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Long-Term PC Preservation Project?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the solid-state-drives-perhaps dept.

Data Storage 465

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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I've thought about this (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592529)

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 (2, Interesting)

gcnaddict (841664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592537)

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:As for preservation (2, Interesting)

KnightMB (823876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592579)

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:As for preservation (1, Insightful)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592693)

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 about it; you probably wouldn't think twice about trying to plug in an old television from the 50's would you? Unless Vulcan's land tomorrow with a ship full of antimatter reactors I can't see us abandoning 110 anytime soon.

Re:As for preservation (3, Informative)

cjemartin (1460883) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592771)

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.

Re:As for preservation (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592903)

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.

Re:As for preservation (3, Insightful)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593079)

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:As for preservation (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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:As for preservation (1)

twowoot4u (1198313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593007)

Don't hard drives need atmospheres?

Re:As for preservation (2, Informative)

Alsee (515537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592643)

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:I've thought about this (2, Informative)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592605)

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:I've thought about this (2, Interesting)

thsths (31372) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592889)

> 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 wireless solid state data storage.

Re:I've thought about this (2, Insightful)

franl (50139) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593045)

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.

How can this be modded "Redundant" ??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592815)

It's the first post, it can't be redundant. What idiot got mod points to do this? BTW, I'm not the poster, it's just that as a member of the community I find this ridiculous.

Also CF Card (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592555)

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.

Re:Also CF Card (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592649)

Data on flash cards decay in about 5 years _maximum_. So good CDs are guaranteed to last much longer.

Flash isn't forever, either: ~10yrs (2, Informative)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592661)

The information in flash memory is stored as electric charge which slowly dissipates. Last time I checked, it was recommended to refresh it periodically, or the information could be lost in as little as 10 years.

Not optical media (0, Redundant)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592559)

If there's any crack, air will get in and degrade the media. Use magnetic or solid state storage- hard drives or USB sticks.

Re:Not optical media (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593069)

Use magnetic or solid state storage- hard drives or USB sticks.

This really is the worst thing you could possibly do. Do you really think the tiny little magnetic dipoles and electric charges will still be there in 50 years?

CD-R DVD-R media failure (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592563)

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.

-

Re:CD-R DVD-R media failure (5, Informative)

mfnickster (182520) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:CD-R DVD-R media failure (1)

pruss (246395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592975)

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).

Re:CD-R DVD-R media failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593039)

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.

Has anybody ever tested one of these sticky labels with a Sharpie for 50 years? I think they should use iron gall ink and vellum under an argon gas seal and sealed in a Faraday cage, just to be safe.

Re:CD-R DVD-R media failure (1)

Keramos (1263560) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593073)

Pressed CDs suffer bit rot as well, I believe. Different reason, same end result.

Virtualization (1, Insightful)

tji (74570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592565)

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 (3, Insightful)

wangmaster (760932) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

should be scored higher (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592629)

this is the most realistic recommendation in the thread so far

Re:Virtualization (2, Insightful)

dmomo (256005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592665)

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.

Something is going to die (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592575)

It just won't work. Either the hardware will fail, or the media will be unreadable, or something else will go wrong. Just include replication instructions, and they should be able to use their molecular printer to create a working copy.

Way too many unknowns (3, Funny)

gavron (1300111) | more than 5 years ago | (#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!

boot sequence? Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592611)

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.

Re:boot sequence? Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

gavron (1300111) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592689)

I said boot _sequence_ not boot _times_. What it took to boot an MV system in 1975 or a DOS system (1981) or a CDC Cyber 370 in 1984 or a VMS VAX in 1987 is a different set of instructions than AmigaDOS (1986), or Windows 95 (1996), or Ubuntu Linux 8.10 (2008) just to name a few.

The "method of sequential steps to start a personal computer" (should such a thing exist in 2059) will be far far different than what it is today. I brought Moore's Law into it to give an example of the orders of magnitude of difference that 50 years can bring. 2^7 is 49. That's 7 generations of change as per Moore's law [for CPU usage] in less than 50 years. There will be significant REVOLUTIONARY changes.

Ehud

Re:boot sequence? Re:Way too many unknowns (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592865)

2^7 is 49. That's 7 generations of change as per Moore's law [for CPU usage] in less than 50 years. There will be significant REVOLUTIONARY changes.

2^7 = 128. 7^2 = 49. 50 years is about 2^5.644 (lg(50)), so it's about 5 and a half generations.

Re:boot sequence? Re:Way too many unknowns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592957)

2^7 is 49? Uh oh.
7^2 is 49.
2^7 is 128.

Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

BigFoot48 (726201) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592639)

I can hear it now: "It's been three seconds and still no "desktop", whatever that is, the damn thing is broken!"

Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592757)

The Volt has been used as a unit for more a century, and it precisely defined by the SI. It also has the benefit of having a convenient magnitude for dealing with potentials that arise from common chemical reactions. That convenience isn't going to change, so there's no incentive to switch to a new unit. Odds are that as long as there are human chemists on earth, there will be somebody who uses or at least knows what a Volt is. Similarly for something like a sine wave. The only way the nomenclature for trigonometry is going to change in the next few centuries is if we're enslaved by aliens or something equally catastrophic. Basic mathematical patterns inherent in Euclidean geometry aren't going to be easily forgotten or abandoned.

Re:Way too many unknowns (5, Funny)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592849)

>Basic mathematical patterns inherent in Euclidean geometry aren't going to be easily forgotten or abandoned.

You overestimate the power of the US education system.

Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592763)

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:Way too many unknowns (2, Interesting)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592767)

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:Way too many unknowns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592781)

> 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.

Oh, I think the robots running the planet in 50 years will be well-versed in classical math and electronics. :)

Re:Way too many unknowns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592917)

Just like today, we have no clue of how things worked 50 years ago... I wish there would be some information, even the slightest bit, but no, we have nothing...

Re:Way too many unknowns (1)

franl (50139) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593085)

If wishes were fishes ... We'll never understand those mysterious devices of 1959 that are forever lost to the mists of time.

in 50 years battery acid damage and bad caps may s (2, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:in 50 years battery acid damage and bad caps ma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592685)

Seconded. Batteries could be replaced but capacitors could not. Too much volatile chemistry involved.

EEPROM is the clincher (4, Interesting)

gillbates (106458) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592837)

Most of the EEPROMs used to store the BIOS code only have a rated data retention lifespan of 10 or 20 years. In 50 years, it would likely not even be able to boot.

But even should your EEPROM remain intact, the other problem is getting that hard drive spindle which has remained stationary for 50 years spinning again.

Condensators too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593023)

Most likely also the condensators will be dried already, the motherboard will not function properly. There is simply no way you can preserve a modern(ish) computer for 50-100 years in a working condition. Too many parts will fail in 10 years already, because they were simply built to last only for so long time.

Don't Bother (4, Funny)

dmomo (256005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592607)

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!

Re:Don't Bother (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592831)

Get off my future lawn!

No Lawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593119)

He's an astroturfer from the future...

Re:Don't Bother (1)

Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593071)

How'd you get up to 88mph?

The primary problem with your idea (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592619)

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.)

preemptive correction just for the nerds (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592641)

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

Re:preemptive correction just for the nerds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592943)

What about something like a ZX81?

There are only two electrolytic capacitors on the motherboard, it uses a ROM rather than an EPROM, and consists of mostly common parts except for the ULA.

It bet it would be far more likely to last 50 years than a 286 or something.

No consumer electronics last 50 years ?? (1)

the_rajah (749499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593075)

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.

Re:The primary problem with your idea (4, Interesting)

Dadoo (899435) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592845)

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:The primary problem with your idea (2, Insightful)

LNX Systems Engineer (1443681) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593141)

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 if high grade server equipment might last a bit longer. After all, those components are made with "zero fail" in mind.

Re:The primary problem with your idea (0)

drmerope (771119) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592883)

NO electronics are designed to last 50 years.

Quite so, one effect you did not mention is that the microprocessor is unlikely to work after 10 years. During manufacturing Boron is diffused into selected regions of purified silicon (doping) to create the transistors. This is done at high temperature, but even at room-temperature the diffusion process continues. Most CMOS process technologies have anticipated lifespans of 5-10yrs.

10yrs from now, this may just mean you have to clock the processor more slowly. In 50 yrs? Who knows.

Will they care? And avoid moisture. (2, Informative)

ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592645)

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 Compaq hardware on a new generation of students.

4. Store it someplace dry. Moisture is your biggest enemy. Basements will flood, roofs will leak. Think mold, think corrosion.

5. Motherboard batteries will die, and may leak. Remove them and all other batteries. Forget laptops.

Re:Will they care? And avoid moisture. (1)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592905)

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.

Nitrogen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592657)

Purge it with gaseous nitrogen (its not terribly expensive) and keep it in a low humidity, cold place.

50 yrs is not that long (4, Interesting)

retech (1228598) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:50 yrs is not that long (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592861)

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 years.

If you have the inclination then go for it but I'd suspect you'll have more of a static display (and there is some value to that I suppose) than a functioning PC after 50 years.

Ten years may be doable and that's a bunch of PC generations.

Re:50 yrs is not that long (1)

thsths (31372) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592983)

> 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 example, just like the infamous 1/8" TRS jack.

Re:50 yrs is not that long (1)

Junior Samples (550792) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593059)

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 .

hard drive lifetime (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592697)

The biggest hurdles are probably the shelf life of the hard drive and any electrolytic capacitors in the system. The spindle motor lubricant will dry out, as will the electrolyte in the capacitors. I seriously doubt that it will still be bootable 50 years from now. Sadly, I don't think there is a good answer here. VMs or emulators are potentially a partial answer, but you're still counting on a compatible VM player being available decades from now. And I don't think this is really what you had in mind regardless; it seems like you were wanting to preserve the actual hardware.

I'm still using a 6-year-old Dell... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592699)

you insensitive clod!

Re:I'm still using a 6-year-old Dell... (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592841)

Only 44 more years to go!

My company just replaced our 8 year old Dells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592959)

I was thinking the same thing... my employer has Dells from 2000-2001 and just started a rolling replacement of them this month, mostly so that we could upgrade to Office2007 (because more and more clients are using it and we need to be able to exchange documents).

Re:My company just replaced our 8 year old Dells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593097)

mostly so that we could upgrade to Office2007

Don't forget to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony!

Shorter time span? (4, Insightful)

jd142 (129673) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592701)

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.

Re:Shorter time span? (1)

phozz bare (720522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592989)

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.

Why save crap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592707)

None of those brands has put out a quality product in the last 10 years. Those machines were ready to be retired the day they were purchased and you're lucky they lasted beyond the warranty period.
Next thing you know someone will want to enshrine a [shudder] Gateway machine

Keep a Video/Photographic Timeline (1)

Microlith (54737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592711)

Take a picture of one of the computers, a video of it in action, and write down all the machine stats. Note the date it came into use and the year it was retired, and keep short list of technology changes that occurred during the period it was in service (increases in disk capacity, processor speed, processor -technology- even) and just keep a running timeline.

There's little value in the actual hardware, and as others have noted some of it may not even turn on due to changes in things like batteries and capacitors. Preserve a few specimens if you can, but don't rely on them.

You know what would suck? The Y2038 Problem (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592747)

Somehow, you get your computer preserved and it makes it to 2059. Everyone is excited, the telepresence news crews are in attendance, and you go to boot it up... only to have it crash due to a Y2038 bug in some code Microsoft borrowed from FreeBSD. Oops.

Re:You know what would suck? The Y2038 Problem (0)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592855)

Isn't it the Y2036 bug?

In any case, dates should be saved as complete entries (year, month, day, hour, minutes, seconds, milliseconds if needed), not "number of milliseconds since date XYZ".

Re:You know what would suck? The Y2038 Problem (2)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593049)

That would make it a serious pain in the ass to do time calculations.

You need to be well-organised (4, Interesting)

eobanb (823187) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592779)

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.

Re:You need to be well-organised (3, Insightful)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592867)

Another idea... don't put it in an actual capsule at all.

Climate controlled closet, visual inspection of the system yearly, boot test every three years. Also, every year or two, fresh burns of optical media.

Re:You need to be well-organised (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593107)

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.

Seriously. Haven't you seen Forever Young?! Stinkin' bureaucracies!

As far as making sure it's ready for the future... (5, Informative)

Cprossu (736997) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592783)

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! =)

Get a netbook (1)

quo_vadis (889902) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592787)

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 to connect it to a working monitor/keyboard etc. Just plug in battery and press power button.

Re:Get a netbook (1)

Cprossu (736997) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592843)

I wouldn't want to bury a lithium ion battery with the possibility of moisture getting in, would you??

pack away some back up parts (2, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592789)

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 years, there would be enough interest in building a new capacitor, and enough interest form antique historians to invest in the time to understand and trouble shoot the pc to keep the thing running

and at 200 years, it would probably even be worth a pretty penny

It'll be funny when if it did boot (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592801)

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!

Write the instructions in Chinese ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592821)

might be a good idea.

Also a cool economics class project (2, Funny)

El Cabri (13930) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592823)

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 !!?

Cover the basics (1)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592829)

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 sure you don't leave any CMOS backup battery installed. If it has to be included, bag it separately.

Keep the capsule temperature controlled. Assume it's going to flood at some point - there was a time capsuled opened here not long ago that was almost totally destroyed by water leakage.

Make sure the local library has paper records on where the capsule is, what's in it, and so forth.

Very good... (1)

Grog6 (85859) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593011)

also:

Argon filling the enclosure would help.

If you were using modern stuff for a time capsule, there are mobos with only ceramic caps available now.

Caps and batteries will be bad in 50 years. Electrolytic caps lose the oxide layer in a few years.

Inert gas with desiccant will work, Vacuum packing a hard drive is a bad idea; The heads will vacuum weld to the platters. (both are reeeeally flat...)

dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26592899)

no one is going to want to touch that crap in 50 years. I get angry when I have to deal with anything sub pentium4!

In consideration - Historical Archivist (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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

Re:In consideration - Historical Archivist (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593125)

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 not like it has to be available when Cartman finally gets his Wii system.

Re:In consideration - Historical Archivist (1)

Cprossu (736997) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593127)

I still have my tek 535 and 547 'scopes, which still work as well as they did the day they were manufactured, despite being over twice as old as I am. I am surprised by all the nay-sayers here on /. myself actually. I collect old computers and enjoy seeing a totally different view on how things were, and in quite a few cases, how they should be today but aren't. There's nothing in this world like flipping on my appleII, which I bet if I put in a case would work perfectly in the next 50 years, and coding up an old applebasic program, or running an old game, which I still haven't beaten yet. Computing has progressed a very very huge amount in very little time, and it will be very cool, even if it doesn't end up working without some work, for a future generation to see what caves we lived in before what they produced took over...
Just throwing away something we have today just because it might not work later, or there would be better things around anyway is not a good basis for improving humanity. We need reminders, like the trs-80, b-reactor at the hanford site, the saturn V rocket, the Colussus at bechelli park, old television sets, and yes, todays' pc, to remind us of things we done and how we did them so we can once again progress.

Re:In consideration - Historical Archivist (1)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593131)

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.

Settle for compromise (1)

grilled-cheese (889107) | more than 5 years ago | (#26592995)

I agree that the difficulties of preserving technological hardware are going to be more expensive than most are capable of (noble as it may be).

I would do as others have suggested and videotape the process of the hardware in operation. In addition however I would build a virtualized environment using purely open-source projects. That way you are preserving the memory of the physical actions, the real user/software interaction, and the code necessary to keep the project usable in the future.

Consider the case where someone wanted to preserve their commodore64 experience a long time ago. The hardware itself is scarce to find working even now at less than 50 years. The video would preserve the painstaking data entry and big cartridge mentality in the design. With modern virtualization technology, you could preserve any software environment in use today practically. This preserves the ability for future generations to develop and use these antiquated systems in the future for historical discovery. Additionally you would have to preserve a copy of the source code used to operate the virtualization software at the time in which the preservation is made. Giving people data formats that don't exist anymore is useless, but giving them the code needed to resurrect a working example has value. Even today, there are still ways for people to compile and execute programs written decades ago, provided they have the source.

Capacitors are your enemy (4, Informative)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Preservation (4, Informative)

cffrost (885375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593027)

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.

Why lock useful computers in a vault? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593035)

I have been to a school that had done the same basic project with one wrinkle: they just forced students to keep using the same computers for 50 years.

one word of advice... BOOM! (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 5 years ago | (#26593041)

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 recap the whole machine first (the frustrated preservationalists gut the old capacitor bodies and put the new stuff in them, then seal up again with the same old wax or pitch) and then power it up for a smoke test. most of the same issues.

this is not looking too positive as I see it. something with as few electrolytics as possible would be the best bet, like a laptop.

One label is enough for everyone (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26593089)

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.

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