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3000 hardware pricing a classy affair

Homesteading customers have been finding a wide range of prices for used HP 3000 hardware. (It's all used by now, since HP hasn't built a new system for more than six years.) But there's one clear demarcation on the price line: systems sold with a license, and those with just software.

The difference, as HP has insisted, is the legal nature of the 3000. Unlicensed HP 3000s don't refer to the iron, but instead to the MPE/iX operating system needed to define a box as a 3000. A few brokers who don't want to be named report that even N-Class systems can be bought for under $10,000, if you don't need to prove to anyone the server is licensed. One such server moved in the UK last year for $9,000.

On occasion, a company will part with a licensed N-Class for under $20,000, although it generally will be on the lower end of the line. One system manager checked in with a story of winning a server at auction at that price.

The 3000 market has retained the premium price for such late-model 3000s, according to the lucky system manager.

"I paid $14,000 for an N-Class N4000-200-440 -- which included no disc though, other than an internal one for MPE/iX," said this veteran of more than 20 years. "I bumped that way up to two 143Gb drives. Market value when I bought it a little over a year ago was $89,000 with transferable license."

Some segments of the market do not flinch at the prospect of owning a 3000 without a license for its operating system. It's a matter of integrity rather than capability, because HP has been the leading stickler about supporting systems with licenses. In less than a year when HP leaves this field, the value of an MPE/iX license may go down in the coming era of total independent support.

These days, resellers are candid about the nature of these system licenses, because HP has pressed these attributes to the surface. The Software License Transfer operations will probably be among the very last to shut down at HP, in part because customers continue to draw a line between licensed and unlicensed purchases. Some resellers simply won't offer an unlicensed copy of MPE/iX, or the server to run it. Keeping the 3000s in two classes, licensed and not, is a sign of a market not ready to fade away.