Can you survive the Y2K bug?

Question: What specifically has to be done to PCs to make sure they function when the Year 2000 arrives? Do I need to upgrade the BIOS, the motherboard or any other cards? Can I assume that any 286, 386, and some 486 machines would require outright replacement instead of upgrading? – L.M.

Answer: If you bought your PC in the last couple of years, you should be OK. But there are a few gotchas to be concerned about. The good news is that when the new millennium arrives at midnight Dec. 31, 1999, most IBM-compatible PC owners will probably escape the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug if they can answer “yes” to the following three questions:

  • Was your IBM-compatible PC manufactured after 1996?
  • Does it have a 32-bit Windows operating system loaded on it? (That’s Windows 95, Win NT or anything newer.)
  • Is all the software on your system newer than the computer?

If you have a Macintosh computer running any version of the Mac OS, you can also rest easy. All Macs, back to the Macintosh 128K computer (introduced in 1984), allow the correct representation of dates up to 6:28:15 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2040. So who is at risk? Anyone using older/early Pentium PCs or older Intel-based machines.

“Typically, older machines will not be Y2K-compliant,” said Kirk Reid, senior field technician at MicroAge in Calgary. “The exceptions would be some of the brand-name machines like Compaq, IBM, and HP. I know that Compaq (for instance) is certifying some of their 3/486 machines. This is, however, the exception, not the rule. Some Pentium-class machines will be OK but you may still need a BIOS update.”

There are a couple of neat tricks you can use to simulate the arrival of Year 2000 to see if your system is at risk. One straightforward test involves a simple manipulation of the date and time on your system, suggests Faisal Premji, a systems technician at Voodoo Computers, Inc., in Calgary. (If the system has any mission-critical data on it that you suspect might be hurt by this test, then be sure to back it up first.) Jus set the time and date on your system to Dec. 31, 1999, at 11:59 p.m. The best way to do this is to type date at the DOS prompt and then time and follow the on-screen prompts to make the changes. Then turn off your machine. Wait a few minutes, then restart and check the time.

“An estimated four out of five of the PCs using 16-bit Windows will reboot to the year 1980 or 1984,” writes Mike Elgan in Windows magazine. And while you are in the “simu-millennium” test, run any of the older programs that you have kept around for years and see if they go wacky. If you encounter any major problems, you might want to take one of several courses of action. Newer machines that are equipped with flash BIOS can be updated with a patch from the manufacturer.

UPDATE: We have kept this article on our site for posterity. The idea of all these problems didn’t actually come to fruition, thankfully.