Last Night's Activities

Sunday 9th January 2011, 10:20 AM Posted by urbancamo

Last night I swapped out the VAXstation 4000/VLC (leaving the video cable attached for now) for an AlphaServer 300 4/266. This box came to me for the price of shipping from Switzerland, courtesy of a very nice man named Urs. I'd originally responded to a post advertising a DECstation 3000/30 which is another diminutive box from the 3000 series, but alas he'd sold it by the time I got round to replying. He offered me this box instead and it cost around 40 quid to get it back to the UK. I wasn't expecting it to be that fantastic as it is a more modern DEC box (although why'd I'd think that I don't know) but was really quite pleasantly surprised at how compact and well put together it is - another shining example of DEC engineering. This box runs at 266 Mhz, has 256 MB of RAM and was manufactured in April 1997 in Scotland (see previous post to find out how I know that from the serial number). Previously this box, node name tiger was running tru64 vesion 4.0G.

AlphaServer 300 4/266 - Front

I'd bid and won on an OpenVMS Alpha 8.4 distribution that turned up recently. This is the latest version of OpenVMS and I was curious to see if it would install and run on a box of this age. Previously when running tru64 I'd not installed a graphics card (so it was running initially off the serial port, then when booted via telnet) but Urs had sent through an S3 PCI graphics card separately which looked like it might work fine under OpenVMS.

OpenVMS 8.4 Alpha

I swapped out the existing 73GB 68-pin SCSI hard drive for another that I'd found in the garage, so as to preserve the tru64 installation. It looks like the box can technically take two drives but I don't think it's recommended due to cooling requirements (the drives would have to sit on top of each other sandwiched in the case). As we probably all well know, heat is a hard drives enemy.

Being a more recent machine the AS300 takes standard PS/2 keyboard and mouse, has a 10baseT (RJ45) network connection, PCI bus and and standard VGA connector. I plugged in my LK411 keyboard (hijacked from the VT520 terminal) which has the OpenVMS specific keyboard layout. I even bought a DIGITAL branded PS/2 mouse a while back to complete the ensemble.

AlphaServer 300 4/266 - Back

Forward on a couple of hours and it was running OpenVMS and the X-Window System with CDE environment. The only stumbling block was that post-installation I had to set a firmware option to say 'please try and boot VMS now' instead of Unix. OpenVMS 8.4 seemed absolutely fine running on such ancient hardware - CDE takes up a chunk of memory but with 256 MB it didn't have to resort to swapping at all.

AlphaServer 300 4/266 - Logo

Whilst playing with the 4000/VLC in the small hours the other evening I stumbled across the British Legends website, home of MUD1 the 'oldest virtual world in existence' which originated at Essex University in 1977 but, from my personal perspective, is remembered from my Compunet days, accessing it via my Commodore 64 and 1200/75 baud modem. I was never a massive player (unlike Aliennerd who spent considerable time and money to achieve Wizard status) but thought I might give it a go again and see if I could remember any of it. Suffice to say after 27 years I could not recognise anything, but it was fun for a while and I had the help of a wizard 'bean' who gave me some initial clues. Unfortunately for the most part it was just me and the wizard, which is a shame as a big attraction from the Compunet days was the social aspect of having a large number of players to converse with.

Whilst on the subject of MUDs it's also worth mentioning a couple of others that I've played. Being a fan of Lovecraft I enjoyed some time playing Cthulhumud and any fan of Star Wars should check out the massive KoBra MUD. My friend Smelly Morley who was doing a Genetics PhD back in 1994 spent way too long on it and introduced me to it (playing in the genetics lab of a weekend which just seemed a bit wrong!) Unfortunately it also seems to be substantially less well subscribed to now than back in the day, but that shouldn't put you off giving it a try. One of the things I liked about KoBra MUD was the gesture system where you could add gestures to conversations, for example "Morley tips his hat and smiles".