/ Technology

What’s the oldest piece of tech you still use?

Technology may move fast with shiny new versions coming out all the time, but that doesn’t mean you have to own the latest gadget to get the job done. What ancient tech do you still make use of?

Manufacturers are always putting pressure on us to upgrade, but often an old product is still capable of performing just as well as it ever has.

My TV, laptop and digital camera are all over five years old, and while they may miss some of the fancy features found in more up-to-date tech, they all perform perfectly well. I asked around the Which? Tech team to see what tech they were hanging on to…

Dave Holes and his good old VCR

I still have an old VCR at home and don’t plan on getting rid of it anytime soon. Yes, after the digital switchover it won’t record anymore, but it still plays back our library of old tapes. These consist mainly of children’s programmes – Thomas the Tank Engine, Noddy and Percy the Park Keeper are still firm favourites in our household.

The kids don’t mind the poorer picture quality of VHS, they just want to watch their favourite episodes again and again! I won’t be upgrading them all to DVD players, as they’ll eventually move on to other things and thankfully, for now, the VCR keeps working. And long may it continue to do so.

Sarah Kidner can’t let go of her scanner

As editor of Which? Computing magazine, I have a love of print. As such, there are two older bits of tech I couldn’t live without – my stapler and my scanner.

The scanner allows me to scan in documents, such as my daughter’s recent school report and email a copy to her grandfather. I also have an extensive collection of old print photographs I’ve scanned in. I could buy an all-in-one device, but my standalone scanner has stood the test of time.

Catherine West likes her TV a bit chunky

I admit it – I have a gigantic CRT TV in my front room. I live in a shared house and no one wants to pay out for a new one. It’s perfectly watchable – though I must admit I can easily spot the difference on other people’s flat-screen HD TVs.

My housemate picked up our CRT after seeing a Gumtree ad about four years ago and it’s still going strong.

Elisa Roberts is a big fan of vinyl

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I love the crackle under the needle as a record goes round a turntable – funny really, as we wouldn’t tolerate this scratchy sound from a DAB radio or MP3 player.

So I love my record player, and if I ever get fed up of vinyl I can always use a USB turntable to digitise and conveniently transfer them to a PC or MP3 player.

Christopher Christoforou loves his Zen MP3 player

I have an old Creative Zen Stone MP3 player that’s about six years old. For occasional jogging and commutes on the train, it’s perfect.

It’s very light (less than 20g) and since it doesn’t have a screen, I think it looks pretty cool. No screen also saves quite a bit of battery, and there’s no chance it can distract me with lots of touchscreen features. I see no reason to upgrade at all. It works, and I can’t see anything else that could do a better job.

And now here’s your chance to share your stories of ancient tech that you can’t let go of.

What old technology do you still use?

An analogue radio (18%, 372 Votes)

Computer older than five years (14%, 289 Votes)

Record player and vinyls (12%, 247 Votes)

Scanner/printer older than five years (12%, 233 Votes)

VCR and VHS tapes (11%, 230 Votes)

Mobile phone older than five years (10%, 204 Votes)

CRT TV (7%, 135 Votes)

Personal CD/Minidisc player (5%, 107 Votes)

Other – let us know in the comments (5%, 93 Votes)

MP3 player older than five years (4%, 89 Votes)

Retro games console (1%, 23 Votes)

Total Voters: 657

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Though I have not bought any new LPs or tapes since CDs became affordable, I still make regular use of those that I bought years ago and so long as the hardware keeps on working I don’t see any reason for changing. I’ll be trading in my present car soon and it will be strange not to have a cassette player.

Though I have modern DAB radios I still use a 1980s FM tuner to listen to music and a 1967 transistor radio in my bedroom.

I’m with Elisa, vinyl still lives! For some reason I never listen to albums via my computer or mp3 player but only on vinyl. Odd considering the sound quality (let alone scratches) and that you have to flip it halfway would not be normally tolerated in our sleek, user friendly product world 😉

I think my PC must be about 10 years old. Proof indeed that you don’t have to buy a shiny new one all the time. Yes I have upgraded the graphics card + memory + extra hard drives over time, but it’s ultimately the same motherboard/chip/OS as the beginning.

It works for what I need it for, ie music production and the software I have for it works well too. All the files on it are now backed up on my NAS and so I’m not worried if it does die. It’s sounded a bit lame for a while now and it takes ages to boot up, but when it does, I have no problems with it.

The problem is that when I eventually replace it, I will need to buy not just a replacement PC/MAC but also a full audio interface with mixer and the associated software (Logic/Garageband) so I keep putting it off whilst I’m not on active band duty. Will need about 5 grand so I’ll wait it out for now.

The best MP3 player I had was an old samsung pen-drive type thing –
You could just plug it straight in to a computer, copy files across and off you go. It charged really quickly from USB, shuffle was actually shuffle that played differently every time (unlike many mp3 players) and the sound quality was fantastic but someone robbed it from inside my jacket pocket at a company Borrel in Amsterdam 🙁

Phil says:
18 July 2012

The living room telly is a CRT as is the one in the bedroom. The one in the bedroom used to be the main one in the living room and was bought in 1988. It still has a good picture. Both TVs still have VCRs connected although the downstairs one also has a PVR which acts as a Freeserve tuner for the TV (incidentally the VCR can be used to record if connected to the spare SCART socket on the PVR.)

I have no digital radios if for no other reason that they are inferior to FM. I still use the tuner part of my Hi-Fi which was bought in 1979-1980.

Rich says:
18 July 2012

Laser printer. 1993 HP LaserJet 4. Made to last, great quality and relatively cheap to run.

1950 HMV Valve wireless (radio) in dining room, 1998 bedside radio alarm with FM radio, early 1970’s FM radio in workshop, 1995/6 FM Denon tuner in HiFi system.

Lovely Pink Triangle Turntable in HiFi system (also Cambridge Audio Amp & CD, Pioneer Mini-Disc and Castle floor-standing speakers, all bought in mid 1990’s, but most second hand at time, and none can be beaten by current products).

Hitachi VHS VCR and Sanyo Betamax VCR – Hitachi from about 1994 and Sanyo from 1985. Both work fine off the Freeview DVD recorder / player so I can still record to both if I want, but more to the point I can play back old material.

Since when was 5 years “old” for a computer?????? I work in IT and I can tell you that in the industry, 15 years is more like the threshold. My iMac is more than 5 years old and I don’t know many Mac owners who would consider upgrading in that time frame.

How about telephones? I still have ( but only use in emergency) my Motorola StarTAC flip ‘phone which I bought in 1999 after seeing Stuart’s one in “Queer as folk” and thinking it was really cool. And in the house my landline ‘phone is a proper GPO one that was installed in this house in 1956 and has never been moved since. Some people seem to have forgotten how to use a dial!!!!!!

I did have a 1990 Hitachi CRT TV until a year ago. I foolishly replaced it with a Panasonic LED flat screen, which is atrocious in terms of picture quality and power consumption when compared to the Hitachi CRT. I gave the Hitachi to a friend who had just got a new house. He still uses it in his bedroom every day (I now watch TV on average only about 3 hours per week as the new set is so poor I just don’t bother).

I agree with Dave D about Macs. Although I have a recent iMac I still use a 10 year old iMac as a photo repository. It still works perfectly and it had not occurred to me that it is old.

I’ve also got a 1950 Cossor Melody Maker that belonged to my aunt and uncle. I don’t use it very often but it still works reasonably well. I suspect that some of the condensers are on borrowed time but have been reluctant to swap them for modern parts. 🙁

Interesting that you both say your old iMacs are doing well. I have a 5-year-old Mac Mini I have upgraded as far as I can with hard drive, memory and the Intel CPU and it was fine until about a year ago, now each day seems to make it slower.

I’m waiting for Apple to release the new version, with the old one earmarked for a new life as a media centre so don’t feel too much like I am being ‘forced’ to upgrade and having to ditch my old computer.

My girlfriends old iMac is also performing very poorly

This is not the place to diagnose Mac problems, but there is plenty of useful advice on websites. It’s a good idea to run Disk Utility periodically.

Nigel Whitfield says:
19 July 2012

I have a hifi system with a Linn turntable that’s probably almost 30 years old now, and the amp is a similar sort of vintage. The amp in the kitchen is about 15-20 years old.

At the weekend I was listening again to a recording of Under Milk Wood on my Revox A77 reel to reel tape recorder, and I occassionally get out the wind up gramophone to play 78s. I play vinyl far more often than I listen to music on the computer.

My car is a 39 year old Citroën, which I suppose counts as technology, since it does have an early fuel injection system.

In the kitchen, I have a Kenwood Chef that’s older than I am, so well over 40 years; there are some vintage wireless sets too, but those don’t tend to get turned on very often, and I just use the 20 year old tuner that’s part of the hifi system instead.

I have loads of new technology too, with iPod, Mac, media players, wifi thermostat, and all manner of stuff; it gets used, but it’s not stuff hat I feel as strongly about as the older equipment.

I think, incidentally, one of the reasons that vinyl is still appealing to many, beyond the feel of the sound, is because of the whole physical experience – the sleeves you can hold and look at, the mechanics of putting the record on the turntable, lining up the arm, and so on. It’s more tactile, and move involving than just picking something from the screen. If you have company, it’s more social too, with a sleeve of artwork and notes to pass round.

Hectare says:
20 July 2012

Ah Linn decks, why did I get rid of mine…Doh!…I am still using my original NAD amp and CD player from 1986, fantastically robust and with a brilliant rounded sound.
Our ancient Parkinson Cowan gas oven/cooker is still going strong though replacement parts are harder to get.

David says:
20 July 2012

Lin LP12/Ittok/Asaka // Naim 32.5/Hicap/250 – bought secondhand in the 80’s and still very good.

Jon Irwin says:
19 July 2012

My mum teaches from home, and she still uses a BBC Micro 32k computer with 5 1/4 inch floppy disks for some of her pupils.

She has some simple maths (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) programs and a spelling program too that get used all the time.

It’s been there as long as I can remember, so in excess of 20 years now. It still works, and the children like using it.

I still use a BBC B computer bought in 1980 – Still use a 186 PC built by me in 1981 – I have a 286 a 386 and a 486 that I built and still work but not used. (the rest of my HP PCs and laptops are between 5 and 20 years old – only thing to go wrong was a hard disk on the 186 – all working perfectly – Still use two CRT TVs of similar age – though use a 10 yo Sony Flat screen for usual viewing – Use a 1980s JVC music centre for radio vinyl tape and CDs (the turntable is 1965) – still use a 1980s HP mono laser printer – though the rest of the laser HP printers are between 5 and 15 years old.- The two HP Deskjets printers are 15 years old. Have a 20 yo Yelo DVD player.- a 25 year old Hitachi VHS player. – a 30 yo Minolta Film scanner.. In fact my youngest tech kit is a Nikon 5000 camera – The rest of the digital cameras bought over the last 20 years are still working perfectly but the Nikon is superior. A Samsung Mp3 player nearly 10 years old. – A 1957 Cossor Double Beam Oscilloscope. (the reason most of my kit is 1980 plus was because my interest in personal computing was started with the introduction of the BBC a superb machine with superb interfaces). I have a working 1970 metal detector still useful for finding items lost in the garden .. My Nokia mobile is around 7 years old and has excellent coverage.

In all honesty the amount that has gone wrong is limited to a 15 yo Bush VHS/DVD player recorder.that became intermittent last year, – All of my HP PCs still work well on Virgin Broadband.

Oops forgot my games consoles Vic 20 – ZX80 – Commodore all work but rarely used – Sometimes take them along to Computer Club for a retro night. Finally I have an Amstrad (1200?) Laptop which last used worked but is s l o w.

The BBC B wasn’t available in 1980, Richard. Maybe 1982. 🙂

I bought mine in 1983 and it’s still in the loft, with a dot matrix printer. It was a wonderful introduction to computers compared with the RM 380Z CP/M machine I had at work.

Wavechange – You may be right – but I was using BBCAs at our local college who started a computer club which I joined in 1981 – I bought the BBCB soon after. Interestingly I used and taught Computing with the Research Machine 380Z – I actually liked the design as it allowed upgrades without the need to replace the entire machine as in the BBC. But it was superseded by the PC – I used the BBCs to teach computer technology at school as they were wonderful to “bolt on” hardware like robotic arms that could be programmed – excellent incentive to write programs – Had exciting times running complex train set ups” 🙂

An old, plug-in, cabled telephone set (inherited from my company when they were being thrown out) serves as a the fixed telephone in the house for use during power cuts, of which we have many. So I guess you could say we also have VERY old technology serving as our electricity supply.
A stack of black boxes testifies to a hi-fi set up which works well and I can see no reason for it to go, especially as now an ‘old’ iPod Touch, which has 100s of tracks, is permanently plugged into it. So the CD collection is much less used these days.

Emad Fakhoury says:
20 July 2012

Iam still holding to my yamaha reciever , my dvd changer which i love , my casset recoder as my wife has a lot of casset tapes , i bought them all in 1999 . All of them are hi end models . I might in the near future switch to a digital reciever just to be able to use my hd televisin and blue ray dvd player
And to upscale my old dvds

I do have quite a lot of modern technology and update my PCs and laptops about every 5 years but have been reminded by these responses by just how many old pieces of kit I have retained. Like Dave D my hi-fi still has a turntable (Linn Axis) and the brilliant Denon FM tuner, with in my case a pair of very old Audiolab amps (when still British) giving bi-amped power to Monitor Audio Gold series columns. Brilliant sounds. Although I love handling and reading the sleeves of my large collection of LP’s, which were always kept in excellent condition so I hear no noise between tracks on vinyl, I still end up playing the music on later CD/SACD copies on my Marantz SACD player or in surround sound on a BluRay/SCAD player for the enhanced ambience . . . and convenience of not having to get up to turn over the LP every 20 minutes! I still have CD and minidisc players but like my old TEAC reel to reel machine and SVHS machines, they are now largely redundant and should be retired, like me. One frustration is the need to replace my computers every four or five years simply to run the latest operating systems and software which I need for work. All my PC’s were still running when I passed them on to family, friends or a local charity and some still going. Unlike my son’s Mac’s. I know many Mac owners and they do look like great machines but I know nobody whose iMac or MacBook has lasted 5 years without serious faults or complete failures, which is off-putting. Sadly Microsoft has forced me to pass on my ancient but still running HP LaserJet 4 and Canon iP4000 printers, simply because Windows 7 is 64 bit . . . and my very ancient but superb Nikon film scanner will also no longer work with Win 7! Mind my old Epson scanner will allow me to digitise my old slides (I have a Kindermann projector and screen but have not used them for over twenty years). Although I have digital SLR and compact cameras, I still have and use my faithful Canon EOS 30E and 50E film SLR cameras, and have even older Canons including an A1 simply because I prefer the handling and extra thought necessary in taking pictures with them.
The more I think about it the more old kit I realise I have retained. I still have many analogue radios as I see no appeal in DAB, I watch a large plasma screen usually but still have a smaller CRT TV and my ancient Panasonic 29″ CRT TV is still going strong in my daughter’s flat, even if it does take up much of her room! I was astonished to learn that Jon’s mother still uses a BBC Micro with 5 1/4 floppies. I couldn’t find anyone to take hundreds of new 3″ discs when I needed to get rid of them, I am having the same with other old kit that needs to go, including such ancient items as a separate Dolby noise reduction unit (used with a reel to reel before Dolby became common on cassette decks … oh, I forgot I still have two 3-head one’s of those too! Maybe my wife is right, I do need a major clear out as, with the exception of the hi-fi items, most of it is not as good as the modern replacements.

glen says:
20 July 2012

i have a vinyl based hi fi,the turntable,arm and cartridge cost between 7 and 8 thousand pounds,the cd player cost £2000,and the pre and power amps cost over 3 grand,and the speakers nearly 1500,if you are hearing crackle on your vinyl its your system or badly looked after vinyl-there is none of that crap on my system!digital is,and always will be inferior to analogue,because we see and hear in analogue.i have heard 12-13 grand cd players from linn and naim,the copanies who make my turntable and amps,and the turntable walks over both by an enormous degree-in fact the linn sondeck has been going for 40 years,but the £12000 cd sondeck was discontinued after 6 years-you would have to be a mug,or hyper rich,or both to pay twice as much on a linn cd sondeck,when the vinyl one completely annihilates it.unless you have heard the sort of kit that i have,and owned it,you really do not know what you are missing-digital is vile compared to vinyl.you dont have to spend £15000 either-tou could get a rega planar 3,a rega brio amp and some cheap speaker for a grand,which is what i started with,and no digital system can touch it.the only thing that ruins vinyl,is digital recordings,like dire straits brothers in arms

Glen, you are right to some degree. I get no noise between tracks on my vinyl as the surfaces of the disks were never touched, always kept clean and never played on a bad turntable. There was a period when a certain American label used recycled vinyl (sometimes the discs included bits of the labels and cardboard packaging in the pressings and these always sounded awful and I always had them replaced, similarly I took back LP’s because I could tell from surface noise that the shop had played them on a BSR or cheap Garrard deck (I could tell this even in my student days with an old Goldring 78 turntable and later Thorens 160S with SME3). Nimbus records proved the point when they, and then Linn, released excellent pressings of popular albums. They advertised them as being unlike rival pressings because they used virgin vinyl, their disks were flat and the hole was in the middle! They were right. Unfortunately the first batch they sent were so sharp edged they cut through the sleeves and new sleeved had to be posted to me.
Where I would disagree is that the quality of digital sound can be better than cheap vinyl and certainly my Marantz SACD in my Hi-Fi set up beats a Rega 3 in any set up hands down. [I do have a friend who has a Rega 3 and it is a disappointment and I always preferred floating deck turntables anyway. Although I also briefly had a Rega 2 in my set up as a stop-gap after a burglary and was pleasantly surprised. I have since given it to a friend who remains impressed.]
However, the point is not about vinyl vs. digital it is about how the LP/CD was pressed or sound engineering and recording. I would agree that a lot of digital pop is so compressed as to be hard on the hearing after a short while and I am deeply concerned to hear of some even being recorded at MP3 standards, suitable only for iPods and background music on a PC. I had this debate with the late Chas Chandler who refused to believe that digital could reproduce the same dynamic range as vinyl, and to a large extent he was right but there are an increasing number of SACD and CD releases (admittedly mainly in jazz and classical) where the sound is at least equal if not superior to any vinyl alternative (which these days is often not available). I am not aware of any Vinyl played on a Linn or equivalent that can beat a top quality system with SACD, especially if you enjoy a decent SACD surround sound performance. I admit these are rare and most are less than satisfying but some BluRay performances are getting there (and there are no Vinyl alternatives to those).

Brian Steer says:
20 July 2012

Quad ESL 57s from the 50’s, serial numbers around 2500, Quad 2 + II valve amps from around the same time, Garrard 401, 12″ SME all bought between 1967 and 1980. Sounds Fantastic.

I have a bunch of old vinyl and my dad’s record player he was bought as a teenager, but my favourite retro kit has got to be cameras.
I have a small but growing collection including my granddad’s 1958 Kodak 66 medium format camera with manual everything, my uncles Voigtlander Vito B and Kodak Retinette which are all used regularly.
My most used camera though is my 1979 Pentax ME Super from my wife’s great uncle, which even though it is only a year younger than me, works perfectly. It’s a compact, easy to use, fully manual SLR with a great selection of lenses on ebay for some very reasonable prices. The photos come out with a lovely retro grain to them which is so much nicer than Instagram. The only downside is waiting for the film to be processed as I haven’t got around to setting up a lab yet and a good film scanner will set me back a few hundred quid.

Angus, if you do decide to get a film scanner do not buy any of the current dedicated so-called film scanners as they are not actually film scanners but crude fixed focus digital cameras and you will not get good pictures from negatives or slides. True film scanners, such as a Nikon coolscan I used, were very expensive and ceased production many years ago and manufacturers no longer support the current computer operating systems like Windows 7 or any 64 bit OS. Instead you can get a genuine film scanner in some flat scanners, notably the Epson scanners (except the bottom of their range). These are true scanners and will give much better quality.

Thanks Adrian, My mum already fell in to that trap and bought one from an advert in the Telegraph which was truly awful. She has a bunch of old slides to scan so I was looking at the flatbed scanners with film attachments but the cost is quite high as you have to make sure it is a backlit scanner. I keep my eye on ebay for older ones but, like you said, they are all obsolete in terms of operating system support. Getting scans done at the processing stage isn’t cheap either but it is a hell of a lot more reliable than some of the prints I get from the same establishments.

Nigel Whitfield says:
20 July 2012

I started developing my own films last summer, and it’s a lot easier than I imagined. I hunted around for a decent film scanner on eBay and picked up a Canon FS4000 for a good price. And yes, some of these may have poor or non-existent support for the latest operating systems, but it’s well worth checking out the VueScan software at http://www.hamrick.com

It works with a huge range of scanners, for Mac, Windows or Linux, and in many cases the drivers are built into VueScan, so despite the fact that there’s no support for my scanner on recent versions of OS X from Canon, I can use it perfectly via VueScan.

When I was looking for a scanner on eBay, I simply referred to the VueScan supported scanners list to see whether or not it would work; there are other scanning programs (like SilverLight) that are available for older scanners, but certainly SilverLight is licensed per scanner, so if you buy it for a Nikon and change to a Minolta, you have to pay again.

Thanks Nigel, that’s really useful.

Yes Nigel that site should be much better known as it helps avoid enforced redundancy of good kit.

I still use a Micro seiki turntable that I’ve had for nearly 30 years. Great turntable, though the needle needs to be changed!

Clare says:
20 July 2012

I have had my Aiwa hifi for over ten years. It’s still as good as ever, plays CDs, cassette tapes and radio. I will continue using it until it breaks. I have misplaced the remote, which means that it doesn’t have full functionality, but it plays music loud, which is all I’m after! I also have a TV/VCR/DVD combi in my bedroom that I’ve had about eight or nine years, again, that is still being used and I still record programmes on VHS!

I have a radio come CD player which must be at least 12 years old. It is great – it still does as good a job as it did when I first bought it. We are profligate enough in the developed world and I see no reason to change for the sake of change. My pet hate is the phrase, ‘it’s a must have’.

Zoology West says:
20 July 2012

I still use my Tandberg four track quarter inch tape recorder (1971) on occasion and a Paillard Bolex M8R cine projector (1959).

Lizzie says:
20 July 2012

I’m still using an ancient Kodak EasyShare camera. Only 2mp, but it takes perfectly acceptable shots, and has an optical viewfinder. Chunky enough to feel like a “proper” camera, but easy enough to tote around.