc in 1989. Though collectors may have been aghast at Budiac's decision to open up the computer — and some were - he didn't sit on the purchase long before breaking the seal. "Ultimately, I decided that I didn't buy it as a financial investment. I bought it so I could stay up until 4 o'clock in the morning playing Oregon Trail."

The unboxing was a surprise hit on the Internet, with more than 2.5 million visits to Budiac's Flickr photo album documenting the event. Visitors to his site have posted their own recollections of late nights spent with term papers, dial-up bulletin boards and Lemonade Stand.

That era offered a multitude of computer platforms, including the Atari ST, Commodore 64 and Radio Shack's own TRS-80, but the Apple II was notable for its hardware and software innovations. Though it was initially popular among hobbyists making their own computers in garages and basements — that is, after all, where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs invented the Apple II — it was VisiCalc, the world's first electronic spreadsheet, that helped cement the machine's place in the office as a useful business appliance.

The Apple IIc was released in 1984, shortly after the introduction of the Macintosh, and was the fourth model in the Apple II line, following the Apple II, II+ and IIe. With a small, sleek case, inbuilt 5.25-in. floppy drive and a carrying handle, the IIc was advertised as the first "portable" Apple II (the "c" stood for "compact").

"The Apple IIc was to the Apple II platform what the PowerBook was to the Power Mac: a more portable version of a desktop computer," said Steven Weyhrich, curator of the Apple II History Web site apple2history.org. "Not as elegant as the PowerBook, but pretty good for 1984."

The Apple IIc originally sold for $1,295, and included a 1.023-MHz processor, 128KB of RAM, a built-in keyboard, power supply and 9-in. monochrome monitor. Adjusted for inflation, the same computer would cost $2,663 today — a little more than Budiac paid on eBay. It will likely be the first and last addition to his vintage computer collection, as he and his fiancee — he describes her as "surprisingly supportive" of the acquisition - can't spare much more room in their one-bedroom New York apartment.

If he were to own only one rare computer, "It had to be a IIc. ... It's one of the sexiest computers Apple has ever made," Budiac said. "The computer is as much a piece of art as it is a machine."

And since it runs just one program at a time, it offers the perfect work environment for those easily distracted by e-mail, iTunes, Facebook and Twitter. "I wish more [modern] applications would offer a minimalist, heads-down, nose-to-the-grindstone mode," said Budiac, who uses a MacBook Pro with a 30-in. Cinema Display for his day-to-day computing.

Budiac's brand-new Apple IIc, above, offers the same slim design as when it was first manufactured 24 years ago. Photo by Kathryn Yu.

Though some Mac fans may admire Budiac and his computer, a far smaller group is likely to still be using an Apple II in the 21st century. But they do exist: A few diehards have helped the device evolve beyond anything Apple ever intended or imagined. Two programmers in Australia crafted a TCP/IP stack to put the Apple II on the Internet; another enthusiast in England used that tool to create a Web browser and e-mail, FTP and Usenet clients. Those and other users gather every July in Missouri for KansasFest, an annual convention that celebrates the past — and future — of the venerable machine.

"The Apple II continues to fascinate people even today," said Tony Diaz, event coordinator for KansasFest and webmaster of online reference site apple2.info. "Many recall their first introduction to computers with the Apple II, as well as its sleek and simple approach and capabilities right out of the box."

The Apple IIc was introduced at a promotional event dubbed Apple II Forever, a sentiment that sits well with Budiac. "I honestly can't see parting with the computer, ever. Even if I grow bored of reliving the glory days, it's a functioning piece of history, and a beautiful one at that. It's better than anything I'd pick up at an art gallery."

Editor's note: This story first appeared our sister site Computerworld and was written on an Apple II.