The best laid plans of mice and Slor…

February 3, 2008

You know how some things tend to snowball?  Well, let’s just say my last week has been rapidly rolling downhill, getting larger and larger as it’s moved on.  If you recall, I stated in my last entry that I would be posting photos of the machines I’ve been working on the next day.  That was just over a week ago.  Here’s a summary of events that have taken place between then and now:

– I decide it’s time to take some photos to post here.
– In order to be able to take decent photos, I figure I’ll need to finishing cleaning up the computer room.
– Just after I’ve started cleaning again, I’m notified that someone in the area is looking to part with a VAX system cheap.  As is my tradition when I’m not sure if I should buy something, I offer the guy half of what he what he’s asking for the system.  He says “yes”, so that’s another half trunk full of stuff I need to find room for.  It’ll have to stay in the trunk until either my room or the garage has some space freed up.
– As I get back to the cleaning, I figure it would be stupid of me to get everything all packed up and put away again without taking out, photographing, and settin aside the multitude of “stuff” that I have been meaning to get rid of for a while now.  This, of course, means making the mess worse before it gets better.  The VAX stuff makes itself comfortable in my trunk while I tear up the computer room and garage some more.
– Each time I start to clean up again, I run across a piece of hardware that I can’t put away in good conscience without installing whatever upgrade has been sitting around for it. There are a couple late nights gone.
– After a good chunk of time upgrading, photographing, and setting aside items to sell (more on that later :)), I am finally able to make some progress putting things away.
– Today, I am finally able to walk through the room again, take some photos, and write this blog entry.

As you’ve probably already noticed, the RetroChallenge ended 3 days ago, so that pretty much means I made ZERO progress in finding something “interesting” to do with the machines I spent the previous days getting up and running.  Am I disappointed by that?  Yeah, a little, but my disappointment is greatly overshadowed by my happiness that those machines are now working, I have organized a bunch of stuff to get rid of, my work area is nearly a work area again, I eventually found a nice spot to put the VAX(guess what my next restoration project will be), and it’s only been a couple weeks.  I’ll credit the RetroChallenge for getting me on gear on a lot of that, and perhaps I’ll enter myself for the “Most Untimely Yet Productive U-Turn in a RetroChallenge” prize.  At the very least, I’ll be ready when the next one comes along!

For what it’s worth, here are some photos of the machines I worked with for this challenge.  In the next few days (no, really), I will do another post or two to detail all the machines currently in this room that is nearing museum level and shoot more pics of the everything in sight.  Anyway, thanks to the RetroChallenge for some motivation, and on to the photos:

P2030045 The Amiga 3000 and DEC 3000

P2030046 The HP 9000

P2030047 The TT030 with Spectre

P2030048 The next project…


DEC 3000 – later that evening

January 16, 2008

After listening to the OpenVMS install churn away for somewhere between 2 and 3 hours, it finally stopped.  As I eagerly approached the machine in hopes of seeing something like “install complete – press any key to boot from dka0:”, the image of utter failure formed in front of my eyes in the shape of a single add-on package that failed to install.  It happened to be the TCP/IP package, so I would have thought it could have finished everything else so that I could do TCP/IP later on myself (since it’s not a required package).  Sadly, that was not the case.  That single failure was enough for the install to give up completely and leave me with a completely useless system.  There’s one strike against OpenVMS.

Not really wanting to sleep anway, I decided try the install one more time and hope for the best.  This time, I did NOT select the TCP/IP package to be installed, and I sent it off churning again for a couple more hours.  What would it choke on this time?  Believe it or not, nothing!  Install finished, I booted into my shiny new OpenVMS 8.3 OS.  I installed the hobbyist licenses, and I eventually figured out how to install TCP/IP manually, which installed just fine on the first try.  Go figure.

A little history: One of my current goals in the retrocomputing scene to to reacquire as many of various types of hardware and/or OS platforms as I’ve used regularly over the years.  VMS happens to be one of them that dates back to my college years.  We had a VAXCluster running VMS that was the university’s primary general purpose system.  People read their email, chatted, play games, did homework, etc. on all the VT nodes set up across campus.  Since acquisition of a VAX mainframe really isn’t practical, the DEC 3000 will have to do. 🙂

Besides getting the 3000 generally set up and networked, I have been playing with a number of random utilities, building a few from scratch, using it to browse the web and hit IRC channels on occasion, etc.  Also, since the existing hard drive is only 1 GB, I also just added a second 2 GB drive to use for extraneous utility programs and user data.  Things seem to be running smoothly.

More later, after the other machines catch up!

DEC 3000 – the test of time

January 16, 2008

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…

Revival of the fittest…

January 16, 2008

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve taken on the task of gathering up a number of classic machines that have been sitting around my house in non-running condition and bringing them back to life.  All of them are in pretty good shape hardware-wise (some needing new hard drives) but without any installed software to run them, which always makes me appreciate my 8-bit machines that need nothing more than OS ROMs to get them booted.  So, this will be a journal, I HOPE, of the journey back to functionality for 3 1/2 machines that are currently collecting dust:

* DEC 3000-M600 (circa 1994) – This machine sports a 175 MHz Alpha AXP 21064 processor with 64 MB RAM and a 1 GB SCSI hard drive.  I picked it up this summer at the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest for the grand sum of $30 (including 17″ Digital monitor, keyboard, and mouse).  It was running a Purdue University installation of OpenVMS 6.1 and, of course, did not include any re-installation media or current license for the software.

* Amiga 3000 (circa 1990) – This machine has been upgraded to a 25 MHz 68040 processor and 80 MB FastRAM.  It also includes ethernet, CV-64 3D graphics, and Sunrize Studio16 cards.  I picked it up this spring, along with a keyboard and mouse, with the transportation help of fellow classic computing folks.  I don’t remember what OS was installed when I received the machine, and it also came without re-installation media.

* Spectre GCR (circa 1989) – This is where the 1/2 comes in.  The Spectre is an add-on device for Atari ST/TT computers that provides Macintosh hardware emulation using installed OS ROMs from a Mac Plus or similar 128K machine.  I acquired the Spectre just last month on eBay, complete with installed ROMs, docs, and software.  I will be working with it attached to my Atari TT030.

* HP 9000 712/60 (circa 1994) – This is a late addition to the list for this project.  It needs to be rebuilt as well, so I might as well take care of them all!  The 9000 boasts a 60 MHz PA7100LC RISC processor and 32 MB RAM.  I brought this home from the office over a year ago after it sat in storage at the office for about 6 years.  Prior to that, I had actually used it for work purposes, and I believe it had HP-UX 10 on it.  You guessed it – no re-installation media could be found.

So, those are the machines I plan to bring back to life, and my end goal for this project is to get them all networked and particating in some common task.  I haven’t yet figured out what that task will be.  I also hope to post pictures any anything else interesting as I go.

3 1/2 neglected classic machines: This is their story…