The Dream

I know I've been stringing you all along for a bit - I've acquired a handful of workstations, some electronic components, some adapter cables, and I'm excited to get my hands dirty and show y'all the restoration process. Before we get to that, I want to explain one of my goals from the welcome post a bit more in depth.

Restoration

Most of the machine's I've got my eye on are nearly 30 years old, and might not have been earnestly used for 20 years. I would like to get each one in my collection booting with its contemporary operating system, running software it would have been bought for.

In getting hardware bootable, I'd prefer to keep as many original spec components as possible (that is, components in keeping with the original spirit of the machine). I do expect to have to replace many parts past their prime. Power supplies, hard drives, and clock batteries in particular seem to have shorter lives than CPUs, motherboards, frame-buffers, and RAM chips. I will not end up hollowing out the guts, putting a microITX motherboard inside, and just emulating the original OS.

Software-wise, I expect to have…an entertaining time looking for original OS install media / downloading it from the corners of the Internet. Specialized application software might no longer exist (/me pours one out for bytes gone-bye). I'm not going to settle for just running NetBSD on everything, though. I'm not interested in porting Firefox, or using the GCC toolchain. This project is about being able to recreate the experience of the workstations being new and top-of-the-line, warts and all.

Aesthetically, some of the computers may be in…somewhat “well-loved” condition. At some point, paint will probably have to be researched, yellowed plastic will need to be cleaned, and dust blown out.

Modern Peripherals

One part of the original experience I don't want to recreate is peripherals. Part of this is practical - I live in an NYC apartment, and don't have space for tons of proprietary keyboards, let alone a wide variety of CRT monitors. I also just…don't think they're a super important part of the experience.

Instead, a big part of this project will be building software and hardware that take modern USB keyboards and mice, and translate their signals in to the format needed by the workstations (kind of like a reverse TMK Keyboard project). I also want to adapt the original video signals to something easier to display.

There's plenty of $PROPRIETARY-to-VGA adapter cables out there, but my goal is to take this a step further and digitize the signals. There are VGA-to-HDMI adapter boxes out there, and I intend to use similar chips to adapt the various analog signals to HDMI.

The Dream

With all this, then, the dream is to have workstations that look like new, run like they did when new, and use period-appropriate software, connected up to converter boxes that let me use USB keyboards & mice and HDMI monitors.

Thanks for bearing with me in all these early walls-of-text! I promise that now I'm gonna get down to business and start making posts with pictures, stories, and frustrations.