DEC 3000 – the test of time

It’s not every day I can bring home a 14-year-old computer, pair it with an operating system that is currently being developed, licensed, and supported by a major vendor and expect it to work. Could I bring home a copy of Windows Vista (not that I’d want to) and put it on a 486-based PC? No. Could I Bring home a copy of Mac OSX Leopard and put it on my IIci? Not gonna happen. However, that is exactly what I’m doing with the 3000.  Will a modern OS reduce the machine’s retroness?

The OpenVMS 6.1 installation that came on the machine was configured very specific to its old environment, and plus I eventually lost the login information for it. 🙂 When trying to determine the most appropriate OS for the box, I hit up the comp.sys.dec newsgroup and received a number of friendly replies. Some of them suggested I should try to upgrade at least the RAM and maybe the hard drive, but, without exception, everyone recommended that I get the lastest version of OpenVMS – 8.3 – and run with it. It’s a rare thing these days to see some vendors who actually continue to make improvements to software performance without requiring new investment in hardware to run it. Still, I kept my options open based on what I could get ahold of for the least, hopefully no, cost.

Fortunately, one reader of my newsgroup post replied and offered me a copy of his OpenVMS 8.3 install media. That means I won’t have to pay HP to send it to me, and it’s not even illegal to make copies under their licensing model. Sweet! Also, I found out that you can actually obtain FREE licenses to use OpenVMS, along with its plethora of companion applications, in a non-commercial environment simply by signing up at your local DECUS affiliate (ENCOMPASS here in the USA) and requesting hobbyist licenses. So, just download the 8.3 install image and I’m all set, right? Well, not quite.

Native VMS CD images are interesting beasts in themselves. They typically use the ODS-2 or ODS-5 format, each of which is specific to the RMS filesystem used in VMS. On the flip side, most PC CD burning software will not properly burn an image that does not somewhere contain an ISO-9660 filesystem. After trying various approaches, the only exception I found to this rule to this rule is a package called GEAR PRO. Fortunately, GEAR has 30-day trials of all their products, because I ended up needing the Mastering edition in order to open a “foreign” (raw) image and burn it to CD. This pretty much means I have a few weeks left to burn any other VMS images I may need to obtain, because the $399 price tag is a little steep for me. 🙂

Once I finally found the correct piece of software to burn my CD, I popped the CD in the 3000, gave it the boot command, and off into the install program it went. Sweet! A couple minutes of whirring later, the install halted and told me that the firmware on the 3000 was way too old for it to even consider loading the operating system onto it. Crap! After some searching, though, I located the latest firmware on HP’s site. I would just grab the firmware CD and do another foreign CD image. Sweet! Then I noticed that the firmware for older machines is not available in the standard update CD image, so I’d have to download the package as a single file. That would’t do me much good, though, because I don’t have a floppy drive in the 3000. Crap! What does this mean? It means I had to dive back into setting up my linux machine to provide BOOTP networking setup and TFTP file access for the 3000 to grab and load the new firmware.

To keep a long story from getting longer, suffice it to say I struggled with getting both ends of the BOOTP setup working properly. The biggest issue ended up being the fact that I didn’t have the correct boot command to tell the 3000 to actually go out and look for its info. Once I found that, the firmware update ran smoothly. After it was done, I once again booted the box, the 8.3 install kicked off, and voila! This time, it moved on, collected information, and began installing the operating system. This was the last interaction I would have with the process for the next couple hours…

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One Response to DEC 3000 – the test of time

  1. Alex says:

    Hi, I saw your blog and I have the same situation with a DEC 3000/400 that needs a firmware update in order to install OpenVMS 8.3. And naturally, HP no longer maintain the bootable firmware upgrade CD so I will have to try via bootp. Would you care to share this secret boot command? Thanks!

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