Aging legacy assets span a wide value gap

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 on duty. 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 have floated across the legacy horizon.

Free to a good home

An A-Class A400 server was touted by Michael R. Kan, retired MPE/iX support engineer enjoying a post-HP life. The A400 model had a dual boot capability and includes a C1099 console, terminals, and cables.

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,” he says.

Kan’s A400 made its way into a Bay Area workshop. 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.

Antique tape

On the other end of the valuation scale sits the HP 7978B tape drive. A working model on the 3000-L newsgroup was a $22,000 device in its heyday that backed up onto a 33.75-MB 9-track tape 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.

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 sits in a minivan. Think about the resale life of those two devices. How much could you get for a 36-year-old minivan? 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 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 the minivan’s staying on the correct side of yellow lines, 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. The first minivan arrived in the world a few more years after that.

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