Even Gadget Daddy has some old technology around the house. But today, there is one less piece of it.
Specifically, it was a Sharp microwave oven, purchased on Jan. 1, 1999. The manufacture date on it was October 1998. So no matter which date one started from, the microwave oven was 20 years old — and had been in service for more than 20 years.
It still worked and it did many things well. But one by one, the segments on the countdown display began dropping out. Even figuring out the time of day took a little effort.
Back when it was new, it was the latest technology available. Up until a few years ago, that technology remained mostly unchanged: A device known as a magnetron changed electricity into radio waves, which passed through the food or liquid inside the oven. The molecules began to move rapidly, cooking or heating the oven’s contents.
The magnetron was either “on” or “off.” At full power, it was on continuously. If a lesser level of power was needed — for cooking eggs, say — the magnetron cycled on and off. How much was on determined the amount of “heat.”
That system, however, started to change in 2005, when the parent company of Panasonic was issued a patent for microwave-inverter technology. The magnetron was still there, but the heavy transformer had been replaced by an inverter.
Basically, the magnetron would now work just like a light bulb on a dimmer switch worked. Instead of flicking on and off to achieve a lower power, the inverter would throttle the power back. Thus could the oven handle delicate food like fish, eggs and sauces better.
There has been another advancement in microwave ovens in the past two decades. As previously noted, my microwave oven of the last century was high-tech in its day — and that meant it had a sensor.
Sensors regulate the energy level of the magnetron and the length of cooking by tracking the moisture level in the oven. The old oven did a great job of baking potatoes, popping corn, cooking fish, steaming vegetables and making rice. All that was needed was a press of the sensor button, and perhaps pressing “more” or “less,” depending on previous outcomes. Most of the time, even that step wasn’t needed.
The new microwave oven is made by Panasonic, although several brands of inverter ovens are available.
It does everything the old oven did, but it does most of them better, particularly fish, rice and sauces.
But I know one thing: It’s not going to last 20 years. A home-builders association places the life of regular microwave oven (one with a transformer) at about eight years. Consumer reviews on Amazon and other sites place the life of an inverter at about five years or so.
In short, if your microwave cycles in order to adjust power, and is more than 8 years old, consider replacement with an inverter oven.
After a few weeks, the new inverter technology has been mastered. When you spend 20 years with the same microwave oven, programming a new one takes reprogramming the user, too.
As an aside, the old one cost just under $200 in 1999. In today’s dollars, that would be about $300. The new inverter microwave came in at about $140.
Like they say: You get what you pay for.