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August 27, 2020

Worthy, worthless, or antique: 3K iron on tap

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Hewlett-Packard manufactured countless hardware devices over the 31 years that it built HP 3000 gear. The earliest systems could heat rooms while running and buckle pickup truck beds when moved. In time, the 3000s could be carted in a luggage carrier (remember those at airports?) and even held under an arm.

People hang on to these creations for several reasons, not the least of which is the boxes get forgotten. This treatment was common even where the servers were at work, since the systems themselves rarely needed tending and disappeared into closets and under staircases.

The gear continues to surface, long after the last manufacturing line shut down at HP in early 2004. Peripheral devices like tape drives and disks were built for several HP lines including the 3000. A few of these bits of 3000 iron floated across the horizon recently.

Free to a good home: This A-Class A400 server recently used by Michael R. Kan, retired MPE/iX support engineer now enjoying a post-HP life. The A400 had a dual boot capability and include a C1099 console terminals and cables. This was especially worthy of genuine care and affection. "I was on the MPE/iX support team before transitioning to XP/P9500 support," Kan said.

HP didn't want the A400 back when Kan left on a retirement buyout. "Since I was a ‘remote’ who was working, no one ever followed up on the equipment and I couldn’t find anyone to take it. MPE/iX had wound down and no one or group with HP wanted the extra 3000 stuff."

Kan's A400 made its way into a Bay Area workshop. As a penultimate model of the newer PCI-based 3000s, the server's worth is still something that can be tracked by hardware resellers. Only the A500 is newer.

On the other end of the value scale sits the HP 7978B tape drive. A working model surfaced on the 3000-L newsgroup last month. This was a $22,000 device in its heyday that backed up onto a 33.75 MB 9-track reel. One of these behemoths appeared in the 3000 community not long ago. The owner was reporting about taking it to its natural finish line: the scrapper. We'd call them recyclers in a more current term.

Tracy Johnson has owned this backup device since 1998. Just sitting in his garage, he said, when the day of community junking came around. He managed to fit the device in the back of his minivan for the 7978's last ride.

A $22,000 tape drive, sitting in a minivan (for now). Think about the resale life of those two devices. How much could you get for a 36-year-old minivan? No, it’s just parts on wheels there. Maybe some useful ones.

The van only has to navigate through gravity and traffic markers, while it avoids taking up the same space as other vehicles and pedestrians and structures.

The tape drive has a lot more to do. It’s almost like a clown car compared to the minivans of today. It has file formats, tape locations, and network-serial connections to navigate. There’s calibration to consider, plus the age of the media. All more complex than staying on the correct side of yellow lines on asphalt, or following the routing from one address to another.

The drive needs an operating system. The minivan’s operating system includes a driver, plus a set of maps or memories about how to get where the driver intends to appear. To be fair, it will be the rare minivan of 1984 that could still run. I don’t think the first minivan arrived in the world until a few more years after that.

Between those two points lies the XP line of storage devices. An XP12 started this run, and XP9500 wrapped it up. One of those surfaced in the community, too. Worthless? Not as much as the 7978. More of an antique, honestly. Without monetary value, unlike the A400, but able to store a thing or two. Headed for its last ride in a minivan, maybe.

09:47 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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