Sunday, 14 November, 2004

Old Computers are Essentially Worthless

Last weekend I took three old computers and a bunch of old computer parts to sell at the Austin Radio Roundup--a ham radio "swap meet". Think of a flea market for old radio gear and electronics parts. The computers were an IBM PC (4.77 MHz, two diskette drives), a Leading Edge XT, and an IBM PS/2 Model 30. Parts included a 500 megabyte hard drive, some 10 MBPS network cards, some old computer speakers, a few keyboards, and other assorted valuables. A quick back-of-the-envelope estimate put the "new" value of this equipment at $10,000.

I got $15 selling the speakers, a track ball, a few cables, the disk drive, and a few other things. (The drive went for $2 to a guy who planned to take it apart and use one of the bearings for a code key.) I tried to give away what was left. No takers. With few exceptions, the rest went to the local computer recycler. 20 year old computers are essentially worthless because they aren't good for much except door stops, boat anchors, or museum pieces. Museums have all the computers they need, and there are better tools for holding doors open and boats in place.

Old radios, on the other hand, are still useful. Hams affectionately refer to old tube type equipment as "boat anchors," while at the same time lovingly restoring the radios and warming ourselves in the heat given off when we operate it. Radio waves are the same now as they were in 1955. My 50 year old Collins receiver will pick up people who are using the newest top of the line Yaesu transceiver. Similarly, if I fire up the Hallicrafters transmitter, the Japanese ham with the Icom is going to hear me just fine. Granted, the old gear is kind of tempermental and is somewhat difficult to operate, but it works in the modern world.

If there's a point to this tale, it's that some technologies take longer to mature than others. 80 year old cars, radios, and airplanes work just fine in today's world.  I wonder if computers will ever mature to the point that I could reliably use a 20 year old machine on a modern network.