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Long-Term PC Preservation Project? 465

Posted by timothy
from the solid-state-drives-perhaps dept.
failcomm writes "I've been talking with my son's (middle-school) computer lab teacher about a 'time capsule' project. The school has a number of 'retirement age' PCs (5-6 years old — Dells, HPs, a couple of Compaqs), and we've been kicking around the idea of trying to preserve a working system and some media (CDs and/or DVDs), and locking them away to be preserved for some period of time (say 50 years); to be opened by students of the future. The goal would be to have instructions on how to unpack the system, plug it into the wall (we'll assume everyone is still using 110v US outlets), and get the system to boot. Also provide instructions on how to load the media and see it in action; whether it is photos or video or games or even student programs — whatever. So first, is this idea crazy? Second, how would we go about packing/preserving various components? Lastly, any suggestions on how to store it long term? (Remember, this is a school project, so we can't exactly just 'freeze it in carbonite'; practical advice would be appreciated.)"
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Long-Term PC Preservation Project?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The problem I see with this is that you'd basically need to include instructions on how to operate every protocol as well as an independent power source to operate it.

    The best bet would just be to include a laptop and a few solar chargers to power it. If the future world can't power a laptop with light for some reason... they don't deserve to look back into the past.
    • As for preservation (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gcnaddict (841664)
      Perhaps that mineral oil which is used to keep CRAYs cool might work? Maybe just get a barrel of that, drop all of the components in, and seal it up.

      I'm not sure how practical it will be for when it's opened, but it'll suffice for keeping the sucker preserved.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KnightMB (823876)

        Perhaps that mineral oil which is used to keep CRAYs cool might work? Maybe just get a barrel of that, drop all of the components in, and seal it up. I'm not sure how practical it will be for when it's opened, but it'll suffice for keeping the sucker preserved.

        Mineral Oil works good for cooling, but it will eat through your components after a while, especially after 50 years. About the best thing you can do is seal it in the best vacuum possible. A lack of gas around the components does much better than forcing something in, be it air, liquid, etc.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by jayhawk88 (160512)

          Is all that really going to be necessary? People pull old Trash-80's or whatever out of closets and get them to work, and that's been 15-20 years maybe. Assuming the storage is kept cool and dry, I can't see any reason why the hardware wouldn't be usable after 50 years. Maybe throw in some extra RAM and a cloned HD as a just in case (or just two PC's).

          As far as power goes, surely standardized power is embedded well enough at this point that at the very least adapters would be available in 50 years. Think ab

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by cjemartin (1460883)
            There may be some concern for the charge that is holding the bios in. I have had PC that have sat unplugged for 5 to 10 years and would no longer boot because it had lost all from in this case an internal battery. You may need to also store away the recovery disk to boot the system with.
          • by hcdejong (561314)

            TRS-80s are far less susceptible to atomic-level deterioration (electron migration, etc.) than today's ICs. And I've had plenty of hardware crap out on me after less than 10 years, let alone 50.

          • by Cruciform (42896) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:41PM (#26593079) Homepage

            Wouldn't the capacitors be an issue on a TV that old? It's pretty common for old tube amps and pre-amps to have all the capacitors replaced by the audiophiles that buy them on ebay.
            I sold an old tube pre-amp, and the guy said that if they don't replace them outright they'll hook up lightbulbs in series and slowly power up the device, using the lights to verify if the electrolytes are still good.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rolfwind (528248)

            The goal would be to have instructions on how to unpack the system, plug it into the wall (we'll assume everyone is still using 110v US outlets), and get the system to boot.

            I've rented houses (that I moved out ASAP) that had the wiring from the 1890s/1900s still there, as well old fuse boxes (with those old twist fuses) that were hopelessly intertangled with new fuse boxes (for some reason they didn't rip everything out) and copper wiring intermeshed with aluminum wiring, and wires shielded with tar paper (

          • by blincoln (592401) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @08:29PM (#26594113) Homepage Journal

            People pull old Trash-80's or whatever out of closets and get them to work, and that's been 15-20 years maybe. Assuming the storage is kept cool and dry, I can't see any reason why the hardware wouldn't be usable after 50 years.

            The reason is tin whiskers. Electronic devices and components made before RoHS requirements will far outlast anything made since then.

            In other words, it's highly unlikely that in 15-20 years, anyone will pull a working PS3 or Xbox 360 (or Core 2 Duo-based PC) out of the closet.

          • by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @10:28PM (#26594903) Homepage

            Have a read at the problems faced in preserving the BBC Domesday project, and that's only about 20 years old.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:26PM (#26592923)

          No, definitely no vacuum. The pressure difference will cause damage. If you think you need to provide more than a stable, not too humid climate, use an inert gas.

          Most components will last 50 years without problems, but the BIOS battery won't. Modern hard disks with fluid dynamic bearings may be a problem. Software should be stored on low density magnetic and optical media: Tapes are still the longest lasting archival format that is directly readable by a computer. CDs are more likely to last 50 years than DVDs.

          The best way to keep a system in working order is to use it every once in a while.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Alsee (515537)

        mineral oil... drop all of the components in, and seal it up.

        Beware, mineral oil as well as some other supposedly inert liquids can act as solvents leaching certain chemicals out of plastics or other components, causing breakdown. You have to be really careful what you use, especially for long term immersion.

        I think for a "time capsule" you're better off just storing it in a sealed air container. If you want to get fancy maybe go for an inert CO2 or nitrogen atmosphere.

        -

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fahrbot-bot (874524)

        Perhaps that mineral oil which is used to keep CRAYs cool might work?

        It was Fluorinert [wikipedia.org], which is a fluorocarbon-based fluid - and about $200.00 a cup when I admin'd a Cray II back in 1988. Hardly "mineral oil" :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      You're assuming that in 50 years:
      - the battery will still be able to hold a charge
      - there will be no data loss on the magnetic media (hard drive)
      - there will be no data loss on the optical media (CD rot [wikipedia.org])
      - the soldered components will still work (tin whiskers [wikipedia.org])
      - the display will still work (no idea about inactive LCD degradation)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thsths (31372)

        > You're assuming that in 50 years:

        The capacitors have not dried out. Since they use a water based electrolyte, that could be the most critical point. Sometimes they dry out after just 2 years of normal use, due to the higher temperature during operation.

        But the most important question would be: why? Do you really think that in 50 years anybody cares about a PC that was mediocre in the year 2000? Very few people get excited about punch cards, and that will be exactly how CDs will feel to someone used to

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by franl (50139)

          But the most important question would be: why? Do you really think that in 50 years anybody cares about a PC that was mediocre in the year 2000?

          Time capsules are intended to preserve history for the future. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

        • by pxlmusic (1147117)

          they're just doing it for fun. jeez.

        • by DeadChobi (740395) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ibohCdaeD]> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:21PM (#26593503)

          Yeah, but personally relevant and educationally relevant are two different things. Punch cards are something that I would discuss as a historical aside in a high school computer science or programming or technology class, and I might trot some out just to show students how far we've come. That doesn't mean that I still use them to store data, or that I am a punch card fanatic.

          Please look at this through the eyes of a teacher; the goal of this project is not to get students using old technology, but simply to give them some understanding of what their teachers had to learn on. I had a teacher in high school who had some old magnetic disks that apparently had to be immersed in a fluid. He showed those to me and some other interested students as novelties.

          Imagine how cool it would be if your children or grandchildren could see what you had to live with, technology wise. Wouldn't that teach them something about history, or give them some understanding of how different our culture was compared to their culture? Essentially, is the goal of education to give a student some practical skills and then boot them out into the world, or do we want to give them a context for their skills?

          This kind of activity is educationally relevant because it allows students to feel like they've contributed something to the world or done something cool. When it's unearthed it will be valuable because it gives their grandkids an understanding of what was technologically advanced in the past.

    • by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:46PM (#26593747)
      The problem I see with this is that you'd basically need to include instructions on how to operate every protocol as well as an independent power source to operate it.

      Yeah, because in the last 50 years, there have been massive changes to the voltage and frequency of electrical utilities. And why protocols? IP is well documented, and any changes would be as well. There haven't been massive library burnings in quite a while, so we should be safe. There have been very few changes in the last 50 years. There is some "quality" change, but the basics are the same. The microwave oven has taken over, and TVs are flatter. Gadgets are everywhere, but no ones that cause problems. Anyone that learned on a 50 year old car could drive a current one with no more than 30 seconds of training, if that.
  • Along with the CD's place everything on a couple of large compact flash cards because it would be a shame to *really* have a definitive idea of how long optical media will last and expire in.
  • I do not know the expected lifetime of standard CDs and DVDs, but I have heard several reports of recordable CDs and DVDs getting bit rot after just a couple of years.

    -

    • by mfnickster (182520) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:04PM (#26592737)

      Definitely don't use recordable media that are dye-based or phase-change. If you can get the CDs or DVDs pressed professionally, do it - music CDs are made from durable polycarbonate with a layer of silvering applied on the top side, then covered over with lacquer or, preferably, another layer of polycarbonate.

      Wrap the discs in paper, then vacuum-seal them in shrink wrap. Seal them in a padded sealed tyvec envelope. Label "Do not open until Christmas 2060" with a Sharpie.

      • by pruss (246395)

        Last I checked (half a year ago or so), it was not possible to get professionally pressed discs in quantities less than about 100-200. If that's changed, I'd appreciate knowing (for family archival purposes).

  • Virtualization (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tji (74570)

    Virtualization gives an easier way to accomplish this (with the caveat of needing a platform able to host the virtualized platform).

    You can easily snapshot systems, and have an OS image for each x years rather than a complete new platform each time. Doing this today, you could easily produce snapshots from DOS days up until current systems.

    VMware would be easier to create all this with. But, open source Xen would probably be the better choice to ensure future availability.

    • Re:Virtualization (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wangmaster (760932) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:55PM (#26592625)

      I think you're missing the point of the project. There's far more to computing than operating system and software. If the point was to show where virtualization was now to people 50 years ago, your idea is great, but the point is to remind people 50 years from now what kinds of computers we had that the average person used.

      How uncool would everything be if you opened up a time capsule from the 80s and found out that it consisted of a polaroid picture of everything people wanted to put into the time capsule?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dmomo (256005)

      This is true. But, I would hope that unpacking an actual system that is authentic and plugging in the components would be quite an experience. But for all I know, 6-7th graders will be bored out of their skull. Invite their parents along to open it. I bet it'll be the big kids that really dig it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        This is true. But, I would hope that unpacking an actual system that is authentic and plugging in the components would be quite an experience. But for all I know, 6-7th graders will be bored out of their skull. Invite their parents along to open it. I bet it'll be the big kids that really dig it.

        I dunno. Would there be any point in a 2009 PC without a 2009 internet to use it with?

  • by gavron (1300111) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:49PM (#26592577)
    "US Power" is not a defined term. Even if you went to the effort of saying "The two leads need to be supplied with a sine-wave alternating current peaking at 115 Volts" you have no way of knowing that in 50 years they'll be using Volts, AC, two leads, or know what a sine-wave is. I like the previous poster's suggestion of a laptop with a solar charger. Of course this makes an assumption that there will be sunlight in the right frequencies and not the bad evil sunshine frequencies. Who knows what 50 years of industrial evolution, weather changes, and clouds will bring. Heck, what if they try and start it up in Seattle and all they have is clouds? Finally, EVEN IF they did start it up, the point of a time capsule is to provide a glimpse of the past, not to ANNOY AND IRRITATE THE FUTURE. That means whatever OS you install on there is a waste. Making someone go through the tedious boot-up sequence (50 years, Moore's Law, remember?) is a waste. In short, a waste. Much better to give them code samples of your hello_world.c so they can laugh about how stuff was hard in the past. Regards E P.S. FTG!
    • Making someone go through the tedious boot-up sequence (50 years, Moore's Law, remember?) is a waste

      I'm not convinced that boot times have followed Moore's law. It takes my newest computer significantly longer to boot up completely than did my old 286 in the days where everything ran in DOS.

    • by socsoc (1116769)
      I have an inkling that they'll still know what a sine wave is and how to use a solar panel in 50 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sperbels (1008585)

      Even if you went to the effort of saying "The two leads need to be supplied with a sine-wave alternating current peaking at 115 Volts" you have no way of knowing that in 50 years they'll be using Volts, AC, two leads, or know what a sine-wave is.

      Um, we're talking 50 years from now...not 500. Many of students who created the time capsule could even be the ones digging it up. There will be plenty of people who understand its power requirements. There will be plenty of people who even know how to operated the thing with proficiency.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      "Much better to give them code samples of your hello_world.c so they can laugh about how stuff was hard in the past."

      From the desktop BASIC processor in my 1974 Math lab:

      >10 print "Hello World"
      >run
      Hello World
      >

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:51PM (#26592587)

    In 50 years battery acid damage and bad caps may stop the systems from even booting. Bit rot may mess up the bios code as well.

  • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:53PM (#26592607) Homepage

    It got damaged in a flood. Even if it hadn't it wouldn't matter. We just use this 20 year old time machine invented in 2039 to come back for our retro-gaming fix. It's a clunker compared to the new time machines, but it was cheap. Actually, probably cheaper than your P4 uses... AND it uses less power.

    We actually save power by going back in time and using the past's power anyway. The future is AWESOME. Come join us soon!

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      Get off my future lawn!

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:54PM (#26592619) Homepage Journal

    NO electronics are designed to last 50 years. If you got basically all the moisture out of the storage facility, everything but the storage devices MIGHT last, IF the temperature were stable enough. And at the end, you'd have a hermetically sealed container full of poison because odds are that the nasty crap would have come out of some of the capacitors anyway, and the plastic would have been offgassing all of this time, and your time capsule would probably be declared a superfund site.

    Moral of the story: shoot some digital video of some people using the computers, then pack them off to the recyclers. Whether the exercise is worthy is not really at issue; it's not really a feasible idea anyway. The cost of preserving the machines (are you going to have shielding capable of protecting digital magnetic media over that time scale?) coupled with the risk of the systems not working when you try to fire them up anyway makes the whole point moot for most schools (and most anyone else, too.)

    • No consumer electronics are designed to last 50 years. Unless you have been computing on a space probe, recycle the computers.

      • There are quite a few old tube radios around that are more than 50 years old that still work. I've got a Hammarlund HQ-129X built in 1946 that still works with the original capacitors. It's been fired up often enough that the electrolytics haven't de-formed. You might nit-pick that it's not a consumer product, but it was built for the short wave listener and ham radio operator, not for the government or commercial users of the time.
    • by Dadoo (899435) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:18PM (#26592845) Journal

      NO electronics are designed to last 50 years.

      Maybe they weren't designed to last that long, but they do, anyway. There are plenty of Apple IIs and TRS-80's out there, still running just fine. I have a 30+-year-old computer, myself, that still works. Granted, it's not 50 years, but it's getting pretty close.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        That was also before companies figured out how to cut costs by using as few materials as possible, even if doing so compromises longevity. 20 years ago, fibreglass boats were practically tanks because manufacturers had no idea how *little* of the stuff they'd actually have to use. There are other areas where this is painfully obvious, such as home construction.

        Either way, I would have to think that in the last 20 years hardware manufacturers have figured out how to use materials more "sparingly." I wonder
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        For mass market gear, old computers are almost certainly longer lived than newer ones. If you can reflash a computer's BIOS(or equivalent, for the openfirmware/linuxBIOS/EFI/whatever crowd), then it is stored in flash. Retention time? Maybe a decade. Firmware in PROMs or mask ROMs will last more or less forever.

        When one of today's computers is booted up 50 years from now, a few caps will probably need to be replaced, many of the plastics will be brittle, the silicon will probably be like new; but the fir
    • by rm999 (775449)

      I have a ~25 year old computer that still works. What will happen in the next 25 years that will cause it to fail?

      It doesn't matter how long they were **designed** to last - what matters is how long they will realistically last.

  • 1. The students won't care. They'll be concerned with whatever popular culture dominates in 2059, not with old tech. Except for the nerds.

    2. If you do this, preserve other things as well. Preserve a copy of the newspaper from the Obama inauguration. (Provide instructions on how to open and read a paper newspaper.) Preserve whatever popular culture dominates in 2009. Preserve pictures of the school and letters from the students.

    3. Think carefully about whether you'd really like to inflict Windows XP and Comp

    • by mustafap (452510)
      And

      6. Do a hard copy printout of the BIOS. Its flash memory will have become erased in 50 years.

      7. Dito for any BIOS in your video hardware

      8. Provide a schematic of the PC so they can identify all the tantalum and electrolytic capacitors, and replace them with new equivalents.

      9. Forgot it all. Put a packet of cigarettes in there instead. It will be fun rediscovering the habit again.
  • by retech (1228598) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:00PM (#26592681)
    Keep multiple systems and monitors.

    In 50yrs I think you'd have more problem porting the video out than anything else. Remove the batteries too.

    Why not store 3 complete systems in 3 entirely different ways. Hoping that one of them will survive intact. Or components from all three will have enough intact to make a complete system. Let's assume that whoever finds it, even in a century will be intelligent enough to turn it on. Unless this ends up being an Old Man in the Cave [imdb.com] sort of scenario. Then you've no hope anyway.

    My uncle still fires up his Apple LISA every few months to do his accounting on it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My uncle still fires up his Apple LISA every few months to do his accounting on it.

      Which is why he can still get it to fire up. 50 years with no power will probably condemn the capacitors to oblivion. Without proper attention to moisture the disk drive (hard and floppy) heads will have probably oxidized beyond usability. I have a circa 1992 386/20 that is still running but a shortwave radio of about the same time period is inoperative due to capacitors that crapped out since it sat idle for that same 15 yea

    • by thsths (31372)

      > In 50yrs I think you'd have more problem porting the video out than anything else.

      Maybe, but then maybe not. NTSC was defined in 1941, and current TVs are still compatible with the signal defined then. Yes, I know that things are changing: modulators are a thing of the past, and digital is the way to go. But still, compatibility has not been broken over nearly 70 years.

      So do not underestimate the inertia of standards once defined. I would not be surprised if USB is around for a long long time, for exam

      • by rcastro0 (241450)

        > I would not be surprised if USB is around for a long long time

        That's what was said about the RS232c interface, Parallel Printer Ports, PCMCIA slots, Firewire connectors, pc game inputs, VGA cables, AGP slots and Scuzzy interfaces not long ago.

    • Most likely, the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply and motherboard will dry out and loose their capacitance. At that point the unit will not power up when power is applied.

      10 years is probably the best that you can hope for considering the component quality .

  • Shorter time span? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd142 (129673) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:02PM (#26592701) Homepage

    Instead of 50 years, make it 25 or 20. Then their kids can be in middle school and see the computer their folks used to use.

    There are plenty of pc's made in 1984 that can still work fine.

    • There are plenty of pc's made in 1984 that can still work fine.

      ..and nobody had to put them in a time capsule for them to work just fine - you could probably grab everything you need to get a 1984-era PC working off ebay today. Which makes this whole exercise seem a bit redundant.

  • by eobanb (823187) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:09PM (#26592779) Homepage
    In my experience, departments can be re-structured, staff get replaced, budgets get changed, buildings get remodelled, torn down, or re-purposed. Frankly, if you expect such a project to survive even 50 years you may have to do a bit of planning first. Figure out who is going to manage the whole thing; a system can't just be put in a closet in a classroom; find a central location (say, a large airtight, waterproof safe in the school library, labelled with a plaque, and get the school board, school paper, etc. informed about the project so that its existence is recorded in various ways. I'm sure that's just about the best you could do with your budget. I'd also not recommend preserving just one system, but probably several complete ones, maybe of varying age. If you got a couple of 286's with PC-DOS, a couple of Pentium II's with Windows 95, a couple of original iMacs with Mac OS 9, etc, that might be much more interesting than just one system, and surely it's better to have some redundancy in case one or more of the machines don't survive for some reason. And certainly include as much physical media with as wide of a variety of software as you can...floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, hard drives, zip disks, and perhaps best of all would be USB flash drives as these would be more likely to survive than optical or magnetic media, and unlike these, USB mass storage might be possible to read with computers with computers built in 2020 or even later. Miscellaneous tips: I wouldn't bother with any software that requires online activation, active internet connection, etc. I'm sure the internet will be quite different from how it is today, and even software giants like Adobe or Microsoft may be long forgotten in 2060. Make sure the systems POST without their clock batteries; these will surely be dead in 2060. Include as much paper documentation as you can. Manuals, quickstart guides, printed tutorials, anything. The documentation on this stuff might be very well preserved online in 2060. Or it might not.
  • For long time storage, I would suggest taking apart the entire system and giving it a good cleaning to remove any dust, Also inspect all electrolytic capacitors for any leakage or damage, you don't want an out-of-box experience to have to include replacing all the capacitors (although it may end up needing it anyway) This will obviously include voiding the warranty on the power supply to clean it out properly (be careful of the capacitors inside as they could hold a deadly charge, even after 15 minutes if the internal resistors don't work correctly) and inspect it. You should remove things like the CMOS battery, usually a button lithium cr2032, which would leak and destroy circuits on the motherboard, or at least go dead, and you should also pack some spare parts and components with it (at least a spare motherboard, ram, cpu, power supply, optical drive, spare fans, expansion cards, etc) , along with the documentation for them, which might not be available then. Pack at least 2 hard drives, pre-loaded with all the software you want them to see, including iso's of the discs that you will include, as you don't know how long the cdrom/dvd media will actually last.. you might want to include a fully bootable flash drive or two with the software and os as well. Include a complete listing of the bios settings for when they do have to put a battery in... if you can, make a written writing with all the electrolytic capacitors values and voltages, as that might come in handy for later. Include as many operating systems as is possible, to give a flavor of what pc's used to be like and what used to run on them, make sure all the licensing information is both in paper and digital form for any piece of commercial software, as they may need it to run the software, even if the companies who made it are long out of business by then. if the pc uses a standard db15 for vga, you should leave a crt and a lcd if possible, and if it uses a dvi connection you should also leave a DVI-DB15 adapter. Make as many video output options as you can available in case things have changed....
    Include a nice strong keyboard (like an old IBM Model M) along with a couple of the other keyboards you have (use different models and brands if possible), as the rubber membrane keyboards will likely not age very well. Include a ball and a optical mouse for snickers, and possibly a document on how each works...

    Of my years of collecting old pc's, that's what I've always wished was done for me! =)

  • The best thing to do would be to ensure your entire system was self sufficient to some degree (i.e. display, OS, input devices were fixed). A netbook would be the perfect low cost solution. Just get an eeePc with a 4/8G hard disk, set up with some slideshow to start on boot and store that. To ensure you dont wind up with the problem of bad flash hard disks, either make a few copies on SD cards, or get a ROM based hdd, burned with a system image. That way when people open it up, there wont be issues of how t
  • a few extra motherboards, most necessarily

    it won't get you to 100 years, but assuming you pack away 4, and 2 die in the first 30 years, it will get you past 50 years at least

    and, with hard work, and assuming nonoverlap in what part failed, you could cannibale parts to get at least one still working for a very long time

    besides, even if they completely stop making capacitors, past 150 years, and all the caps fail, a capacitor isn't exactly a difficult component to troubleshoot, understand, or even make

    at 150

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wait 50 years, unpack it and plug it in.... Then wait while it downloads 50 years worth of windows updates as it simultaneously gets infected with 50 years worth of viruses, worms and other nasties!

  • by El Cabri (13930) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:15PM (#26592823) Journal

    Slip in a paper share of MSFT in the time capsule with a note : can you imagine that in OUR time, people would pay seventeen BUCKS for that !!?

  • Make sure you've got good watertight, light-proof packaging. Pack it with plenty of desiccant packs. Maybe some oxygen absorber packs too. A big heat-sealed moisture barrier bag would be a good start, if you can get one that big.

    I'd be a little concerned about the electrolytic capacitors in the computer. There's probably not much you can do if they're going to leak - maybe you could fill the whole thing up with something absorbent that could be vacuumed up later, but I wouldn't count on it.

    Also make sur

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:24PM (#26592907)

    After glancing at many of the nay-sayers and upon this posting, I'd like to remind everyone that very few common instruments of man have been created to endure beyond the life of their users, and quite often they are a joy to be discovered, even if the most basic of happenstances occurs to keep them somewhat preserved.

    Many solid state electronics last just fine for decades, nestled in their Styrofoam enclosures. I have personally seen a 1981 KayComp power up after being stashed under a desk for 25 years. I have little doubt it could have happily lasted another 25 down there. . . mercury and plastics gassing away.

    The important thing is to offer reasonable protection and documentation. Your Media is going to be the first thing to go. . . so try and document how the media would have worked "IF" it works. Use Acid Free Mylar where possible to keep paper and media from reacting as much with the environment. Take reasonable steps to make sure the computers are packed away from light, (UV hasten the decomposition of plastics), dirt and moisture. Make sure they can be accessed without being damaged and create a reasonable storage scheme that is organized, minimal and well documented.

    Essentially, do your best. Even if they don't power up in 50 years because they won't accept the wireless transmission of neo-voltage power used in that day and age, they will be marvels to students of that day. And people may figure out new pieces to apply to their lives in the future based on where we were going today. Also, if one "teacher" or child who has yet to be born, wants it bad enough, they'll figure out how to make them work, or have enough data from the specimens you try to preserve to make a model in their modern day.

    Afterall, if I could see just pieces of something like Babbage's difference engine, it's a wonderful experience, even if it doesn't have any punch cards to fully work.

    good luck
    -Scribe of Argos

    • by SpacePunk (17960)

      OH yeah, while they are at it, they can include a stone with three languages chiseled onto it so researchers in 50 YEARS can decipher the primitive script in the manuals. Yeah, that's the ticket.

      Sure, we still know how to use shit from 50 years ago, but you never know about 50 years from now.

      It's only 50 years people. Pull the batteries, throw in a copy on all available media, box the shit up in 'airtight' containers, pump in helium or nitrogen, then box that up, and stick in in a closet somewhere. It's

    • I have personally seen a 1981 KayComp power up after being stashed under a desk for 25 years.

      I think you got lucky. A coworker brought in a Kaypro II a couple of years ago that had hardly been used and stored in his father's garage. He fired it up and let it run for about a hour. Then there was a loud pop, a shower of sparks and smoke rolled out of it. One of the capacitors had blown a hole right through the power supply's circuit board.

  • by Telecommando (513768) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:36PM (#26593017)

    The electrolytic capacitors are going to dry out in 50 years and will cease to function. There's a chance they will damage other components when the power supply is powered up again. I've seen it happen with equipment that is less than 25 years old. I don't think there is any known solution to this problem.

    I'm currently restoring a 50 year old stereo receiver (Harmon Kardon TA230) and the electrolytics are almost completely gone. Everything else is in excellent shape; the resistors, coils, tubes, even the lamps test good but the caps are all shot. This receiver has a old style transformer power supply, so I can bring the voltage up slowly using a Variac for testing. Your computers are going to have switching power supplies which will not like having a lower voltages applied to them so that's not an option.

    I honestly have my doubts that much from this era will survive 50 years. It's all made as quickly and as cheaply as possible with the expectation that it will be replaced in 3 or 4 years.

    I currently have an Apple ][ that no longer can read its boot disks, a PC XT that doesn't always recognize one of its ST-506 drives and a few months ago I went through my Amiga disks and found that most of them were no longer readable. All of these are far less than 50 years old and have been stored carefully and well cared for.

    However, my AIM-65 made in 1977 is still able to read data from my ASR 33's paper tape reader, which is 45 years old and still working fine.

    Yeah, my wife hates me for keeping all this junk.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)

      I agree about caps.

      I once worked at a place that had dumb terminals that were going on five years old that were seriously flaky because of the capacitors. I managed to fix the situation by telling the users that when they turned off the terminal at the end of the day, they should set the entire thing upside down. The idea was to use gravity to redistribute enough of the electrolyte so that the dielectric performance was improved. It worked like a charm, although I got a unfortunate reputation for being

  • Preservation (Score:4, Informative)

    by cffrost (885375) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:37PM (#26593027) Homepage
    The US National Archives for Preservation and Archives Professionals page [archives.gov] contains much information, including that which is specific to time capsules. [archives.gov]

    Northeast Document Conservation Center [nedcc.org] is another good resource with guidance pertaining to specific types of materials.

    NIST's PDF guide Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs [nist.gov] contains best-practices for optical media storage/handling.
  • that's what the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply and on the motherboard and plug-in cards will do, go boom.

    in the case of old tube equipment, there are two schools of thought on this.

    the preservationist school says bring the unit up slowly on a Variac to reform those capacitors that are not fully dried out, say, over 12 to 24 hours. then test the caps, and anything failing needs replacement. issues with your plan are no exact replacements, SMT desoldering and resoldering, etc.

    the functionalists

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Put a large label outside the box that reads:

    Porn pictures inside. DO NOT OPEN

    The students of the future will figure out the rest no matter how the education system will have been rotten.

  • Unless you store the thing in a vacuum, some things just aren't gonna last 50 years, and if it works at all when they fire it up it won't work very long. In particular, the grease in the drive's sealed bearing is going to oxidize and harden; the same would happen even quicker to the exposed grease in the DVD drive. You might solve the former problem with an SSD, but I doubt any obsolete school PCs are going to have those. You might be able to leave instructions how to disassemble and re-lube the optical

  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I couldn't care less about the computers from 10 years ago, let alone any monsters from the dawn of computing.

    You may have fond memories of today's technology (probably because you have an irrational attachment after seeing your son grow up with it) - but I have absolutely no expectation that kids in 50 years will care about today's computers.

    Assuming your preservation works, this is the reaction that I would expect:

    1. Anger at being forced to play with this outdated stuff for a class project.
    2. Laughter at

  • by The Master Control P (655590) <ejkeever.nerdshack@com> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:21PM (#26593515)
    There is no way you will be able to just toss a computer in a sealed capsule for half a century and expect it to work when unsealed and powered. Modern components simply are not engineered to this level of reliability, and for good reason - they're going to be obsolete in 5 years, so it makes no economic sense. You'll have to do at a lot of detail work to try and assure that the machine will even start:

    You will have to replace every single electrolytic capacitor (in everything - mainboard, PSU, every drive, monitor, mouse, keyboard and speaker amp) with solid-state versions. Electrolytics dry out and it's very unlikely that anyone other than a computer historian would think of this before powering the computer up. Altair 8800s and Imsai 8080s from the late 1970s are now to the point that their power supplies and electrolytics must be replaced for them to work reliably - don't expect your machine to fare any better.

    It's also a safe assumption that the lubrication in any rotating media drive will be gone by 2060 - not sure how to deal with that other than providing lube in a hermetically sealed package along with instructions to disassemble the CD drive and apply it.

    How are you going to have your data last? Tapes and hard drives will demagnetize by 2060. Flash may have a prayer; Your best bet is to get some extremely long-lasting batteries and interface a microcontroller with a plugged-in thumb drive. Store the data along with error-correction codes on the drive. Have the system wake up every ten or twenty years and "scrub" the drive, reading every block and writing it back. Do the same with the system's bios EEPROM - the system will be useless if that gets killed by a cosmic ray. You should also pay to have data CDs gold-mastered - redundancy is the only way to go here.

    The display is another problem. The only technology I'd really trust to just work without needing any repair is an LED display; LEDs can run continuously for decades. After the LEDs, a CRT is probably the best bet (despite a decent one having hundreds of precision electrolytics that'll need replacing) - After all, we've got examples of working CRTs from the 50s and 60s. Newer technologies haven't been around long enough to prove themselves yet.

    Get a corrosion resistant, hermetically sealed package for the whole kit and kaboodle and flood it with a dense inert gas like SF6 to keep anything from growing. Thoroughly sterilize every square millimeter with a hard UV light just to be safe. Put the HDD in its own sealed bag full of nitrogen if you include one.

    For power, your best bet is probably a primary battery (Mg-Cu) with seperately-stored electrolyte feeding an inverter - The shelf-life is "forever until mixed," at which point the machine will probably have a few hours of power depending on how much you include.

    Assume that the people who recover the device will still speak your local language and have libraries where they can look up terms such as volt/byte/etc. If they can't, I doubt there will be enough of civilization left to care about some artifact from before The Fall. I think that it will take far more time and money than you're prepared to casually expend if you want to entomb a computer and have any reasonable probability of it turning on and actually working after 5 decades alone, rather than just popping a PSU capacitor or being a dead relic.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @09:33PM (#26594513) Journal
    What 1959 technology would you like to see run? A turntable? A TV? How about a Radio? We still have all those things, but now, they are cheaper (adjusted for inflation) and better.

    So much of the experience of a current "computer" has nothing to do with the hardware, it's the content. So the virtualization ideas, etc have some merit.

    50 years from now, how "cool" is old hardware going to be? Not very I expect. They will have better cheaper computers.

    IMHO, you'd be better off including lots of pictures and printed material that will be usable, toss in some hw too, even if it won't work. In the end, I suspect an old yearbook will be more interesting than a computer.

    Meh, that's just my 2 cents worth.
  • Ohh! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Shadow-isoHunt (1014539) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:55AM (#26596237) Homepage

    Store copies of the Duke Nukem series on various forms of media and store it with it. Someone will throw it up on the then-ebay and a geek will buy it, the geek being compelled to play the prequels to Duke Nukem Forever the way they were meant to be played.

As far as we know, our computer has never had an undetected error. -- Weisert

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