A well-stocked basement: At Home With Josh, Part 1

So many nice things in Josh’s basement: AT&T 3B2, PDP-11, transputers, VAX, DG Nova, several PDP-8… even one-of-six-surviving Lisp Machines’ Lambda.

Here’s one snap as a taster:

And here’s a quote:

VAX-11/730 (1982) is one of my favorite systems — it’s the world’s slowest VAX but it’s small, relatively quiet, and clever — The entire VAX processor was compressed into three hex-height boards. A couple of years back, I took this system to the beach… Where it ran for 5 days providing dial-up service at 300 baud and a splendid time was had by all. We only tripped the breakers a few dozen times and it only rained once…


That Tektronix machine, in the center left, brown with the green screen, is very similar to the one I worked with in college, it may well be the same thing.

At work, our VAX-11/730 was a 3 cabinet affair. The first cabinet (similar in size to the thing the Tektronix is sitting on, but that’s certainly not a VAX), was the computer itself. It had a removable 5MB disk pack on top, an internal 80MB hard drive, and a small streaming cassette drive (not your normal audio cassettes, these are the small ones with the little wheel in them). That was used to load software on to the system. I don’t recall how much memory we had, 2 or 3MB (or words, I just don’t remember how the VAX calculated memory).

The next cabinet was simply a 6250 reel to reel tape drive. It was nice as it used a vacuum system to thread the tape on to the take up reel. We used this device everyday. Every night, we’d stream our main database to the tape, then read it back in to merge the days transactions. We did this simply because we didn’t have the extra space on the 80MB main drive.

This was remedied by the addition of the 3rd cabinet, which contained a Fujitisu Eagle 400MB drive. This was a mainstay of the industry at the time, and cost us $25,000.

Four HUNDRED megabytes. You can just smell the freedom!

We had a room full of terminals connected to this machine, two printers, and we had easily 7 people a day working on this thing doing development, data entry, data processing and reports. Our hammer was Datatrieve, and, later BASIC PLUS.

Sometimes we had more. We tended to use the terminals to run long running jobs.

We had a lady at the front who ran much of our reports, we adding a faux crank to her terminal for her to spin to make the system go faster.

And I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important for context, as the quote said, the 730 was their slowest VAX. This was a tiny machine. The 11/780 (two steps larger than the 730) is where MIPS was coined, this thing probably ran 300K instructions per second.

But it worked, I was there 4 years, mid-80s, and it was there still churning along when I left and lasted several more years. Over time it was supplemented by a MicroVAX, and random Unix workstations (Suns and the like). Those were mostly demonstration projects, and the MicroVAX was used only by one or two engineers for some specific processing, not the day to day stuff that we were doing with Datatrieve.


Nice recollections, thanks @whartung

We had one 11/730 at work, I used it quite a bit, and I think we had it until somewhen in the nineties. As I didn’t have much experience with faster VAX systems I didn’t particularly notice its speed, but it did take at least 15 minutes to boot, that was definitely noticeable. (EDIT: It’s possible that at this time we had actually replaced the 11/730 with a MicroVAX II - my memory is fuzzy). After it was removed I didn’t have access to any VAX/VMS system.
But some years later a nearby company called me up early one Sunday morning, they had a problem with a system running VMS and for some reason they had the idea that I could help. So I drove in and looked it over. They had one of the more modern VMS systems (possibly Alpha-based) for doing some satellite processing (and this goes on around the clock, so it couldn’t wait). By that time I hadn’t touched VMS since we removed the VAX from our company, and I had forgotten everything VMS (my main mini system was ND/SINTRAN after all). But it turned out my fingers remembered a lot. I still don’t know what I did, but my hands typed in a sequence of operations and everything worked in the end.

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