Silver mine manages to maintain late 1980s PC

The question has been raised in the past about just how consumptive modern society is. When electronics grow 'old' in our eyes we tend to dispose of them. For example, phones such as the iPhone 3G are now very outdated in modern tech culture, and finding a new one is almost impossible, though they would still work for running some apps, sending an SMS and making a call - still exactly what most people would like from a phone.

Since this is what people require of a phone, the question is now also raised about what people expect of a computer. Computers have been around for a long time, and technology is constantly innovating around them. Quad-core processors are considered fairly normal now, and the amount of RAM is constantly increasing due to changing demands and more requirements.

You probably are done with a computer that's five years old, which is understandable enough. Would you even consider using a computer that is twenty-three years old? It still has its uses though, as we discovered on Reddit.

This machine is a MicroVAX 3100, with 12MB of RAM. The computer this was written from, by comparison, has 4GB of RAM. The 3100 was introduced in 1987 as a conventional desktop, with a variety of different models. There was the Model 10, 10e, 20, 20e and a considerable number of other variants.

MicroVAX was a low end family of computers from the Digital Equipment Corporation, who became defunct in 1998. In other words, one of their machines outlived the company. It now works daily in a silver mine, for four different purposes, outlined by the thread creator, "YouCantOutrunABear". Both images used are also provided thanks to the same person.

  1. Interfaces with the scale to input weights directly into calculation tables.
  2. Calculates silver/gold ounce per ton for raw ore samples with flux corrections.
  3. Creates worklists for sample sets and inserts a replicate/coarse replicate every 50 samples.
  4. Prints labels.

All this, with 12MB of RAM and OpenVMS running on it. Technology is something that innovates so quickly we can almost forget what older hardware can do. This has proven to be an interesting piece of technology, although unfortunately there is no real sense of location provided on Reddit. It would be interesting to see just where in the world it continues to ply its trade. When you consider that we use modern processors for looking at lolcats, and a mine somewhere is using a processor from the late 1980s to actually complete major work, then you see just how incredibly quickly technology changes.

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i have lots of stories of old computers; i know an enterprise that has a critical software running on DOS on a Pentium MMX 200hz until this day; that software was made by some guy that deceased back in the days and since that no one has the source code for that software the computer is running until this day. I've asked "y no upgrade?" and the CEO said "works great and no issues, why bother?"; the fact that if they bought a new software and hardware for the same solution would probably cost allot and this cheap solution is more than paid; this just proves the resilience that old hardware has.
Also i know a pretty big company that one of their servers is still running Windows NT; again because of some crappy legacy software custom madded. And the crazy part is that not a single piece of hardware has ever failed in that server (then again, the maintenance on that server is priceless, it doesn't even have dust on it)!

Of course the biggest problem is lack of parts (either MB, CPU and such), but then again the money they saved makes me wonder...

EDIT: oh and by the way: i still print on my deskjet 940C...it's 10 years old, not power efficient, not network aware, can't use ePrint, doesn't even has a LCD on it...but it prints and does this job very well!

Edited by Praetor, Apr 23 2012, 2:41pm :

There are still thousands of Amiga's still up and running just fine. I actually sold my Amiga 500 that was build in 1986 for $1200 about a year ago.

That's cute. Looks like a Fallout 3 console ;-) Nothing wrong with using things which serve the purpose no matter how obsolete. Only problem is finding spare parts when they break down and/or investing into new software, training, etc. when you finally have to replace them.

starman444 said,
How did they manage to get over the Y2k bug in older systems...

At one time they sold expansion cards with an updated clock chip on them and battery, I have an 8-bit ISA version I used to use in my XT (which didn't even have a clock as standard). Still I think most of the problems was with the software itself and not all programs had it. I've got an ancient DOS calendar program that recognizes the date just fine.

Similar to NASA who use the original 1960's computers on their current (or recently-defunct) space flights. Reason being, they are simple, proven and do the job. The cost of making a modern computer and testing it to work out all the problems would take years and cost billions as well as risk lives.

If it works, don't mess with it!

Auzeras said,
Similar to NASA who use the original 1960's computers on their current (or recently-defunct) space flights. Reason being, they are simple, proven and do the job. The cost of making a modern computer and testing it to work out all the problems would take years and cost billions as well as risk lives.

If it works, don't mess with it!

Actually NASA upgraded the Shuttle flight computers in the early 90s but your point stands, and they do still use really old chips like the Z80 in some applications because as you say they are proven and do everything they need.

I wish manufacturers would bring back beige PC's, I am sick the black and colorization. There is just something that is 'PC' about beige.

Mr. Dee said,
I wish manufacturers would bring back beige PC's, I am sick the black and colorization. There is just something that is 'PC' about beige.

I hope they don't. They always went off colour very quickly. Though some of those Glossy white cases look nice.

There's a small convenience store here that still uses a 286 with MS-DOS. They had some custom programs written for it long ago for inventory, accounting, etc and they still use them. If they work why not. Plus for some things a high resolution monochrome text display is much nicer to look at than a cluttered "windows" interface.

The first two games I got were Adventure and the Temple of Apshai. I got all the Zork's when they came out later. Didn't have Choplifter.

After reading this I figured I'd fire up my 1982 original IBMPC. Works like a champ. I can't believe I paid around $3,000.00 (USD) at Computerland for it in 1982. Well, it does have 64KB of memory and that 4.77Mhz 8088 is hard to beat. Not to mention those Tandem 360KB floppy drives.

For a computer out of the 80's with 12 MBs of RAM, it must have been really expensive. In fact, when Dave Cutler his team was developing Windows NT, one of the expensive parts of building it initially was the RAM. Not to mention, when you go back to the mid 90's, the average system that came preloaded with Windows 95 had about 12 to 16 MBs of RAM. So, either this VAX system was classed as a workstation or the RAM has been upgraded over the years.

In regards to the following:
"You probably are done with a computer that's five years old, which is understandable enough"

I have a 9 year old Dell Dimension 8300 right beside me now with my entire iTunes library. It is still a very efficient system, it can run Chrome, Office 2010, iTunes, Firefox, AutoCAD, you name it with Windows 7 Professional x86. It has a Intel Pentium 3.2 GHz, nVidia Geforce FX Ultra 5200 and 2.6 GBs of RAM, 250 GB HDD. Now seriously, you think this is something I would want to dispose of?

Still, I love my new system which a HP Z210 which has a XEON 3.3 Ghz, 8 GBs DDR3 ECC RAM, 160 GB SSD with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. Boots in about 5 seconds.

Mr. Dee said,
For a computer out of the 80's with 12 MBs of RAM, it must have been really expensive. In fact, when Dave Cutler his team was developing Windows NT, one of the expensive parts of building it initially was the RAM. Not to mention, when you go back to the mid 90's, the average system that came preloaded with Windows 95 had about 12 to 16 MBs of RAM. So, either this VAX system was classed as a workstation or the RAM has been upgraded over the years.

In regards to the following:
"You probably are done with a computer that's five years old, which is understandable enough"

I have a 9 year old Dell Dimension 8300 right beside me now with my entire iTunes library. It is still a very efficient system, it can run Chrome, Office 2010, iTunes, Firefox, AutoCAD, you name it with Windows 7 Professional x86. It has a Intel Pentium 3.2 GHz, nVidia Geforce FX Ultra 5200 and 2.6 GBs of RAM, 250 GB HDD. Now seriously, you think this is something I would want to dispose of?

Still, I love my new system which a HP Z210 which has a XEON 3.3 Ghz, 8 GBs DDR3 ECC RAM, 160 GB SSD with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. Boots in about 5 seconds.

I questioned the memory too. I had a computer in the mid 80's (I was a kid so don't recall the exact year) and it only had 512 KB of RAM. We got a 386 in 92 that had 4MB of RAM. In 95 8-16 was typical in new computer, but 32 was typically the max.

Where I work we have a very old computer running Win95.

It's only function is to run a program that prints labels. Because it does that perfectly, and everybody in the company knows how to use it, there is no reason to replace it!

Another thing to note is that the computer itself is on 24/7 and I have been at the company for 8 years now and have never known it to break down or even be restarted! Says a lot for old tech!

And then the computer will break down without a redundancy and suddenly the supply chain of the mine is shut down because they have no way to measure the quality of the silver they are mining.

leojei said,
I still have a functional 386 from AST!!! Running win 3.1 n DOS 6.22

My 386 also works great, same for the HP Laserjet 4si.

Enron said,

My 386 also works great, same for the HP Laserjet 4si.

Yea, I was going to comment on the LasetJet 4 series. Where I used to work, all the original LJ4's were still working and in operation, yet some of the newer LJ's broke down within a couple of years of purchase.

ShMaunder said,

Yea, I was going to comment on the LasetJet 4 series. Where I used to work, all the original LJ4's were still working and in operation, yet some of the newer LJ's broke down within a couple of years of purchase.

I'm still using LaserJet 6l on w7 x64, works flawlessly through parallel port

Goes to show that people are wasting things for nothing. People think they need the latest gear but fail to realise that computers are tools. Not a toy. A tool. It does things it is programmed to do. You can even do a Word Document in Office 97 and it will look excatly the same as Office 2010 just the GUI is different but achieves excatly the same objective.

No ShMaunder, things are made to last if YOU look after them. My xbox360 is made in 2007, yet still works fine.

ozgeek said,
Goes to show that people are wasting things for nothing. People think they need the latest gear but fail to realise that computers are tools. Not a toy. A tool. It does things it is programmed to do. You can even do a Word Document in Office 97 and it will look excatly the same as Office 2010 just the GUI is different but achieves excatly the same objective.

Not really, lol. I'd argue that if they are tools, there is actually more reason to buy newer, better ones.

There are a lot of things we don't need in life, but we still buy them because they enrich our lives in some way or another. In terms of computers, I don't need to play the latest games. I don't need to have a nice big monitor. I don't need to be able to edit HD video. You're saying I shouldn't upgrade because I don't NEED them? What if I want them?

As for Office 97... lolol. There is far more to it than the GUI. There are plenty of things you can do in Word 2010 that you can't in Word 97. You know, because not everyone uses it for just a few lines of basic text. Yes, computers do things they were programmed to, but if they're not programmed to do what you actually want, then they are useless.

And I think you'll find that hardware does actually fail even if you really look after it.

I have a two year old ASUS g73jh that was their flagship at the time. It's been to the shop 4x for repairs ranging from faulty parts to faulty assembly.

My 3 previous laptops were all HP and were used 24/7 like the one I have now and not one has ever needed a repair.

Say what you will, the quality of parts is degrading along with the quality of simple assembly. Electronics across the board are flimsy unless you're willing to pony up for enterprise or commercial.

I use a lot of simple electronics for work, timers, media players, computers etc. and with the exception of routers, I've had issues with multiple brands of all of them...what's that tell you. Low prices are great, but sometimes you'd rather just pay a little more for quality.

It amazes me that at least one hardware component (normally critical and expensive) in every computer or printer I've owned since ~2000 has failed within about 5 years. Yet these old pieces of hardware still work perfectly today, and probably with very little maintenance as well. Old stuff was built to last!

ShMaunder said,
It amazes me that at least one hardware component (normally critical and expensive) in every computer or printer I've owned since ~2000 has failed within about 5 years. Yet these old pieces of hardware still work perfectly today, and probably with very little maintenance as well. Old stuff was built to last!

That's by design. You must keep feeding the economy!

ShMaunder said,
It amazes me that at least one hardware component (normally critical and expensive) in every computer or printer I've owned since ~2000 has failed within about 5 years. Yet these old pieces of hardware still work perfectly today, and probably with very little maintenance as well. Old stuff was built to last!

Back in the 80s there weren't dodgy capacitors, or capacitors with the wrong collant, or budget capacitors that were designed to not last long with rubbish operating specifications, things were also much bigger in terms of UCs so less problems occured.

ShMaunder said,
It amazes me that at least one hardware component (normally critical and expensive) in every computer or printer I've owned since ~2000 has failed within about 5 years. Yet these old pieces of hardware still work perfectly today, and probably with very little maintenance as well. Old stuff was built to last!
These old pieces of hardware might last 5x longer than what we have now, but they also cost like 10x more, and that's not taking into account inflation and price reductions in new/replacement hardware over time. Older hardware was also much less complex than what we have today, leaving less opportunity for faults to arise.

mikeyx12 said,
These old pieces of hardware might last 5x longer than what we have now, but they also cost like 10x more, and that's not taking into account inflation and price reductions in new/replacement hardware over time. Older hardware was also much less complex than what we have today, leaving less opportunity for faults to arise.

Yea, I agree with you. Though I do find things like MB capacitors blowing out more than a entire CPU for example. Combing your post with both AR556 and n_K posts gives a good conclusion towards lower quality hardware of today.

I love stories about spartanic use of computers. I think old technology still has a place today and truly believe that everyone should use what they really need for their workflow, not the latest and greatest.

I used to knew this guy, a novelist and music producer. His only home machine was a fully upgraded Amiga 4000. He's the only person I know who had a computer but does not use the internet "have no use for it, Im self suficcient, if I need something, I program it".

At his music studio he had a couple of A4000′s, a Pentium Windows 95 machine running a self made mixing program connected to his console and, this is the best, an old Atari machine, one of those with the advanced MIDI chips.

He claimed he was among the group who created the original Office's Excel. While that claim could be a lie, after all the thing I've seen he could do with such "limited" equipment, I tend to believe him.

Hahaiah said,
You can learn a lot from people like that...the thought process alone is interesting.

Exactly, he was an inspiration to me. He lost his battle with cancer months ago, a terrible loss.

Wow, says something for made in the U.S.A or does it say something for older generation Asians?

It's great it's still working just fine, I mean it only needs to do a few things and it does them, it's not checking email or surfing anywhere. Also, it's not like miners are prancing around with the latest technology gear, so it's not that important to them, except for maybe Tiny Flashlight.

Good find.

Hahaiah said,
Wow, says something for made in the U.S.A or does it say something for older generation Asians?

Actually it says none of that lol.

Think about it, Dell wants to sell you a computer for say $500. Now a cheap computer, uses cheaper "dodgier" parts and hence won't last as long regardless of where it was made. This has two goals, one it means Dell can sell cheaper computers and two it means the computers will fail, so people buy another one. Making Dell more money etc.

Hell pretty much everything in your laptop is made by a robot anyways. There isn't some Chinese guy drawing out circuits for your motherboard and placing components on it. A robot does it all, and the plant workers just put together the different components (ie put the CPU onto the motherboard, screw the screen on etc), throw it in a box and ship it.

-Razorfold said,

Actually it says none of that lol.

Think about it, Dell wants to sell you a computer for say $500. Now a cheap computer, uses cheaper "dodgier" parts and hence won't last as long regardless of where it was made. This has two goals, one it means Dell can sell cheaper computers and two it means the computers will fail, so people buy another one. Making Dell more money etc.

Hell pretty much everything in your laptop is made by a robot anyways. There isn't some Chinese guy drawing out circuits for your motherboard and placing components on it. A robot does it all, and the plant workers just put together the different components (ie put the CPU onto the motherboard, screw the screen on etc), throw it in a box and ship it.

Just a joke, but I think there's an element of truth to it.