back to article Binary dinosaur drive found alive and breathing fire

A binary dinosaur, with another 28-year-old Seagate drive inside, is still working - in an original IBM 5150 PC's expansion unit. The 5150 PC accelerated the PC revolution kickstarted by the Commodore Pet, Apple II, TRS-80 (Trash 80), and other wonderful early boxes. The 5150 was a proper system, coming with a keyboard, built- …


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  1. Peter2 Silver badge

    We might be able to beat that...

    Does an Tatung Einstein or BBC Micro count as a PC given that they were called Home Computers on release? If so, then I might be able to beat that assuming they still work, and we haven't binned them. They don't have HDD's though, just pre floppy disk drives

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: We might be able to beat that

      Ditto. My BBC Micro was bought as a model A with 32k (because the B was in short supply at launch), still works, although I did replace the original linear PSU about 20 years ago when a nice switch mode crossed my path.

      Somewhere I have some disks for the viglen 40/80 switchable 5.25 floppy drive.

      Amongst the collection of ancient technology I also have two Einsteins, but unfortunately no floppies for them... Stupid 3" non-standards! Grrr! They were a rescue out of curiosity, so I have no idea if they even work!

  2. pootle

    I have a Z80 based pc from around 1980

    My company's home computer club designed and built a z80 based home 'pc' as a kit of parts. It had max of 48k ram and ran crystal basic. a couple of brave souls got cp/m running on it. It's still downstairs and it worked when I last switched it on about 8 years ago. It generates a composite sync output from character mapped RAM, and needs an ICL 7500 series keyboard - not sure that's still there though!

    I tracked the motherboard, debugged the design and wrote the bios. 2kbytes? or maybe 4k? can't remember which.

    Suspect many of the caps will have died by now though, so could be exciting to switch it on!

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    They do that. I should complain to the management.

    1. Naughtyhorse


      tantrum beads

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same idea, better tech

    So, did they manage to recover the ASCII porn from the drive?

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    But will it run


    Sorry, couldn't resist

    1. Anonymous Coward

      If not.

      Will it blend?

      See what you started?

    2. Campbell

      Maybe Maybe Not

      "But will it run... Crysis"

      Probably not.

      But from what I hear it'd run Crysis2 no problem.

  6. Cazzo Enorme

    Tantalum caps

    Little sods those tantalum capacitors. They can be quite destructive when they fail, and need replacing sooner than any other component I can think of. Just had to "recap" the PSU on a 30 year old synthesiser - a very tedious task.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old Machines

    My own collection contains at oldest a BBC Master, a Mac Plus and a Mac Classic 2.

    Master and Plus are mid 80s I believe, and hard-drive-less. Classic 2 is early 90s.

    Data retention from machines nearing 30 years old is going to be an issue. Books can survive for centuries, but gigabytes of data from old HDs and floppy disks is lost forever, in most cases as early as 10 or 20 years.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      A recent report said the biggest issue in the future wasn't going to be disks and tapes failing, but a lack of compatible software to read the file formats.

      1. M Gale

        Re: Format?

        ..Also a subject of this semester's Computing in Society module, where the prof pretty much reached the same conclusion. In 20 years, will there be Word v6 file readers still around? What happens to all the documents still written in it?

        Open standards. Good for more than just feeling superior about.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Format

        'A recent report said the biggest issue in the future wasn't going to be disks and tapes failing, but a lack of compatible software to read the file formats.'

        Hence the beauty of FOSS, you always know what the format is

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          FOSS is not the silver bullet.

          With FOSS, you might know the format, but can you compile a program to read it? If there is a binary will your system libraries be compatible? Will it compile with the latest version of gcc, and if not will you be able to install an earlier version of the compiler to compile it, or will you build a cross-compiler, using some script you dug up from somewhere, that relies on downloading a source package and accompanying patch from a site that's long-since disappeared. Or will you just go back to an older version of Linux, the one that was used to compile *that* version of the program by the original developers, but then find out that, oh bugger, it doesn't support SATA or ACPI (properly) and needs this and that to install, and won't even install in a virtual machine due to some obscure VM bug or incompatibility.

          I'm as much a FOSS enthusiast as anything else, but it reaches a point where the old closed source version is actually easier to obtain and run than the old open-source equivalent, particularly if it uses a fairly well defined standard like DOS or Windows API.

          So FOSS helps a bit, but not as much as you'd think.

          1. Rob Carriere

            No, but it's at least bronze...

            > With FOSS, you might know the format, but can you compile a program to read it?


            I might have to modify the program first, you're certainly right on that account. But the point is, with FOSS I have that option.

            So at first, the ease of recovery is probably proportional to how large the installed base used to be, I agree. But after a while, exactly when the nasty scenarios you paint start to bite, having the source will win out over praying that a binary is still somehow runnable.

            If you're not a programmer yourself, you might have to hire one, but again, the point is that you have that option.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Well-defined standards

            I don't think "DOS" and "Windows API" fall in to that category.

            If we're talking about hypothetical situations where compiling FOSS source code causes issues, I doubt that a closed-source set of architecture-dependent binaries is going to be working for your closed-source application.

            I like what you tried to argue, I just think it's rubbish: with source code, you could eventually adapt the old app to work against new arch and libraries, or even reimplement it completely in Java 31.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            The post isn't about applications, just the data.

            At least with FOSS you have the data format described and are half way to converting it to something you can use.

      3. Wize

        re Format

        Wasn't that an issue with the 'new' version of the Doomsday Book?

        The original one is still readable, but the modern one needs a BBC computer and a laser disk reader.

      4. AlGodet


        ... I've got plenty of Harvard Draw, Pagemaker 3/4 and Supercalc files which are plainly readable, but I do not have anymore the software to run them. Well, I have them, but I'd need to install everything back on a Windows 3 virtual machine, which is tedious to do...

  8. Trygve Henriksen

    Norand Sprint 100 ?

    I think this little bugger is pre-1980, but I haven't found much info on it on the net.

    Handheld, 12-segment LED display, alphanumeric keyboard, one-way accoustic modem.

    Other than that, my Epson HX-20, should also qualify as it's from 1982.

    (2 x 6301 8bit CPUs, one of which was dedicated to IO, so even at .6MHz, this thing was fast.)

    The sinclair ZX-81 is also still ticking and kickin. My Casio FP-200 might qualify, or not. Can't remember if it works or not.

    My HP 9816 workstation probably doesn't count as it doesn't boot. (I just don't have a boot disk for it.)

    Keyboard, because the HP 9816 lacks a few keys...

  9. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Anyone remember

    "Lewd mode" Wasn't that in Zork ?

    1. Roger Varley

      Anyone remember

      I think you'll find that "lewd mode" was from Infocoms "Leather Goddesses of Phobos"

  10. Graham Bartlett

    Re: Format

    This is not exactly news.

    Thing is, what makes data survive isn't the medium it's written on. What makes it survive is *LOTS* of copies of it, widely distributed. And even then, you might need to get lucky.

    The Rosetta Stone was just one of hundreds of copies of this multi-lingual text; according to Wikipedia, precisely three copies have survived, all in somewhat dubious condition. The burning of the Library of Alexandria destroyed the vast majority of everything known about Greek history, technology and culture - the only vestiges of Greek thought to survive were those bits which the Catholic church approved of and had copied. With the fall of Rome, almost everything about Roman art and technology was lost for the same reason - the church approved of studying Roman history and philosophy as the source of Christianity, but didn't care about their art or tech. Bede's work only survives as copies, all of which are different, and there aren't too many copies of that. A decent chunk of Shakespeare's output hasn't survived, never mind stuff written by his less-famous contemporaries like Jonson.

    So don't rely on stone. Don't rely on paper. Don't rely on magnetic media. Don't rely on optical media. Rely on a *process* of regularly copying, and spread those copies around. Then when everything goes tits-up, chances are that at least one copy somewhere is going to survive.

    1. John 62


      The Jews would continually make copies of old Torahs and burn the old ones when they were worn out so that there was no chance of an old Torah misleading anyone due to illegibility.

  11. Alan Lewis 1

    BBC Domesday book

    As I underastand it, the laser disks are physically fine, but there is nothing available to read them!

    I haven't googled this yet -going off a memory of something I recall reading in c2005/2006, but the issue was the laserdisk player used custom code, so the few players available [even then] were unable to be used. In addition, a BBC Master 128 was required to run read them...

    Must google and see what the outcome was. I seem to remember a BBC spokesperson commenting that much of the project involved recreating the content from scratch...

    1. John Sturdy

      Not just custom code...

      It overlaid text (generated by the BBC micro attached to the disk player) over photos from the disk, and ISTR it synchronized the two video streams by varying the disk player motor speed.

      I also STR there were various "consultant" types involved with the project.

  12. Alan Lewis 1

    I still have these working

    Commodore PET with 8250 disk drives

    TRS-80, expansion interface, external disk drive

    Video Genie (EG3003) with expansion

    All in the loft and working, although the Genie's tape deck is out of alignment.

    Zen Internet has an original PET (yes, PET, not CBM), though iirc it is inop

  13. Mark .

    Domesday project

    Whilst the BBC Domesday project serves as a warning of what can go wrong with archiving digital data, this shouldn't mean that digital storing is always doomed to failure. The project failed not because it was digital, but because of stupid decisions - that should have been clear were stupid even at the start ("Yes let's make it only readable on one platform, clearly that will be around forever").

    If someone today proposed storing data in a custom closed file format, on USB sticks, only readable on OS X, the pitfuls should be obvious.

    It's like the original Domesday project being done by someone using a pencil to write on toilet paper, and then when the results are unreadable a few years later, proclaiming that paper is useless for storing information.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is very unfair!

      Hardly "stupid decisions". Remember how long ago this was!

      Back in the days of the BBC Domesday project there were no open standards, there were lots of platforms, none of which were in the slightest bit compatable and the people concerned were having to create pretty much everything from scratch.

  14. Pet Peeve
    Thumb Up

    Not in zork

    Lewd mode was a feature of a later infocom title, Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

  15. heyrick Silver badge

    Many of us...

    ...will have BBC Micros. Those with Atoms will win more.

  16. Vic

    Old Odds & Sods

    My Dragon 32 and my Jupiter Ace both still work fine.

    I've got a couple of Acorn Electrons in the loft, but I've no idea if they work.

    My ELF II failed miserably, and my TRS-80 and UK101 both got lost somewhere along the line :-(


  17. Christoph

    Somewhere ...

    probably in the back room, I have a single board computer with hex keypad input, 8 LED output (i.e. 8 bits, not 8 characters), and Kansas City CUTS interface for storage.

  18. The Unexpected Bill

    Couple of old PC clones still going here...

    Most notably, I've got a Zenith Data Systems PC (8088) and a Kaypro Professional Computer (8086) that are both going strong. The Zenith is floppy-disk only territory while the Kaypro had a Seagate ST-251 hard drive installed sometime in the early 1990s, or so says a printout that I found tucked in the bay above the drive.

    The ST-251 still works well, yet due to its use of a stepper motor to drive the read/write heads around and its tendency to drift out of alignment due to changes in climate and position, it needs to be low-level formatted.

    I had some other "neat stuff" in my collection, including a fully functional Apple III and a fully loaded Apple IIe. Too bad I had a basement flood that washed it away.

  19. Retron


    I had a 5150 machine back in '92, which my dad asked for (and got) when his company chucked it out in favour of a new-fangled PS/2. It only had a mono screen (MDA), had two floppies and no hard drive. It couldn't play many games and thus was thrown out a couple of years later when we got a 486.

    If only I'd kept it!

    (I still have the clicky Model F keyboard, which I kept because it was great to type on and I thought I might be able to use it with newer PCs. Hah! I also have the floppy controller card, as it has an external floppy drive connector - I've never seen anything that could plug into it, but it seemed interesting enough to keep).

  20. Chris Gray 1
    Thumb Up

    Mine were Amigas

    I wasn't able to afford an Apple II when they came out. I could only drool.

    But, in 1985 when the Amiga 1000 came out, I had a job, and so could afford one. It had the memory expansion card that took it up to 512K, along with a second (external) floppy drive and the CBM multisync monitor. Next was an Amiga 2000, which I later upgraded to a 2500 (68020 CPU). Then came the Amiga 3000 (68030 CPU). Since I was doing lots of work on my Amigas, I took the unusual step of buying an A4000T (68040 tower) a few days *after* Commodore shut down.

    In searching for more space here, a couple of weeks ago I finally decided to get rid of them all. First I tried them out. All still work, although the 3000's hard drive is a bit flakey in some spots. I ran my AmigaMUD server on the 4000T, had the 1000 and 3000 connected with serial ports, and for a couple of hours 3 of us bashed around on it. The 4000T and the 3500 went to a friend's storage area first. I played another game of mine on the 3000 until I would have needed to draw maps. This past weekend, the remaining two and the monitor when to storage as well.

    I will miss the machines, but I really wasn't going to use them, and need the space.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Maybe I could beat this

    I have something called a Texas Instruments Silent 700 data terminal (Yeah, it's not a functioning computer just a terminal) with a built in keyboard.

    No screen but it has a thermal printer built in and an acoustic coupler. I have just tried it now and it powers up and the printer still works (Plenty of paper on the roll still!)

    I have no idea when it was made but looking around the 'net suggests these were first built in the early 70s.

    My office is full of old junk like this hidden away.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Silent 700

      Early 70's would be right - at school we had one of these and a breadbin size modem to call up Salford University's mainframe. The terminal also had two nifty cassette drives on top so you could type programs in advance and "download" them to the phone line...

      The printer was thermal, I think eventually the heads failed so dot matrix became dotty lines.

  22. Ben Cooper

    More old junk

    Still got a working Apple II, a couple of first-generation C64s (with floppy drives, possibly not working), and a BBC Master with the hard drive here. I should dig it out of the basement and find out how old the hard drive is...

  23. Sly

    I can match 28 years...

    Atari 800XL with floppy drive. don't know if the floppy drive works yet... still need to build a power supply for it (or get a 2A 12V wall wart)... ongoing project. Carts work great though. I did have to clean the keyboard membrane when I first got it. probably some rat wee in it from the previous owner's attic.

  24. Ian Yates


    Not too interesting, but I have a few old ZX 16K/48Ks with voice synthesizer, thermal printer, and microdrive.

    These were my home computers growing up (we had multiple due to the number that stopped working).

    I got the whole lot (with 50-odd tapes and microdrive "disks") out of the loft about 10 years back, but all of the microdrive disks were dead (no surprise) and I couldn't get most of the tapes to fully load.

    The Hobbit worked, if I recall, and it really made me appreciate how patient I used to be to play any of those games.

    In the end, the Speccy emulators are superior to digging up the real deal (IMHO).

    Almost forgot: how awful were the keys on those units, though? eh? Crazy little rubber things

    And what was with 5/6/7/8 being the arrow keys? Threw me off for ages trying to play things like Dan Dare.

  25. mtp


    I had a BBC model A serial number in the 200s, if I had kept it then I would have had a genuine museum piece. Pre ordered before they were even released.

    If anyone remembers that far back a BBC A cost £299 for most of the time but mine was before that price rise - I think it was £230

  26. Ilgaz

    Atari 800xl / 1050

    I booted it recently, from 1984. It reads all diskettes which were physically hacked to make double sized. So all these diskette companies were lying when they said bad things about cutting a hole :)

    Seriously, the stuff you see are made by goodly paid and non overworked people who loved their jobs. Not like today.

    Of course, stuff we use today, the junk inside a product of a fruit company working with 50% margin, overheats as brand new (70 celsius disk!) so no need to keep them :)

  27. Mike 61

    28 yrs

    HP-150 touchscreen personal computer with HP 9121 dual drives, 1983. Powered up last time I tried, a few years ago.

  28. witchy
    Thumb Up


    Being the hoarder that I am (that 5150 is mine :)) I have 2 Domesday machines, both working reasonably nicely, though one of them needs to be in bits and have the discs spun up manually to play. At some point the hardware WILL disappear, this is a great shame.

  29. jake Silver badge

    Old stuff ...

    My completed in 1978 Heath H11A still works. Two 8 inch floppy drives, but no hard drive. Like the above poster, I laid out the traces & boiled all the boards ... Mom was really pissed off at the mess in her kitchen, even though I cleaned it up when I was done ...

    Does my Sun1/100 (pre-Orange logo) with four CDC Lark 9455 drives count as a Personal Computer? Mine is dated late 1982 ... It was scrapped and given to me by a Sun field service rep in 1989 or thereabouts, and even then it was old fashioned & kinda klunky. It still boots, and I just compiled "Hello, world." on it, so I guess it still works :-)

    I have an IBM 1405 Disk Storage Unit dated 1963 that still worked when I plastic-wrapped it and packed it and misc. other bits & bobs (1402, 1403, cabling, documentation, some card decks, etc.) into shipping crates nearly 35 years ago. They are awaiting the completion of my 1401 restoration project ... IBM wouldn't let me have the 1401 back then, but were happy to allow me to cart away the "obsolete" peripherals. It took me almost 30 years to find a suitable dated 1401 to complete my set. Hopefully the stuff still works. It's technically a "small business system", not a personal computer, but it only had a single user/operator, so if you squint it could be considered a PC ...

    I have various other functional old computers down in the museum/mausoleum, but none of them could have been considered "personal computers". Why? Why not :-) Some people collect stamps, I collect and restore obsolete computers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ah, history.

      My dad has a working Altair 8080 by HeathKit from 1974 or 1975, I don't think he uses it any more. I can remember playing StarTrek on it in 1976.

      The only other thing I can remember is being told not to flip the toggle switches on the front if I wanted the game to keep working...

      I know that he used this computer productively until at least 1988, admittedly as a glorified print spooler. The only part of his Terminet 1200's that wore out were the ribbons and that's only because he and my younger brother build an auto-inker, well, a manual auto inker that was simply a 15 minute timer so when it beeped, he knew it was time to put another drop of ink on the cartridge wick.

  30. janmark

    Sure, I've got a IBM 5100 that is about 8 years older.

    Still runs like a charm. Fabienne took a picture of it not too long ago:

  31. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


    Er... I got a couple of sliderules... They count, right? :P

    1. jake Silver badge

      @sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Sliderules are still common in general aviation, I have one in each of my aircraft. I also use the old ivory-on-bamboo Sun model that got me & my father our first engineering degrees ... it's more accurate than guestimating for fencing, fertilizer, seed, roofing, paint, roadbase, DG, working loads on beams and the like ... I probably reach for it a couple times a day.

      I also use an abacus nearly daily. It's in the feed barn. I use it to calculate livestock feed & supplement needs. Calculators tend to die in a matter of weeks in that kind of environment.

      Horses for courses and all that ...

  32. Belisarius

    Vector Graphics S-100 Bus Computer

    Wish I still had this. One of the first GP microcomputers. Storage was two 51/4 in hard sector floppy drives. I think the CPU was 8080A with 16K RAM. OS was CP/M. I used BASIC to write a program to calculate loan payments for my dad'd home improvement business.

    1. Steve Evans


      Now you say that, you've reminded me of the vectrex... Always wanted one of those, I loved asteroids!... BRB, ebay... :-D

  33. zen1

    5150 was a hell of a machine

    IBM PC, I believe the PC-XT was the 5160, which had the 8086 cpu. God the abuse those things took. I remember taking one apart that a mouse decided to call home. Mouse urine and turds, a few corroded traces but it still basically worked.

    Although, in thinking back, I often wonder if there are any surviving hard drives that came stock with the PC-AT's... I forget which model they were but they weighed 5 or 6 lbs and when you shut the machine off, they made a rather loud ka-thunk, when the heads parked themselves.

    Anybody else remember how aroused when someone figured out that the ST-235 (or 238) could be set up to have an interleave of 2:1? Bleading edge...

  34. MasonStorm

    Sinclair and Acorn still live and kicking....

    In 1981 we bought a Sinclair ZX81 with ZX Panda 16k RAM Pack. This has been boxed in its original packaging for the last 20 years or so, but after reading this article I tried it and it fired up fine, connected to an old Sony CRT telly in our spare room. We also have a box full of tapes for it but no tape player to test these on....and I really fancied a game of "1k breakout" or "3D Monster Maze" !!!!

    In 1984 we bought an Acorn Electron, but this was given away to a friend about 10 years ago to help their daughter learn to ended up in the bin I believe.

    Around 1985/86 we got a BBC Master 128 with twin Cumana 5.25" floppy drivers and a colour CUB monitor. This has been up and running in the corner of our home office for years and still runs fine; it gets used a few times a year for novelty and nostalgia value - we've got quite a few floppies which still run (mainly Superior Software collections and a few Acornsoft titles).

    Our first PC was bought in 1988 (Amstrad PC1512, no HDD just twin 5.25 floppies and a B&W monitor showing the 4 CGA colours; it was upgraded later with a 32MB Western Digital "hard-card" HDD) and since then we've had another 6 desktops, 4 laptops and a netbook. Most of the old PC stuff has been scrapped though...

    Feeling quite nostalgic now I've reminisced.....<sniffle> !

  35. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    built-in monitor?

    "The 5150 was a proper system, coming with a keyboard, built-in monitor and data storage."

    Is that "monitor" as in monitor program (which is a reasonable description of the 5150's BIOS + Cassette BASIC), or as in CRT monitor? The latter was definitely not "built-in" - unlike, say, the Commodore PET and CBM, or the later Apple Macintosh, or IBM's own PS/2 Model 25.

  36. Mark Cathcart
    Thumb Up

    Well all know the problem is the hardware for old media

    Yes, theres a problem and el reg was right its the hardware... while well know file formats and open source software make it much easier to recreate programs that read old media, old software not required, the real problem is that as hardware gets smaller, it becomes much harder to recreate or fix it when it breaks. I still have a working IBM PC Junior, which only has diskette drives, I kept it from the days when I wrote a callable UI library for a home banking system to use. It still makes me laugh to see how small the library is, even though it gets packaged with the Turbo Pascal app runtime executable. The OS and the app run from a single diskette...

    Here is a picture of my cube in I think 1983, with the same PC and expansion chasis...

  37. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    archival mistakes

    "If someone today proposed storing data in a custom closed file format, on USB sticks, only readable on OS X, the pitfuls should be obvious."

    Except that's what I see people doing. I read about a recent archival project. They said, well, we've heard CDs and DVDs dont' last long, we are going to use MO cartridges (magneto-optical.) So, these ARE rated to last a long time, but how many MO drives can you find now, and how many do you think will be left in 20 years given how uncommon they are now? They also say "Well, no Office files (which is smart), but decided also to not use plain ASCII, ODF, PDF, JPEG, etc., saying the specs may not be stable for 20+ years, in preference to making their own archival format." OK, so you are archiving data in your own proprietary format? In other words, to *make* things archival-grade, some now are making EXACTLY the same mistakes they made then.


    I had one of those IBM floppy drives do *just* that -- plugged in an old PC with one of the full-height 5.25" drives, flames and smoke just *poured* out of the damn thing. I was chuffed to realize I was on the opposite side of the "U" shaped work area from the fire extinguisher, but it went out on it's own anyway. We have had several probably working ST-412s come in, but due to data disposal policies were required to send them out for disposal (IDE, SATA, or a few types of SCSI we'd wipe, the rest had to be physically destroyed.)

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