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When collecting retro computing related items you'll undoubtedly end up with a variety of different items, made from different materials and in a range of conditions.

Here is a recent snap of my collection which is made up mostly of games and consoles from the 16 bit era onwards (sorry, humble brag!).

Retro Computing Collection

A single Megadrive game consists of fairly typical retro game packaging:

  • The plastic case and film cover
  • The paper box art that sits outside the case but inside the cover
  • The paper manual, contained inside the box
  • The game cartridge which is a plastic case round an integrated circuit board with the metal pins exposed

Then we have the boxes for the consoles which are usually:

  • Cardboard for the actual box
  • Polystyrene for the internal packaging

And of course we have other medium as well:

  • Tapes for some of the older games
  • CDs for some of the newer games
  • Wires for the controllers

What is the optimal way a typical home user (*1) can store all these items, on display (*2) , to preserve them in their current state for future generations?


*1 - By typical home user I mean within a reasonable budget and reasonable practicality. If cryogenic freezing in a pool the size of a football pitch is the absolute best way then please feel free to mention it but please offer it alongside some more feasible advice as well.

*2 - Note I'm primarily interested in answers that have them on display and useable, however if it makes significant difference, answers around sealing in air tight boxes and hiding at the back of the attic are welcome too.

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    If you are familiar with SE, then you already know that this type of question is not a good fit for the site. – Mick Sep 6 '18 at 23:12
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    Hmmm I disagree @Mick otherwise I wouldn't have posted it. Care to tell me why you think that and I'll see if I can convince you otherwise? I'll start by pointing out it checks all the boxes on the tour in the 'Ask about...' section and none in the 'Don't ask about...' section. It also looks fine according to retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask and retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic (although that is pretty bare!) – RyanfaeScotland Sep 6 '18 at 23:31
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    Unlike other SE sites, this question is fine on RC, as RC is as much about preservation of old stuff as it is about useing it. Further, Storage isa rather objective issue. There are many good guidelines about how to do archives, so it's not about opinion either. ... Gee, usually I'm the one to call for closure :)) – Raffzahn Sep 6 '18 at 23:45
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    Heh, it's just occurred to me what the tag 'storage' actually refers to... – RyanfaeScotland Sep 7 '18 at 0:10
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    @traal You're right, people may come up with opinion based answers, but then isn't it our job to keep that in check, and let only the acceptable ones stay? And yes, I could come up with some references, but the only web based references I could find are in German - I guess I just don't know the right keywords to bring up some English language sites about archiveing. Similar, all books I have about that topic are as well in German :( – Raffzahn Sep 7 '18 at 1:55
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What is the optimal way a typical home user can store all these items, on display, to preserve them in their current state for future generations?

Keep them in low temperature, dry and dark conditions.

  • Low temperature in this context means around 15 to 20 °C.
  • Dry condition means a humidity of 50-55%.
  • Dark is relative, here a low UV is most important.

Almost more important than the exact value is to keep these conditions constant over year around. Especially temperature, as changing temperature causes condensation that will be harmful to many materials - especially paper and metals. Second is the upper limit of humidity. Keep always below 55%

This sounds much like room conditions for living, isn't it?

For the light, definitly no windows. If at all, special UV filter shades are a must. A closed room with artificial light, only when needed is best. Here usually (!) low colour temperature lighting means less UV. So classic incandescent light bulbs are to be prefered. Here again low power ones emit lower frequency light - so rather use two 40W than one 80W.

Having a good ventilation is also helpful. You want to move the shelf away from the wall at least 2-3 cm and not close up bottom or top. With a shelf system like in the picture this comes almost automatic - just make sure the computers/boxes/whatsoever are not pushed against the wall - maybe have a little stop lining atop each board.

Beside that, have fun :))


P.S.: Here is a good paper by the British Library about managing archive conditions. Not only due authority, but even more as it explains the relations between different conditions in simple words. It focuses primary on paper and alike, but these coditions are as well good for most other materials in your picture.

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    I'm not keen on rarity as a reason to collect something. I tend to go with items I recall enjoying or still enjoy and then related items that present themselves opportunisticly. So no, nothing rare or particularly high dollar value here, but it still deserves my love and attention. :) (Oh and I guess @traal's comment would be to whatever the collector feels is most valuable!) – RyanfaeScotland Sep 7 '18 at 5:38
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    @RyanfaeScotland Most important because temperature is linked to humidity. So as lower it gets, as narrower are the margins of vapour possible, as the absolute value shrinks. Again, it's not about absolute dry. Too dry will be bad for some materials. Further the region between arround 10 and 20C is what most human made materials are made for. They don't design the plastic used for a CD cover (or whatever) to withstand -40 or +80C over a long time - not needed. that stuff is made for home temperature. The worlds average is about ~15C and all we do works around that. – Raffzahn Sep 10 '18 at 12:43
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    It's been a year, that's probably enough 'taking my time'! The tick is yours, that British Library link is brilliant. – RyanfaeScotland Sep 24 at 21:35
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    Light was already taken care of; Humidity - I have 2 small 'desk sized' dehumidifiers in the room which we had sitting around the house unused. They may not be quite up to the job but it is a bit of peace of mind. Temperature is still unregulated. I do semi-regular checks on the cases and their artwork for signs of degrading, nothing regimented, basically just pulling a few out every now and then when I'm in the garage and all seems to be fine (or getting worse at a rate I'm not able to perceive!). – RyanfaeScotland Sep 24 at 21:59
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    Being a fan of electronics and programming I really should set up some sort of monitoring system to track and record these things over time. It would be pretty interesting to see just how cold, hot and humid it i getting. If I ever do I'll return to post it up. – RyanfaeScotland Sep 24 at 22:01
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Rather than listing ideal conditions, I will try to answer by listing what negative influences are to be observed by specific non-optimal conditions:

Hardware

  • All sorts of plastics contain softening ingredients that tend to evaporate over time. Excessive warmth accelerates this process and plastics become brittle over time. Similarly, light-coloured parts tend to yellow because a similar chemical used for whitening the plastics evaporates - exposure to UV light seems to add to the effect.
  • The dielectric in electrolytic capacitors is also subject to drying out, capacitors tend to lose capacitance over time. Excessive warmth will speed up this process as well.
  • Metals (connectors, key contacts, framing, ebven PCB coating...) are very susceptible to humidity, so should be kept in a cool, dry and non-condensing environment.
  • Not exactly related to storage conditions, but: Before putting your equipment in long-term storage, make sure any batteries are removed and permanently installed batteries are checked for leakage and aging. It may make sense to replace PCB-mounted batteries with external battery packs.

Documents (Paper)

  • Modern paper is designed in a way that it basically self-destructs over time. Acids in the paper make it eat up itself, heat and (mainly) light support yellowing. This can (like plastics aging) not be prevented, only been slowed down by keeping the materials cool (~20°C), dry and not exposed to light. Very valuable items can be kept as single sheets in acid-free paper (no PVC!) wrappers. Humidity is, obviously, one of the closest enemies to paper. Also think about rodents (mice, the non-computer type) when storing paper in the basement or attic.

Storage Media

  • Magnetic Media is sensible to humidity and excessive temperatures. Magnetic media surfaces can be destroyed in such an environment. Never store a disk in a drive. Verbatim recommended to Disks not being used should be stored upright in a dustproof container. If they are stored on top of one another, there is a tendency for the jackets to become warped. Unlike cassette tapes, if a disk is in long-term storage, it is not necessary to give it a spin every once in a while. (This was for 5 1/4" floppies). What you also see here, tapes should be given a wind every now and then - otherwise, the windings tend to adhere to each other.

Fortunately, all material used in retrocomputing is more or less susceptible to the same adverse conditions. So, storing computers and equipment in a dark (or at least UV-free), dry, relatively cool (20°C) and non-humid environment should slow done ageing as much as possible - You will, however, not be able to completely prevent ageing.

Some answers (but not really retro-related) can also be found here.

  • Hey tofro, thanks for this great answer. I really like the way you've taken a more pragmatic approach to the issues each component part can face and particularly how you've addressed the reasons they cause issues. So many sources I found prior to here only said things like 'Store in low humidity' but few went into the specifics of why each item was bad. Not sure which answer I'll mark as accepted but rest assured this is a great one and has at least but up-voted appropriately. – RyanfaeScotland Sep 10 '18 at 12:21
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If you really want to preserve the original items then consider the following.

Rather than displaying the items, display the cover art. Print some large posters with all the box covers on them. Maybe include a little bit of info like the title (handy for imports if you don't read Japanese) and year of release. Something that is nice to look at and which you can add to.

Then store the items. Others have given good advice on this, I would only add that plastic boxes from IKEA are a good option. Throw in a bag of desiccant for good measure.

For playing the games get some SD card based multi-carts and run the games from there. Unfortunately this isn't possible for all games, particularly ones with custom hardware in the cartridge, but for most it's fine.

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