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How to preserve your old XT, 286, 386, 486?

Posted on 2004-08-20
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Last Modified: 2010-04-12
I've got a swack of old PCs that I keep around to play my old DOS games, and besides using a FDD cleaner, dusting the insides with compressed air and changing the power supply, how else can I ensure that 20 years down the road, it will still work like new?
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Question by:vodka7
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by:Callandor
Callandor earned 200 total points
ID: 11853443
Some of your biggest enemies are rubber parts disintegrating, electrical surges damaging electronics, and capacitors drying out.  Floppy drives failing will be the most common sign, and you might be able to protect against the second with a surge protector/UPS.  There's no protection against the third but replacement.  I guess power supplies will be weakened by continued use, also.
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by:vodka7
ID: 11853726
Well I'm not too worried about floppy drives (except for 5 1/4) and hard drives and peripherals in general, those are easy to come by and will be for at least a couple more years.  What worries me is the RAM, Motherboard and CPU, I don't think anyone makes old EDO anymore and certainly not 2-486 processors.  ISA Vid cards might be a prob but there are plenty around and I have a nice stockpile.  Do they still make AT Power supplies or AT form factor boards?  
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by:eccs19
ID: 11853829
My bet is that if you did need to come by an older processor, ram, etc, you could probably buy bags of old memory & processors off E-Bay for next to nothing, and I expect you will be able to for years.  I think the only ones you may have trouble getting would be the 386's and older.
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by:Callandor
ID: 11853874
I don't think AT power supplies are being sold anymore, let alone made (who wants to make something with a diminishing market?).  Everyone would rather replace the whole system, than to get expensive parts and plod along at the same pace.  The same goes is true for motherboards - you might find some on ebay for cheap.
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rid earned 300 total points
ID: 11855131
One of the big steps forward with "solid-state" components, as opposed to vaccuum tubes, was the longevity of these components. They were marketed like they would last forever... and some indeed seem to have a very long service life. This does not seem to be the case with power diodes and transistors, though. You need to ensure that cooling for PSU's are working flawlessly and perhaps even take some steps to make cooling better (additional fan, meticulous dusting etc), as the enemy #1 is, as always, HEAT. Hot components go first.

Next on the list are capacitors and, to be specific, electrolyte capacitors. They do die. Once upon a time there were "Computer Grade" capacitors that were made to last, but somehow I think the idea was lost along the way, for economic reasons. So, you're left with "Standard Grade" electrolytes that will dry out or short out or just die eventually. Using the equipment regularly will help keeping these components alive. Some of these capacitors can last for a long time. I've come across 40 year old electrolytes that are still OK, but sometimes they fail totally (smoke and smell...) at power-up, if they have been idle for a very long time before being put to service. So some kind of regular use is indicated and you should  provide storage in "a Cool, Dry place".

Thermal cycling is bad - some kind of controlled environment is a good idea. Not too much humidity, and not too dry. Some materials will dry out, shrink and crack eventually, if the humidity is less than 50% average.
/RID
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by:vodka7
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OK well that answers keeping the motherboard and cpu in working condition, what about RAM and legacy isa cards?  should I use electrical contact cleaners on those?
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by:rid
ID: 11857902
I've never seen anyting but gold-plated connector surfaces in ISA slots and on ISA cards. Cleaning may become necessary if the surfaces get dirty, but not as some kind of regular maintenance. I prefer an eraser, or a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol, depending on the kind of contamination to deal with. For the slots a piece of cardboard of suitable thickness may be used if they need cleaning.
/RID
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