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

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I was at a hardware store a few days ago and their inventory system uses 386 machines running a text-only inventory management database.

 

From what I can tell, things are running smoothly. Plus, I think they're lucky, since I've seen some of the newer graphical inventory apps and they're pretty awful.

 

 

Around 2000, I talked to a guy doing maintenance on a street light. He said he logs into the system and updates the traffic schedules using a TRS-80 Color Computer.

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Well if it ain't broke do fix it I suppose. The only problem is replacements aren't always available.

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486 running DOS at the plant where I currently am employed... It acts as a hard wired server for two pieces of manufacturing equipment that run DOS as well. I will try to get a pic of the boot up on the machines tomorrow.

 

The computer sits in the maintenance shop and never gets touched... The machines are run hard every day.

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Here's a few pictures of the BOOT of one of the machines. Apparently this software was upgraded recently, but still runs on DOS?

 

 

20150328_155318_zpsrsrrvkhg.jpg

 

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I could not get back to the Maint Supervisor's office to get a pic of the "mainframe" (as they call it)... It's just your basic ol' beige 486 running a DOS Master/Slave server, wired into these packaging machines.

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The company I used to work for still use a PDP-11. They have some legacy SCADA installations running in water treatment plants, all running on PDP-11's and all purring like little baby kittens. Flawless. Sometimes, (rarely now) they are asked to make a few tweaks to the software, so the PDP-11 in the office is used to test them. It used to make me smile that the "young 'uns" wouldn't go near the thing, but the grey-beards were all over it! I was all over it, too. Damn, give me that sh*t instead of a beige box any day of the week. Beautiful. I tip my hat in respect to the things those old grey-beards made those puny (by today's standards) machines do!

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One of my clients has a Japanese NEC based PC that controls a wire cut EDM machine. The EDM machine uses an electrified wire to cut shapes into metal, plastic, etc for use in manufacturing. The patterns are designed on a modern PC using some sort of CAD program. They are then sent to the NEC PC via a serial cable.

 

What makes this system unique is that the software is partially in English and partially in Japanese. Many commands are executed by pressing the function keys that correspond to Japanese labels on the screen. The PC boots and saves files from an external SCSI floppy drive. The interface to the EDM machine is from some internal expansion boards on the PC into a bunch of large modules in the cabinet below then to the actual cutter. The trackball feels and sounds a lot like my Wico trackball form the 80's. I'm told that the equipment was installed in the mid-80's to replace an earlier system that saved the drawings on cassette tapes.

 

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Edited by awhite2600
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Whoa! Now that's cool! Also, what the heck is in NFER key? I've seen XFER for Transfer before, but what would NFER be?

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Whoa! Now that's cool! Also, what the heck is in NFER key? I've seen XFER for Transfer before, but what would NFER be?

 

The NFER and XFER keys weren't used when I was there. The software primarily uses the function keys to operate based on on-screen prompts. Drawings are saved to a "numeric slot" on one of the two 3½" floppies. You specify a number by typing it and then type a name. Sending a drawing to the cutter involved selecting it from a menu and then pressing some more function keys. The software was very cryptic, even by 1980's standards. The guys that use the machine have been working with it for over 25 years so everything is second nature to them.

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Hopefully, mine. I bought an extra Motherboard. Most likely (been a few years now) some cap will go south, and I'll put it on a "new" same motherboard.

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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.

Yeah, well, you have to remember, businesses are in the business of making money, so if something is doing the job, why replace it? That's why it's possible to this day to find ancient systems still in use. Honestly, if you're not doing heavy lifting like multimedia, then most systems made back in the 80's can often still perform the task just as well as a new system.

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I recently learned that the company that has the wirecut EDM machine that I showed in post 106 also has a PC running Windows 3.11. This PC is still used to print labels for all of their packaging. (The company makes specialized automotive parts.) The two label printers are connected via serial ports. I was asked if I could help them replace the PC as their IT supplier doesn't have any techs familiar with Windows 3.11. Our plan is to purchase an updated PC, update the label printing software to a newer version from the same manufacturer and run the printers via USB to serial converters.

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I pray they keep those machines off the Internet, and that you find some label software that doesn't feel the need to call home and beg for subscription updates, otherwise that company may be in for a rude awakening. :)

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I pray they keep those machines off the Internet, and that you find some label software that doesn't feel the need to call home and beg for subscription updates, otherwise that company may be in for a rude awakening. :)

 

I don't even think that there is an Internet connection in the room where the printers are located. The manufacturer of the Win 3.11 printing software has a version for current versions of Windows and a recommended update process. It's a one time cost of $500 to update. Knowing the company using the software, they will then run the new version for another 20 years.

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Seems like the one I use at work is the oldest, like most people. Ha.

 

Until recently I took dictation off a DictaPhone magnetic tape machine, probably from the 70s, I couldn't even find a picture or mention on the model number online. I don't know how much was computer and how much was electro-mechanical.

 

We still print mailing labels, unidirectional (because bidirectional messes up the bar code) on a dot matrix with line feed paper with the holes on the sides.

 

I learned on a $15,000 color Mac IIci that had a large 19" monochrome B&W monitor great for text and 50MB hard drive. After it retired to a monitor stand for about 6 years, I fired it back up. Started to usable desktop in under 45 seconds, and it had the date and time correct. That wowed everyone.

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In school I hav seen a DOS based Zenith Data Systems computer in use. Didn't checked but this was a computer from 1990/92 IMO (3"1/2 floppy, no CD-ROM and no 5"1/4 drive). It was used to drive an industrial machine.

 

Other than that, the oldest computer I have seen working is not really a home computer but an industrial programmable logic controller (which, having a CPU, RAM, a program and even a LCD display is a form of computer), which was in charge of monitoring and cleaning sand filters in a water facility :

 

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I didn't got a definitive answer, but this PLC, a very famous (in Europe at least) Télémécanique TSX7, was installed in the plant somewhere between 1979 and 1981.

 

It was still in used last year; in theory it was retired this year because of the replacement of the 55 years old sand filters but I don't know if it was done so it mgiht be still going as of today.

Edited by CatPix
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Here's a few pictures of the BOOT of one of the machines. Apparently this software was upgraded recently, but still runs on DOS?

 

I could not get back to the Maint Supervisor's office to get a pic of the "mainframe" (as they call it)... It's just your basic ol' beige 486 running a DOS Master/Slave server, wired into these packaging machines.

 

 

As cool as that is, it looks like it's got network connectivity, and a SCADA system like that was never designed with security in mind.

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Wow, an actual computer with flashing lights. I wish computers had more flashing lights. Isn't it the future yet?

They just replaced all the flashing lights with blinding blue LEDs.

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