Ultrix

Monday 24th January 2011, 23:00 Posted by urbancamo

So... here we are again! Another day, another Operating System install. I just can't help myself! I recently swapped a MicroVAX 3100/95 for a DECstation 5000/240. I'd been after a DECstation for a while, so it was a pleasant surprise when I was able to obtain one in this manner from a fellow DEC enthusiast.

The DECstation fills a slightly awkward slot in DEC's history. It is unusual in that it uses a MIPS processor, i.e., not one designed by DEC. This particular model contains an R3400 processor running at 40 MHz. According to the serial number this particular model was made in Scotland on 5th April 1992 (it says so explicitly on the faceplate). It came to me with 48 MB of RAM. Before receiving the box I took a chance in ordering 10 sticks of RAM which were being sold cheap by a guy in America, and they turned up today. Quite a heavy package, these are seriously large and heavily populated with silicon, and pack a staggering 8 MB each!

DECstation 8MB Memory Sticks

 

DECstation 8MB Memory Sticks

 

DECstation 8MB Memory Sticks

 

The DECstation itself is a bit of a weird beast. The main case is a fairly standard DEC affair, although untypically wider and slightly flatter. When you open it up you find a powersupply, a motherboard with IO, a daughterboard with the CPU on it and then a rack of 15 RAM sockets (which take up an area approx. A4 in size). That's it. There's no facility for putting discs in the box. There is an external HD50 SCSI connector, which is where you have to add storage.

Ultrix also maintains a slightly uncomfortable existence and took a long time to happen. It was DEC's first official Unix product, even though Unix had originally been developed on DEC hardware. Ultrix was originally shipped on VAX systems then was ported to the MIPS architecture DECstations. Eventually it was ported to Alpha hardware, enhanced and labelled OSF/1.

DECstation 5000/240

 

I had a BA353 external storage enclosure with three drives (one containing NetBSD for VAX, two others a no-longer used install of OpenVMS) and dug around my SCSI cables box for a couple of cables to connect it up to the DECstation and an external RRD CDROM drive.

DECstation 5000/240

 

The media I'm using comes from a DECcampus distribution of 1997 vintage. This box was advertised on ebay a few years ago 'as a collection of DEC manuals' and had postage set at £ 25. I almost didn't bid because of this, but noticed DECcampus written on the box and thought it was worth a chance. From using the DEC 3000/600 at University I knew that DECcampus was a mechanism for DEC to distribute media on a quarterly basis. When the box arrived it was a veritable treasure trove of CDROMs containing binaries and documentation for Ultrix (VAX and RISC), Digital UNIX (Alpha) and OpenVMS (VAX and Alpha).

DECcampus Software

 

The system booted OK, although the graphics card consistently threw an error to do with line drawing during its' self tests. The system console took a bit of fathoming, as the commands are kind of similar to other DEC kit, but not quite. I found the command in the end to boot the CDROM to be >> boot 3/rz4/vmunix which I'm translating as bus 3, device rz4 (scsi id 4) and file vmunix. The installation was remarkably painless, and the result was a very nice DECwindows display.

Ultrix DECwindows

 

Ultrix DECwindows

 

Ultrix DECwindows

 

Ultrix DECwindows

 

Ultrix DECwindows

 

I've copied the contents of the two documentation CDROMs to the middle drive in the BA353. Next steps are to open up the box and install an additional nine memory sticks (for a grand total of 120 MB!) then as a bit of fun I'm going to try and get robotfindskitten running on it.

Here are a couple of pictures of the DEC 3000/600 that I took the other day, just to wrap up.

DEC 3000/600

 

DEC 3000/600 - DDS1 tape drive

 

DEC 3000/600 - Keyboard Mouse Extension Cable