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Attrition of Vintage Equipment... and one possible solution

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    Attrition of Vintage Equipment... and one possible solution

    After spending the last few months working once again with my old IBMs, I've become concerned with the ultimate loss of vintage computing due to attrition. In just the last two weeks I've experienced several major failures of hardware due to their advanced age.

    First, I lost the "B" drive of my IBM 5150. It didn't die suddenly, but rather started acting freaky, then finally gave up the ghost on a Tuesday afternoon. Next, my 9" b&W VGA blew out. The HV power supply cooked itself.... and that was that. Finally today, my junk-box server failed to boot. After spending some time working on the problem, it appears that the FDD controler is kaput..... or the bios is corrupted..... or it's just dead. I'm not sure yet. I'll figure it out tomorrow, I guess.

    Anyway..... all of this has made me wonder about the sustainability of "Vintage Computing" as an avocation. As more and more of our cool old machines wear out, with no new parts being made anywhere in the world, the more difficult it will become to keep the remaining units operable. Unlike the "Vintage Automobile" hobby, there is not an unlimited supply of IBM 5150 parts available..... and even fewer for many other machines. I know in my case, if the current rate of attrition continues much longer, I'll soon have no operable machines at all! AAAAKKKK!!!!!!

    The same situation exists with software, too. As our disks crash, and our floppies get corrupted, we as a group are losing much of what makes Vintage Computing fun.

    So...what are my options?

    1. First, I can just use my machines and repair them as long as I can until they finally all die of old age. I don't like that idea. The cost of parts is already very high, and will only go higher. Eventually, probably in the next decade, they will not be available at any cost.

    2. I can park all of the old machines, and use emmulators running on modern equipment . I don't like that idea either, since no matter how you go about it you still have a new machine...... with it's faster processor, lots of memory, and modern operating system to fall back on. That is not really the same. I mean... a mouse click on a folder is not the same as typing "c:\bc7u\bin\qbx" now is it?

    OR

    3. I can use a more modern computer..... maybe a discarded PII or PIII machine....and totally reconfigure it to "mid-1980's" specifications. (there are LOTS of old PIII's out there to be played with) Instead of using an emmulator, I'm talking about "de-tuning" the computer itself in order to mimick an XT or AT operationally. This would mean installing the mimimum amount of memory, a small HDD formatted in FAT 16, and seriously UNDER-clocking the processor..... then installing it into an interesting case. For an OS, I'm thinking DOS 3.2 so it'll recognize the 1.4 floppy drive. As far as expansion cards go.... maybe a VGA, Serial/ Parallel Card, and precious little else. NO USB ports, or plug and play, or anything else that was not in circulation in 1986. No Windows, Win98, or XP.... or WIFI or Ethernet.....just a minimalist computer that runs very similar to our old IBMs. Of course it will still be faster and more reliable than my aging 5150 and 5140's..... but I'm sure I can get it VERY close to the feel of the originals.

    I like that idea..... especially since I've got a couple of old Pentium III machines in the closet left over from my overclocking days. (now that's an odd twist, ain't it?). I may set one of them up to boot directly to BASICA..... just for the heck of it!

    I know that may sound like heresy to many of you purists out there.... I know: A PIII machine will never feel just like a 5150. BUT I can make it close enough so that only a real expert could tell the difference at the keyboard..... and that will help prevent using up the valuable old originals.

    #2
    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    First, I lost the "B" drive of my IBM 5150. It didn't die suddenly, but rather started acting freaky, then finally gave up the ghost on a Tuesday afternoon.
    This sounds a lot like a mechanical failure to me. I would take it apart, clean out all of the old grease, and re-grease it. That should fix it.

    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    Anyway..... all of this has made me wonder about the sustainability of "Vintage Computing" as an avocation. As more and more of our cool old machines wear out, with no new parts being made anywhere in the world, the more difficult it will become to keep the remaining units operable. Unlike the "Vintage Automobile" hobby, there is not an unlimited supply of IBM 5150 parts available..... and even fewer for many other machines.
    Sure, there isn't an unlimited supply available, but 5150 related parts are still pretty plentiful, you just have to know where to look, or where to post the wanted.

    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    The same situation exists with software, too. As our disks crash, and our floppies get corrupted, we as a group are losing much of what makes Vintage Computing fun.
    Thankfully 99.9% of the software has copies on the internet somewhere or another, so it's always available, at least digitally.

    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    1. First, I can just use my machines and repair them as long as I can until they finally all die of old age. I don't like that idea. The cost of parts is already very high, and will only go higher. Eventually, probably in the next decade, they will not be available at any cost.
    That's pretty much what we all do now, and have been doing, heck, that's kind of half the hobby... I agree about the prices though. I'm actually not even collecting anymore. I will get an Amiga 1200 and that's it. I'm thinning my collection down to a few select machines. It's too expensive. Too many people care more about money than the hobby.

    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    2. I can park all of the old machines, and use emmulators running on modern equipment . I don't like that idea either, since no matter how you go about it you still have a new machine...... with it's faster processor, lots of memory, and modern operating system to fall back on. That is not really the same. I mean... a mouse click on a folder is not the same as typing "c:\bc7u\bin\qbx" now is it?
    Agreed, completely.

    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
    3. I can use a more modern computer..... maybe a discarded PII or PIII machine....and totally reconfigure it to "mid-1980's" specifications. (there are LOTS of old PIII's out there to be played with) Instead of using an emmulator, I'm talking about "de-tuning" the computer itself in order to mimick an XT or AT operationally. This would mean installing the mimimum amount of memory, a small HDD formatted in FAT 16, and seriously UNDER-clocking the processor..... then installing it into an interesting case. For an OS, I'm thinking DOS 3.2 so it'll recognize the 1.4 floppy drive. As far as expansion cards go.... maybe a VGA, Serial/ Parallel Card, and precious little else. NO USB ports, or plug and play, or anything else that was not in circulation in 1986. No Windows, Win98, or XP.... or WIFI or Ethernet.....just a minimalist computer that runs very similar to our old IBMs. Of course it will still be faster and more reliable than my aging 5150 and 5140's..... but I'm sure I can get it VERY close to the feel of the originals.

    I like that idea..... especially since I've got a couple of old Pentium III machines in the closet left over from my overclocking days. (now that's an odd twist, ain't it?). I may set one of them up to boot directly to BASICA..... just for the heck of it!

    I know that may sound like heresy to many of you purists out there.... I know: A PIII machine will never feel just like a 5150. BUT I can make it close enough so that only a real expert could tell the difference at the keyboard..... and that will help prevent using up the valuable old originals.
    Mind as well use an emulator at this point.

    So, back to the floppy issue. Yes, it's a pain that we can't buy 5 1/4" floppies to replace the failing ones anymore, but it's not so bad. There are many really smart people in this hobby helping with this. There are CF or other kind of memory card readers being developed for a ton of machines out there. Sure, it limits you to the more popular ones, but there's nothing that says you can't make your own, or someone will make it eventually.
    Mike
    An equal opportunity collector.

    Comment


      #3
      I've already cleaned and tweaked the FDD..... mechanically, it's fine. I think the read/write head is bad.

      Unfortunately, you are incorrect about the 99% of the old software being available for download on the Internet. Sure, there is a lot out there but not anywhere near that much. I can think of many, many programs that are simply gone. AND much of what is out there is either corrupted, the links are dead, or the programs are incomplete..... missing print drivers and the like. In my own library, I've got a number of programs you'll never find anywhere online.... and my collection is not that large.

      "Mind as well use an emulator at this point".... well.... no. not at all. An emmulator simply does not feel like an old machine at all. The OS is wrong, and the "one mouse click and you are back to Windows" convenience is nothing like using an old computer.

      What I'm talking about is using newer components to build a computer that if as close to functionally equivalent as possible. I don't see a significant difference between what I'm talking about, and installing a CF adapter into an older machine..... in both cases you are using new technology to keep the experience of Vintage Computing viable.

      Also... your arguement is inconsistent. In one line you say that IBM 5150 parts are plentiful if you know where to look for them, and then a few seconds later to talk about how expensive these parts have become recently. Did it not occur to you that the reason they are expensive is because the supply is drying up?
      Last edited by Defiant1Dave; October 20, 2011, 08:19 PM.

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
        "Mind as well use an emulator at this point".... well.... no. not at all. An emmulator simply does not feel like an old machine at all. The OS is wrong, and the "one mouse click and you are back to Windows" convenience is nothing like using an old computer.
        Originally posted by Thomas Wolfe
        You can't go home again.
        Look, what I see that most people are doing with their old 5150-era gear just doesn't jibe with my experience. In particular, our expectations have changed, just as our perceptions have been changed by experience. For example, I never thought that creating an archive using PKzip took much time. But then I ran it on a real 5150 recently and was stunned at how long it took. As another example, I think that I owned my first sound card in the early 90s, but only because it came with a CD-ROM drive. Sound was something most early users didn't do.

        Our experiences change us--and that's something we can't avoid.

        So, sure, I could live with an emulator, just like I don't mind watching old 1950s TV programs on a plasma HDTV.
        Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.

        Comment


          #5
          Sure... you CAN watch old TV shows on a plasma TV.... but you don't get the entire picture. You don't hav e to adjust the rabbit ears, and won't miss a portion because an airplane flew overhead. AND you don't have to worry about blown fuses or burned out tubes..... nor do you have to get up to change the channel. Plasma TVs are cool... but they are different than the originals. It's the same with computers.... the longer time it took to pkZip with the older machine is PART of the experience. Isn't that the point?


          I don't have anything against Plasma TVs or Emmulators at all. I have a quite modern TV, hooked to digital cable myself.... BUT it's certainly not the same as it used to be. My point is that it would be quite easy to build a computer using modern components that would be functionally equivalent to the originals...... and closer in functionality than emmulators.

          Comment


            #6
            It's a fact of life that old components die. But they'll die regardless of use or lack of use. Capacitors, resisters, transformers and semi-conductors age and die. The average lifetime of a flash ram BIOS is only 10 years! Mechanical parts will wear out of tolerance or junk up but, unless it's a head, voice coil, motor or solenoid, they're repairable except for out of tolerance wear. My older systems don't get as much day-to-day usage as when they were procured or new so they'll be less likely to fail, BUT some of my older peripherals REQUIRE the older systems to operate. Attached to the newer systems, they no longer operate. I had that happen today with a 15 year old USB scanner. I trotted out a computer that hadn't been run in five years! Fortunately, it still ran. Because one day it won't, I'll need to prepare for that contingency. This unit had a hard drive die years ago which I replaced. I may need to stockpile parts in case this happens again. It's the nature of the beast.
            Rick Ethridge

            Comment


              #7
              Personally I'm hoping to see more projects that recreate some vintage computers with more modern parts. The most recent project I've seen like this is the 'Plus Too' - a hardware replica of a Mac Plus using an FPGA. I believe the creator of this project eventually hopes to support original Mac mice and keyboards with it. I was impressed with the effort put into this project, and it made me think that as long as the knowledge of the fundamental design of the computers was preserved, then it would at least in theory be possible to recreate a lot of the old hardware. Granted if you go ultra-modern with the hardware you use to recreate a vintage system, then you are more or less running an emulator. It's crucial to preserve the design knowledge that went into the original machines, since it makes it possible to resurrect it from its DNA.

              Comment


                #8
                I do understand that the OP had a "bad parts day", but it is still possible to keep things going for a long time. I don't agree that parts are expensive, unless you consider a drive or a card a part - I don't. Caps are still made and so are a lot of old chips. I think the attrition is a lot slower than you think. You can still buy brand new TTL and that's been around since Adam. I find that amazing.

                As for software disappearing. The stuff I had in the 80's is as good as it was then. There's no bit rot or anything. Not only that, but I've added to that collection since. It's all on diverse media now, but old floppies seem to read perfectly for the most part. Floppies, however, is one thing that does bother me, attrition wise. I actually like floppies, and they are part of the vintage experience. Yes, they last much longer than most people know, or will admit, but they do wear. They're not going to be easy to reproduce in the future.
                WANTED: Cardinal 2450MNP modem.

                Comment


                  #9
                  I agree it's sort of a catch-22, don't use it and don't wear it out and it'll die sitting on the shelf in the heat and cold and the caps or battery can leak without you knowing. Use it and risk wear and tear but lots of parts are happier moving than sitting still (printers, bearings, etc really need to be in use and keep the gears and rubber rotating).

                  Our disks aren't being manufactured anymore so that's a problem for any system now (assuming it requires to be on disk or that someone wants that experience). Parts like you said aren't being made so maybe depending on law one could begin making replica parts for older systems now. Not sure it'd be worth it or that it wouldn't just be a useless lawsuit against the builder. This I do agree though hits your other concern which is price. I may love my 5150 or Zenith but I'm not sure I'd pay $150 to replace a part in it with a replica, etc. Plus how many folks would buy a system with non-authentic parts (where does it stop)? Make a replica motherboard, daughter board, memory card, etc. Yeah they can be a great asset but you're going to also have to know this when buying at some point the originals will sky rocket and replicas would be cheap. I already have trouble (personally) when new Altairs with odd/missing labels pop up on ebay, trying to figure out if it's an original vs replica.

                  Sucks though and I know, I had my drives in my A2000 go out years ago and after a few quests I ended up with different versions of the 2000 (couldn't find just a drive for sale but was able to get another A2000 eventually) but I really dislike scavenging systems for parts so I never did fix it.

                  New hardware running old OS/interface is a good solution but will leave you in the same boat so not sure what the solution is. You're replacing your 80's hardware with newer and possibly cheaper made 90's hardware. This may be a negative view but I don't at all think I'll have anything made in the 2000's running in 15 years. New computers seem to have very cheap parts and seem to be created with the idea that they'll last 3 years and then the user will be tired enough of it to buy a replacement.
                  Looking to acquire: IBM 5100, Altair 8800

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
                    Sure... you CAN watch old TV shows on a plasma TV.... but you don't get the entire picture. You don't hav e to adjust the rabbit ears, and won't miss a portion because an airplane flew overhead. AND you don't have to worry about blown fuses or burned out tubes..... nor do you have to get up to change the channel. Plasma TVs are cool... but they are different than the originals. It's the same with computers.... the longer time it took to pkZip with the older machine is PART of the experience. Isn't that the point?
                    I think you miss my point. Back when I was deadstarting CDC gear from a 556 bpi 7 track tape, I thought that spending 10 minutes to bring a machine up was normal. I thought that the level of noise from the vacuum pumps in the tape drives was normal. I thought that the scream of the line printers was normal. I thought that leaving the machine room after a graveyard shift 4 hour debugging session with ears ringing and nerves shattered was normal. Technology has marched on in 40 years and I know that kind of stuff isn't normal and that I'd be suffering needlessly if I subjected myself to the experience. At the same time I'm a lot older and wouldn't likely tolerate it the same way.

                    I guess it's like a lot of other things. When I first heard a Haydn string quartet, after having heard nothing but his symphonies, I was awestruck and almost forgot to breathe. I'll never have that experience again, no matter how many times I replay this music. The experience changed me--permanently.

                    Similarly, hearing a co-worker laugh at my brand-new-just-assembled Altair 8800 and say "That's not a computer--it's a toy". I'll never again relive that sinking feeling that I'd been incredibly foolish spending a thousand dollars on a toy.

                    Mind you, I believe that preservation, particularly of old media and paperwork is very important because it identifies where we've been. Similarly, who I am is to some degree the result of my experiences. Fortunately, for our survival, the unreliability of memory gives us some relief.

                    But I can never go home again--and that's not necessarily a bad thing either. Thinking that I can is a delusion.
                    Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by Defiant1Dave View Post
                      I know that may sound like heresy to many of you purists out there.... I know: A PIII machine will never feel just like a 5150. BUT I can make it close enough so that only a real expert could tell the difference at the keyboard..... and that will help prevent using up the valuable old originals.
                      That would never replace the vintage experience for me. I like the look/feel and sound of the original hardware. At a pinch a replica could satisfy me, but as long as the case, keyboard and everything external looked (and preferably sounded) authentic.

                      These old machines do break down from time to time but hey, part of the fun is keeping them going.

                      Old computers have character. They are large, noisy, you can see and hear things spinning and see lights blinking. I guess they appeal to the inner child in me.

                      Some of you might be familar with that British program Dr Who. The control console of the Tardis is a concophany of blinking lights, moving apparati, levers, buttons and spinning things. It's noisy. It all adds to the excitement of fictional time travel though. Imagine if the Doctor modernised the control console and it was just a plain. small soundless black box with keyboard or joystick. Boring!!

                      Tez
                      ------------------------------------------------
                      My vintage collection: https://classic-computers.org.nz/collection/
                      My vintage activities blog: https://www.classic-computers.org.nz/blog/
                      Twitter: @classiccomputNZ ; YouTube Videos: (click here)

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Most vintage equipment can be fixed, some is easy to do. In my collection I have recapped a dozen or more 68K mac systems to get them 100% reliable again.

                        In the beginning of collecting I grabbed systems I never used, so having the real hardware gave me the real first time user experience. I also grabbed old PC gear and software I had used before but never completed (games). While the experience is not 100% of what it was like back in the day it is still fun.

                        If all you want to do is grab old data from 20 year old drives then an EMU on a moder system is probably a better deal then using old equipment. Same if you just want to play games (and not relive the pain in the rear swapping disks was).

                        For me this hobby is 33% finding old equipment and software I want, 33% getting the systems set up as I want them, and 33% using them. Ditching the hardware and using an EMU would kill most of the fun for me (plus you can't realy EMU a video editing system anyway).
                        What I collect: 68K/Early PPC Mac, DOS/Win 3.1 era machines, Amiga/ST, C64/128
                        Nubus/ISA/VLB/MCA/EISA cards of all types
                        Boxed apps and games for the above systems
                        Analog video capture cards/software and complete systems

                        Comment


                          #13
                          For me,I have the most fun in getting the parts and putting together a perfect system. The last 20% would be using it.

                          That being said, I treat my old machines with kid gloves and i have fun with them. And that's the whole point. For example, I have a 386 system that I have recently finished and I've been letting it run 24/7. Its a LOT more power efficient to idle in IRc with it, than my dual processor main system. For games, DOSbox is a VERY good viable option for the masses. I would recommend that.
                          It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            I had some good fun on my oldest systems but I do admit disk swapping and loading was probably something I forgot about after having newer compatible systems. I do recall running some games that were more than 2 disks and not being that happy with the amount of swapping during game play. I guess playing games that were probably written for 286 with a hard drive on the 8088 w/o were sorta frustrating waiting for screens or levels to load. Nothing like going the wrong way in a graphical game and having to wait for the scene to render so you can go back and have the last one load and render
                            Looking to acquire: IBM 5100, Altair 8800

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by tezza View Post
                              Old computers have character. They are large, noisy, you can see and hear things spinning and see lights blinking. I guess they appeal to the inner child in me.
                              After the 1604, Seymour Cray didn't believe in blinkenlights. It's impossible to tell if a CDC 6600 (circa 1964) is powered on or not if there's not an operating system loaded. Not so much as a power light. A lot of peripherals had lights, but that didn't tell you a thing about the CPU.

                              I don't believe that the Cray I had any blinkenlights either.
                              Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.

                              Comment

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