Firing up that old iron

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Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Tue Apr 17, 2012 1:06 pm

I'm presently in the midst of a project to haul out, fire up and test all 45 of my vintage computers plus working spares (and other undocumented oddballs). Some of these haven't been switched on for a couple of years and it's a chance to make sure they all still work and identify any issues which should be dealt with.

It's not a comprehensive check. Just a boot test really....and a check that the drives can read/write. I leave them running for about 30 mins in some RAM check loop or play a game or similar. Enough time for the caps to warm up and explode if they are going to.

I'm also using it as an opportunity to document all those accessories and other bits and pieces so I know what I've got. It's surprising what I've amassed really.

I've checked out 11 of my models so far...it's been fun. Thankfully no real issues yet (touch wood). The only thing I've noted is a dodgey PSU on one of the System 80s. A cap change will fix that. Tonight I'll tackle some more namely the XT, Vic 20, ZX81 and TRS-80 Colour Computer 1. I've been working through the machines roughly in order of how I've listed them on the collection page. Not in strict order though...sometimes it depends what boxes have been moved. :D

Does anyone else here run a "check" on their collection from time to time? If so, how often? Any "fire-up" stories to share?
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby SpidersWeb on Wed Apr 18, 2012 7:50 am

I haven't had my collection long enough for a re-power test, but lately I've been pleasantly suprised with almost nothing actually going pop when the power is applied.
That first power up always makes me nervous.

I'm curious about how often to do this too to keep things healthy, and does it prolong the life of capacitors if they are charged up occasionally?

Funniest power up story I have I beleive I already shared but I plugged in the 5150 and said to my flatmate 'this is either going to go bang or just work', 'hopefully the latter' she says. Then flick the switch and you hear the increasingly loud hiss of line supressors and then the vents funneling smoke out. Now she gets more nervous than me when I plug things in. Biggest fright was a Pentium 4 though, being newish I simply never expected a large bang/flash and I was leaning over the case at the time with my hand on the PSU switch.

Best of luck with the power ups!
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:48 am

SpidersWeb wrote:I'm curious about how often to do this too to keep things healthy, and does it prolong the life of capacitors if they are charged up occasionally?


I've read a few discussions about this on various forums. There seems to be a range of opinions but the consensus is that capacitors do benefit from a workout now and again. Otherwise the paste inside gradually sets to cement-like consistency. I suspect workouts are neutral as far as logic ICs go, but the initial power on can sometimes be a challenge. ROMS can loose also their code over the years. I've also had CPUs fail.

Some people say machines should be run for about 30 mins every 3 months or so. I've got too many for that to be practical. My aim is to check them at least every 2 years if not sooner.

It's important to me personally that all my machines work, and that they can handle a decent session. The longer they stay switched off, the more doubt there is. Nothing is as sad as a dead computer. If for nothing else, the check is to make sure nothing has failed (and if it has to repair it). If an IC fails at the switch on or during the run, well it must have been weak anyway, and needs to be replaced. To me, opening the machine up, tracking down a fault and repairing it is part of the hobby.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby Radar on Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:38 am

tezza wrote:
SpidersWeb wrote:I'm curious about how often to do this too to keep things healthy, and does it prolong the life of capacitors if they are charged up occasionally?


I've read a few discussions about this on various forums. There seems to be a range of opinions but the consensus is that capacitors do benefit from a workout now and again. Otherwise the paste inside gradually sets to cement-like consistency. I suspect workouts are neutral as far as logic ICs go, but the initial power on can sometimes be a challenge. ROMS can loose also their code over the years. I've also had CPUs fail.


Any thoughts on methods to assist with longer term storage in terms of packaging???
I worry most about "damp" affecting things - while I have a fairly good place to store my collection that is weather tight, it is subject to temperature changes and can be locked up for long periods of time over winter.

I've considered including in the boxes with the machines packets of that absorbant silica gel (of which I can get a stready supply from new equipment flowing through work) - I've also seen suggestions in the past of putting these inside computers but think this is probably a recipie for more problems.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:57 am

Yes, damp is certainly a degrader of systems.

My storage area (room above the garage) doesn't get damp so that's a plus. However, it is subject to wide temperature variations as the room is not insulated. I do worry about what all this metal expansion and contraction is doing to the circuit boards. Better that than moisture though.

My biggest worry is an earthquake. There is a LOT of weight on that floor now and I wonder just how much stress it will take to plunge all of the units onto the concrete floor below. Probably not much. Some of those computers (the Lisas, the IBM AT) are pretty damm heavy!
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby lizardb0y on Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:59 am

Radar wrote:I've considered including in the boxes with the machines packets of that absorbant silica gel (of which I can get a stready supply from new equipment flowing through work) - I've also seen suggestions in the past of putting these inside computers but think this is probably a recipie for more problems.


I use the plastic storage tubs from the Warehouse which are occasionally on special at fairly good prices. These are then stored in a dry storage area about 3 ft above ground level. In each 60l plastic tub I use silica gel - about 30-40g per 60l tub is apparently about right.

I've considered buying these indicating ones: http://silicagelpackets.co.nz/33-gram-i ... -pack.html

They indicate when they reach 60% absorption, so once they've all changed colour it's time to change packets.

Does anyone know a cheap source of Silica gel?

BTW, I only just noticed your "Obscure Pixels" link in your sig - which makes you one of the few people who was already collecting when I started back in the mid 90s. Hi Mike :)

EDIT: Here's a photo of my storage:

Image
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:01 pm

lizardb0y wrote:I use the plastic storage tubs from the Warehouse which are occasionally on special at fairly good prices.


Yes, I remember you telling me about these. They certainly beat my cardboard boxes.

However when I sought them out they were not at sale price (although I did get a couple). I need to check again sometime.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby lizardb0y on Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:33 pm

tezza wrote:
lizardb0y wrote:I use the plastic storage tubs from the Warehouse which are occasionally on special at fairly good prices.


...

However when I sought them out they were not at sale price (although I did get a couple). I need to check again sometime.


I keep an eye on them and pick a couple at a time when they're on special. The price has definitely gone up since the first lot I bought :/

I recommend the flatter "under bed" ones because they're wider and fit typical older micros well, but they don't have rollers. The 60l tubs have rollers so they're easy to move around.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby Radar on Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:39 pm

lizardb0y wrote:I use the plastic storage tubs from the Warehouse which are occasionally on special at fairly good prices. These are then stored in a dry storage area about 3 ft above ground level. In each 60l plastic tub I use silica gel - about 30-40g per 60l tub is apparently about right.
BTW, I only just noticed your "Obscure Pixels" link in your sig - which makes you one of the few people who was already collecting when I started back in the mid 90s. Hi Mike :)


Thats so neat and tidy!
I actually have a huge stack of tubs (also from Warehouse sales) as well that I primarily have handhelds etc. stored in but struggled to fit boxed systems in and had to revert to larger cardboard boxes for those.
Should really buy more and tidy up.

Thats a nice arcade cabinet as well - HAve not seen that design before - it looks to be a nice early one probably made by Rait Electronics Chch - they did some great "niave" space art on there cabinets.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby SpidersWeb on Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:39 am

I use those warehouse tubs too, fantastic value on sale, mine are for parts as most of my machines are mostly to big to actually fit in them (but being boxes they stack really well). My biggest problem is monitors.

I prefer drawers over tubs so I can get at bits without having to stack/restack but I found the plastic drawers at the warehouse quite expensive for what they were :/ but I did get a small one which turned out to be 2cm too short to fit full length expansion cards (blah!). I also have a man-toy-car in the garage which I don't use, and it is now full with old gear and monitors - its soft, safe, and dry so seemed ideal.

lizardboy - also see you've numbered them, so I'm guessing when you need something you don't have to do what I do - go through everything :/ lol I'll have to get more organised.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:49 am

One thing I'm doing as I fire up my gear is to go through and enter every accessory and book into a spreadsheet so I at least know what I've got.

So far I've worked through 19 of my models. There have been no explosions and smoke so far and everything has booted and run just as it should. I'm pretty pleased about that. The only thing I've needed to put on the "to repair" list is one of my System 80s. It works, but the video is slightly wavy. Most likely the PSU caps or failing that, the power transistor.

Still...not even half way there yet :)
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby Carcenomy on Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:54 pm

Vintage gear I've had nothing but good times with recently - even the latest C64 acquisition fired up first pop without any fanfare.

New gear however... had a brand spankin' new Coolermaster eXtreme Power Plus 600W work fine on installation, went to install the machine at the customer's site and it was dead. Returned it to the workshop, hooked it up, went to start it and BAM! There was bits of IC floating loose inside the case, a lot of smoke and me swearing. :)

I am due to run everything up though. I'm almost afraid of what'll happen when I start my CPC6128 up.
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby SpidersWeb on Fri Apr 20, 2012 2:31 am

hah yeah I had a 4 way board from the warehouse that went bang, someone in the factory had left an extra screw floating around inside :/
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby recycled on Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:13 pm

Funny. The old stuff had to pass proper quality control checks before it was allowed out of the factory. It was expensive so the people who could afford it generally looked after it. Now the gear that has survived is finding it's way into 'loving' hands and probably being treated better than some Wives/Girlfriends (or so I've heard ;o) Reminds me must plan something different tonight, the Acorns should be OK on their own for once.

I remember the Whitcoulls branch where Dad bought our Beeb Micro one time had a very sorry looking piece of gear on a table one visit. A warehouse had burned down and the computer that had been used for inventory or something had been returned for a replacement - yup a poor Beeb had suffered heat/smoke damage. It was a mess, case melted into the circuit board, badly warped keyboard and the plastic was pretty brown too. It was working in the shop! If it didn't end up in a dumpster because it was so ugly, it's probably in somebody's halloween horrors collection still working today.

I bet we all have a hundred stories about new gear failing. New stuff, just absolute rubbish. Dell computer I was playing with, 'testing' Windows 8 beta, working fine headless. Figure I'm done with it, tried lots of Win8 stuff out, so prepare it for Trade Me. Plug in keyboard, turn on, fails at USB detect, very nice p4 computer with all the mod cons utterly useless, won't go past here now no matter what. Bought a brand new external drive case. PSU melted first time it was used - drive didn't start up. Somebody had used too much solder in the factory on the board inside the case and it was joining the 12v line to 0v, best example of a short circuit you could ever hope to find. A 2 1/2" drive case with a dud cable brand new. Hard drives that last a week, Windows itself, so many stories of that eating the boot block/files or even destroying the partition table - mates e_machines box suffered from two of these - in one failiure, thank the makers for Linux! Modern stuff is too much a disposable commodity that we just get on with these problems and replace the part. If your new 1984 Mac blew a PSU when you first turned it on there would have been all hell to pay back at the store you bought it from, $5000+ of smoking plastic, you bet you're going to give me a replacement off the shelf and a free software bundle to make up for my time. Today, Oh, your $700 laptop didn't work when you got it home, how about I sell you this nice $1100 one instead.

And the old stuff is Friendly! ;o)
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Re: Firing up that old iron

Postby tezza on Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:51 pm

recycled wrote:Now the gear that has survived is finding it's way into 'loving' hands and probably being treated better than some Wives/Girlfriends (or so I've heard ;o) Reminds me must plan something different tonight, the Acorns should be OK on their own for once.


Yea. LOL. I spent much of last weekend and every evening this week firing up the machines (3-5 per night). Last night Annette did pass a comment alluding to the disparity between the time I spent with her after work vrs the computers. (-:

Twenty three models checked so far and only an iffy System 80 power circuit has been slated for repair. I'm up to the Commodore 64s. Next on the workbench are the C64, the C64C and the SX 64.

Yes, the old stuff is certainly friendly to fix. If you are talking about pre-1985 it's not surface mount and components can be replaced easily. Of course finding just which ONE (or ONES) need replacing is the challenge!
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