The little lost computer that could
October 3, 2018 10:37 PM   Subscribe

A man finds a Commodore 64C left outside for a decade. Will it still work? I was given a Commodore 64C that had been left outside for a decade or more in rural Oregon. It dealt with everything mother nature could throw at it while it sat outside; rust, water damage, even an ant colony. Could this machine possibly still work?
posted by scalefree (40 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for posting this. I did not expect to enjoy that video half as much as I did. The guy was so adorably excited about it all. It really made my day.
posted by lollusc at 11:02 PM on October 3


LOAD "*", 8

Oh man that takes me back. Thanks, that was unexpectedly entertaining.
posted by zardoz at 11:13 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Oh fun, "thousands of ants." I thought ants only invaded computers in the Darren Aronofsky universe.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:48 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


I like that he used his garden hose to clean the motherboard.
posted by chavenet at 2:19 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


If you play this video on a iPhone it will promptly die of shame.
posted by Harald74 at 2:20 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


Oh fun, "thousands of ants." I thought ants only invaded computers in the Darren Aronofsky universe.

I immediately thought of Hex.
posted by Pendragon at 2:27 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


> I thought ants only invaded computers in the Darren Aronofsky universe.

Fun fact: Some ants are attracted to electricity though in most cases it's because when an ant is electrocuted it emits pheromones which attract more ants, and then they get zapped, and so on. It's a known problem among utility workers and some owners of high-end electrostatic headphones, a type of headphone that requires a steady charge of several hundred volts. (TW: ants)

I doubt any of that applies to a computer that's been outside for a decade. The ants probably just used it as shelter.
posted by ardgedee at 2:52 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


"thousands of ants."

Something something "debugging"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:54 AM on October 4 [15 favorites]


Man, I got my old Atari ST out of the attic after 25-odd years and was surprised it still worked fine. I guess it had it easy compared to that Commodore.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:11 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I like that he used his garden hose to clean the motherboard.

A lifetime of computer bullshittery will do that to you. I clean my GPU with an industrial solvent used by scientists in the Chernobyl exclusion zone and Febreze. The doctors say that the tumors might cancel each other out.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:16 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


Last week I met somebody who was active in semiconductor manufacturing in its infancy and he reminded me that solid state transistors were heavily subsidized by the US Defense Department in the 60s and 70s specifically on the grounds that you could beat the shit out of a transistor (and therefore put then in tanks/missiles/etc). This was their main competitive advantage over vacuum tubes, at least in the eyes of the DoD. I try to remind my students occasionally that there are some definite benefits to building your stuff out of (extremely fancy) rocks.
posted by range at 4:01 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


Now that's hardware ...
posted by carter at 5:14 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


you could beat the shit out of a transistor (and therefore put then in tanks/missiles/etc). This was their main competitive advantage over vacuum tubes, at least in the eyes of the DoD
But tubes are more likely to survive a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, hence their relatively late usage in Soviet aviation.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:14 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


For some reason this video reminds me of the tiny gerbil feasts. So cute!
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:30 AM on October 4


C64, Still the best gaming platform I ever owned.

I was 12, give me a break.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 5:40 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


I knew it would work because: reverse Betteridges law.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:41 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


The real danger for water with electronics like this is when they're energized and the water can cause chip-frying short circuits. With the computer turned off all water can do is oxydize, which as the video shows is really only a danger to connector ports.

Note how with old video game consoles the weak point is always the cartridge port, for this same reason.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:52 AM on October 4


I mess around with vintage computers for my hobby. It is pretty normal to wash old computer board with water. Some people just pop them in the dishwasher. Just make sure everything is totally dry before you try using it.

If you want a truly cockroach-grade indestructible machine, get a ti99/4a. I have yet to come across any dead ti computers, peripherals, or cartridges.
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:55 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Those early 16 kbit DRAM chips are prone to fail over the years, though. I had a couple of dead ones in my old Apple. Maybe the shield of ants kept them stable.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:17 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I thought I was crazy when I went to the trouble of setting up my old C64 in 1999 to see if it still worked (It did). I promptly sold it to a collector.
posted by srboisvert at 6:25 AM on October 4


Note how with old video game consoles the weak point is always the cartridge port, for this same reason.

Yeah, but you just blow on it and it fixes it every time.

I still have a working TRS-80 Color Computer and an Atari 2600. Did you know you can buy the Atari ET game on eBay for like a nickle?

When I was a kid and I had my first CoCo I think I blew up the CPU at least twice. It was easy enough, even pre-internet, to order a new 6809e and pop it in.

Between this video and the old tool restoration thread I really want to find an old thing and make it new again.
posted by bondcliff at 6:39 AM on October 4


I thought ants only invaded computers in the Darren Aronofsky universe.

I had a colony of ants make a home inside a Roku. It was horrifying.

The Roku still works though. And it's 6 years old.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:56 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Back in the day my boy Kenny used to drive a Gremlin that was infested with cockroaches. We called it the "Roach Coach" & kept on keepin' on, baby.
posted by Bob Regular at 7:16 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


My partner recently started restoring C64s and while he is definitely not ready to tackle things this extreme, I suspect he's secretly a little jealous nothing like this has fallen into his lap to work on.
posted by Stacey at 7:36 AM on October 4


Cheap plug incoming; plug is not for me:

One of my YouTube subscriptions is The 8-Bit Guy. If this sort of story interests you, you'll find all kinds of interesting restoration projects there.
posted by parliboy at 8:36 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I had some PCs to strip down for scrap that had been in a warehouse fire and submerged in water for a couple of months.
I washed the mobos in a tepid bath and brushed with a paintbrush. The hard drives were treated similarly. With new power supplies (never try to recover one), 6 out of 13 worked absolutely perfectly which made me a nice profit.
posted by Burn_IT at 9:23 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Must not get Commodore 128 out of storage... AAAAAARRRGGGHHH!!!
posted by Splunge at 9:26 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I washed the mobos in a tepid bath and brushed with a paintbrush. The hard drives were treated similarly. With new power supplies (never try to recover one), 6 out of 13 worked absolutely perfectly which made me a nice profit.

If you ever run across an old hard drive that won't spin up, seal it into a freezer baggie & throw it in the freezer for a couple hours. It may be frozen in place by a force called stiction resulting from loss of lubrication between mechanical parts. Freezing it will loosen it up by shrinking the metal parts & allowing them to overcome the force of friction. Only works with old drives though, maybe a decade old or older. Once it's working, move fast & dump your data from it, the drive won't last long & you're racing against another, more permanent failure.
posted by scalefree at 11:32 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I have a Zenith MiniSport that belonged to my dad. I started it up a couple months ago without a problem. My next task is to install Ubuntu on it. It’s gonna be screaming fast at 8mHz and 1MB of RAM.
posted by bendy at 1:03 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


If you get a really old hard drive that won't spin... you turn it over and take a paperclip or similar pointy thing and you manually spin the spindle a little bit to un-stick it.

I would have guessed it would work because of working at the uni PC repair center back in the late '80s. What range said about robustness. I'm only a little more careful with today's stuff. I think the Computer Cleaning sprays and such are more for non-conductive and evaporates nearly instantly so you don't have to wait for it to dry.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:06 PM on October 4


My friend Joe (if you're of the scene, you might know him as JPPBM: the most reluctant mail order store on the planet) restores C64s. His good stash ran out years ago. He's been cobbling together working computers from his mediocre stash, getting a working machine from 2-3 donors. I've seen his run-away-screaming stash, and even although they've been nominally stored inside, they're in a worse state than this computer.
posted by scruss at 8:10 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


In related news...

@textfiles So, uh, hi everybody.

Internet Archive is in the process of adding in-browser emulation support for Commodore 64. Here's a collection of currently working and tested for at least booting properly. (10,500 as of this writing, but it's growing): Software Library: C64
posted by scalefree at 8:33 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


It is always worth mentioning again that The 6502 chip only had about five thousand transistors, but only about 3-4k of them were used for logic: the rest were "depletion transistors" that were used as resistors.

Look down that transistor count table. Everything nowadays uses billions of transistors. It's amazing we had computers at all with such elegant mechanics!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:25 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


bendy: while you might have some luck with a custom variant of minix, you won't be able to run Linux on that system.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:27 AM on October 5


bendy, rum-soaked space hobo:

Maybe Linux ... there does exist ELKS, a Linux kernel port for 16-bit CPUs (including 8086), and there does exist at least one GCC variant with an 8086 output target. It would likely be a heroic effort to port a distribution though, given that the couple references I recall seeing had some serious limitations to the compilers. Still, if one were masochistic enough, it might be possible to grab an ancient Linux release and start seeing how many packages could be ported.

For Minix, version 1.0 (from 1987) ran natively on the IBM PC and PC/AT, so you're all set there.
posted by Enturbulated at 5:03 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Better than Linux or Minix, you could rip a chip out and replace it with a FORTH ROM. Fits in the same space as that BIOS/BASIC with room to spare. Seriously, the only reason I ever wanted a C64 was because I knew you could replace a ROM and make it a FORTH machine. 4k is enough for the CORE, but it was like 32x16 instead of 64x16, and that sorta sucked.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:25 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


TrialByMedia said -

you could beat the shit out of a transistor (and therefore put then in tanks/missiles/etc). This was their main competitive advantage over vacuum tubes, at least in the eyes of the DoD
But tubes are more likely to survive a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, hence their relatively late usage in Soviet aviation.
-

Actually, a thermonuclear electromagnetic pulse would only affect those electronics connected to the grid (unless the blast was nearby). just sayin'.....
(a tube fan)
posted by onesidys at 11:17 PM on October 6


Maybe NetBSD? That's supposed to run on nearly everything, isn't it?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:20 PM on October 6


Again, NetBSD like most modern Unix variants, requires a modern CPU architecture with memory management and a privileged mode and so forth. Even a PDP-11 from the early 70s had more features than an 8086, and the Unixes from that era made heavy use of them.

If you want to use a 1980s chip, you'll need a 1960s OS.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:10 PM on October 7


For those of you pulling out your C64/C128 machines to play—just be wary, as when the power supply bricks go bad on those machines, they tend to go overvoltage on the 5V line and fry everything.
posted by sonascope at 12:39 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


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