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Hardware Technology

What's the Oldest Hardware You are Still Using? 1705

Posted by Cliff
from the oldies-but-goodies dept.
ScottBob asks: "Seeing the recent post about the vintage computer festival got me thinking about old hardware I'm still using in my 'modern' computer. I have a 1 ghz Celeryonion machine, but when I bought the mobo I specifically looked for one with an ISA slot so I could still use my old Zoltrix modem I bought in '97 when V.90 was adopted (when it probably would have been cheaper to buy an ISA-less mobo and a PCI modem). I've also moved a '93 model floppy drive from machine to machine, and it still works. Usually, monitors and power supplies survive the ravage Moore's law has on hardware, but what other things does everybody else save when they cruft together a new machine? Anybody ever do things like disguise a 4 GHz P4 in an ancient 8086 machine box? While on the subject, is anybody still running old DOS programs in a DOS box on a Windows machine (e.g. a database) because your company is too poor/cheap to upgrade or doesn't want to bother with any free alternatives?"
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What's the Oldest Hardware You are Still Using?

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  • by tekiegreg (674773) * <tekieg1-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:46PM (#7204268) Homepage Journal
    For those vintage games, my personal favorite being Darklands by Microprose, and the occasional bout of A-Train my Maxis. Still can't beat a 486 with DOS 5.0 for some stuff :-) actually our voicemail system at work is DOS 6.2 as well.
  • Keyboard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Libor Vanek (248963) <libor,vanek&gmail,com> on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:47PM (#7204270) Homepage
    Hey - I use 1991 keyboard with my dual Opteron database server :)
  • old hardware (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dewke (44893) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:47PM (#7204276)
    I still use a Tyan Tomcat IV with a p120 as a firewall/dns/mail server.

    The motherboard isn't 100% Y2K compliant but it runs like a champ.
  • IBM model M keyboard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by asmithmd1 (239950) * on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:48PM (#7204284) Homepage Journal
    Vintage 1984 with a solid steel backplate the thing weighs almost 5lbs. The buckling spring keys give excellent tactile and audible feedback. I need to get a new PC but the keyboard is staying
  • by TeddyR (4176) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:51PM (#7204324) Homepage Journal
    We have a client that has remote site data collection units that are dialed into periodically to pick up reports. The modem on the units (which have been running flawlessly since '91) are old 1200 baud modems. Since its not broken, there was no need to replace the units...
  • by afidel (530433) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:52PM (#7204331)
    A fellow tech had a service call at a client that had been around so long that their info wasn't even in our "new" dispatching system (dating back to the early 90's). They had a remote office that was having some problems communicating back with the main office mainframe complex. Said tech goes out to client site and finds out that the way they communicate back to the mainframe is a custom app running on an origional IBM PC XT and the reason it's not working is that the HDD has wonked out. Well he does the old rap the drive on the countertop trick to get it spun up and tells them that he will look for a replacement drive but he states very ademantly that he makes no promises. Well after having a good laugh with the parts dispatcher he finds the FRU number in an old manual and does a search, low and behold one of our third party parts distributer has 15 of them IN STOCK! He orders one and then finds an ancient copy of ghost that can deal with the old system. He attaches the new drive and copies the partition over, viola, a system that will probably run for another 15+ years.
  • My Router (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:53PM (#7204347)
    is a 486DX100. It's also my wireless access point running hostap on a linksys PCI card (yes some 486es came with PCI buses). Oh, and it also does ipsec for any hosts behind it.

    The sick thing is that it's mostly idle.
  • by eric76 (679787) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:54PM (#7204370)
    I still use slide rules.

    I have two. The newest is from the late 60s. The oldest was given to me by my father. I think he got it when he was in college in the early 40s.

    In the early 90s, I returned to college for another degree. I routinely used the slide rules for homework. The graders couldn't figure out why I only gave 3 digits of accuracy and the third was sometimes wrong.

    On another occasion, I pulled it out to do a quick calculation during a test. The prof had never seen one and made a bee-line to my seat (on the aisle) and spent about 5 minutes looking it over.
  • I run some old stuff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:55PM (#7204374) Homepage
    I still use:
    • Quicken version 7.
    • A northgate keyboard
    • A Maynstream 5000 tape drive from 1993.

    I recently retired my 486DX2 (later OV83) system with 64MB of ram, that I built in 1992.
  • by Neurotensor (569035) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:56PM (#7204398)
    Regardless of how old you think your hardware is, you haven't seen old hardware until you visit an active physics research lab.

    The one I was working in recently is still using an Apple ][ to scan the dye laser that forms the frequency reference in the world's first and only solid-state quantum computer.

    It just goes to show you that the really clever guys simply won't upgrade until either something breaks or the old system won't do what's needed. Otherwise, keep the Apple.

    BTW the Apple is sitting near a superconducting magnet, and still works. Its first failure that I know of was a few weeks ago when the power supply died. It's now got an AT power supply hanging off it ;)
  • by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity.sbcglobal@net> on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:56PM (#7204399) Homepage Journal
    Yup. $600 new. Now worth about $25. I still have a huge selection of custom sounds that I use when I write music to give it all that nice 80's feel.

    I also have a HP LaserJet IIIP from '91 that still works and is cheaper per page than all those crappy inkjet printers.
  • Old DOS apps (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Coldwar (78137) on Monday October 13, 2003 @09:58PM (#7204429) Homepage
    Ugh...Paradox database. Lousy in-house apps coded around it, original developers dead/missing/downsized/laughing from afar...but us IT schmucks still get to support it.

    Well, OK, actually it runs just fine and rarely gives us trouble. Can't say the same for our MS-SQL servers...

  • by GiMP (10923) on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:22PM (#7204701)
    Ditto.. I love those things. The second oldest equipment which I actively use is the power cords from the IBM PS/2 computer, the ones with the piggy-back plugs.

    I have a lot of really old equipment, but I'm finding that I use it too little and am trying to toss what I can, but my Model:M will leave me when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
  • Q&A 4.0 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Godeke (32895) * on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:26PM (#7204741)
    I still have one client with a company wide Q&A (Symantec) database that was started in 1983. Fortunately it was written well and has survived even on current XP boxes. I have offered to upgrade them to a Windows based application, but they don't like the costs that will be incurred. They are not the only ones [quickanswer.com]. I guess I should be happy they liked my system, but 20 years seems a bit long of tooth.

    And yes, I still do modifications on it from time to time.
  • Wang (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EricFenderson (64220) on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:37PM (#7204844)

    anybody still running old DOS programs in a DOS box on a Windows machine

    Anyone else still run old DOS programs on actual DOS machines? They do the job, and we're a bunch of weirdos where I work! They make up all of our workstations, except a very small handful of Debian boxes. Most of the machines have now been upgraded to Pentuim 75s with 16M of RAM. Most were [34]86s until maybe six months ago.

    And We use a Wang to run our voicemail system - it runs some DOS voicemail system and has been plugging along longer and more reliably than most other machines I've ever worked with.

  • by proctorg76 (657774) on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:37PM (#7204847) Journal
    Ohh Yeah. I remember back in '97 my 8'th grade science teacher gave me an IBM PC original model complete with monitor and 84-key buckling spring keyboard. Booted straight into BASIC, good 'ol amber monitor... but anyway. The point is, that was my first exposure to a spring keyboard. I remember being impressed that the keyboard weighed more than the monitor and was very disappointed when I couldn't get it to work with my 386.

    But I had experienced the bliss of springing, and I was hooked. I spent the next 6 months trying to track down a 101 key model M locally (finally did, too... using it to type this right now!)

    And then my best friend got an IBM Thinkpad R31. I got hooked on the eraserhead pointer and had a dream about a keyboard combining the tactile response of the model M with the efficient mouse-at-the-fingertips of the trackpoint. Amazingly, THE VERY NEXT DAY one of my friends was cleaning out her closet and found not one but TWO!!!! IBM Trackpoint 2 keyboards. And she was even kind enough to let me have them... I use the Trackpoint on my DEKA-BOOTING (FreeBSD, Win2K, MS-DOS 6.2,Win3.11, SuSE 8.2 Personal, RH 9.0, Mandrake 8, Debian 3.0, Gentoo, and Knoppix) primary box now (athlon 2400+, 512MB DDR2700, 80GB HDD) While the Model M soldiers on for my great-grandma's pentium 166 (I'm not dissing, she really uses it) and will always remain a classic, it's second best to the Trackpoint in terms of pure functionality (IMO)
  • by LordBodak (561365) <msmoulton@nOSpaM.iname.com> on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:38PM (#7204852) Homepage Journal
    My 486 is still running like a champ.

    It's a 486/33, homebuilt in December of 1993. Currently serving as the house firewall, it's been running 24/7 since May of 2001. Ran 24/7 during summers in 1999 & 2000, plus other vacations. Before Fall of 1997 it was my normal machine (until I started college).

    It's got an upgraded video card (4 MB Diamond VLB ugpraded from the original 1 MB Trident), and has a 4 GB drive added last November, plus NICs that have been added.

    Currently on the third power supply fan. Other than that, it's run great for nearly 10 years.

  • by gpvillamil (108572) <gian.pablo@noSPaM.villamil.org> on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:40PM (#7204876) Homepage
    I have, and still occasionally use, a Radio Shack Model 100. That's the laptop with the 40x8 screen.

    Sure, it's only got 64KB of memory, but it will run forever on 4xAA batteries. And the keyboard is great.
  • Why the assumption? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jdreed1024 (443938) on Monday October 13, 2003 @10:43PM (#7204909)
    While on the subject, is anybody still running old DOS programs in a DOS box on a Windows machine (e.g. a database) because your company is too poor/cheap to upgrade or doesn't want to bother with any free alternatives?"

    Why the assumption that a company is too poor/cheap to upgrade or doesn't want to bother with free alternatives? Believe it or not, there is still some software for which free alternatives do not exist. And probably will never exist, because it is so specialized.

    At one bio lab where I worked, I had to support a bunch of DOS machines connected to lab equipment, because the controller programs only worked in DOS, due to the age of the equipment. Replacing the device would cost more than your average waterfront condo, so it's not exactly as if the company was being "cheap". Besides, the old device worked fine - if it ain't broke... etc.

    Another place I worked at used a proprietary database for storing patient records. The server was a 386SX/25 and was accessed from dumb terminals connected to a multiport serial board. Replacing/upgrading this woudl require spending a huge amount of money to obtain a new system, or a huge number of man-hours developing a new open-source system and getting it certified. (Such systems need to be certified what with privacy laws and the like.)

    So, there are plenty of reasons why a company might keep old hardware arround - almost anything which has custom boards or software written for it is likely to be running on older hardware, simply because there's no reason to upgrade.

  • Nuke plants, too (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScottBob (244972) on Monday October 13, 2003 @11:02PM (#7205105)
    When I first submitted this story, I was tearing up my house looking for the driver CD for my old Sound Blaster Live card. For whatever reason, Creative didn't have Windows 98 drivers/software for the original version (the one I have, not the 5.1 version) available for download.

    Anyway, on the subject of companies still using legacy hardware, nuke plants have to be the king of dinosaur computer users. No new nuke plants have been ordered since the Three Mile Island accident in the late 70's, and all the hardware they use (everything from pump motors to computers) have to go through so much regulatory red tape that it is cost prohibitive to upgrade, hence, the computers running the control systems are all geriatric 70's era mainframes that constantly have to be maintained. Most nukes were never meant to go over 50-75% of their rated generating capacity, but in today's energy hungry world, utilities try to squeeze out every bit of energy they can from them, pushing them to 105% rated capacity and beyond. And the NRC is okay with this given the age of their control systems??

    By contrast, I recently visited a coal burning power plant that uses various Windows 2000 machines and Sun hardware running Solaris, all networked together with fiber and using modern off-the-shelf control system software. So much for the "modern" miracle of nuclear power.

  • by puetzc (131221) on Monday October 13, 2003 @11:08PM (#7205165)
    Slide rules cannot be beat for ratios. In my work (transmission design), I can set a ratio on the slide rule, and see at a glance pairs of integers that will work. No calculator or spreadsheet can come close. Try http://www.taswegian.com/SRTP/javaslide/javaslide. html for a demo!
  • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 13, 2003 @11:40PM (#7205416) Journal
    Until I picked up a Chicony KBP9805. (see also the KU9865)

    It's good an old school solid feel, but it only has a single aluminum plate inside, which makes it easy to carry around.

    Best part?
    Not only is it spill resistant, you can disassemble the plastic components (base, key tray) and put it in the dishwasher. The contact sheet is a clever enclosed rubber design, which is itself washable, and the controller a very simple PCB that snaps in and out of place.

    There are good keyboards out there that aren't 20 years old if you do a little searching. Sometimes you have to go straight to the OEM manufacturers out in Asia to get what you want.

    Anyway, back on topic... The oldest part I'm still using is the stereo attached to my PC so I can hear my music. I ditched the elderly floppy drive about a year ago. :-(
  • Re:SGI (Score:2, Interesting)

    by craw (6958) on Monday October 13, 2003 @11:55PM (#7205528) Homepage
    I just retired an Indigo colored Indigo with a R3000 MIPS CPU. The sucker would not die. That also goes for a couple of R4000 Indigo colored Indigos.

    Then again, we still have a Personal Iris (R2000) that is being used as a print server (parallel port). We have provisions to replace this print server, but for some odd reason nobody wants to pull the plug on this old (circa 1988) computer. I can't. It is odd, but I somehow find that pulling the plug would be cruel.

    Then again, this use to be my desktop system over ten years ago. I wrote a lot of code on that ancient computer (X11? Motif?, nah, GL and NeWS).
  • by sremick (91371) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:20AM (#7205667)
    Not sure just how old this baby is, but I have an OmniKey/101 keyboard made by Northgate Computer Systems (do they even still exist? I can't find them). I think I may have had this way back on my 386 (it's now on a Athlon 1.2GHz running FreeBSD). Reasons I like it:

    1) It's hefty, like the original IBM keyboard. Metal base, stays firmly in-place on the desk wherever you set it. Nice solid feel.

    2) The letters will NEVER wear off, due to the way they're molded. The letters aren't painted on the keys... they are part of the plastic itself, molded all the way through. Awesome! I'm a fast and vigorous typer and not only wear letters off, but wear plastic down.

    3) The keys remove for easy cleaning. In fact, I took the entire thing apart for a cleaning not too long ago. I still have the special light-blue Northgate key-removal tool.

    4) Mechanical key-switches for that tactile feel.

    5) Programmable... although I not longer remember how. There's a flip-up panel in the upper-left with an orange button and some DIP switches. Using the switches you could set it to come up always as Dvorak or do some other things. Using the orange button then pressing an F? key you could switch between QWERTY and Dvorak on the fly, as well as other stuff. You could also buy a set of Dvorak keycaps.

    I'm getting to the point though where the noisiness of the keyboard is a problem. People get annoyed when they hear me typing while I'm on the phone. Oh well.
  • by onomatomania (598947) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:24AM (#7205682)
    Actually, I read somewhere that a lot of thoise Point-of-Sale ATM/credit card terminals use 2400 baud modems, even today. The reasoning behind this was that the handshaking time to establish a 2400 baud connection is pretty quick, compared to the amount of negotiation, ranging, noise characterization, echo cancellation, etc. that goes on with a modern v.90 connection. Anyone that was around as modems progressed from the early days to the modern standards knows the old joke about how f'cking long the handshake has gotten compared to the old days. And for those little CC terminals that don't have a dedicated phone line, it's great to be able to quickly call up, connect, exchange a small amount of data, and hang up.
  • CoCo? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by trevnick (715848) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:22AM (#7206016) Homepage
    How about a Color Computer 3, running a multi-tasking operating system with overlapping windows and mouse and hard drive and everything in 512k of ram and a 6809 processer running a Mhz clock in the low single digits...
  • Re:Impressive. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by red floyd (220712) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:29AM (#7206044)
    Hah! I actually have a copy of Windows 1.03 (came on 5 360K floppies, counting Windows Write).
  • by SgtSnorkel (704106) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @02:25AM (#7206250)

    About two years ago, I had a customer call me in to completely upgrade their office systems. When I showed up, I found they were running Wyse dumb terminals on a Cromemco under CP/M. (For you young'uns, this system was old in 1985. It used a 4-MHz Z80 processor and an S-100 bus.)

    Reason for the switch: they could no longer get 8-inch floppy disks.

    System they switched to: Mac (talk about culture shock!)
  • Re:COBOL???? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by atam (115117) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @03:47AM (#7206533)
    Most IBM mainframes are using EBCDIC, not ASCII.
  • Re:School ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Helen O'Boyle (324127) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:04AM (#7207729) Journal
    "Still relatively old and a pain to use" I suppose, but really, aside from probably still lacking things like pipes to connect commands, it's not that bad. TSO CLIST is really an OK scripting environment.

    In uni 15-20 years ago, I used the raw TSO command-line interface to MVS (analogous to cmd.exe or /bin/sh). They also had a menu-driven interface available (ISPF) where one navigated to various menu panels with a hideous =3.1.4 syntax describing the path through menu options to get to the desired panel; panels did things like allocate disk space, copy files, submit jobs to run, etc. It seemed to save time for those who couldn't do TSO alloc's and stuff off the top of their heads, but it slowed me down because the time delays between panel displays made it obvious that ISPF was a bit of a lumbering hulk and the raw command line environment quite efficient.

    Now sonny, you want hard to use... imagineif... you knew a little bit about IKJEFT01 (believe it or not, the load module that "ran" a TSO session under MVS, like /bin/sh runs a shell in UNIX)... and you knew that it limited the commands you could use in your interactive sessions based on your account's security designation... and you knew that if you started a separate copy of IKJEFT01, you could get it to execute any command defined in the command table regardless of security level required... THEN things get a little complex, because you had to write your own command interpreter that communicated between a copy of ikjeft01 and your terminal session -- and do it in such a way that it didn't eat up so much CPU time that the admins immediately came a-callin'.

    Gack, I quite enjoyed hacking the school's mainframe via JCL and 370 ASM back when I was a teenage geek girl.... when school practiced the fine art of information-hiding and refused me access to certain manuals, I ran to my compuserve account and begged any mainframe systems folks in PROGFORUM for exactly the ones I needed, contentedly marching into school with them within a week. The lead systems programmer finally just gave up stressing over keeping me out of things, gave me access to some utility macro libraries, answered a question or two for me now and then, and promised to hold me accountable if I ever did one iota of damage. How well did I do at avoiding this? Well, when I did something (non-technical) to politically upset the school's computer center director and he pointed at me and said to the systems programmer, "Off with her head, use anything you've got on her to make her go away from here permanently"... his answer was NO.

    For the record, I'm only 39, but I have been paid to program in COBOL, FORTRAN, ASM/370, C/370, SAS and PL/I (a lot like C), in addition to the usual suspects like C, C++, Visual Basic, perl, SQL, etc.

    And what do you mean, can't get by on anything older than 5 years for a workstation? My 10+ year old Sparc 10 is still a darn fine UNIX desktop from which to manage a network.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

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