Binary Dinosaurs Computer Museum
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Digital Equipment Corporation
Digital Equipment Corp. was founded by Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson in Maynard, Massacheussets, in 1957. Originally intending on producing high speed digital circuits, they'd designed and built their first computer by 1959. This machine of course, was the PDP-1 that was later host to the world's first graphical computer game - Computer Space - that forms part of the video game timeline.
Their biggest selling machine of the 60s was the PDP-8, which I think was one of the first powerful business machines to be offered in a desktop package. It's certainly regarded as the world's first minicomputer. Sometime around the late 60s (I'm doing this from memory) Harlan split from DEC to form Data General, whose first machine was based on the PDP series. Digital meanwhile was working on what was to become their biggest selling line of machines, the PDP-11.
With PDP-11s selling by the bucketload Digital was quietly working on a much more upscale machine - the VAX. Released in 1977, machines like the VAX 11/730, 11/750 and 11/780 swept the board and propelled Digital to the 2nd spot behind IBM as World's Biggest Computer Manufacturer. OpenVMS (the VAX operating system) became the benchmark for scalability and stability, and to this day I still regard it as the most stable OS on the planet.
Having sat on their laurels for a bit (and made several mistakes), they launched the world's first 64-bit chip - the Alpha 21064, a revolution in its day and holder of the performance crown for most of the 90s. However, the unix market was gaining strength and OpenVMS was regarded as incompatible even though all the tools were there for cross-platform compatability. They did however, cost a lot of money. Digital's answer was their own flavour of unix - OSF/1.
They'd already flirted with a BSD 4.4 version of unix with their VAXen, DECstations and I think later PDPs (Ultrix-11 and Ultrix-32), but it was canned after Ken Olsen's 'unix is snake oil' quote. OSF/1 was a lot more standards compliant (OSF stands for Open Software Foundation) and these days is known as Tru64
In all, Digital brought us many innovations and were as important to the development of modern computing as IBM - the first minicomputer, the first super-minicomputer, the 'C' language and Bell Labs' Unix were written on a PDP-11, PDPs and VAXen were an integral part of the formation of ARPANET - the forerunner of this Internet thing, software innovations like clustering - the ability to have severalteen (64 areas * 1024 'nodes' actually) machines all sharing the same filesystems at the same time, unix clustering and discrete cluster-member shared memory access (memory channel), fibre-optic networking (FDDI). If it wasn't for Digital I wouldn't be sat here now!
Of course, they made many mistakes. PCs that were unreliable and expensive, software that was too proprietary and expensive, dissing Unix just when it was becoming popular, missing the desktop market originally (as did IBM) when Bill Gates offered them the chance (Ken said 'there's no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home!' - doh!), missing the chance of producing what ultimately became WindowsNT (Dave Cutler, a founder member of the VMS team, had the idea of a new desktop OS, Ken wasn't interested so Dave jumped ship to Microsoft!) etc. Still, I love 'em :)
Here's an email from ex-digit Ken Heller: "Your write up on DEC and especially the Rainbow 100+ really brought back memories of the old days. I designed the hard disk subsystem for the rainbow, I think I still have my project mug around somewhere even. As you already said, marketing was not a strong point for DEC. When I took on the task of designing a hard disk subsystem for the Rainbow, I was told to plan on a lifetime build of 8,000 hard disk subsystems. Based upon the marketing forecast, the product was to be built in the model shop in the Mill [The former mill in Maynard, Massacheussetts. Ed] and, if it was ever needed, moved at a later date to an actual production plant. Penetration was only to be a couple to 5% of the Rainbow's sold. After the availability of the hard disk subsystem was announced, orders started coming in at close to 100% of systems ordered having hard disks. The very first month of production of the hard disk subsystem ended up being 8,000 units (the original lifetime forecast number). There were boxes piled every where in building 5. An immediate effort was started to duplicate test equipment and get production moved to a volume plant. I will say, the people working in the model shop did a super human effort of getting these things out the door.
MINC-11, Multi INstrument Computer from 1978, complete with twin RX02 floppy drive, donated by Eddie Clunan.
GIGI, aka the VK-100 graphics terminal, currently Not Well after blowing a PSU capacitor
Rainbow 100+ with 20mb HDD, twin RX50 floppy, screen and keyboard. Still works! Dunno how.
Rainbow 100B+ on its own
Spare Rainbow (or DECmate, or Pro350) screen, aka the VR201. Not in the best condition
VR201 monitor in excellent condition from Tim Down, thanks!iNew!
DECmate III complete from Kevan Heydon - cheers mate!
Professional 380 with a multi-connect RealTime Interface and loads of docs from Ken Vines, thanks!
Professional 350 with floppies and a ton of docs, not sure what it's running
Professional VAX CONSOLE running TSX-11, sadly I don't have the VAX8550 it plugged into ;)
MicroPDP 11/73. One WHOLE megabyte of RAM too. Runs RT-11 (single user OS) and CTS300 (Timesharing layer for RT-11). With RX50 and TK50 external drives.
MicroVAX 2000 with external TK50. Donated by Katy Rayner.
2 more MicroVAX 2000s for parts.
MicroVAX I and Tektronix 4109 graphics terminal. Donated by John Gartland, a retired DEC engineer.
MicroVAX II in BA123 'world box' cabinet with RLV12/DHV11/DLVJ1/DEQNA
VAX 3400 - with R15F disk cab and a whopping 36mb of memory!
VAXstation 4000VLC with 24mb RAM and dodgy graphics, but I don't use the graphics :)
VAX 4000-200 with *heavy* R400X disk cab.
VAX 4000-505 in beautiful condition, complete with KZQSA, RRD42 CD and TLZ06 2gb tape drive
VAX 4000-705A, one of the fastest QBUS VAXen available. KZQSA/CXY08/RFxx/TF86
MicroVAX 3100-90, lovely multi-user PC-sized VAX
VAXstation 3100-M38, missing panels
VAXstation 3100-M74
DECstation 3100 rescued by Bill Garforth from a skip!
DECstation 5000/120 - MIPS based workstation
DECstation 5000/240 - RISC u**x machine, this.
SZ12 disk cabs for the above.
Multia multi-client desktop - the words "white" and "elephant" spring to mind :o)
Alpha PC AXP150, designed to be an NT machine but never actually made it.
DEC 2000-300, aka Jensen, aka the AXP150 but more VMS/Unix based
DEC 3000-400 166mhz Alpha with VRT21 monitor and SZ12 cabs. 1992! This is the first 64 bit machine.
DEC 3000-400 in not the best condition.
DEC 3000-300LX Alpha with keyboard and rodent, cables, media and docs. Thanks to Mike Tomlinson and the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University!
InfoServer 150VXT X-Terminal server
Alpha 2000 4/233, aka Demi-Sable. Twin CPUs/RAID/SCSI/RZxx disks
Alpha DS10 4/466, 512mb RAM/DDS4 DAT/CD. Soon to be the BD Webserver :)
VXT2000 terminal with books, keyboard and rodent
MicroVAX 3100 Model 40 motherboard
AlphaStation 600 4/233 motherboard
VT100-NB, serial number AB00941 - dunno if that's early or not! It still works though :o)
VT101 - a cost reduced VT100 with no expansion or AVONew!
VT131 - a cost reduced VT102 WITH AVO and printer port, both from Tim DownNew!
VT220 green screen VDU
VT320 VDU x2
VT420 VDU x2, one boxed.
VT510 VDU with keyboard
VT520 VDU with keyboard (you can still BUY these!)
VR262 mono monitor for a VAXstation
RZ55 disks x2
RWZ52 Floptical drive
BA350 8-bit 7-slot SCSI disk shelf
BA356 16-bit 7-slot SCSI disk shelf
Severalteen QBUS VAX and PDP cards from memory thru RLV12s to DHV11Js.
Pro380 cards
RL02 drive hardware from R/W heads thru to logic boards
DESPR Single port ethernet repeater.
Rainbow software.
A load of Digital Press books about the PDP, VAX and peripherals

All images and text © Adrian Graham 1999-2024 unless otherwise noted using words. Also on