Historic view on DEC Engineering

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Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Fri Nov 27, 2015 12:20 pm

If you liked old DEC gear, this is a great read. Part II, and the PDP-10 chapter is particularily a brilliant nostalgic read. I worked on KL10's and 20's in manufacturing, so I got a TON of equipment to play/work with. Next door, on the manufacturing floor was the FA&T (Final Assembly and Test) area, where the customers complete configuration was floorplanned, built and tested. There were quite a few complex configurations; some multiprocessor KL10's, AMPEX shared memory configs, IBM FIPS channel systems with dual spindle RP20's. This was all before Ethernet or VaxCluster came to town, although towards the end, there were some wonky looking adapters for both NI and CI - yes, there were 576-bit block formatted versions of the HSC50 and SDI disks for TOPS-20. So cooooooool a place to work, and the engineering was awesome. I got to see Jupiter before it was cancelled. What a shame... but we were not doing so well at that point. Anyway, the book:

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/gbell/Computer_Engineering/contents.html

I really loved working on 36-bit gear, it was just HUGE! And working in-house; access to all the software was fantastic! The only thing to surpass that was playing Multiplayer VAXTrek on VT100's with the games creators up in Nashua, while 'we' were in Marlboro, using their bugs against them :-) There was nothing like a a Dreadnaught with tractor beams. Yum!
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby uunix » Fri Nov 27, 2015 1:32 pm

Where is linux-blunderland? Surly world wide?
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby robespierre » Fri Nov 27, 2015 6:07 pm

I have a copy of "Computer Engineering: A DEC View of Hardware System Design" by Bell, Mudge, and McNamara. A great book, covering everything from the TX-2 and PDP-1 through about 1980. Before the demise of the 36-bit line, fortunately.
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Sat Nov 28, 2015 6:45 am

They had a good chunk of the TX-0 in the computer museum in Marlboro. Plus a bunch of other cool exhibits. It was kind of cool to be able to walk between buildings at lunch to go to the museum while at work.
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby Pontus » Wed Dec 02, 2015 11:49 pm

We were just talking multiprocessor PDP-10 computers in the cctalk mailing list. One system that got mentioned was a 5 (!) processor PDP-10 (unknown model) that ran at Oak Ridge. Do you recall such a system?
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:01 am

Yes, it does sound familiar. I saw a three processor KL10 at FA&T. They must have built the 5 processor in the field, since as a shared memory configuration extra processors were simply attached to memory cab's. All you needed was KBUS cables. And extra interface cards for the memory cab connectors.
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby kramlq » Fri Dec 04, 2015 6:01 am

DECwest had some interesting technology in development (PRISM, Mica etc.) that sadly seemed to get canned for business/political rather than technical reasons. In one sense, part of the designs later made it into Alpha and Windows NT at least. Did you ever get to see any of that? Or did it even progress much beyond design documents (which someone has kindly scanned and uploaded to bitsavers a few years ago)?

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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Fri Dec 04, 2015 4:45 pm

Bitsavers is awesome for dec stuff. DEC engineering was very compartmentalized. We were KL and diag and TOPS only, until VAX came along. The 780 and 750 were done at westminister or franklin - i forget - the 8600 (venus and jupiter) was done in marlboro. I left after that, so I don't know where all the 8500 & 8800 (Nautilus) and 8200 & 8300 (BI), and 6000 (XMI) machines were done. By then I was reverse engineering them at EMC for plug compatible, memory and disk products. That was a lot of fun!
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby mila » Sun Dec 06, 2015 1:33 pm

skywriter wrote:Bitsavers is awesome for dec stuff. DEC engineering was very compartmentalized. We were KL and diag and TOPS only, until VAX came along. The 780 and 750 were done at westminister or franklin - i forget - the 8600 (venus and jupiter) was done in marlboro. I left after that, so I don't know where all the 8500 & 8800 (Nautilus) and 8200 & 8300 (BI), and 6000 (XMI) machines were done. By then I was reverse engineering them at EMC for plug compatible, memory and disk products. That was a lot of fun!

"reverse engineering them at EMC" When I read that directly though about "The soul of a new machine " and Tom West competing with VAX 780 :D
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Sun Dec 06, 2015 3:58 pm

Reverse engineering is a great way to see how the best stuff is done, and DEC was putting out some fantastic engineering during those times. Although a lot of KL engineering was terribly hacked, VAX did some amazing this at the time. You could almost feel the way it was put together because it all made sense. Most of my work was on DEC Standard Disk Format, HSC50 utilities, and STI disk controllers for disk products. For memories, I ran the gamut in one way shape or another. What was weird was I was the only one that actually knew how to run the machines using SYSGEN, for instance, or setting up DECNET, foramatting and copying disks, and writing system exercisers that were effective and understood, rather than contracting it out as they did before. Also worked on plug compatible central store and expanded store for IBM 3090's; designed chipsets for them in BiCMOS. Then EMC cancelled everything and put everyone on Symmetrix. Which a whole nother story ;)
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby vishnu » Sun Dec 06, 2015 11:27 pm

Think I've posted this before but we, by whom I mean my co-workers and I, were working on the infamous Sandy Point Range at Aberdeen Proving Ground circa 1989-1990, and at that time they were still using a PDP 11 to run an automated pressure transducer calibration on their ballistic devices before each test. Was très cool... 8-)
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:16 pm

@vishu, LOL! we were still using a PDP-12 in KL manufacturing around 1979 with a paper tape reader to test cables. They had the wackiest gimicks in module test. The worst was the XOR machines, which was a minimal KL CPU and IO set that would compare the operation of a complete module card (under test) with one (known good board) running in parallel. Of course the module were at the end of a six foot bundle of coax, so the machine clock (base freq 66mhz IIRC) was cranked down a bit to make the whole thing run. They had four of these beasts set up, in addition to other monstrosities on the manufacturing floor. It was nutz the all the testors and special purpose stuff they made back then. Now everything is one board and you practically toss it if it doesn't work.

Back then, If you couldn't climb inside the machine on a cold winter day and warm up, it wasn't a computer. :-)
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby Pontus » Tue Dec 08, 2015 9:23 am

In a micro you can loose a screw. In a mini you can loose a screwdriver. In a real computer you can loose a service engineer.
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby skywriter » Tue Dec 08, 2015 2:21 pm

LOL!
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Re: Historic view on DEC Engineering

Unread postby smj » Sat Dec 12, 2015 12:15 am

Tch. Yer makin' me want ta fire up the VAXen, and I've got too much end o' year stuff to stroll down that particular garden path (again)...
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