A PowerMac Surprise!

There’s been a lot of great stuff happening on my Pizza Box projects the past few weeks - not a ton that’s complete enough to share yet, but stay tuned. This evening, though, I ran in to something surprising that I couldn’t wait to tell y’all - here goes!

PowerMac video woes

When I first got my PowerMac 6100, I realized I didn’t have the right adapter to hook it up to a monitor. I did order one, but didn’t immediately test it. About a week ago, I decided to see try it out.

I attached the HDI-45 to DA-15 adapter, turned on the PowerMac, and…nothing. No video appeared on the monitor. My DA-15 to VGA adapter (which has worked with my Quadras) has some DIP switches for pretending to be various kinds of monitors, so I tried a ton of configurations to no avail. I assumed the HDI-45 adapter was bad, and ordered another one. It came in today, I tried it out too, and nothing. Something must be wrong with the computer!

Since I’m basically a professional “Google to see if other people have similar problems” person, I used my skills and found a very promising lead: apparently older Macs can refuse to show video when their PRAM battery is dead. Dead batteries are par for the course with two-decade-old computers (I already have replaced one in my SPARCstation). I also saw reference on a few forums to a “flick trick” - where if your PRAM is dead, you can trick the computer in to booting anyway by rapidly cycling the power when you boot it up.

First boot

I tried the “flick trick”, and the results were awesome:

mac os 9.1 boot screen

mac os 9.1 boot screen

I have to admit - my first thoughts on seeing MacOS 9.1 booting up were that someone had pushed the little machine farther than made sense - it would be wicked slow and I’d have to downgrade to something nice like System 7.5. The next screen is what threw me for a loop, though:

mac os boot...with an accelerator?

mac os boot...with an accelerator?

“MAXpower G3”…this machine doesn’t have a G3 accelerator card…does it? I had opened up the case when I first got it, and I feel like that’s the kind of thing I’d notice. Most processor upgrade cards loudly announce their presence with big logos and out-of-place heatsinks. I cracked open the case anyway, though - might as well double check.

the inside of the 6100

the inside of the 6100

Looks pretty standard to me! Where would an upgrade card even go? I guess they’d plug in to the PDS slot (which lives on a riser card)? And my PDS slot is empty! Now that you mention it, though, the riser board itself has a heatsink on it…

what is this? an accelerator?

what is this? an accelerator?

I pulled out the riser and sure enough, it’s a G3 upgrade card!

It’s a NewerTechnology MAXpowr MXP6100 - designed specifically for this PowerMac. The riser board it replaced holds a PDS slot, and so because the upgrade card also passes through that slot (acting as the riser), I didn’t notice it before! The eBay listing definitely didn’t list this rad extra!

I still can’t explore what’s on it, or the stats, etc, because I don’t yet have an ADB input solution. Stay tuned, though - my work on adapting different kinds of input peripherals is starting to bear fruit!

Booting the SPARCstation

The SPARCstation was the first pizzabox I was able to connect a serial cable to and turn on. As its self-tests scrolled by (first try!), I had high hopes…

…that were quickly dashed - neither of its two internal SCSI hard disks seemed to be able to boot. The SPARCstation went to the back burner for a while as I focused on booting the Indy. Getting further meant booting from some other source - requiring tools I didn’t have at hand:

  • an ethernet connection and a way to netboot (the SPARCstation has an AUI connector, not 10Base-T, and I didn’t have a transceiver)
  • a bootable floppy disk - seems to require an existing SPARC system
  • an external SCSI CD drive to boot from an install disc

A few weeks later I acquired an AUI -> 10Base-T transceiver, so I dug in to netbooting. Solaris 7 (the most recent OS supporting the sun4c family) has instructions and scripts for setting up a netboot server, but they encode a lot of assumptions about running on Solaris. I tried running from a Solaris 10 virtual machine, but the scripts (written to target Solaris 7) were incredibly incompatible.

Progress on booting stalled again…

A wild CD-ROM appears!

…until I procured a CD drive!

Finding the right CD drive was quite a task - SCSI CD-ROM drives aren’t exactly prevalent in 2017, nor are external enclosures that can provide a SCSI device with power and the right connectors. The pickings for original external CD drives on eBay were quite slim (including many that needed power adapters that weren’t included 😢). In a stroke of luck, I eventually found one that wasn’t an outrageous price, and a Sun-branded one to boot!

When I bought it I didn’t realize just how lucky this was: it turns out that older Sun computers (like mine) use an unusual CD-ROM block size of 512 bytes (typical sizes range from 2048 to 2352 bytes). Despite several people mentioning to me that the one I had bought likely supported the 512 size, and a quite detailed guide available to explain why ending up with a Sun model was a good thing, I still managed to only get this one by chance. A happy accident!

Naturally, the first thing I did with my new drive was try to boot the SPARCstation. Though it’s not quite USB, setting up a SCSI drive is reasonably simple:

  • plug in external power - the enclosure was large enough to have an internal power supply and use a standard computer power cable
  • connect a SCSI cable to the drive and the SPARCstation
  • make sure the drive is set to a “reasonable” non-conflicting SCSI address (apparently 6 is a common choice)
  • attach a terminator to one of the drive’s SCSI ports:

Investigate the existing OS

The first order of business was to boot from the OS install disk to a shell and see if the already installed OS was salvageable. The installation docs say that at the ok prompt you should be able to do

ok boot cdrom

to get to the installer, and

ok boot cdrom -s

to boot from the CD in to a single-user mode root shell. My SPARCstation 1+ is old enough that its firmware doesn’t have a concept of cdrom as a valid boot target. A footnote thankfully informed me:

For systems with older EEPROMs, replace cdrom with sd(0,6,2) to boot from the system’s CD-ROM.

That worked! The first thing I tried was mounting the internal drives, which immediately failed and asked me to run fsck. Of the partitions, fsck found plenty of errors and only managed to make a few of them mountable. None of it was interesting or useable stuff (I think I got like, a / partition? but no /boot or /usr), so I made the call to wipe it and re-install:

sparcstation# format
Searching for disks...done

AVAILABLE DISK SELECTIONS:
       0. c0t3d0 <SUN0424 cyl 1151 alt 2 hd 9 sec 80>
          /sbus@1,f8000000/esp@0,800000/sd@3,0
Specify disk (enter its number): 0
selecting c0t3d0
[disk formatted]


FORMAT MENU:
        disk       - select a disk
        type       - select (define) a disk type
        partition  - select (define) a partition table
        current    - describe the current disk
        format     - format and analyze the disk
        repair     - repair a defective sector
        label      - write label to the disk
        analyze    - surface analysis
        defect     - defect list management
        backup     - search for backup labels
        verify     - read and display labels
        save       - save new disk/partition definitions
        inquiry    - show vendor, product and revision
        volname    - set 8-character volume name
        !<cmd>     - execute <cmd>, then return
        quit
format> format
Ready to format. Formatting cannot be interrupted
and takes 16 minutes (estimated). Continue? y
Beginning format. The current time is Tue Oct 17 16:21:55 2017

Formatting...done
Warning: no backup labels

Verifying media...
        pass 0 - pattern = 0xc6dec6de
   1150/8/62

        pass 1 - pattern = 0x6db6db6d
   1150/8/62

Warning: no backup labels
Total of 0 defective blocks repaired.
format>

time to reboot and do a real install!

Installation

The Solaris install process starts with a few questions about your language, locale, and terminal type. It then launches a curses-style install program to get details about your networking situation and time-zone settings. Finally, it informs you:

System identification is completed.

…and hangs for about 20 minutes without any more output. The first few times this happened I was convinced I had done something wrong - maybe the installer was angry about me not using the framebuffer for install, or a RAM chip was bad, or something. It turns out it was just…thinking about stuff. After the long wait, the curses-style installer comes back:

- Solaris Interactive Installation ---------------------------------

  You'll be using the initial option for installing Solaris software
  on the system. The initial option overwrites the system disks when
  the new Solaris software is installed.

  On the following screens, you can accept the defaults or you can
  customize how Solaris software will be installed by:

- Allocating space for diskless clients or AutoClient systems
- Selecting the type of Solaris software to install
- Selecting disks to hold software you've selected
- Specifying how file systems are laid out on the disks

  After completing these tasks, a summary of your selections (called
  a profile) will be displayed.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
     F2_Continue    F5_Exit    F6_Help

I went with the default partitioning and the basic set of packages that would fit on the small hard drive. The install proper took around two hours - a big reminder that this tech isn’t from 2017! At completion, the installer installed a handful of patches and rebooted the machine.

First boot

Post-install, things came up pretty smoothly (except for a bunch of network errors - I didn’t have the ethernet cable plugged in)

SPARCstation 1+, No keyboard.
ROM Rev. 1.3, 64 MB memory installed, Serial #12648430.
Ethernet address 8:0:20:c0:ff:ee, Host ID: 53c0ffee.

Testing
Booting from: sd(0,0,0)vmunix
SunOS Release 5.7 Version Generic_106541-08 [UNIX(R) System V Release 4.0]
Copyright (c) 1983-1999, Sun Microsystems, Inc.
configuring network interfaces:le0: No carrier - transceiver cable problem?
 le0.
Hostname: sparcstation
Warning: failed to open /dev/dump (No such file or directory):
run dumpadm(1M) to verify dump configuration
Configuring /dev and /devices
Configuring the /dev directory (compatibility devices)
The system is coming up. Please wait.
Configuring network interface addresses: le0.
RPC: Timed out
starting routing daemon.
starting rpc services: rpcbindkeyserv: failed to generate host's netname when establishing root's key.
 keyserv done.

This being the first boot, I was prompted to make a root password:

On this screen you can create a root password.

A root password can contain any number of characters, but only the
first eight characters in the password are significant. (For
example, if you create `a1b2c3d4e5f6' as your root password, you
can use `a1b2c3d4' to gain root access.)

You wil be prompted to type the root password twice; for security,
the password will not be displayed on the screen as you type it.

> If you do not want a root password, press RETURN twice.

Root password: _


Press Return to continue.

Finally, I made it to a shell!

System identification is completed.
Setting netmask of le0 to 255.255.255.0
Setting default interface for multicast: add net 224.0.0.0: gateway SPARCstation
syslog service starting.
Print services started.
volume management starting.
The system is ready.

sparcstation console login: root
Password:
Sun Microsystems Inc.   SunOS 5.7        Generic October 1998
# hostname
sparcstation
#

From shell to desktop

From here, setting up X and connecting a remote X session was pretty simple (in no small part because of the helpful manual):

  • I enabled the login manager to start at boot time with /usr/dt/bin/dtconfig -e
  • enabled the font server to start at boot time with fsadmin -e
  • rebooted to let those take effect (and to clear any gremlins from first boot, because I’m superstitious)
  • point my remote X session at the SPARCstation!
solaris login manager

solaris login manager

Logging in as root gave me a pretty rad splash screen:

solaris cde splash screen

solaris cde splash screen

and eventually a pretty standard CDE desktop:

solaris cde desktop

solaris cde desktop

I haven’t dug too deeply in to what sorts of things are installed by default, but one notable application was the Sun Hot Java web browser:

solaris hot java browser

solaris hot java browser

A pretty satisfying reward for the effort of installing! Since I did this install (about a month ago!), I’ve re-installed an older version of Solaris (it was quite bogged down running 7 - I’m now trying out 2.4) and started using both hard disks installed (so I don’t have to skimp on installed packages). I’m hopeful to get a development setup working soon!

Three new RISC boxes

The collection has grown again! My inability to ignore eBay has resulted in three new additions.

IBM RS/6000 Model 250

The IBM RS/6000 lines is one of the few RISC computer lines to survive well in to the 21st century - IBM’s POWER Systems are still available and still the biggest beneficiary of IBM’s chip research. The Model 250 is the last of the 200 series pizzaboxes - it has a 66 MHz PowerPC 601 processor (similar to the Power Macintosh 6100).

I’ve seen very few of the 200 series available for sale online - this one isn’t even technically (by my standards) a workstation - it came with no frame buffer! IBM sold most of the RS/6000 line as a POWERstation or POWERserver in marketing materials depending on whether it had a frame buffer pre-installed (the designation doesn’t appear to show up anywhere on the case or in model numbers). I found on of the optional upgrade framebuffers on eBay to make this one in to a proper pizzabox.

Digital Multia

The Multia was an attempt by Digital to make a lower-cost Alpha workstation for running Windows NT. There were Alpha and Intel Pentium models, and they use a lot of off-the-shelf PC components rather than custom Digital ones (hence its later name, the “Universal Desktop Box”). It’s quite tiny - so much so that it has laptop PCMCIA slots for expansion!

The Multia is my first workstation to run Windows (though it keeps with the “no x86” rule). It came with NT 4.0 installed - I might have to break out some Rainbow Tables to get the administrator password (since it wasn’t included in the box).

Digital 3000 AXP 300X

The third pizzabox in this batch is another Alpha - this time a more typical Digital 3000 AXP pizzabox. At 175 MHz (and with 256 MB of RAM) it’s definitely the most powerful workstation I have. It seems like Digital didn’t make too many machines in this form factor - the Alphastation (successor to the 3000 AXP) was much thicker, and there are several gigantic tower models as well.

My 3000 AXP 300X came without a hard drive, so I expect I’ll be setting up Digital OSF/1 (the original name of of Digital Unix and Compaq Tru64) on a SCSI2SD some time in the future.

Replacing a dead NVRAM chip

My SPARCstation 1+ was manufactured in 1989. Over a nearly 30 year lifetime, any number of components could have gone bad: capacitors burst, hard disk motors fail, sometimes the wrong voltage gets attached, etc. A problem that notoriously affects older Sun workstations (including mine!) is NVRAM failure.

The NVRAM chips in Sun workstations contain:

  • a clock, to keep time when the computer is off
  • memory to store boot device order, serial console modes, etc (in a PC you’d call that the BIOS settings)
  • details about the machine itself: its “hostid”, what model it is, an Ethernet MAC address. Sun calls this IDPROM.
  • a battery - the “non-volatile” part of NVRAM is managed here by having a battery keep an SRAM alive

Over the years, that battery dies. Unfortunately, because it is packaged as one chip, you can’t pop in a new button-cell - you have to replace the whole chip. This doesn’t just mean your computer will lose the ability to tell time - (entertainingly) the machine will lose it’s IDPROM data - it no longer knows what model it is or what its MAC address is supposed to be.

When worked on the SPARCstation, I’ve set dummy values for the MAC address and such to get around the dead battery - there’s thankfully a quite detailed guide from comp.sys.sun.hardware on how to set them. I’ve since given in and ordered a new chip (the STMicroelectronics M48T02-200PC1).

To replace it, I had to open up the case and find the darn thing! Pizzaboxes have fairly compact interiors, sometimes layering what you want to get at below something unrelated. In this case, I had to remove the two frame buffer cards.

The NVRAM was under the SBus cards!

The NVRAM was under the SBus cards!

I pried it out of the socket (with my fingers), and inserted the new one (using the corner “dot” as a guide for its orientation):

After putting the framebuffer back in and closing up the case, it was time to set the IDPROM values for the last time! Based on the guide, I set a machine type of 53 (SPARCstation 1+) and a MAC address of 08:00:20:c0:ff:ee (08:00:20 is the Sun range, and the guide’s example already referenced my favorite drink!). After booting to the ok prompt, I set those by doing:

ok
ok 1 0 mkp
ok 53 1 mkp
ok 8 2 mkp
ok 0 3 mkp
ok 20 4 mkp
ok c0 5 mkp
ok ff 6 mkp
ok ee 7 mkp
ok 0 8 mkp
ok 0 9 mkp
ok 0 a mkp
ok 0 b mkp
ok c0 c mkp
ok ff d mkp
ok ee e mkp
ok 0 f 0 do i idprom@ xor loop f mkp
ok setenv diag-switch? false

The final diag-switch? false brings the machine out of “diagnostic mode”, which means I don’t spend 10 minutes painstakingly verifying the 64MB of memory on every boot, and also don’t try (fruitlessly) to LAN boot.

With a working NVRAM chip, my SPARCstation now keeps the time and, more importantly, can be booted without futzing with configuration!

Getting an Indy Desktop

My last post about the Indy was a bit of a downer - I may have learned a lot, but I didn’t get much closer to a usable IRIX desktop. In contrast, this post does end happily. I hope that the screenshots at the end make up for how incredibly long it is.

Replacing the hard disk with a microSD card

The working disk in my Indy has an OS installed, but I’ve had trouble logging in. Rather than erase and re-install IRIX onto that disk (and lose whatever applications it might have!), I wanted to save it and use a new disk. While used SCSI hard disks are available (and from my reading, some new Ultra320 SCSI drives are capable of running in SCSI 2 mode), I’ve decided to avoid spinning-rust disks in favor of the SCSI2SD.

The SCSI2SD uses a microcontroller to emulate a SCSI device in software and stores data on a microSD card. It’s not quite plug-and-play - to get it ready for use, I had to:

  • Insert a microSD card: I’m using a pretty cheap 8GB SanDisk - I figure 8GB was a pretty large disk at the time, given the two that came with my Indy were 1GB and 500 MB
  • Download software: both the SCSI2SD firmware and scsi2sd-util - there are different versions for the SCSI2SD v5 and SCSI2SD v6 hardware revisions
  • Flash the firmware: This step threw me a bit - I had to open scsi2sd-util, go to the “Upgrade Firmware” window, and then plug the SCSI2SD in with USB. I spent a little time wondering why when I plugged mine in, scsi2sd-util didn’t recognize it - the reason is you have to flash it before it works.
  • Upload settings: I grabbed settings from the Nekochan wiki. The most important ones for the Indy are parity and SCSI2 Mode.
  • Remove the terminators: The SCSI2SD has built-in terminators, but so does the Indy’s SCSI cable. The SCSI2SD terminators are in removable SIP packages, so I just pulled them out.

With the SCSI2SD drive ready to go, it needed to be installed in the Indy. The SCSI2SD docs recommend not letting it rest directly on “conductive material” (like the metal floor of the case), so I had find a way to attach it to the drive mounting bracket. I didn’t have any spacers to safely screw it on directly, so instead I got creative with Command Strips (something quite plentiful in my household):

Netbooting: a new tool

In “Booting the Indy”, I used the DINA VM image for a netboot server. Since then, I’ve had some trouble getting DINA running again, so I decided to give another tool a try: irixboot. The project’s README has most of the instructions I needed. My install discs were:

  • irix/6.5/inst/IRIX 6.5 Installation Tools.img download
  • irix/6.5/foundation/IRIX 6.5 Foundation 1.img download
  • irix/6.5/foundation/IRIX 6.5 Foundation 2.img download
  • irix/6.5/applications/IRIX 6.5 Applications.img download
  • irix/6.5/nfs/ONC3 NFS Version3.img download

from the images hosted on the Internet Archive. Since I was running from Linux instead of Windows (what the irixboot author tested), the bridgenic param was just the name of my server’s ethernet interface (eno1). From there, all I needed was a vagrant up and I was ready!

Partitioning the disk

In most modern OS installers, partitioning the disk is part of the install process. Not so on IRIX! The IRIX installer seems to use the disk to store temporary files during installation, so you have to have valid partitions set up separately. To do that, you must boot to the Command Monitor:

System Maintenance Menu

1) Start System
2) Install System Software
3) Run Diagnostics
4) Recover System
5) Enter Command Monitor

Option? 5
Command Monitor.  Type "exit" to return to the menu.
>>

and boot in to the fx partitioner from the “Installation Tools” disk

>> bootp():/inst/stand/fx.ARCS
Setting $netaddr to 192.168.1.242 (from server )
Obtaining /inst/stand/fx.ARCS from server
93664+25632+7056+2804464+48784d+5808+8832 entry: 0x8bd4b0f0
Currently in safe read-only mode.

In the command I entered.

  • bootp(): says “use whatever server BOOTP tells you to”
  • /inst the path to the Installation Tools disc in irixboot
  • stand/fx.ARCS is the path to the fx partitioning tool on that disc.

I found Future Technology’s guide valuable in figuring out how to set things up - I accepted the defaults at each prompt until I got to the menu:

----- please choose one (? for help, .. to quit this menu)-----
[exi]t               [d]ebug/             [l]abel/
[b]adblock/          [exe]rcise/          [r]epartition/
fx>

chose “repartition” on the “rootdrive”, with the XFS filesystem:

fx> r

----- partitions-----
part  type        blocks            Megabytes   (base+size)
  0: xfs      266240 + 15201280     130 + 7422
  1: raw        4096 + 262144         2 + 128
  8: volhdr        0 + 4096           0 + 2
 10: volume        0 + 15467520       0 + 7552

capacity is 15467520 blocks

----- please choose one (? for help, .. to quit this menu)-----
[ro]otdrive        [u]srrootdrive     [o]ptiondrive      [re]size
fx/repartition> ro

fx/repartition/rootdrive: type of data partition = (xfs)
Warning: you will need to re-install all software and restore user data
from backups after changing the partition layout.  Changing partitions
will cause all data on the drive to be lost.  Be sure you have the drive
backed up if it contains any user data.  Continue? yes

The Future Technology guide says you need to add a “label”, but that didn’t seem to be an option for me, so I just proceeded to /exit.

Netbooting the IRIX installer

That took me back to the “System Maintenance Menu” - this time choosing to “Install System Software”:

                         Installing System Software...

                       Press <Esc> to return to the menu.



1) Remote Tape  2) Remote Directory  X) Local CD-ROM  X) Local Tape

Enter 1-4 to select source type, <esc> to quit,
or <enter> to start:

I used 2 for “Remote Directory”, entered in the IP address of my irixboot server and the path to the install tools disc:

Enter the name of the remote host: 192.168.1.10
Enter the remote directory: /inst/dist

This kicks you back to the “Installing System Software” menu - you press enter to use your chosen settings to kick off an install:

Setting $netaddr to 192.168.1.242 (from server )
Copying installation program to disk.
Setting $netaddr to 192.168.1.242 (from server )
......... 10% ......... 20% ......... 30% ......... 40% ......... 50%
......... 60% ......... 70% ......... 80% ......... 90% ......... 100%

Copy complete
Setting $netaddr to 192.168.1.242 (from server )
Setting $netaddr to 192.168.1.242 (from server )
IRIX Release 6.5 IP22 Version 05190108 System V
Copyright 1987-1998 Silicon Graphics, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

gfe1: missing
gfe0: missing
xpi0: missing from slot 1
xpi0: missing from slot 0
root on /hw/node/io/gio/hpc/scsi_ctlr/0/target/1/lun/0/disk/partition/1/block ; boot swap file on /dev/swap swplo 57000
Creating miniroot devices, please wait...
/hw/node/io/gio/hpc/scsi_ctlr/0/target/1/lun/0/disk/volume/char: [Alert] Illegal request: Illegal field in CDB (asc=0x24, asq=0x0), Block #0

Current system date is Mon Dec 15 12:14:34 PST 2014

(the clock in my machine is stuck in the past!).

Since I just repartitioned the disk in fx, the installer needs to make a file system on it:

Mounting file systems:

/dev/dsk/dks0d1s0: Invalid argument
/hw/node/io/gio/hpc/scsi_ctlr/0/target/1/lun/0/disk/volume/char: [Alert] Illegal request: Illegal field in CDB (asc=0x24, asq=0x0), Block #40601
No valid file system found on: /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0
This is your system disk: without it we have nothing
on which to install software.
Make new file system on /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0 [yes/no/sh/help]: yes

About to remake (mkfs) file system on: /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0
This will destroy all data on disk partition: /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0.

        Are you sure? [y/n] (n): y

        Block size of filesystem 512 or 4096 bytes? 4096

Doing: mkfs -b size=4096 /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0
meta-data=/dev/rdsk/dks0d1s0     isize=256    agcount=8, agsize=237520 blks
data     =                       bsize=4096   blocks=1900160, imaxpct=25
         =                       sunit=0      swidth=0 blks
log      =internal log           bsize=4096   blocks=1000
realtime =none                   extsz=65536  blocks=0, rtextents=0
unwritten flagging is enabled

Trying again to mount /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0 on /root.

/hw/node/io/gio/hpc/scsi_ctlr/0/target/1/lun/0/disk/volume/char: [Alert] Illegal request: Illegal field in CDB (asc=0x24, asq=0x0), Block #0
UX:make: INFO: `scsi' is up to date.
    /dev/miniroot            on  /
    /dev/dsk/dks0d1s0        on  /root

Installing IRIX

Now it’s time for the real installing to begin.

Invoking software installation.

What is the hostname (system name) of your machine? indy
What is the network address of indy? 192.168.1.242
What is the netmask for 192.168.1.242?
Press Enter for the IP class default [0xffffff00]:
Starting network with hostname: indy, at ip address: 192.168.1.242

Man, it’s asking again for an IP address - the Indy is from an time where ubiquitous reliable DHCP was not a thing. That final obstacle was all gated the main menu of the IRIX install tool (creatively named inst):

Default distribution to install from: 192.168.1.10:/inst/dist

For help on inst commands, type "help overview".


Inst 3.3 Main Menu

 1. from [source ...]            Specify location of software to be installed
 2. open [source ...]            Specify additional software locations
 3. close [source ...]           Close a software distribution location
 4. list [keywords] [names]      Display information about software subsystems
 5. go                           Perform software installation and removal now
 6. install [keywords] [names]   Select subsystems to be installed
 7. remove [keywords] [names]    Select subsystems to be removed
 8. keep [keywords] [names]      Do not install or remove these subsystems
 9. step [keywords] [names]      Interactive mode for install/remove/keep
10. conflicts [choice ...]       List or resolve installation conflicts
11. help [topic]                 Get help in general or on a specific word
12. view ...                     Go to the View Commands Menu
13. admin ...                    Go to the Administrative Commands Menu
14. quit                         Terminate software installation

Inst>

The “default distribution” is a reminder that inst knows about the “Installation Tools” disc it booted from, but needs to be told about the other four CDs:

Inst> open irixboot:foundation/dist
What is the network address of irixboot? 192.168.1.10
Reading product descriptions .. 100% Done.

Inst> open irixboot:apps/dist

...
there was a long readme about Netscape here
...

Inst> open irixboot:nfs/dist
Relocating distribution location irixboot:nfs/dist to irixboot:nfs/dist/dist6.5
.
Reading product descriptions .. 100% Done.

Inst>

I went with the package sets Future Technology recommended, and started the installation:

Inst> keep *

Inst> install standard

Inst> install prereqs
No matches for "prereqs" were found

Inst> go

This takes a very long time (the Future Technology Guide even has a table of how different workstations perform differently - apparently CPU has a lot to do with it). Mine took 130 minutes, from go to reboot:

Ready to restart the system.  Restart? { (y)es, (n)o, (sh)ell, (h)elp }:
Preparing to restart system ...

The system is being restarted.

Postinstall

After install, the machine came up nicely:

IRIX Release 6.5 IP22 Version 05190003 System V
Copyright 1987-1998 Silicon Graphics, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

dksc0d1: [Alert] Illegal request: Illegal field in CDB (asc=0x24, asq=0x0), Block #0
The system is coming up.
Warning: Internet Gateway web server running as root.
Use "chkconfig webface off" if you wish to disable.
startup: listening to port 80 as nobody



indy console login: root
IRIX Release 6.5 IP22 indy
Copyright 1987-1998 Silicon Graphics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Last login: Mon Dec 15 14:46:00 PST 2014 on ttyd1
TERM = (vt100)
indy 1#

Since I was still using a serial console, my first steps from here were to set up remote X sessions. Mine needed:

  • DNS to be configured in /etc/resolv.conf:

    domain taketimetobesafe.biz
    nameserver 192.168.1.1
    
  • a default route to be entered in /etc/config/static-route.options:

    $ROUTE $QUIET add net default 192.168.1.1
    
  • an X11 font server enabled (where would we be without fonts!):

    indy # chkconfig fontserver on
    

Since I had just changed a bunch of network connections (and this machine was made in 1993) a reboot seemed in order. After it came back up, I connected a remote X session. In this case, I was using Xming on Windows (for some reason XQuartz just crashes when I try to connect). The effective Xnest command my options translates to is: Xnest -query indy.taketimetobesafe.biz -screen 0 1024x768@1 -fp tcp/indy.taketimetobesafe.biz:7100. This gave me a login window!

IRIX login window

A desktop

My understanding is that on a new IRIX box, you’re expected to log in as the EZsetup user, which launches a configuration wizard. For whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to work at all over a remote session (it logs in, and just goes to a totally empty 4dwm session). No matter, though - I can log in as root:

IRIX desktop on first login

There you have it! I’m rather pleased to get the first GUI desktop from one of my pizzaboxes. Though I haven’t yet made input adapters to use it directly, a remote X session is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Two Macs and an HP

The pizza delivery folks have been stopping by my house a lot lately, and not just with pineapple and ham!

Do Macs really belong here?

In “What is a Workstation?”, I declared that “a workstation is a computer system designed to be used by a professional”. In the classic Mac era, Apple targeted three markets: home users, education, and “creatives” - desktop publishing, image processing, video editing, and sound recording. The final category certainly fit in to my definition of “professional”, even if the first two don’t.

Apple helpfully separates Macintoshes into different brands:

  • Performa / iMac for home users
  • LC / eMac for education customers
  • Mac II and Quadra (m68k), Power Macintosh (PPC), Mac Pro (Intel) for creatives

They’re not perfectly aligned: home and education computers were also sold as PowerMacs, some Mac II models were more “home” than “workstation”, and the Centris line doesn’t really fit. While they all ran the same software, used the same chips, and were sold by the same company, the clear market positioning makes it easy for me to declare that yes, some Macs were sold and used as workstations.

A busted-up Quadra

The first of the two macs (both in production date, and in joining my collection) is a Quadra 605. While it’s one of the lowest-spec Quadras, it is decidedly the most pizza-box-y. The “LC” form-factor Macs (named for the first such Mac) are probably the first machines I ever heard called a “pizza box”, so they occupy a special place in my heart. The Quadra 605 is sadly unable to run A/UX, Apple’s Unix-combined-with-System-7 offering - it wasn’t available with an FPU, and even if you replace its CPU with one that does have an FPU, Apple never made A/UX enablers for it. Thus, a Quadra 610 is still on my “to acquire” list.

This particular specimen arrived in pretty poor condition. It was shipped to me in a battered old NewEgg box, lightly wrapped in bubble wrap, sitting in a pile of packing peanuts. Unfortunately, there was nothing to hold the bubble-wrapped pizzabox in place in box, so it looks like it bounced around inside a ton.

The sides of the case were cracked, the back plate broken clean off, and inside the case, all of the obnoxious tiny pieces of plastic that held the motherboard and drives in place without screws had sheared off. Everything inside was free-floating around the case.

I’m not really sure what I can do about this - I’m keeping my eye out for spare cases (not holding my breath, though) and folks selling 605s for parts. Perhaps one day I’ll do a detour in to plastic case manufacturing (could it be 3D printed?) and looking for the original case schematics, but it’s back-burner for now.

An intact PowerMac

I had better luck with a Power Macintosh 6100 - it was properly secured in shipping, and so the only bits snapped off are ones that I did opening up the case (oops). Things seem to be in order - it plays the original PowerMac startup chime:

I haven’t been able to test this one out further than that, though. The original PowerMac models (6100/7100/8100) had an unusual video jack - the HDI-45. It’s…a frankly unusual square-ish connector that also holds keyboard, mouse, and audio (reminds me of the NeXTstation’s DB19!). Despite having an 8100/80av a decade ago, I forgot this detail, so verifying that its video works is blocked on me getting an adapter.

The HP that’s over exactly 9000!

The HP 9000 line was one of the longest surviving - HP made HP 9000 computers until 2008, after SGI had become a Supermicro reseller, Sun was swallowed by Oracle, DEC only a memory, and NeXT long-since transformed into Apple. The one I picked up is a model 712 - a lower-cost pizza box from the end of the first generation of PA-RISC HP 9000 workstations:

I believe this is the first workstation I’ve bought that didn’t come with a hard drive (several of the models I have could have been configured without one). It also doesn’t have a floppy drive, so moving forward is gonna mean I need to figure out how to netboot old versions of HP-UX. I love a challenge!

Booting the Indy

Once the power supply was in order, my next focus was booting it to a usable state. I ran into quite a few stumbling blocks along the way - this post doesn’t end with a 4Dwm desktop (though a future one will!).

Broken hard drive

The first issue was the scraping and grinding sound coming from one of the hard drives! On boot, it sounded like one of the disks was trying to spin up, encountering some…resistance…spinning down, and trying again. My Indy has two disks in it, so I figured out which one by process of elimination and disconnected it.

Working from a console

Since I don’t have a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, hooking the Indy up to a monitor and directly using it is not an option. Some researching on the Nekochan wiki confirmed that a DB25 to mini-DIN 8 cable would do the trick - I grabbed one from Monoprice. These are fairly common thanks to Apple using the same connector (mini-DIN 8) for their serial ports in the pre-USB era.

By chance, I seem to have gotten the right one: they sell a very similar cable that sounds like it tries to account for a different signaling standard (Mac serial ports were RS-422, whereas the Indy’s is RS-232). The one I got also seems to be a null-modem cable (though the listing doesn’t say this) - that means I can more or less directly connect it to the Indy and to my USB Serial adapter and be all set.

With the wires plugged in, I used minicom on my laptop (set to 9600bps, no parity, one stop bit, 8 bits per character, and software flow control), and turned on the Indy. To get a Unix tty on the serial port, you have to enable it in the PROM monitor. At the prompt, I pressed <Esc> to enter maintenance:

To perform system maintenance instead, press <Esc>

System Maintenance Menu

1) Start System
2) Install System Software
3) Run Diagnostics
4) Recover System
5) Enter Command Monitor

Option?

picked option 5 (the PROM monitor), and disabled the local graphics console:

Command Monitor.  Type "exit" to return to the menu.
>> setenv console d

After rebooting, an OS came up!

Getting root

Incredibly, the remaining hard drive had a functioning OS on it! The

IRIX Release 6.5 IP22 Version 05190003 System V
Copyright 1987-1998 Silicon Graphics, Inc
All Rights Reserved.

banner was encouraging. The login prompt, however, was not. The internet pointed towards some typically wide-open IRIX user accounts (EZsetup, lp, and guest) but this machine had them locked down. On some operating systems (macOS and most Linuxes, in particular), there is a “single-user mode” that automatically logs you in as root. This sounds like a huge security hole (and kind of is), but is in keeping with the reality that if you have physical access to a computer, you can get root anyway. IRIX’s single-user mode requires you to know the root password, so I had to do it the hard way.

The goal is to mount the Indy’s filesystem and clear out root’s password from /etc/shadow, letting me log in with no password. My Indy doesn’t have a floppy drive, and I don’t have an external SCSI CD drive, so the only remaining option to get an OS running where I can mount the local disk is to netboot.

A netbooting detour

SGI machines support netbooting using a familiar collection of protocols:

  • bootp for getting an IP address
  • tftp for fetching a boot loader over the network
  • rsh for the boot loader to fetch further parts of a root file system

The first two might be familiar in a netbooting context - bootp evolved into dhcp, which along with tftp, are used in modern PXE netbooting of x86 computers. rsh is interesting though - where nowadays, a PXE bootloader usually grabs an OS image via HTTP, the Indy seems to use ssh’s completely insecure predecessor. I’m not completely sure what it ends up running over rsh (perhaps the topic of a future blog post!), but my research indicates that whatever it does, it strongly expects the user it logs in as (guest, with no password) to use the Korn shell (some discussion here).

My router handles bootp fine, and I can run tftpd easily on one of my home servers, but rsh felt like it crossed a bit of a line into “what am I even doing”. Thankfully, the SGI enthusiast community produced a virtual machine that is already set up - DINA (deBug’s IRIX Netboot Appliance). I followed along with the guide on the Nekochan wiki, bringing IRIX 6.5 install CD images that I got from the Internet Archive.

Getting root, take 2

Netbooted into the IRIX installer, I launched a shell and took stock. My Indy’s root partition had been mounted for me (entertainingly at /root, since IRIX seems to make / the root user’s home directory). Remember, my goal is to clear the root user’s password by editing /etc/shadow.

So, all I need to do is a quick

# vi /root/etc/shadow

right? Well, it turns out the IRIX install image doesn’t have vi installed. What does it have? The standard editor, ed. I had never actually used ed - it’s mostly the butt of a running joke from 1991. With the help of the (aptly named) Actually Using Ed, I managed to clear root’s password.

Moment of truth

Was this enough to get in? My first attempt (straight up booting and trying to log in) failed - this time, with a message that root wasn’t allowed to log in on this console. Though I later learned where that is configured (and so could have gone back to the netbooted installer environment and hacked it), in the moment, I tried single-user mode again:

Success! Time to give poor root a password again, and make myself a normal user account (soph instead of my more typical sophaskins, because of IRIX’s 8 character limit on usernames).

Frustration

Unfortunately, I never was able to log in as soph. My logins didn’t fail (there was no message like when I used an incorrect password), it just…didn’t happen. I’d just get sent immediately back to a login prompt. Attempts to find logs indicating what happened, obvious permissions problems, or really any indication of what happened were fruitless.

At the same time, I still couldn’t log in as root in multi-user mode! After unlock root logins at any console, I’d be faced with a segfault (!?!?!) when trying to log in. By this time, I was feeling pretty bummed out and decided that perhaps it was time to try a fresh install. That story (and the graphical desktop it resulted in) will be in a future post!

Indy Power Supply Replacement

When I first got the Indy, it seemed to work. When I pushed the power button,

  • it played the startup jingle
  • when connected to a monitor, it gave output! (complaining about the lack of keyboard)
  • the light on the front of the case would cycle between red and green, before stabilizing on green

A few weeks later, I got the right serial cable to attach a console, and…it no longer worked:

  • no jingle played - the speaker sometimes crackled or gave off a faint whimper
  • something smelled funny (maybe the magic smoke was escaping!)
  • the light cycled between red and green somewhat erratically
  • on my attached serial console, it appeared to be looping through startup - at that point, I might have considered a “full” startup to be text like:

    Data path test                             *FAILED*
    RTC path test                              *FAILED*
    
    Running power-on diagnostics...
    Starting up the system...
    
    To perform system maintenance instead, press <Esc>
    

    but it wouldn’t always make it to the <Esc> prompt - sometimes it just kept repeating the first two tests.

That’s pretty broken! I stoped trying to boot it (in case I was somehow damaging the electronics), and looked online for ideas. Apparently, a common problem with old Indys is the power supply failing. My Indy had the brand of power supply that was affected (Nidec) - it seemed like a plausible explanation. To dig a little further, I broke out the multimeter and checked the voltage on the Molex connector that normally goes to the hard disks - when I turned on the juice, the voltage was jumping all over the place.

I looked on eBay for replacement power supplies (a lot of old computers get parted out if something breaks), and found a Sony one - the brand that was supposed to be OK. Replacing the power supply once it arrived was super easy - there’s only one screw holding it in place:

the screw holding power supply in place

With that removed, you can slide the power supply apart from the rest of the chassis - it doesn’t sit inside the chassis, it sits next to it:

power supply next to chassis

In real life, I just popped the new power supply in and immediately tried it out, but in writing this post I checked out the voltages both power supplies put out. One thing that stood out to me was that the 12V rail (yellow wire) on the busted power supply…wasn’t reading 12V! On the broken one, it was at about 6V:

bad power supply only reads 6V

On the good one, it read a much healthier 12V:

good power supply reads 12V

The new power supply brought back the jingle and let me move on to the next thing: getting the OS booting! But what specifically was wrong with the power supply? I often see folks mention capacitors bursting as the cause of power supply failure. Though I’d love to crack open the bad power supply and see what I can see (and maybe re-cap it!), I’m not going to for now:

  • its metal case seems to be riveted together, which is beyond my small-apartment tool collection
  • POWER ELECTRONICS (A/C) CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS. Power supplies in particular shouldn’t be opened until the capacitors inside have fully drained. I don’t feel qualified to judge when things are safe, so I’m gonna save that for another day.

The First Four Pizzaboxes

Just over a month ago, late at night I was engaging in one of my favorite hobbies, “reread computing history articles on Wikipedia”.

I’m…perhaps not known for having incredibly good self control, so some eBay browsing later, I’d found a NeXTstation on eBay that seemed like a good starting point.

NeXTstation

I grew up in a Mac family (my parents are both teachers) - being “something of a nerd”, I loved Apple trivia. The internet was all too willing to oblige. NeXT’s workstations were, then, probably the first I ever heard about - an obscure offshoot of Macintosh lore, the matte-black NeXTcube and its funky Mach-based operating system. I’d lusted over one, but their prices were far more than my high-school job wages could justify.

It was a no-brainer for a NeXTstation to be my first pizzabox. The eBay seller I bought it from was the same person who ran the store I gawked at way back when (Black Hole Inc)

My NeXTstation (a non-turbo mono) seems to be in good working order (I recently got video cables to confirm that it boots!) but is probably going to be one of the most tricky to make usable. NeXT used an extremely-hard-to-find monitor plug (DB-19), which not only carried video signals, but also:

  • power for the monitor
  • digital signals that were decoded in to keyboard, mouse, and sound by the monitor (or by a “Soundbox”)
  • briefly shorting two pins is actually the only way to turn the whole thing on

Soundboxes compatible with my model (non-ADB soundboxes) are rare and expensive, so I’m setting out to make my own equivalent - a microcontroller-based converter box that:

  • takes a DB-19 cable as input
  • has USB ports for a modern keyboard and mouse
  • outputs video as HDMI (go big or go home, amirite?)
  • converts signals between all these

This motivated the idea of building similar converters for all of my workstations.

SPARCstation 1+

Not long after the NeXTstation arrived, a friend offered a SPARCstation he had lying around! Sun made perhaps the most recognizable pizzaboxes - they might have even been the first! (the Sun 350 was 1986). A perfect addition to my collection. I felt pretty badass taking it home on the subway:

Using a serial console, I’ve verified that it boots to the PROM monitor, but doesn’t seem to like either of the hard drives inside. The framebuffer works, but because I don’t have a keyboard connected, it only informs me that all output is on the serial console. In addition to the converter box, this one might need a disk replacement, and potentially to have an OS installed. If it needs an OS, I’d hope to netboot it rather than hunt down a SCSI CD-ROM drive.

SGI Indy

The Indy is quite a contrast with the SR-71 Blackbird-esque NeXTstation and the business-like SPARCstation - it’s bright blue, asymmetrical, and loaded with multimedia features. I made eBay alerts for pizzaboxes I was interested in once I started collecting - don’t want to miss a deal! Some Indys were listed for exorbitant prices (> $700…sorry dude), but this one came along at a price I was happy with.

It turns out this particular one used to live at my alma mater (judging by the CMU asset tag and return postal address in Pittsburgh). When I first got it, I had to turn it on (even without video or serial cables) because it has a ridiculous boot sound:

Since then, I’ve gotten the right cabling to verify that its framebuffer is still working, and later that its PROM monitor works. Sadly, by then I started having trouble with its power supply - the jingle no longer graces my living room, the hard drives seem to have trouble spinning up, and there’s that unmistakable smell of the Magic Smoke escaping some components. I’ve decided to hold on booting it again until I can get a fresh power supply. I might later look into whether all it needs is re-capping, but “messing with power electronics” probably isn’t a great first project.

VAXstation

This one is quite a bit different from the others. The VAXstation 4000 VLC has a CISC chip (but not the common m68k) and I intend to use it to run OpenVMS, not a Unix. I’m pretty psyched about it because it is so different from the others - it stays closer to its PDP/11 heritage than the rest (who only inherited Unix from the venerable minicomputer). Like the Indy, most of the ones I could find for sale were exhorbitantly priced (more than $1000 in this case!). I suspect that the VLC is sought after because:

  • it’s a legit VAX, so can replace an elderly failing larger VAX without needing to change software
  • it’s tiny

The one I got was listed at very fair price after retiring from being an industrial controller, so I snapped it up. DEC’s connectors are even more unusual than the other boxes - it uses a DA3W3 (not a DB13W3) monitor port, special MMJ serial port, a telephone handset port for the keyboard, and an unusual mini-DIN 7 for the mouse. It’ll probably take a bit longer to get the right connectors to get it up and running!

Today

This catches us up more or less to where I’m at today: with a pile of workstations, none of which are “done”. With this post, I’ve also started keeping a page for each workstation - you can see them in the sidebar. I’ll update those with more details as I research them, and with the current state of each box.

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.

What Is a Workstation

If this project is about restoring pizzabox workstations, I have some defining of terms to do. A workstation sometimes means the desk where you work; a pizzabox normally contains a delicious tomato, crust, and cheese combination. For my project, though:

A workstation is a computer system designed to be used by a professional. It runs specialized software for purposes like CAD/CAM, video editing, desktop publishing, 3D modeling, scientific simulation, manufacturing control, or software engineering. A workstation’s hardware integrates tightly with its operating system, which is usually written by the workstation’s manufacturer (and typically a flavor of Unix).

This sounds a lot like a PC! Compared to contemporaneous PCs, a workstation has a significantly faster processor, better floating-point calculation speed, advanced graphical ability, faster storage, more memory, or more flexible networking. Workstations run an OS with more security features, better multitasking support, and more reliability than PCs.

Unlike minicomputers and mainframes, a workstation is normally used by one person at a time, in-person. By being used in-person, its graphics are low-latency and capable of playing video (difficult on an X Terminal!) or rendering 3D graphics in real-time.

A pizzabox is a slim desktop form-factor of low-cost workstation models. There are a handful of distinctive workstation form-factors: PC-like desktops and towers, cube-like desk-standing pedestals, giant floor-standing pedestals, and pizzaboxes. Pizzaboxes tended to be lower-spec models sold for lower prices. Their small size works well with my tiny apartment, and the distinctive style seems to have hardly been adopted by PC manufacturers.

From these definitions, I have some more specific opinions. I don’t have a lot of good reasons for these, so take them with plenty of salt:

  • the height limit for a pizzabox is 100mm
  • having an x86 or amd64 processor disqualifies a computer as a workstation
  • having an m68k processor is acceptable
  • some manufacturers that made workstations also made similar computers that are not - Apple’s Quadra line are workstations, their Performa line (for home users) is not. The Sun SPARCclassic is a workstation, the Sun SPARCclassic X (with no disk, sold as an X Terminal) is not.
  • rack-mounted and VMEBus workstations are interesting, but not going to be focused on here
  • Windows NT, up through version 4, is acceptable (on non-Intel platforms)

From these arbitrary rules, qualifying pizzabox workstations were made from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s. They started out using CISC chips (like the m68k) but mostly moved to RISC by the early 1990s. So far, I’ve identified pizzaboxes from the following workstation families:

  • Apple Quadra (m68k)
  • Apple PowerMacintosh (PPC)
  • Data General Aviion (m88k)
  • DEC AlphaStation (Alpha)
  • DEC DECstation (MIPS)
  • DEC VAXstation (VAX)
  • HP 9000 (m68k, then PA-RISC)
  • IBM RS/6000 (PPC/Power)
  • NeXT NeXTstation (m68k)
  • SGI Indy (MIPS)
  • Sun 3 (m68k)
  • Sun SPARCstation (SPARC)

and I expect to find more as I pour over more old spec sheets!

Welcome to pizzabox.computer

Well hello! This is the pizzabox.computer project - my project to restore “pizzabox” workstations. My goals are to:

  • collect pizzabox workstations from a variety of manufacturers - if possible, from both before and after the move from Motorola 68000 series CPUs to RISC CPUs
  • restore those workstations to be usable with modern peripherals (I don’t have the closet space for a dozen CRTs!)
  • archive manuals, specifications, and sales data for workstations from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s
  • write essays about workstation history and what we can learn from it in the present day

I’m looking forward to see where this project can go! I hope you’ll join me.