Task: Tips for Storing Atari Computers and Consoles
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Time: 10-15 mins
I got most of my Atari collection in the early 2000s when it was cheap and somewhat plentiful. I could tell as I acquired and cleaned each item that many of the computers and video game consoles were not stored in good conditions. I recall getting a box of stuff that smelled like dog pee. I even found a dead mouse inside an Atari 2600 case. However, since then I like to think I have taken pretty good care of my stuff except for summer move where it all sat in a moving truck in 90F+ heat for at least 10 days. The rest of the time my collection has been in air conditioning or climate controlled storage. I am fortunate that most of my hardware seems to work fine after all these years. The following are some tips for storing and preserving your Atari hardware. Most are common sense while a few take a bit more time. I got this list from this great article in PC Magazine that was published in 2017 by Benj Edwards.
Step 1 – Remove batteries
This is a really easy and important thing to do. Alkaline batteries corrode over time and can damage the circuitry of your hardware. I purchased an Axlon Andy on eBay in 2018 it came with heavily corroded D batteries. I am saving this cleanup and restoration for a summer project.
Step 2 – Keep hardware out of the sun
Almost every Atari computer I have has some degree of yellowing that results from exposure to UV light. I am careful not to further this yellowing by keeping my computers in the dark while stored and away from direct sum when out on my desk. There is a method for reversing some of this damage called retrobrighting that requires applying something like Salon 40 volume creme that is typically used for lightening hair. I haven’t tried this yet but do plan to soon. I will do a post when I have some experience with this method. Here is an Atari Age forum thread where you can get more details.
Step 3 – Replace old capacitors
The capacitors on these old systems can fail and leak corrosive chemicals onto your circuitry. I personally haven’t had this problem with any of my machines but it is common enough to worry about. It is easy enough to check under the hood to see if any of your caps are leaking. If so, they should be replaced. This does require some soldering. Some say that leaving the computer on for a few days helps heal the capacitors. I haven’t had the nerve to do this but I do routinely fire up my old machines thinking that using them is better than letting them sit.
Step 4 – Avoid heat and humidity
This is another obvious one. Storing old equipment in an attic of garage is really not a good idea. Moisture and heat are really bad for these old machines. As the PC Mag article mentions, mold is very destructive and hard to get rid of. It is better to prevent it in the first place. I have most of my hardware in a basement cabinet. My whole house including the basement is air-conditioned which is good. I further supplement the basement with a dehumidifier that I ran continuously all year long. I have to empty it every day or so which means there is a good amount of moisture down there. You can pick up a dehumidifier at Home Depot or similar for between $100 and $200. Well worth the investment and probably the single most important thing you can do for preservation.
Step 5 – Keep pests out
If you are storing your gear in an attic or garage then bugs and rodents will find their way inside the cases. I can tell you many cases I have cracked open with bugs or mice inside. Not pleasant and can be hard to clean. The PC Mag recommends plugging the holes. This is probably a good idea if you have to store outside living area.
Step 6 – Watch rubber components
I have had several Atari computers with rubber feet that have left chemical marks on the finish of my desk. These degrade over time and some can become liquid making a real mess. Again, best to avoid heat.
Step 7 – Minimize dust
Dust is another element that wreaks havoc on these old systems. Best to cover in an airtight box if in an open area. I have all my stuff in a closed cabinet.
Step 8 – Be gentle
I am adding this to the list. The plastic on these old machines gets brittle over the years and cracks easily. I lost an 810 drive case in a move due to bumps. I should have packed it better. As you store these items is probably a good idea not stack items without some cushioning and never put anything heavy on them. I have had several items arrived cracked from eBay shipping. Gentle is good.
Like I said, much of this is common sense but a few things like avoiding heat, humidity, direct sun, and dust can go a long way to preserving our beloved Ataris for many years. This general topic was also covered on the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast episode 78.