Antique Case For Custom File Server

Michigan Tech was throwing out a bunch of old electronic equipment, and [Evan] snagged quite a gem: a UHF signal generator built by Hewlett Packard circa 1955. He stripped all of the remaining electronics out of the case, but kept the slide-out trays and the front instrument panel to create this antique-looking file server.

The bottom tray was where the bulk of the electronics were housed, and since widespread adaptation of transistors for electronics wasn’t common at the time (the first silicon transistor wasn’t made until 1954), the original equipment was all vacuum tubes. This meant that there was just enough space for a motherboard, heat sink, and a couple of power supplies.

The hard drives are held in custom housings in the top portion of the case. The real magic, however, is with the front display panel. [Evan] was able to use the original meters, including a display for “megacycles” which is still technically accurate. The meters are driven by a USB-to-serial cable and a python script that runs on the server.

The antique case is a great touch for this robust file server. Make sure to put it in a prominent place, like next to your antique tube radio.

46 thoughts on “Antique Case For Custom File Server

  1. Decent enough build (in4 a bunch of puritans descend to decry the gutting of this old piece of kit) but sweet jesus, those hideous pen written labels (does he really need a reminder of what does what? he did build the damn thing after all). They completely ghetto out what would otherwise be a tidy looking project.

    1. Well, it seems that one could sell the signal generator for a significant amount of money. If the electronics are still inside and functional, it could fetch up to $400, but even a broken one is easily worth $150.

      1. Asking prices currently on eBay vary from $170 to $390. But that’s just what somebody hopes to get. A search on sold listings only shows one which went for $60.

        So it’s a $60 case. He could probably make half that, maybe even all of it back selling those vernier dials if he didn’t pitch them. The rest of the old parts might be worth something too, I don’t know.

        1. That depends entirely on how much someone wants to restore theirs. Antique junk is usually not a very liquid asset, so you can get rid of it immediately for $60 to someone who doesn’t need it more than that, or wait a bit and sell it for $600 to someone who does.

    2. most surplus gear like this has handwritten labels on the knobs, in their previous lives these boxes were components in an elaborate system that filled many racks. maybe the phone company had the resources for pre-printed labels but in the lab we just used masking tape and a pen.

    1. You are correct, the power supplies should be shielded. Even the best quality switching supplies will toss RF out in pulses all the way from the AM broadcast band to well into the VHF bands. It will cause nothing but headaches.
      Two other problems I noticed, there is a broken SATA cable, and unless the server is only running at early 1980’s speeds, the decimal in the LED display is in the wrong place (megacycles = MHz, not GHz).

      1. Usually on a PC power supply, there’s a gaping hole right on the side with some sort of sparse finger guard and a plastic fan not really preventing any radiation from leaking out – yet these devices pass EMI tests just fine.

        1. If you have a sheet of metal with a hole or slot, it acts as a solid barrier to long waves, but not to short waves; the wavelength at which it changes is proportional to the size (particularly the long dimension) of the hole. You can look up formulas, but a quick rule of thumb is to keep the holes less than a tenth of the wavelength. Thus a “sparse finger guard” with no holes longer than, say, 1 inch could be effective shielding below about 1 GHz.

          1. And that’s why some home satellite dishes can be made of mesh. That, and, sprayed black, they’re semi-invisible. And also why some radar dishes and space telescopes are so skeletal.

    2. Maybe he wanted more airflow or maybe they didn’t fit. I’m thinking a separator between the power supply and the rest would be sufficient. The outside world is already well shielded from the power supply by that heavy metal case! I was thining he could just cut a sheet of aluminum and attach it to the chasis the same way he did the hard drive cages. For airflow though, maybe he could get away with some sort of mesh material.

  2. The automatic “what a waste” comments are getting pretty tiresome. This was not an irreplaceable antique and I like what he’s done with it. Not everybody has the time or inclination to become a curator. If you’re genuinely passionate about preservation, get active about it.

      1. And most of it’s sibblings getting thrown away or occasionaly chopped up like this is what will make them into irreplaceable antiques. Anyone holding on to one of these hoping it will one day be priceless should be thanking him.

    1. I have several classic HP and Tek Scopes/Generators/Analyzers here that I repaired and this was another nice adjustable cavity oscillator that was easy to repair and would have probably lasted another 50 years, if noone had ripped it apart to build a data grave.
      Data grave, because no raid, no raid controller and no ECC memory. One bad disk, memory module or raid controller, even a badly timed cosmic particle can crash the whole box with all data gone. But of course, it needed an Arduino

      1. Yeah it’s pretty grim from a data reliability standpoint but if you use software raid and you have original backups then it’s not a catastrophe. If this is basically just a fast-access way to access your DVD collection then it’s actually perfectly okay. But this is a car-wreck in progress if it’s being used to house a database or keep track of live data.

        1. Well, it keeps all his porn on the network so he can access it when/wherever. If it fails then he gets to download a bunch of new porn. Either way he is happy. I don’t think his multi-billion dollar corporation is keeping it’s important data in that box.

    2. Heh! pretty much what comes to my mind when I read such complaints. The user name f those making a complaint never includes a link to where they are offering to purchase old electronic items. In the event they do they most likely offer below salvage and scrap price, and complain when the owner sells it for scrap. That’s been my experience anyway when it come to old vehicles, tractors, and machinery Want something I own, to get it I’m the one who needs to come out on top. I might give a museum or a poor kid a break, but that’s as long as that list is going to get.

  3. >> The hard drives are held in custom housings

    Custom? Those are drive cages ripped out of other cases.
    Also, convection cooling is not sufficient with that many drives packed in that tightly.
    He needs fans.

    1. Between all the fan motors and drive motors it’s gonna make a heck of a racket, where you are not gonna want to have it out in the open in your house, and then you have to ask what was the point in making an elaborate visual spectacle for a device that has to go in a closet?

  4. If you think this is a waste of good gear then maybe you should check out the MIT flea market sometime. Some vendors have stacks of this kind of stuff and they are practically giving it away because they don’t want to load it back into the trailer. Don’t feel sorry for the poor old HP signal analyzer. Dumpsters full of better stuff are thrown out every day.

    1. I so wish I lived within range of the MIT Flea Market or even the Dayton Hamvention… My wife is glad that we don’t. I’m still trying to figure out why, but I have a strong hunch (adjusts nerd glasses, reseats pocket protector flap, thinks hard).

  5. Seems like a lot of work to spin up a bunch of old small (200G) sata drives. A two bay RAID-1 with two 3TB drives would have been faster, cheaper, more reliable, and take way less electricity to run then all those old drives.

    1. He’s in college. He probably doesn’t have money to go out and buy a bunch of drives. He probably already had the 200s or maybe they were hand me downs or available used cheap. He probably also doesn’t pay his own electricity bill. Or.. if he does.. it’s probably split evenly among roomates regardless of how much each uses.

      I had big ideas about amassing tons of outdated surplus to make a monster computer system too when I was in that situation.

      1. There’s also the lifetime of the drives to worry about. Whatever manufacturers say, 10 years is lucky.

        Of course if he used RAID he could pile every old hard drive he could find in, and as long as 2 didn’t go at the same time he’d be fine.

  6. The effort indicates the server will be place where it can be seen. While video audio probably isn’t the best indicator of reality, but the server sound too loud to be put on office or shop shelf. Good; grief what becoming of hacking? ;) Hackers sweating hand printed labels, particularly labels that are easy to remove later on if one wants to class up things a little.

  7. Is there any cooling for the disks? If not, they WILL overheat. Two disks or three close to each other with no additional cooling gets pretty hot, I can just imagine what will happen with 14 disks that close together inside a case, it does drastically reduce the life span. (Unless you have some big mean fans (like servers do), in that case all is good.)

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