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Power-on and battery tricks sustain 3000s

Editor's note: We're taking Friday off for some holiday R&R during the Turkey Day weekend.

Homesteading customers who rely on HP's 3000 hardware have complete systems waiting to backstop their production operations. This month some discussion on a 3000 newsgroup reminded us all that batteries, frequent startups, and sometimes constant power is essential to keeping such old HP iron ready for use.

Series 9x7 3000s are nearly the oldest computers that will run MPE/iX. First shipped in the middle '90s, some of these systems are holding the line at a few companies or in support providers who backstop 3000 customers. HP called these Nova systems when they were first released. The computers have a pair of batteries that are likely to have failed by now, more than 20 years after they first were put into service.

Those batteries are dug deep into the 9x7s. A battery on the board is integrated with the system's clock. There also is an internal battery as part of the power supply. In a 3000 this old, that second battery was tasked with keeping the system running for short periods without power.

Replacing batteries like these can require a Dremel tool, applied to an intergrated circuit that's soldered-in, rather than seated in a socket. Without the repair, any 3000 of this vintage waiting to be called into action in a disaster could fail with a message like "PDC TOD read failed."

Surprises like these are not limited to the antique hardware of the 9x7 lineage. The Series 9x8s also have batteries that can expire. These 3000s sit in readiness but need to be powered up every 90 days or so just to be sure their batteries will answer the bell. Others will need to be kept powered up at all times.

After the backup 3000 has been plugged in, a manager can set the date and time at the first menu in the boot process. As long as this server remains plugged in, a dead battery won’t matter. A manager will have to reset the clock every time the unit is sent into storage, though.

The oldest HP 3000s were built with a design that assumed customers didn't have a Uninterruptable Power Supply. Series 9x7s supplied their own batteries to cover power outages — and those batteries, sometimes inside an integrated circuit like the Dallas Semiconductor 1287, will have died by now. Repairing the DS 1287 is a YouTube challenge, as in managers can find a YouTube video to lead them through replacing a battery inside the integrated circuit.

A slightly easier fix would be to replace the DS 1287. Like a lot of hardware replacement for systems of that era, a trip to an eBay page will get a fresh component on its way to the datacenter. Less than $10 of Chinese manufacturing later the battery-dependent 3000 will have a component that's got to be soldered into the server's motherboard.

No one in the Hewlett-Packard design team ever imagined that a mid-90s server would be of any use in 2018. One use for this oldest of 3000 hardware: reminding us that moving to fresher iron like that used by Stromasys Charon is a more sustainable MPE/iX platform choice. At the least, Charon won't rely on eBay availability to keep MPE/iX working hard.