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What's the oldest computer you've seen in use today?


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#1 Streck OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:05 PM

By which I mean non-hobbyist use.

Two years ago, I was visiting a friend at a trucking company, and I snuck around and found that their accounting department was still using a Data General Eclipse for god knows what.

http://upload.wikime.../Dg-eclipse.jpg

I can't imagine that EMC (who bought DG) would still be providing support for it, but clearly it had some legacy programs that they couldn't bear to be without.

What's the oldest machine you've seen in current operation? Any DEC hardware? Old-school IBM mainframes? Some backwoods store using an '80s micro for record-keeping?

Here's a photo I ran across that made my eyes pop out. It's dated 2007:

http://www.flickr.co...erry/533228878/

I'd love to know what business still has an Apple II Plus in active use. It's all the more impressive that it's a II Plus, not the more popular (and more reliable) IIe.

Edited by Streck, Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:11 PM.


#2 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:54 PM

A few come to mind, though I last saw some of these a few years ago:

An IBM XT, running an old version of Quicken for DOS on two 5.25-inch floppies. A non-profit organization I did contract work for was using it at one of their smaller satellite offices for payroll. I retired this one, and I hated to do it because it was a better machine in many ways than the generic Windows whitebox that replaced it.

An Apple ][e, in use at a public high school for printing labels.

A Tandy 1000EX, used in a local print shop owned by some relatives of mine. They bought it in 1986 for a job pricing system written in BASIC, and they continued to use it until they sold the business about 22 years later. The software was long past its supported lifespan by then, but since it was written in BASIC, the owners could update the prices themselves by simply changing the program code. They had a long list of variable names and line numbers to make it easy to find what needed to be changed. I still have this computer and most of its accessories.

An HP mainframe that was purchased by the Department of Defense in 1993 or 1994; it hosted a variety of COBOL applications up until about a year ago. I was tasked with moving or rewriting these applications because the machine could not meet the DoD's new security requirements. All of the people who wrote the applications had either retired or died, so I didn't get much help; in fact, some of the apps had been completely forgotten about by the admins until the first time they tried to shut down the mainframe and got complaints from the users.

A 386 PC from the late 80s, which was used with a pair of 14.4 modems to transfer data to and from remote machines until the early 2000s (it was part of a data warehousing system of some kind). It had metal kitchen cabinet handles bolted to the sides of the case, and apparently it had been used for on-site data collection in the days before laptops with big hard drives. I retired it and got to take it home, and I ditched the case with the metal handles and moved the guts into a new case. I still use it occasionally for legacy software and games.
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#3 bigbee99 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 7:07 PM

I just picked up a 486 from a local mom and pop clothing store that was going out of business. The store had been closed for about 3 years but they had been using the 486 for something up until the store closed. I think they had been printing receipts for the repair side of the store. For $5 I got to bring her, the monitor, and the printer home. The printer, unfortunately, found it's way to the trash.

I had trouble with the battery chip that keeps power to the BIOS. It's a Dallas Real Time chip. What a headache! Why not just have a battery! I left it plugged in for a few days and nothing changed. I have since ordered the chip from China (only place I could find it) for another $5. The craziest thing about the machine, I can't get it to boot from B: (3 1/2 drive). I was able to get into the BIOS and mess around but it only lets you choose from A: or C: to boot from. I have been lazy about getting a 5 1/4 DOS boot disc together. I do have an AT&T 486 but it's not as big as this PC Craft. This thing could hold a school bus inside of it! Plus the PC craft had a CD drive with the CD controller card still in it. Between the two of them, I'll have a nice machine when I get done :) My shack is in repairs right now so they have both found a temporary home in the corner to stay dry.

The AT&T machine, I found at a thrift for $3. From what I can make out, it was more than likely a server in a local furniture store. Not sure how long it was unused before they donated it. No 56k here! It has an Ethernet card! w00t!

B

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#4 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 7:17 PM

I had trouble with the battery chip that keeps power to the BIOS. It's a Dallas Real Time chip. What a headache! Why not just have a battery! I left it plugged in for a few days and nothing changed. I have since ordered the chip from China (only place I could find it) for another $5.

I know just what you mean. The 386 computer I mentioned in my post had one of these Dallas RTC chips, and some years after I got it, its battery finally died. I couldn't replace the battery because the connections to it are sealed inside the chip along with the battery itself, and I couldn't find a replacement for the chip. I stumbled across a HOWTO somewhere which documented where to drill through the outer shell of the chip to expose the internal battery connections, so I did that and soldered in a CR2032 battery clip. It worked perfectly and I still use it that way; the battery clip is hotglued right on top of the Dallas chip.

The craziest thing about the machine, I can't get it to boot from B: (3 1/2 drive). I was able to get into the BIOS and mess around but it only lets you choose from A: or C: to boot from.

That was actually a common thing with old PCs. There's usually an option in the BIOS called "Swap Floppy Drive", which will reassign the B: drive as A: (and vice-versa) and should allow you to boot from it.

#5 20ohm20 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:49 PM

By which I mean non-hobbyist use.


One of my clients runs an answering service that still uses a 386 (33MHz, I think) PC with a 88MB SyQuest drive for backing up data from their equally "ancient" phone system. All of their customer data and phone records are stored using somewhat more modern equipment, thankfully. I helped her locate some of those SyQuest cartridges earlier this year (they rotate 10 of them, a different one every night) and they're not cheap, especially new and unopened ones.

#6 save2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:53 PM

I still use my TI-99/4A and TRS-80 Model III to this day.

Oh- non-hobbyist use? Hmm.... that would be an Amiga then of course :)

Edited by save2600, Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:54 PM.


#7 bigbee99 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:01 PM

That was actually a common thing with old PCs. There's usually an option in the BIOS called "Swap Floppy Drive", which will reassign the B: drive as A: (and vice-versa) and should allow you to boot from it.


Hmmmm... Time to fire it back up!

I stumbled across a HOWTO somewhere which documented where to drill through the outer shell of the chip to expose the internal battery connections, so I did that and soldered in a CR2032 battery clip. It worked perfectly and I still use it that way; the battery clip is hotglued right on top of the Dallas chip.


I ran across that info too. By the time I bought the battery and the clip it would have been more than $5 so I went with the replacement. Now that you pointed out your trouble replacing it, I wish I had removed the mother board and took a good look at the bottom to make sure I could replace the chip. Who knows, I might be stuck with a chip w/o a home if it is too much trouble to remove.

B

#8 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:08 PM

I ran across that info too. By the time I bought the battery and the clip it would have been more than $5 so I went with the replacement. Now that you pointed out your trouble replacing it, I wish I had removed the mother board and took a good look at the bottom to make sure I could replace the chip. Who knows, I might be stuck with a chip w/o a home if it is too much trouble to remove.

Fortunately, I already had the battery and clip on hand, so it wasn't an extra expense for me. Those Dallas chips are generally socketed on motherboards (at least, the ones I've seen have always been), so hopefully you won't have much trouble replacing it.

#9 awhite2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 9:25 AM

I do a bit of computer work for a local company that makes hardwood flooring. They purchase the "raw" wood, machine it to size and dry it in kilns. The kilns are basically large metal buildings about 20 feet high, 30 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

I was shocked to learn that the kiln is controlled by a Commodore PET. The PET is a 2001 series model - no built in tape, not the "fat 40" either. The system was purchased from a German company in about 1980 or 1981. There is a custom interface board inside the PET that connects to the temperature monitors and heater controls. The software to run the kiln is loaded from a tape cassette each day.

The system was still in use when I was there about a year ago. I have heard from an employee that a replacement system may have been installed. (Need to go visit them to see for myself.) Still, not a bad investment if the system ran for over 30 years.
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#10 Rikkarr OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 10:24 AM

I live in a fairly low income area, where not everyone has a computer. I know that one of my neighbors used an Apple II computer for all of their word processing needs until ~2007 (!). I haven't seen them in a while, but when I asked my mom about it, she said they had upgraded to a newer XP machine.

#11 Rex Dart OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 11:41 AM

Pentium Core Solo laptop from ~2006.

#12 matthew180 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 12:25 PM

Just yesterday I dug a 16-bit ISA video card out of my stash to give to my father. He works for a company who uses an old DOS machine to run tests on pressure vessels. Their 9-pin monochrome monitor failed and he needed an 8-bit or 16-bit ISA video card with a HD15-pin connector so they could use a more modern monitor. And, last year I had to dig up an old Seagate ST225 hard drive for that same computer. In this case, the system is still used because it has custom cards and software that run the processes, and a modern "upgrade" costs $50K. The monitor that just died is pre-VGA, so it has been in use probably since the early 80's.

#13 the-topdog OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:27 PM

There are still a couple Amiga 2000's in use at a local tv station for producing the scrolling news reports at the bottom of the screen while programs are in progress.

Edited by the-topdog, Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:28 PM.


#14 zylon OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 7:28 PM

I use a C64 for record keeping and maintenance logs. The last company I worked for was still using a 486 for tracking production in one plant.

#15 eccofonic OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:50 PM

I was walking downtown (small farming community) and through the window of a reality company I saw an Apple IIe system.

I had to stop, walk back and look again to make sure I wasn't hallucinating from the heat.

Still had random papers and books around it like it was being used!

Wanted to walk in and ask "what in the world..."

...but it was Sunday and they were closed.

#16 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2011 9:26 PM

I ran across a small store that was still doing their books on a TRS-80 Model III a couple years ago. Unless it died or they went out of business I'm pretty sure they still use it.
I'm sure we could find plenty of those and Apple IIs still in use.

#17 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 15, 2011 3:36 AM

I'd love to know what business still has an Apple II Plus in active use. It's all the more impressive that it's a II Plus, not the more popular (and more reliable) IIe.


Northrop Grumman (defense contractor) still uses an APPLE II+ for running a program that controls a machine that calibrates optics. They told me why replace it? It still works and does the job. And it is easily fixed if it breaks. This particular machine is 31 years old IIRC.

Edited by Keatah, Fri Jul 15, 2011 3:44 AM.


#18 youki OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 15, 2011 3:53 AM

In 1990 , having a summer job in a Bank , i had proposed to create for them a software that would simplify their daily task. The bank director accepted , and give me an all-ready old IBM PC XT (4.77Mhz and 10Mega hardrive, CGA)to do the job. I made the software , and they started to use it. and they get hooked. (one person could do in 2 hours , what 2 did in 8 hours manually). They used this software on the same PC until 2008 ... in 2008 the harddrive failed and nobody could (or want) repair it.

#19 eccofonic OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:34 PM

... window of a reality company ...


Whoops... meant "realty" as in... real estate.

#20 Mark Wolfe OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 15, 2011 4:11 PM

a lot of small businesses still use old OS2 IBM cash register/POS systems that date back to the 90s. if it ain't broke, why fix it?

#21 toptenmaterial OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 16, 2011 9:19 PM

What a wonderful, fascinating thread! I picked up a Commodore printer from my local Salvation Army today; hopefully the first step in putting together a retro work station!

#22 VectorGamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 16, 2011 9:41 PM

This is the oldest computer in use today

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#23 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 16, 2011 10:53 PM

If it ain't broke, why fix it?

My late great-uncle (who owned the print shop with the Tandy 1000EX that I mentioned earlier) was a living example of that mindset: if something did what he wanted and if he knew how it worked, he resisted any pressure to upgrade to the latest shiny new toy and held onto what he had with both hands, whether it was his old 1000EX or the old DOS versions of DacEasy Accounting and WordStar that he used for the longest time to run his business. Some of the people around him who were closer to my age dismissed this attitude as "cranky old man syndrome", but thanks to my exploration of classic computers, I could appreciate how practical it was, and I probably appreciate it even more today. Say what you like about the unfashionable old stuff he had in his shop, but it worked and worked and worked for year after year without anybody having to do anything with it.

I think that's true of a lot of the old technologies we've been discussing, like the Apple ][: those who are using them today are still reaping the benefits of an investment they made nearly thirty years ago. That kind of longevity is unheard of with modern Windows computers in particular, which as "everybody knows" have a lifespan of only three to five years. I somehow doubt that any of them will still be running in thirty years: if the hardware doesn't fail first, the software eventually won't be able to "call home" for updates anymore. Or, we'll be forced to use some new file format or some new Web standard that the old software won't support, and the new software will be so bloated and slow that the hardware will have to be replaced, too. People have become acclimated to rapid upgrade cycles, and I've been in the business long enough to have seen several of them: reluctantly switch to the latest new thing, run into a bunch of new headaches, install updates and create workarounds until you mitigate most of them, and hope the next upgrade fixes the rest of them. Wash, rinse, repeat. I only have enough experience with Macs to say that they're at least somewhat better in this respect, but I have to believe this principle applies to them to some extent, too. Most Mac owners I've known tend to upgrade pretty readily instead of sticking with models that are older than one cycle behind.

I think the fact that I understood all this was one reason why my great-uncle always trusted me to maintain his computers for him, even though I was working in IT and was very familiar with the current generation of technology. When he finally had to replace his workstation to be able to use the Internet, for example, I got his old DOS apps to run under Windows (some of them with considerable tweaking) so he could continue to use them. I could totally understand why he wanted to keep his old stuff in service, and I was always happy to help him do it.

#24 akator OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jul 17, 2011 12:07 AM

Most Mac owners I've known tend to upgrade pretty readily instead of sticking with models that are older than one cycle behind.


This didn't used to be the case. It was typical for Mac owners to hang on to their machines over twice as long as PC owners, and often used as a reason why the initial higher price of a Mac was over time less expensive than a PC. I knew many Mac owners who held onto their machines for at least 5 years, often even longer. I'm not seeing nearly as much of that these days...

#25 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jul 17, 2011 12:21 AM

This didn't used to be the case. It was typical for Mac owners to hang on to their machines over twice as long as PC owners, and often used as a reason why the initial higher price of a Mac was over time less expensive than a PC. I knew many Mac owners who held onto their machines for at least 5 years, often even longer. I'm not seeing nearly as much of that these days...

I'm sure you're right about that. I knew one person who held on to his Macintosh Plus for over fifteen years before he finally succumbed to OS X, and I think he's gone through two or three Macs since then.

The upgrade habits among Macintosh owners are interesting to me, because with each major upgrade cycle, that platform has made much more radical transitions than you almost ever see on the PC side: from 68K to PowerPC to Intel processors, and from the classic Mac OS to the Unix-based OS X. Modern PC hardware can still trace its ancestry directly back to the IBM PC, and it still isn't too hard to get many 16-bit Windows and DOS applications to run natively under Windows, but the Macintosh is an entirely different machine now. I had assumed this level of technological turnover would have made Mac users less eager to upgrade, but maybe that's because I'm observing this from the mindset of the PC, where early adopters so often get burned by the glitches in new technology. Perhaps Apple has succeeded in making the upgrade process so seamless (relatively speaking) that Mac users don't have the same kind of trepidation about upgrades.

(Apologies if this is going too far off-topic.)




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