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Assume a standard, inexpensive modern laptop, left in a standard laptop bag for 300 years, under cover, in a dryish, but imperfect environment, such as a cupboard in a house.

How much of it would remain? Would the battery have burst, corroded or caught fire? How much damage might we expect? Might it still work?

How long could it reasonably last for and still be a functional laptop?

inexpensive ASUS laptop

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    $\begingroup$ Related - worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/44994/… $\endgroup$ – Mr.Burns Jul 1 '16 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be able to run Windows 310. $\endgroup$ – Luís Henrique Jul 1 '16 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Anyone in IT will tell you there is only about a 40% chance of a laptop that was left overnight will work. (based on trouble calls like "it just doesn't work, I just took it home and left it in the bag, didn't even use it") :) $\endgroup$ – Seeds Jul 1 '16 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Seeds , your not wrong but most of those people leave the Laptop on or jostle the bag so something inside stops working or the HDD gets scratched so it cant be read any more. The most fun reason Ive come across is the RAM missing (not dislodged, just gone) $\endgroup$ – Mr.Burns Jul 1 '16 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ It'd look the same delta possible battery and capacitor issues. Would it work? Consensus here send to be "no", but I have a 40y computer that boots up no problem-I'd be a little surprised if it didn't boot in another 40. Firmware lasts awhile. I believe you'd get power distribution and anything in non-volatile memory. $\endgroup$ – Dave Newton Jul 1 '16 at 17:42
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Interesting Question. From personal experience and over 35 years in " IT", including a Factory Warranty Repair Certification for HP Laptops, I can confidently say the following to your query:

  1. In 300 years, it is likely that what remains would be identifiable ( to a historian) as a laptop. It is virtually impossible that the device would be functional, and unlikely that items such as plastic cases, LCD/LED screens and internal flex cables would survive, as most of these plastics become quite brittle with time. The battery would likely leak and corrode all nearby parts. It is unlikely to catch fire, as the charge and current needed for a fire would have dissipated during the first few years. Magnetic media such as a hard drive will eventually lose magnetic 'charge', and become unreadable. Most HDDs I have are unreadable after 10 - 12 years.

  2. Under undisturbed but less than perfect storage conditions, I would expect an otherwise fully operational laptop to be irreparably unusable, with no available replacement parts in 30 years or less. Some components may last longer, but as a whole, a generation or two of lifespan is about it.

    Note: it may be possible to properly store components in airtight vacuum sealed conductive bags and extend component life span. I do not believe any form of storage would allow a 300 year old laptop to function.

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    $\begingroup$ Solid state drives would also degrade and lose their data in about the same amount of time. According to Dell the max is about 10 years. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jul 1 '16 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ In addition, there is a certain amount of "designed obsolescence" in most consumer goods these days. It's hard for a corp to make money if they make stuff that lasts. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Jul 1 '16 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ I feel certain that 300 years' advance in technology ( presumed) would render the concept of a laptop to the same place we hold bone tools and flint knives, today; vaguely interesting but utterly useless. $\endgroup$ – Joe Jul 1 '16 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Seeds It's not usually as evil as that. Making things last makes them more expensive and typically bulkier and heavier. Those aren't competitive features. Consumers want cheap, light laptops, and plan to replace them in a few years when more powerful/lighter ones are invented, and corps cater to that. $\endgroup$ – Carl Kevinson Jul 1 '16 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ I have an old 100mb hard drive from the early 90s that still works. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Osman Jul 2 '16 at 4:35
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It's possible many of the electronics could survive and still be functional. Many of the capacitors may not make it. The batteries, however, would most likely not be functional, even if they managed not to leak. Batteries are full of very reactive chemicals and would essentially consume themselves over the course of 300 years.

If you disconnected/removed the batteries and attached an external power supply, it might be possible to power up the machine. But this is not the same as booting the machine. Like Joe says, the data on the magnetic platter hard drives would likely be gone. Even solid-state drives (SSDs) and the boot PROMs lose data over time and would likely be so full of data errors the machine would not boot fully.

Heck, with the billions of bits flying around in every machine that must be in perfect order, its a daily miracle that modern computers work at all.

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    $\begingroup$ @Joe Possibly. My impression of history is that even if old technology is no longer used, its still possible to reproduce. We no longer use humans, animals, wind or steam to power our machinery, but we still could if we wanted. Or we can adapt modern power to old machines, such as put an electric motor on a steam locomotive. Maybe not worth doing, but still possible. In the future, maybe we'll still be able to generate electricity from psychic waves? :-) $\endgroup$ – JS. Jul 1 '16 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with JS - it's unlikely that anyone would still be producing the appropriate power source, but absent any cataclysmic events, equally unlikely that there wouldn't at least be blue-prints of the type of power source that would be required, such that it could be reproduced, given sufficient motivation. (How useful such a power source would be, is another matter.) $\endgroup$ – neminem Jul 1 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe, the power supply is one thing I would not worry about. Mains power standards have been almost unchanged for a century -- the Hubbell socket in use in North America in 1915 is almost identical to the NEMA 1-15 standard, while 120V/60Hz has been the North American standard ever since Westinghouse beat Edison Electric in the 1890s. Widespread standards have huge inertia -- if we're still using electicity at all 300 years from now, you'll be able to find 120V/60Hz single-phase, and probably a NEMA 5-15 or NEMA 5-20 socket to plug into. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 1 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark, excellent points, all...I had in mind that even the use of 'electricity' as we think of it today may be as antiquated as spinning wheels and beeswax candles seem to us... $\endgroup$ – Joe Jul 1 '16 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ "its a daily miracle that modern computers work at all" I wish more folks realised this. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 2 '16 at 13:55
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How long could it reasonably last for and still be a functional laptop?

As other answers state, the laptop will be far from functioning.

But you mentioned 300 years period...

...and after that time, perhaps no one could be really interested in any tests whether the device could be functioning. It won't be necessary.

Imagine technical progress last 100 years. I think after another 300 years it could be quite a standard thing to create functioning clone of the device: scan critical microelectronics on molecular basis, recompute parameters of damaged electrical components via knowledge base addressing our era (and using additional simulations of circuits) and then print functioning clone of the machine. Perhaps some attempts can be made to scan its storage media and reconstruct readable remnants of stored content. Regarding operating system, it could be obtained from Digital Archive of some Mankind History Museum. So having a bootable clone of the computer should not be a problem 300 years later.

And maybe there even won't be any need to clone the device physically: Maybe nearly any citizen could use their All-Capable Assistant device, request Historical Software Emulator module, run today's operating system taken from Mankind Digital Archive and scan storage hardware of found laptop on molecular level. (Using micro-bots, i.e. best without any physical manipulation with laptop which would obviously cause its further damage.) Retrieve remnants of information and use some of digital archaelogists' tools to recover as much as possible to get at least some files in file system. If you had luck, you can end up running Word 2010 with ImportantMemo.docx file. :)

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    $\begingroup$ C:\Recycler\Copy of Copy of ImportantMemo (2) (New).docx :) $\endgroup$ – TessellatingHeckler Jul 2 '16 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @TessellatingHeckler – hopefully they won't find laptop with Windows XP: C:\Docume~1\PeterS~1\MyDocu~1\~$Impo~2.doc :) $\endgroup$ – miroxlav Jul 2 '16 at 8:01
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Various answers refer to plastic parts degrading, cables getting brittle etc. While this certainly does happen, nobody goes into why it happens.

The vast majority of plastics are chemically stable by themselves. but they are not chemically inert. They decay by reacting with oxygen, sulfur compounds, assorted nitrates, and ultraviolet light just to mention a few.

Vacuum sealing is a very poor option - the case will have considerable pressure applied to it by the bag, and many solids will outgas in a vacuum. or a chip will pop open due to an internal air pocket.

If stored properly in an inert-gas atmosphere, at room temperature, in total darkness it is possible the thing will be usable some centuries down the line. Creating 120VAC 60Hz power to start it will be no problem at all - the PowerMate 6000 attached to a Mr. Fusion will have that waveform available in the Historical section. Or straight DC if the power supply doesn't work anymore. Your 3D printer/replimat can make a compatible adapter.

Laptops will likely fare better than desktops as they don't use large electrolytic capacitors. Those things are well known to go bad just sitting there.

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As well as the above, chip making is itself a statistical process due to doping and electron migration etc. The chips themselves will lose their precision due to wandering impurities from quantum effects and the like, even though they are sealed in the usual semiconductor packages.

Capacitors and batteries fail/leak (as described in other answers) so your power handling and power regulation goes splat, and that's fairly crucial for a laptop.

Many plastics and polymers (including insulators) aren't stable over very long time periods; think of how they yellow and become more brittle, and they may have undergone very long term repeated heating/cooling cycles over the years, so they will be very fragile. Good luck opening them without damage too, for the same reason.

Their cooling fans wont work either. Can it cope without forced cooling? Hope so.

Data storage won't hold data that long - forget Windows; booting, BIOS and firmware failure is more fundamental.

Over time metals can also fail. Will the metals themselves have kept their form and function?

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  • $\begingroup$ So your opinion is that the chips themselves would be dead. I wasn't aware that capacitors could leak. $\endgroup$ – superluminary Jul 2 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. Most things gradually deteriorate over time, but capacitors and semiconductors have a limited lifespan due to this being quite significant for them. $\endgroup$ – Stilez Jul 2 '16 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ My computer does fine with forced-cooling (icepack), so it might work on others. $\endgroup$ – SMS von der Tann Jul 2 '16 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ The fundamental limit is the diffusion of the carefully placed impurity atoms (dopants) within the transistors on the chips. Once the first few transistors of the billions on the CPU go bad, the computer is defunct. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jul 4 '16 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ Note that transistors also underlie memory and firmware storage (RAM, non volatile RAM, USB flash drives, SSD, firmware of ordinary hard drives, etc), as well as the motherboard's on-board I/O chips handling disks, keyboard, network (NIC), and I/O buffering, also any LCD displays. So it isnt just the CPU. Everything else would have ceased to function over time as well. So loopholes ("The museum has a spare CPU/we can repair it") don't work - any microcircuitry is basically as useful as so much gravel. $\endgroup$ – Stilez Jul 4 '16 at 12:08
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The proper answer here is: Who cares?

There are really only two feasible cases:

1) We haven't had a technological crash. The laptop is only of interest to archeologists and museums.

2) We have had a technological crash. The laptop's battery is dead, you have no source of power. Whether it works is immaterial.

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As indicated in other answers, the laptop would be a mess. Fortunately, the Company of the Transistor, a non-profit founded in 2200, dedicated to "the preservation, study, and reproduction of 20th and 21st century electronics", will be happy to provide spare parts and even complete replica systems.

In your world building context, does it matter whether the laptop is an actual 300 year old artifact, rather than a relatively recent reproduction that better represents how the laptop would have been when in use?

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    $\begingroup$ @superluminary In that case, the laptop would be useless even if in perfect condition. The dark ages had neither 120 volt outlets nor battery manufacturers. Even if there were a generator in good condition, where would you find refined propane, diesel, or whatever fuels it? $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Jul 2 '16 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @PatriciaShanahan: A diesel generator can run fine on vegetable oil which might be available. But I think all modern diesels use electronic fuel injection whose components are unlikely to be in working condition. $\endgroup$ – R.. Jul 2 '16 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @R.. Would the diesel generator work on oil contaminated with vegetable solids? Filters are yet another technology that made a lot of progress in the last few hundred years. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Jul 2 '16 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ Probably until it gunked up the injectors, in which case you'd have to clean them. Alternatively if you found a gasoline generator you should be able to run it on distilled alcohol - I thought of that because distilled alcohol is probably what you'd want to use to clean the diesel engine if you gunked it up. $\endgroup$ – R.. Jul 2 '16 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ And yet another alternative: remove the internal combustion engine from the generator and connect foot pedals to the shaft. $\endgroup$ – R.. Jul 2 '16 at 18:38
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Have you tried to run browse the internet using Netscape Navigator to browse the internet after 2010? It's doable, but it's far from efficient -- in fact, most websites are completely deformed from Netscape's browser point of view because of the numerous improvements that programming has seen (HTML5 in 2014, for instance)

The funny thing is that, Netscape's latest update wasn't that long ago -- it was in 2008. In a mere 8 years, Netscape has been rendered nearly impossible to use.

The same applies to hardware technology. If the laptop was perfectly maintained and the damage of time were to be ignored, the odds are 'WiFi' and 'Bluetooth' would be stuffs of the past. Likewise, battery chargers, even power outlets might look different in 300 years from now on - perhaps they'll be wireless, something that is not compatible on a 300 years old laptop.

USB slot might not have the same shape, perhaps we'll be at USB Type Z version 44 by then, so most of the new technology would be incompatible with the 300 years old technology. It might not even be possible to find a compatible charger for the laptop!

But assuming that there was already an OS installed, it might work with what is already installed on it, but there probably won't be any internet, or any slot compatible with the newest technology.

Of course, that is if we ignore the fact that in 300 years old, most of the hardware would've been completely impossible to use due to the fearsome power of destruction also known as time.

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    $\begingroup$ A bit like the reaction of current generation children shown a cassette deck or something. $\endgroup$ – Stilez Jul 2 '16 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Amused thought - you find a laptop that miraculously and magically still works - but it seems to require something called a Google or Microsoft account to use it... If you remember your history lessons those were the old companies which were around 300 years ago before SplatSoft achieved dominance in the technology field and automatic recognition of brain activity became the standard login $\endgroup$ – Stilez Jul 3 '16 at 8:36

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