We all carry supercomputers in our pockets these days, but sometimes it's old tech that's really getting the job done. Take, for example, the ancient Commodore Amiga that runs the heat and AC for 19 different schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Or the 20-year-old Compaq Compaq LTE 5280 which plays a vital role in maintaining multi-million dollar McLaren F1s.

Jalopnik took a tour to McLaren's Special Operations workshop where Compaqs still slave away at their work just like they did in the 90s, when the superlative McLaren F1 was still in production. Some 100 of the original 106-car run still exist, and considering that each has a value of at least  $5 million dollars or so on the low side, detail-oriented maintenance is a top priority. 

But while most of the McLaren F1's mechanical elements have aged quite well, the actual electronics used to control the operation of all those components are still sort of stuck in the 90s. As such, it takes an old hand like the Compaq LTE 5280—complete with 8 or 16MB of RAM—to talk to them. 

As one of the workers at the special operations workshop

"The reason we need those specific Compaq laptops is that they run a bespoke CA card which is installed into them. The CA card is an interface between the laptop software (which is DOS based) and the car.""We are currently working on an new interface which will be compatible with modern laptops as the old Compaqs are getting less and less reliable and harder to find."

It's not the most in-depth explanation, but the general shape of the problem is one you can find all over the place if you're looking for it. Some tech moves forward while other tech is stuck behind, and the bridge that connects them becomes ever more strained. For instance, the U.S. Navy is paying millions of dollars to Microsoft in order to stay on Windows XP because so much of their other software was specifically designed for it and would be a nightmare to upgrade.  Britain's doomsday nuke subs suffer from much the same problem.

The problem is all the worse when bespoke hardware is involved. You can mostly accommodate old software, but the very nature of microchip production—which requires all sorts of expensive, purpose-designed machinery—makes it completely implausible to continue producing any given kind of chip once it's obsolete and no longer in high demand. You can't just make old chips

So much like McLaren F1s, there is a finite of old Compaq LTE 5280 s. They just don't make 'em like they used to. 

tags: Mclaren F1 computer old Nathan Finneman cool breedofspeed Breed of Speed



07/16/2016 1:29am

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