Why did old PCs have key locks? [LGR Retrospective]


Have you ever looked at an older computer
case and wondered about this thing? This is what is known as a keylock, and these
were a standard feature on tons of computer cases from 1984 to around 1994. Alongside the turbo button, the presence of
a keylock is one of those things that instantly dates a personal computer to that time period. But what exactly did they do, where did they
come from, and why aren’t they so commonplace on the average home computer anymore? To answer the first question, keylocks usually
did exactly what you’d expect: they locked the computer with a key. How exactly it would do this depends on the
type of lock and the wiring inside, but most of the time it would prevent people from opening
the case, prevent the keyboard from being used, or a combination of the two. For example, the LGR Woodgrain 486 has a keylock
that only affects keyboard input. When you turn the key, it shorts a jumper
on the motherboard, which tells the computer not to accept any signals from the keyboard. It doesn’t stop anyone from just opening
up the case and removing the connection between the keylock and the motherboard of course,
but it prevents the most casual of shenanigans from taking place. However, with certain other computers it’s
another story, since the keylock physically slides a piece of metal into place when activated,
preventing the case from being opened at all. Sometimes this also locks down the keyboard,
sometimes it disables hard drive access, and other times it might even prevent the computer
from powering on in the first place. But the method of disabling keystrokes and
locking down the case seems to be the most common. And the first mainstream appearance
of this type of keylock was from IBM in 1984, introduced with their 5170 model, the IBM
PC AT. To quote the November 13th, 1984 issue of PC
Magazine, the AT provided “the first real system for allowing executives to sleep at
night: a hard-to-duplicate ‘tubular’ key locks all but keyholders out of the system.” This was a big deal because the original IBM PC and PC XT were utterly
trivial to get inside of. All you needed to do was loosen a few screws on the back of
the case and you could mess around all day. And there was nothing preventing anyone from
using the computer at anytime since there were no passwords or user profiles. And this was a problem for businesses. So IBM contracted the Chicago Lock Company
to address this, and they went with their patented tubular lock, a compact type of cam
lock that used a cylindrical key, the same kind often used on vending machines, pinball
tables, and alarm systems. In reality it was a minimal security measure
more for peace of mind than anything else, basically just there to prevent casual stuff from happening that you don’t want to, but it served its purpose for the business market. IBM also introduced the Personal Computer
Keylock Option for IBM PC and XT users around the same time, but this was a bit different. Instead of disabling keyboard strokes, this
thing locked the computer from being powered on at all! Connected to the key mechanism was this little
arm inside that grabbed the power switch, and when you turned the key it would control the power of
the computer. Not only that but it had a steel plate that
clamped down on the case, preventing the thing from being opened, and it even had a lock
for the power cord itself so it couldn’t be unplugged. And naturally, when IBM did something back
then, everyone else had to follow, and the age of the keylock was born. Not all of these cloned keylocks were as robust or secure
as they could’ve been though, and it was quite often that one tubular key would unlock
a variety of computer cases from all sorts of manufacturers. Sometimes they’d use a more traditional
key instead because of this, and while this could be easily copied at any hardware store,
it was at least somewhat unique to the system. Unfortunately, this also meant that if the
keys were lost while the keylock was engaged, using or opening your computer became a real
pain in the nuts, and it’s not uncommon at all to find a used vintage PC with
a keylock and no keys. There were a few other lock options for computers
as well, like this one that locked down the surge protector. Instead of locking down the power switch it’d lock down the box
that all your components plugged into. More exotic computers like this SGI Indigo2
used a metal bar with a hole in it, and the idea here was that it prevented opening the
case by sliding it through the middle of the computer, and you’d place a padlock through
the hole on the other side. There were even options for locking down access
to the floppy disk drive alone, with a rather silly-looking disk-shaped lock device with
a key awkwardly sticking out of it. In the end, the thing that really ceased the
need for a keylock was software, at least when it comes to most everyday home consumer PCs
and not counting exceptions like servers, workstations, and enthusiast cases. BIOS setups started including a password option
on bootup to prevent unauthorized tampering and operating systems began
including password-protected user profiles. Data encryption was also becoming more common
all the time, so even if a user was able to get past the flimsy Windows password check,
sensitive files could still be protected by a robust algorithm. Plus, home users more often than not didn’t
want or need a keylock at all, since it was only themselves or their family using the
computer anyway. Of course, it’s a different story when it
comes to laptop computers since those are portable and easily stolen. Many laptops still include a physical lock
option, often from Kensington, but even then it’s usually an extra purchase and not something
that comes packed in with the system itself. And that is the gist when it comes to computer keylocks. They served their purpose for a time, and
made their way into homes and businesses for years, even though most people probably never
even bothered with them. Yet for some reason I still like using these things,
even though I have absolutely no logical reason to do so. It feels nice and nostalgic, just like pressing
in a turbo button or handling a floppy disk. Sure it’s kinda pointless, but anytime I
use a computer with a keylock, I can’t help but mess around with it for a minute. It’s a neat feature to look out for and
mess with if you’re interested in classic computer collecting, so keep an eye out for
a machine with a keylock if you want the full experience… just be sure it comes with the
friggin’ keys first. And if you enjoyed this video on keylocks then perhaps you’d like to see my video on turbo buttons! It’s a somewhat related topic and I think this stuff is fascinating. And as always thank you very much for watching LGR!

100 thoughts on “Why did old PCs have key locks? [LGR Retrospective]

  1. The hell?? The title is in Indonesian languange but no indonesian people comment in this video?

    Why this video title in indonesian in first place when the content and people who comment it from western?

  2. Even in the late 90s Dell computers had a latch at the back of the case that you could use a paddock to lock up the computers. I was working at a Xerox warehouse and we eventually had to bulk buy a bunch of pad locks and Ram in the computers would disappear. Even the laptops had an attachment where you could chain it to the desk. These days smart phones are the hot item to get stolen.

  3. I had a shop build a desktop computer for me about 7 years ago. The case came with a lockable cover that goes over the power button and device bays. I didn't need think I needed a lock until I caught my neighbor's kid clicking everything on the desktop. (This kid had no propriety and instead of feeling bad about getting caught messing with somebody else's personal property, he just asked, "Where are the games?")

    At the time, I didn't have a password on my new computer because I hate having to click through extra hoops to use a computer and waiting for additional processing at each step. It was MY computer in MY home, so I didn't need any account management for sharing the machine (and I hadn't yet needed to access it remotely); I wanted to be able to just turn it on and use it. (My Windows '98 machine could boot up and be RESPONSIVE in under 60 seconds. A password prompt slowed things down, and if my computer were stolen, the thief could have just connected my harddrive to another computer to read the files.)

    I thought locking up the power button might have been a good solution, but I couldn't lock the case because it didn't come with the key. I received the original packing from the shop, but no key. I stopped by the shop one day and asked about the key, and they just said, "I didn't come with a key? It should have. We'll call you if you we find a spare." They never called back of course, and I never got a replacement key. I reluctantly started password protecting my computer, including the screen saver.

    2-3 years later I decided to upgrade my RAM. When I opened up my tower, tucked in a back corner behind the harddrive was a small cardboard box containing the extra screws… and the key. They couldn't put that stuff in the huge empty box the tower had come in? Instead they hid it inside the tower and blocked some of the airflow.

  4. The most useful application for those locks was keeping your roommate from using your PC. Computers were still single user, and at the same time, even if there was password protection, chances are that your password wasn't "robust" by modern standards, and eventually your roommate, who knew more and more of your "precious" words /dates / etc. would come up with it.

  5. It's cringeworthy now days. So glad computing has gotten as far as it did. And that wood frame pc case…..god….

  6. honestly ive thought about installing a ignition style lock on my PC to dis-engauge the power supply to the motherboard and a anti tamper padlock to the case, probably overkill but i like overkill

  7. The computer's I used in college had a keylock for a completely different purpose. All the students got their own hardrives, none of the towers had a hard drive, if you wanted to use a school computer, you had to slide the hardrive into the tower and then lock it in.

  8. I had an 8088, my 8086 Buddy was Jealous. You should seen when I got an 12 mhz 80286 with VGA. The top of his head coulda blown off. He said, you're never going to need that much machine. Jealous? He's eating his words now, and we're not friends anymore.

  9. You're missing a big reason for that time period. It was $500 for a 4MB stick of RAM. Yes, I said Megabytes not Gigabytes. That's why we locked our company's down. The cost of the hardware components, not access. Passwords have been around on software forever.

  10. These are vending machine locks, and the DEC PDP-11 ( maybe even the PDP-8s) Mini computers had them in 1976… or earlier.

  11. Ни хуя не понял, но очень познавательно!

  12. прикольно.И выглядели солидней.Сейчас все утильмусор на самоклейках.Ток планету херней засираем.

  13. Wow, this takes me back. I remember seeing these when I was a kid and having no idea what they were for. And speaking of my childhood, I saw Test Drive 4 on that desktop. 🙂

  14. My first computer had one for the portable harddrive. It caused a bit of an issue since I rested my feet on my case and I accidentally hit it once while playing a game causing the key to undo itself and the entire harddrive spilling out at an angle, causing my computer to lock up.

  15. I'm glad I found this. I was trying to explain to a young fella at work why my mom's vic 20 had and ignition switch when I was a boy haha

  16. There are tubular lockpicks for those chicago locks. The cool thing about them is that once you've picked them you can read the key bitting off the pick and use it to cut a key to fit.

  17. Because when we were in the computer lab we would a) steal other peoples RAM to make our machines better. b) we would place a piece of haddock/mackerel from the canteen inside their IBM XT and wait for it to stink them out over the coming days.

  18. I remember when I was a kid and I used my finger like it was a key to try and open them. I think I still do that to my door locks.

  19. Because During 1980. PC is only for the very very rich and is something luxury, that is why it need a key, just like TV in 1970, it come with lock

  20. My dad used to lock his computer with the key lock to keep me out of his porn stash. Actually it was so I wouldn't mess around and accidentally delete his work related stuff, but at 12 years old I was convinced it was porn being hidden. I have a lot of weird reasons for why I taught myself how computers worked in the late 80s…

  21. actually the locks was to prevent theft the pc's was bigger back then was easier for them to just snag the hdd then take the entire computer also work pc's always had to be protected from people taking revenge on the way out the door. Most of us know that guy at work that got fired then tried to sabotage everything out the door

  22. I remember them on campus. On the machines I worked on they prevented you from opening the case since that was in the days when people had started to have their own PC and equipment occasionally developed "feet". Missing RAM, cards and so on.

  23. I forgot about the lockable floppy covers. When usb thumb drives arrived on the market I heard of shops filling unused usb ports with epoxy to prevent users from putting "non-secure" drives in the ports.

  24. because old time has easy open cover at pc, and take battery out, and back, and then has reset all password,old pc has bios password can open and start computer. i made my school computer this manytime, easy hack in to computer weekend when teachers not has in school.and we play many weekend night school expensive pc leisure larry games haha.

  25. Odd…in Chicago offices (the city where the IBM locks originated) these key locks were pretty rare. They were pretty much exclusive to cheap no-name cases used by hobbyists and mom and pop shops that made cheap crap sold at twice what a Compaq or Gateway sold for. Even as a custom PC builder, I steered clear of those cases because they were also of poor build quality. BTW the "turbo" button wasn't. It was to slow down a newer, faster PC to play ancient DOS games made for the original IBM PC.

  26. When I was a little kid my dad used to lock the computer when he wasn't home to keep me from installing and playing the games I had back then. He insisted that they all were messing up his computer.

    Now, I was too young to really notice a difference in performance at all at the time, but I always felt like it was a bunch of malarkey.

  27. 3:38 Still have one of those at my parent's place. It was the reason I clicked on this vid actually b/c I always wondered what that keyhole was for.

  28. I had an old 386 once that had that, my dad would lock out the keyboard input when I misbehaved, but I never knew I could just open the case and disable it until much later… he also realized you could flip a switch on the PSU and keep it from booting because it would be in 220V mode…

  29. When I was about 7 years old I went to an electronic parts shop to buy some IC's for my little projects, I told the man in the shop what I need and he said he goes check if they have it in stock, and locked the computer with this key. I had my own key and unlocked his computer, it showed a login screen, I typed "supervisor", but couldn't figure the password, so I just locked it back. When he came back he saw the screen with the login attempt and asked me if there was somebody else at his desk, I said I don't remember seeing anyone, I didn't lie after all. This little action made me spend 20 more minutes in the shop than what I expected because he was asking around all the other eployees why the supervisor wanted to log in on his computer. They never realized what happened, only if they read this comment like 27 years later. Probably not.

  30. I remember my school computers still having key locks to keep students from getting into the cases, and this was in the 00s

  31. Titre entièrement en français, mais vidéo complètement en anglais. Cherchez l'erreur. A moins que ce ne soit fait exprès. Surement même.

  32. Never really considered how rare the keylock has become. Shout out to other Level 10 GT owners! This case is still one of the most unique ever released. The new Level 20s however, not so much.

  33. This is quite useful in schools too: in olden times kids would try to literally steal out memory and other "unnecessary" things from the school PCs but if they were locked it was too hard of a job to make it worth it.

    I thought it was the same thinking originally that introduced this to businesses, but now I see it was more complex and did not ever knew there was a "cannot use keys" feature in some as I never met one personally that locked the keyboard too.

  34. For the keyboard-only keylocks, bear in mind that it was the era when catalogues were full of the desktop PC precursors to laptop anti-theft cables. Even if you didn't go for the cable, you could still buy the shroud that allowed a padlock to block access to one of your case screws.

  35. I had an alienware area 51 desktop that still had this feature in 2005ish. The lock was on the back, not the front. I still have the key on my keychain even though that pc ihas long been scrapped.

  36. My first PC in 1988 indeed had key lock – and it felt kinda cool. 😀

    But it wasnt nearly as cool as the Turbo button: From 4.77MHz to 10MHz!

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