Preserving electronics: vermin, leaky batteries, melting rubber, brittle plastics, dribbly capacitors, fungus and dust

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The best storage in the world is unlikely to do much about these things. Batteries and electrolytic capacitors eventually go bad and need replacement even if they aren’t leaking. If I power on vintage electronics that haven’t been powered on for years or decades, I usually expect something to blow up. Thankfully vintage electronics are typically pretty easy to service.


Assuming your collection of vintage electronics isn’t stored in a dank basement full of creepy crawlies and mold, very little of this seems all that relevant.

They don’t seem like bad ideas; but unless you are talking about ‘vintage’ old enough that you should have heeded this advice a decade or more ago, it misses a couple of big, ugly, details; most notably the fun fact that basically every storage medium after mask ROM has a not-wildly-impressive finite lifespan, and most even vaguely recent hardware won’t do too much once its assorted bootloaders and configuration ROMs and whatnot have rotted enough to not execute properly.

The MAME/arcade cabinet types seem to be the most visible in fighting with this one(made worse by the fact that a lot of arcade gear is actively suicidal because of the anti-piracy/anti-cloning features included); but it’s the same basic problem across a much, much, broader range of hardware; and even if nobody took any measures to protect the firmware for that MP3 player or whatnot, good luck getting a copy of it 15 years later if the one built into the device has degraded…


At least there’s communities actively involved in efforts to defeat these systems.


I’ve restored some 1940’s era cabinet-type radios. I learned that you shouldn’t leave the guts around where the cat can piss on it.


Ahh, the smell of warm dust when you switch on old kit. Especially stuff with tubes in them.


Makes you wonder: how long will our computers keep working after societal collapse?


Thanks for that, interesting and thought-provoking read!

I wonder how many people will care about computing at all in such scenarios, though.

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Indeed. I suspect that the arcade boards are, perversely, better off than average. They were built with much greater hostility; but being a high value target with a “Do Not Hack This” sign on it is a pretty good way to encourage someone to try.

The basically uncountable fiddly little memory chips of the world are mostly vastly less protected, if at all; but so numerous and boring that few attract much attention to dumping them and preserving their contents; and odds are excellent that whatever widget you have in mind is one of the ones nobody has paid attention to unless you pay attention to it.

I wonder if storage by total immersion in mineral oil would help (though some of the components in my old equipment seems to be paper-wrapped, which might be a problem).

I have a 21" CRT monitor stored in a fairly unfriendly spot; I guess one day I’ll see if putting half a roll of cling wrap on it did the trick.

To quote Kinky Friedman, “sooner or later, the cat pisses on everything.”

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I dread the day my old grey Gameboy fails to turn on.

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