How to Use a Modern Mouse on an Ancient PC, or Vice Versa

Maybe you’ve been bitten by the tech bug and have become a Commodore collector. Or you were cleaning out a loved one’s house and found some ancient, heavy, boxy PC. Or you have your own super-old system that you’d like to tinker with. Whatever the case, there’s a certain, nostalgic joy that comes from retro systems. The problem? Getting them to work, especially if you don’t have matching older gear, can present issues.

I was inspired by this post from Hackaday, which details a super-useful adaptor that allows you to use any USB mouse you want (or a gaming controller) with a DB9 port — which should be quite familiar to you if you’ve ever played around with an Atari gaming console, at least.

While the adapters don’t seem to be available for sale yet — ”closing the plant due to COVID19 did not help at all ????,” a blog post reads — this project is one that’s worth bookmarking to check up on what happens with it. I love the adaptor’s promises of near-universal compatibility with any modern USB mouse or gaming controller (and, just as important, all the major retro systems).

And that’s the biggest issue with adapters like these. As I understand it, creating the connection isn’t the hard part — you can buy plenty of DB9/USB cables or adapters right now that can create a physical connection between your new gear and your old systems. However, getting the older system to recognise the inputs of whatever USB device you’ve connected is the tricky part.

I should also mention that these kinds of home-brew projects can run on the expensive side, as you’ll see with this useful $US37 ($53) adaptor that lets you use an ancient DB9 Apple mouse with a modern system (via USB), or this $US24 ($34) adaptor that you can use to use older gaming controllers with your modern PC. Speaking of, you’ll also need to make sure that your adaptor is going in the right direction — allowing you to connect a PS2 device to a DB9 port, for example, rather than allowing any PS2 accessory to work via a USB connection.

Of course, you can also go the lazy route: eBay up some older gear for $US20 ($29) that is (presumably) guaranteed to work with your retro system, since it’ll be as old as the PC you’re looking to use. It’ll also have the perfect connection type you need, which increases the possibility that what you’re attempting to do will actually work.

And that’s important to keep in mind, too: If you’re going the Lifehacker route and finding some home-designed or somewhat-complicated option to get something newer to work with something much, much older, save your receipts and/or be aware of the return policy, if it exists, for wherever you’re purchasing these adapters. There’s no point to holding on to a $US30+ ($43)+ adaptor if it doesn’t work for your specific setup — and I suspect the reseller market for these is not very energetic, to put it mildly.

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