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Determining the age of electronic equipment

Determining the age of electronic equipment is fairly easy to do. There’s actually a secret code that allows one to do this and gain other insights into the history of such devices. This works for computers, of course, but also for most any other device that contains computer chips.

You just need to know how to read the code.Most, though not all, computer chips contain a date code. The code is four digits long and contains the year and week of manufacture.

Take a look at this picture of a Commodore 64 motherboard. You’ll see chips with the codes 3583, 3083, 8338, and 2084 on them. These chips date to the 35 week of 1983, 30th week of 1983, 38th week of 1983, and 20th week of 1984, respectively.

So I know that particular C-64 rolled out of the factory in mid 1984 at the very earliest, based on the date of the 6581 chip at position U8.

If I were to see this kind of disparity today, I would suspect the unit has a repair history. But I happen to know Commodore was notorious for stockpiling chips in warehouses for months or even years. Sometimes their decisions regarding product design were based more on what was in the warehouses than any other factor. Today, that’s a good way to go out of business, so you don’t see that practice much anymore. When you do, it almost always means a chip had to be replaced for some reason.

A memory DIMM on my desk has codes reading 0038 on its chips. So those chips date to the 38th week of 2000.

It’s a bad idea to buy a memory module with mismatched dates on its chips. That almost always means the module underwent repair. Did the person who did the repair do it with the right equipment? Did the person get the right chip? What about the soldering equipment? Did the technician use the proper 15-watt iron, or a 200-watt gun better suited for plumbing applications? I don’t like wondering about such things.

With other devices it’s a judgment call. If you find a chip with a date that doesn’t belong, examine its solder joints. Sloppy, inconsistent solder joints are bad. Consistent, smooth solder joints are fine. Reconsider buying a device that shows signs of sloppy soldering.

Determining the date of manufacture of a computer’s motherboard and comparing it to those of the video card or hard drive can give you an idea whether those parts have been replaced. In those cases, newer is always better, of course.

If there’s no date of manufacture on the back of a consumer electronics device, this is one way to determine the approximate age of the equipment. I know the device is no newer than the most recent chip on the board.

Whether you’re looking for red flags or just trying to satisfy your curiosity, the datestamps on chips can be a useful tool for determining the age of electronic equipment.

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