Setting up a VAXstation

Antonio Carlini arcarlini at
Sat Oct 6 05:45:16 CDT 2007

Ethan Dicks wrote:
> Even back in the day, there were lots of folks who bought PETs and
> Apples and more, that didn't know a single thing about hardware
> troubleshooting and repair - 30 years ago, when it broke, they took it
> to their dealer, or if it was too expensive to fix, they junked it (or
> gave it to me ;-)  I don't find it surprising that people are around
> today with interest in the platform, but no interest or aptitude for
> repairing it when it breaks.

Back in the day 99% of the people I met knew nothing about computers
and didn't use them. Of the ones that did use them (that I knew) most
were interested in both hardware and software. But that (in the case of
both myself and the other handful) was because we started out with
an interest in electronics and then decided that computers looked
fun too.

These days it's much harder to find people who haven't had to use a
computer to some extent in their job. The few that haven't have almost
certainly used a games console. As with all things, most people don't
care about how X works, just that X gets the job done.

>                             Look at how many folks work on their own
> cars now, compared with 1977 - same issue, different hardware
> platform.

Cars are more complex now than before, there's more packed in under
the bonnet than before, we're generally better off than before. So
there's quite a disincentive to fiddling yourself on a Saturday morning.
Much the same applies to computers. Given that a new box can be had
for, say, £400 all-in and that it is probably noticeably faster than
your previous one (or has some better widgets built in or whatever),
I'm not that surprised to hear that some people upgrade the hardware
rather than learning how easy it is to do an OS install. I'm not
complaining - without all those motherboards coming my way how
would I have found one that passes all the TESTFDC tests :-)

> Consumer-grade PCs are notorious, naturally.  Server-class x86
> hardware can be as reliable as Suns, etc., but not as cheap as Packard
> Bells, and the like, and certainly not as abundant.  If you intend to
> do production-quality emulation, you _should_ be using production
> quality hosts for it.  If it's just for fun, I don't see it as such an
> issue.

Server hardware becomes obsolete just as quickly as desktop hardware.
There's not so much of it to start with, but there's still a steady
stream of it being scrapped: I have two Xeon-based systems (sans cases)
plus a couple of spare Xeon CPUs (they just looked cool ...). So if you
want a more reliable hardware platform, the stuff is out there.

> I think it comes down to relative abundance coupled with intrinsic
> complexity.  If I ever had a VAX 9000, I'd want to run it, even though
> I don't think I have much hope of being able to find spare components,
> but at least I would expect to be able to track down engineering
> prints, unlike with SPARCstations.

I've never seen prints for a VAX 9000.

I do remember that sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s, while I was
at DEC, a customer had a problem with a DMB32 in a VAX 9000. The
only VAX 9000 we could find inside DEC was all setup for 110V
operation and the only BI cab for it was apparently all set up
for 240V (or so I was told). While someone was deciding what to
do, the customer stopped using the DMB32 and went over to a DEMSB!

I was also told (in 1998) by a reseller (who came in and snarfed
a few of out VAX 4000s) that they'd recently sold a VAX 9000 to
NASA so it could use it as a hot spare. What noone realised was
that when the original owner of the VAX 9000 had decided to scrap it,
they'd let their computer guys cherry pick some of the ECUs as
souvenirs :-) Having charged NASA £5k or so just for the shipping,
the reseller felt honour-bound to scrounge around trying to find
some replacements for them ...

In my experience a VAX 6000 or VAX 7000 would be far more practical.


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