Old mainframe computer market?
January 30, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

How would one go about pricing and buying an old mainframe computer, an IBM 360/30 to be specific?
posted by zorro astor to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried the Computer History Museum? They might at least be able to give you a ballpark figure, or else know who could. If nothing else, I'd think they'd have some kind of value to assign for the sake of insurance.
posted by aramaic at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2008

Consult with the folks on the Classic Computers mailing list(s). Many of the folks on there collect and restore vintage "big iron".
posted by mrbill at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2008

There are pieces of IBM mainframes for sale on EBay (search "IBM Mainframe").
posted by beagle at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2008

It would be almost impossible without spending ludicrous amounts of money, given how few of them still exist. See the wikipedia entry.

However, this is a surmountable problem; it depends what you want it for. There are pictures and extensive manuals linked from the wikipedia entry, and from that, it should be possible, although time-consuming and probably somewhat expensive, to make a non-functional replica. If you want it to actually do something computerish, to look functional, you can probably get electronics from Radio Shack etc to run the LEDs and make whirring sounds and so on.

If you want to run a program written for it, the Hercules emulator seems to be capable of it.

The only other reason I can think of to want one, is to retrieve data ... in which case, you're either going to have to spend a massive amount of money having it done (and this will still be cheaper than buying one of the computers concerned), or a reasonable amount of money and expertise building a device to directly read the 1's and 0's from the tape or disk, and then working out some way of converting that raw data into useful information.

Can you give us more information as to why you want it?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: I think you're about 10 years too late. I doubt there are any 'in production' anymore, or even working outside of museums. Back in the mid-90s, there were still companies getting rid of early 360s and going to micros and superminis, or to new big iron, but I haven't heard of any still kicking around in a while. (I knew of an insurance company that was still running a System 370 in '96 or '97, but I drove past the building it used to be in and they're no longer in it -- I doubt the machine survived.)

There might still be a few USG agencies using older 360 systems because they're too much hassle to replace, but I have a suspicion that they'd only be in very niche applications. Best bet might be to keep your eye on Government Liquidation; they seem to be the GSA's method of choice for disposing of surplus junk, although you may end up having to drive across the country to get something home. I haven't been on it recently, but the gov't has some real Indiana Jones-style warehouses; you never know what's going to turn up.

If you were less specific as to which vendor/model you're interested in, you might have more luck. There are a lot of systems-modernization programs going on across the government, many of which involve replacing mainframes. (Most are not 1960s-era, though, at least in terms of the hardware.)

If you're really motivated, the kind of person you'd really want to try to find would be an ex-IBMer, optimally someone who worked in sales and would remember some of the clients who had systems. Then you could basically go down the list and see if any of them have one that's not in use anymore but just sitting in storage. (Look for companies still in the same location for years and years; in my experience that leads to packratism more than moving does.) It's a long shot, but it might work. That's about the only way I can imagine getting a working one, besides buying one of the few extant ones from a museum or another collector.

I think this could be a pretty major project, but it might be interesting in itself. Good luck!
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not 360s but:
This mainframe was for sale a few years ago. Here's another offered last year. So they do come up now and then. Keep a lot of feelers out and something will turn up. Here's a blog you may want to follow.
posted by beagle at 5:21 AM on January 31, 2008

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