David Murray, known as "the 8-Bit Guy" on his popular YouTube channel where he restores and explores retro technology, usually makes lighthearted, non-controversial videos about things like old-school chiptune music and MS-DOS games.
But Murray—in the view of vintage computer enthusiasts—rushed a recent repair and damaged a rare computer. In part because of this “computer abuse,” some of Murray’s viewers have delved deep into political beliefs he espoused in the early days of his YouTube career and essentially milkshake ducked him for it.
The response to that video has started a conversation about his past videos touting open carry in Texas, antagonizing the anti-gun Moms Demand Action nonprofit, and statements about gun control that have made many fans question whether they can keep watching his computer content.
For 13 years, Murray has posted educational videos to his 8-Bit Guy channel (which used to be called iBook Guy) where he takes vintage computers and devices apart step-by-step, sometimes to restore them, and sometimes just to see where the process leads. His work has gained him some fame in the vintage computing world. He has nearly 1.2 million subscribers on the 8-Bit YouTube channel, and his own subreddit has more than a thousand members.
In his recent teardown video, he acquired a rare, vintage IBM 7496 Executive Workstation on loan from a renowned vintage computing store called Computer Reset in Dallas, Texas as a favor. The tactics Murray used to tear down the computer were regarded by many in the tech restoration scene as rushed and careless treatment of a rare machine. The biggest sins in that video, based on various forum conversations other enthusiasts are having, seem to be the use of a Dremel saw to hack out a set of security screws, and bending a paperclip and shoving it into the power supply (which shorted out the whole machine).
“If you think about it, this system is potentially rarer than an Apple I,” one forum post reads. “With this in mind, would he have stuck a paper clip inside the power supply? It's obvious he's too busy right now, working on all sorts of things, and maybe it's time for him to take things slower and dedicate time into restoration projects like he used to.”
"The paperclip thing was one of the things people seemed to be really upset about, and I'll tell you what I've told everybody else: I've worked on so many computers I can't even count, tens of thousands," Murray told me. "And usually—I've done that paperclip trick 100 times—it always worked. The 101st time I do it, it blows up." He said he'd talked to other retro computer enthusiasts after that, who were also surprised it didn't work. "I don't know what else to say about that other than, 'oops, lesson learned.'" As for using the Dremel saw to cut out a security screw, he said he was working with a limited-time loan, and although he has hundreds of security screw bits, he didn't have that specific one.
Murray posted a video response to the controversy on Wednesday, where he explains how he was in a rush due to other projects, and reiterated much of what we spoke about on Wednesday afternoon:
But all of this isn't just backlash for burning one IBM—if it were, one sloppy teardown probably would have blown over on its own. He's made mistakes on camera before, and even when it goes right, Murray's teardown and restoration methods are sometimes unconventional. While restoring a Macintosh LC II last year, he put the motherboard in the dishwasher to clean corrosion from leaking capacitors. In 2017, he got out the Dremel saw to pry open a Fisher Price "I Can Play" keyboard when he couldn't locate all the screws.
The relative messiness of these videos has led to more than just angry viewers. Some of those viewers have delved into Murray’s archive to resurface old videos where Murray praises open carry gun laws in his home state of Texas—including one where he walks around in a store with a rifle on his back, addressing gun control Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence organization, which he said was running a "smear campaign" against a gun rights group he left years ago.
Before 8-Bit Guy, Murray experimented with running several different YouTube hobbyist channels, most of which have been inactive for six years or more. 8-Bit Keys is one of his channels devoted to retro keyboards. The Bullion Channel is all about coin collection. Another one, Awesome Airguns, launched in 2012 and featured "BB guns, Pellet guns, Paintball guns, homemade guns, tactics, and other fun stuff," according to the channel's description.
There are still hints about his gun-collection hobby in the 8-Bit Guy channel, like the time he shot up an old Apple laptop with a BB gun. His gun hobbyist side isn't a secret, and he doesn't hide his affiliation with the old channels. Videos from the Airguns channels—like this one from February 2013, where he addresses the Sandy Hook shooting, which occurred two months prior, by comparing banning guns to banning cars—are resurfacing alongside the criticism of his teardowns recently.
Murray told me he doesn't use 8-Bit Guy as a "soapbox" for political views, ever. "I never do, and that is a fundamental thing: I do not talk about things like that on my channel," he said. Which is why many of the subscribers to his retro computing content are now surprised to learn that he's advocated for open-carry rights in the past.
"If I could go back I just wouldn't have done the video at all," Murray said. "I just had no idea that this was something people would be upset about."
In our conversation, Murray didn't seem concerned that his career in the computing world was suddenly over based on this controversy. The backlash of the last week also isn't an unheard-of phenomenon with YouTube celebrities at large: fans become accustomed to having a one-dimensional look at a person's hobbies or life, and forget that there is a complex person with opinions and beliefs behind the content—and they might not like what they see when more of the picture is revealed.
"There are some people that would love me to just take it all back, but the reality is those people are never gonna like me anyway," Murray said. "It's one of those things I've learned as it's the last three years of kind of being a little bit of a celebrity… there's always going to be a group of people that hate you, sometimes for no good reason whatsoever. And nothing you can ever do will make everyone like, and I've kind of come to realize that."