powering up older machines - is it safe?

John F. Kuenzig jfk at kuenzigbooks.com
Mon Jun 2 17:21:02 CDT 2008

Hi all - I'm new to the list, been lurking for a while.  By way of 
introduction, back in the 80s I was a bonified software developer (wrote 
a mag tape locking device for an early version of UNIX back when there 
wasn't such a thing, did work in telecom test equipment  and speech 
recognition for years) but these days I'm in the old/rare book business, 
technical books and all.  I like old hardware, though don't have the 
storage space for much.  When I was in high school I took apart a Friden 
computyper in my parents basement just to see what was in it.  Still 
have the "core memory" board around here somewhere.  I've tried to 
salvage manuals for old computers, component manufacturer technical 
books,  and an IMSAI or two over the years.  Still have 20 boxes of old 
components (everything from transistors, caps, resistors, etc to tubes) 
in the garage I've accumulated over the years when I'm buying old books 
from hobbyists - buried deep enough I don't even remember what's in them.

Anyway, a friend asked me to try and sell a DEC Robin for him (he tells 
me it's a DEC VT180 with a separate drive unit that he tells me was only 
available to DEC employees), and my question is this:

Is it safe to try and plug this machine in and try to power it up?  I've 
seen various discussions about old capacitors dying, etc but I'm not 
sure if this machine is old enough to worry about.  My plan was to try 
and power it up (my consignor also gave me some software with it, not 
sure if it's related or not yet), and see if it still ran ok, take some 
photos for the group (if anyone wants to see it) and my own records, and 
then try to sell it.  It appears to be in good shape, in the original 
boxes, "monitor" in one box w/keyboard (looks to be a VT180), and a disc 
drive unit in the other.  My consignor said it ran the last time he had 
it out many years ago.  I've always enjoyed and preferred photographs of 
old machines with their startup screen displayed rather than a dark 
screen.  Seems like they have more life with a live screen.

Any pointers appreciated (on or off list) - what to do or check in what 
order would be great.  Its been a long time since I blew up directional 
capacitors in lab...so long I don't even remember what they're called.   
Thanks in advance!<grin>


John Kuenzig, Bookseller

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