From the AMI Archives: Panic Like It’s 1999

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For today’s post we have dug deep into our extensive AMI Archives for a look at another product from an interesting vantage point in recent history. Think back to the last few years of the 1990s and how there was widespread confusion and uncertainty with respect to how computers and industrial systems would handle the changing of the year to a new century in 2000. The so called “Y2K Panic” or “Y2K Bug” was an ever-increasing topic in the news as governments, utilities, financial institutions and others, along with the computer industry, struggled to ensure that vital computing and public infrastructure systems would not suddenly come to a grinding halt once the clock struck midnight and the date turned to January 1st, 2000.

AMI was among the many computer and software services companies that were spurred into action and the formulation of an appropriate response to this potential threat. From several years prior, a growing concern had emerged that computers worldwide were at risk primarily due to a shortcoming in system programming with respect to dates beyond the year 1999, where the the system clock might not recognize the correct year due to the fact that most computers only interpreted years as two digits instead of four – potentially rendering the computer inoperable. In response, AMI developed a number of products to combat the Y2K dilemma; the one we are going to showcase today is called the “Year 2000 BIOS Enabler”, the packaging for which is shown in the image below.

What was the Year 2000 BIOS Enabler?

Looking at the packaging and description for this product, we see that it was a 16-bit ISA plug-in card that featured some integrated circuits, including one that housed the BIOS code for the Year 2000 BIOS Enabler. The product packaging explains how this device was intended to operate in rather clear terms:

“[AMI] has developed a Year 2000 BIOS Enabler that is an ISA board ensuring that system calls to the BIOS return to the correct year. When the year 00 or 80 would have been returned from a non-Y2K compliant BIOS, the Year 2000 BIOS Enabler will rewrite the year in the system’s CMOS settings to ensure that all subsequent years are returned correctly. Finally, the Year 2000 BIOS Enabler resolves potential problems with the leap year for 2000 and subesequent leap years.”

A photograph of the rear of the product packaging shows this description and more:

One amusing item to point out is in the “System Requirements” section, where it notes that “IBM PC/AT or compatible computers with at least one free ISA slot. MS-DOS, PC-DOS, Dr. DOS, OS/2, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT 3.0 or greater” are required to make use of the Year 2000 BIOS Enabler. Times and operating system options have certainly changed!

What are your recollections of the time leading up to Y2K, or what you imagined the worst-case scenario could have been? Do you remember preparing any computers or other systems for the potential Y2K bug? What other items from the AMI Archives would you like to learn more about? Contact us via our website, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and let us know. Thanks for reading!

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