I realize that a lot of my retro predilections are driven by nostalgia -- the machines I owned and enjoyed once upon a time tend to be the ones I treasure and still spend time with today.
So in the interest of full disclosure, I herewith map out my own personal timeline of the systems that were bought new and have dominated my gaming time over the years. Systems in (parentheses) are systems I caught up with after they were past their prime, usually to get access to a handful of must-play games I knew only by reputation.
1979-1981 - TRS-80 Model I
1981-1987 - TRS-80 Color Computer, NES, (Mattel Intellivision)
1988-1991 - Atari ST, TurboGrafx-16, (Atari 2600/7800)
1992-1995 - Super NES, IBM PC, Atari Jaguar, Gameboy, (Sega Genesis)
1996-2000 - Sony Playstation
2000-2002 - Sega Dreamcast, (Nintendo 64)
2003-2006 - Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, GameBoy Advance
2007-Present - Wii, XBox 360, Nintendo DS
The market was certainly more fragmented in the early years than it is today -- and I have learned to be patient and do more research before placing my platform bets. I remember the turning point -- I put a Dreamcast and several games and memory cards and accessories into my cart at Best Buy when the system was new, and then put everything back, regretfully, as I realized that maybe paying $50 for launch titles like Ready 2 Rumble and Hydro Thunder was not a wise decision. I was glad I waited -- when I finally did buy one a few years later, there were lots of great games available in the $20 range, and the system was no less enjoyable for the wait.
There have been many other systems in my personal mix over time, acquired at rummage sales and flea markets for curiosity's sake, but most of them never gathered a substantial collection of software while in my custody, and eventually went to better homes when storage space became a problem. Conversely, I've never owned a real Neo-Geo console, but I have played many of its games in the arcades and in emulated form on the Wii, and it's one of my favorite 90's systems.
I think the only significant U.S. gaming platforms I have never owned at all are the Commodore Amiga, the Sega Game Gear and the Apple IIe. And I have at various times owned the semi-obscure Milton Bradley Microvision, GCE Vectrex, Emerson Arcadia 2001, Nintendo Virtual Boy, and Fairchild Channel F.
So that's where I've been, and where I tend to return to. Every system has had its great games, and I'm grateful to have sampled so many over the years.