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…


Spectre GCR – no freakin’ way

January 18, 2008

I couple nights ago, I swapped the spare 500 MB drive into my Mac IIci (which happens to be a Low End Mac best buy) and booted it up with my Mac OS 6.0.8 install floppy.  The IIci is the most comparable machine to a Mac Plus that I own, and one thing about the OS is that you can install it for “all Macintosh systems” to include support for every system OS 6.0.8 is aware of, so off I went for quickest OS installation I’ve done in a while – I believe it took about 5 minutes.

The next thing I had to do was gather up the necessary parts to hook the drive up to my TT’s ACSI port.  That included an external enclosure I grabbed from work, my ICD AdSCSI ST host adapter, mounting bracket, and a few cables.  Once I got all that put together, I turned on the TT and configured HDDriver to scan the ACSI bus, and I was pleased to see it recognize the drive on reboot (along with the CD-ROM drive I added to the enclosure for future tinkering).  It seems perhaps I’m finally learning how to configure a SCSI chain properly on the first try. 🙂

Now for the moment of truth.  The only thing left to do was start up the software to kick off Spectre and try to use the drive.  Not surprisingly (since RTFM is always my last resort), it took me a few tries to get the configuration settings right, but once I finally did…  Well, that’s where the “no freakin’ way” comes in.  The Mac BIOS was able to find and boot from the transplanted hard drive, and right in front of me sat my new Macintari TT Plus!  My floor is just a bit cleaner now, so I DID do the Dance of Joy for this one.  The hardware emulation runs quite smoothly, and I’m eager to get back to it tonight to test out some apps on it.  The Spectre, even though it plugs into the TT’s cartridge port, does absolutely nothing but stay out of the way unless you tell it to take over.  This means I can just leave it plugged in all the time – even when I’m just doing ordinary Atari stuff on it.

Only one machine remaining to get functional, and then I can start making them useful!

Spectre GCR – I ain’t afraid of no ghost

January 16, 2008

This is actually the piece of hardware I had started playing with when it was suggested by a peer that I might considering documenting some sort of related project for the RetroChallenge.  I replied with something like “yeah, maybe” and went on with my experimentation…

I have heard lots of good things about this device, and it seems very cool indeed.  You plug it into the expansion port on the side of any ST/TT computer, run the provided software to configure and manage your Mac emulation, and start it up (well, more or less).  Compared to the Mac hardware available when the GCR was developed, this would actually give you a much faster Mac system than you could go out and buy.  Its use even promoted the listing of the Atari ST in various literature of the period as a “Mac clone”.

So, the first step was to get the thing plugged into my TT and verify that it at least starts up.  I plugged the device into the expansion port, attached a floppy drive cable between the device and floppy port on the TT, and copied the latest revision of the software onto my hard drive.  Following instructions in the manual, I was able to boot the device up to the point of the familiar grey screen with a picture of a disk and question mark to indicate that it is now up to me to figure out how to actually get some software installed.  That is turning out to be no small task…

According to the documentation, the Spectre can read both native Mac (GCR) and Spectre formatted floppy disks and, of course, boot from them.  Also, user reports show that the top operating system that was really supported is Mac OS 6.0.8, which is just fine with me.  So, I grabbed the DiskCopy images for the Mac OS 6.0.8 install floppies, created physical floppies on one of my own Macs, and gave them a whirl.  The install floppy, while it could verifiably boot my actual Mac, was unable to boot the emulated Mac.  I tried another OS revision, different floppy disk density, and the addition of an external floppy drive in my effort to get the boot disk recognized as a system disk, all with no luck.

All may not be lost, though, because the Spectre has a very important feature – its hard drive emulation is actually not emulation.  Spectre uses the same phyical SCSI disk partitions as a real Mac, and that’s what I intended to eventually install onto using the install floppy I made.  Since that does not seem likely, the option seems to be to actually install the OS on a hard drive in a real Mac and then transfer the drive to the TT.  Assuming this is a viable approach, which it appears to be, there may still be some caveats to overcome.  For one thing, Spectre only supports hard drives on SCSI controllers that are attached to the Atari’s ACSI port.  That means I need to get my ICD host adapter back out and try to find a drive lying around that works with it, which is hopefully easier to do on a TT that it is with earlier ST machines.  Also, of course, this drive will have to work in the actual Mac.

As of now, I have located an Apple OEM 500 MB SCSI drive that I will try to use for this transplant operation.  We’ll see how it goes…

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…