Notes on restoring old PCs


It has come to my attention that some people are interested in restoring and "using" old computers. It has also come to my attention that some of the people doing this never used older computers "in the time", some were already configured from the factory and they never had to put their fingers into the machine and are now trying to find out what was going on "back then".

Well, I did this professionally for many years, and it seems I have a little knowledge some people might want to see again. So, I offer you my notes.

For the most part, this will be focused on IBM PC compatible machines. There were a lot of other computers out there that I think are far more deserving of preservation and restoration and far more interesting to me, but MOST of them were relatively simple. The PC was complicated because many different companies made the computers, and even more companies made accessories for those computers.

Most of this will be about software and hardware configuration. At least initially, I won't be providing much info about the repair of broken hardware.


My life is very much about computer security, so I feel the need to make a statement here:

IF the system you are building ends up being able to be connected to the Internet, you are begging for trouble. Old operating systems do not get important security oriented patches. I've seen myths running around that "no one tries to attack old computers" -- that's a fool's hope. Computer viruses generally don't "go away", there are too many old computers still attached to the Internet, and you are about to add one more.

All computers should be behind some kind of firewall or router. Some years ago, I did an experiement and attached a Windows 2000 system directly to the Internet -- it was not possible to patch it before it was infected and compromised.

The only "safe" way to attach an untrusted computer (i.e., one that is years or decades behind in patching) to the Internet is isolated from other computers that are more important. The ideal way is with a multi-port firewall, so that the untrusted network has zero access to the "trusted" network, yet can still get to the Internet when desired. Unfortunately, this is a bit beyond your average cable company provided home router.



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