NYC Resistor gets a PDP-11/34

PDP-11/34 NYCR

[Trammel Hudson] and NYC Resistor have gotten their hands on some old computing iron in the form of a PDP-11/34.  The PDP-11 is a 16 bit minicomputer made by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Various incarnations of the PDP-11 were sold from the 1970’s all the way into the 1990’s. NYC Resistor’s model is has a label dating it to 1983.

The PDP was found in an old storage unit in the Bronx. Moving several racks of equipment across the city is no small feat, but NYC Resistor members have it done it so many times they’ve got it down to a science.

Once power is applied, a stock PDP won’t actually do anything until the boot loader is keyed in from the CPU front panel. Thankfully this particular PDP-11 had its boot instructions printed on a label on the CPU. NYCR’s machine also includes an M9312 “bootstrap / Unibus terminator” board, which allows the machine to boot at the push of a button.

The team connected the racks, terminals, and drives. Carefully following the instructions, they actually got their PDP to boot up! Their next step is to start reading in some of the old tapes that came with the machine. We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what “digitized monkey brains” contains. Once the machine is fully functional, we hope they get it on the internet and load up The Hackaday Retro Edition.

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Minicomputers on Microcontrollers

PDP

Developed in the very late 60s and through the 70s, the PDP-11 series of minicomputers was quite possibly the single most important computer ever created. The first widely distributed versions of Unix and C were developed on the PDP-11, and it’s hardware influence can be found in everything from the Motorola 68000 to the MSP430.

When [Dave Cheney] saw the recent 8086 simulator written in 4kB of C code, he realized simulating entire computer systems doesn’t actually require a whole lot of resources outside a big chunk of memory. Armed with an Arduino Mega clone, he set out on one of the coolest projects we’ve seen in a while: simulating a PDP-11 on an AVR.

[Dave] used an ATMega2560-powered Arduino Mega clone with an Ethernet module for the hardware of this build. Attached to it is a shield filled up with a pair of RAM chips that expand relatively limited amount of RAM on the ‘Mega.

So far, [Dave] has his simulated system booting Unix V6 off an SD card. For PDP-11 storage, he’s also simulating an RK05 disk drive, a massive 14 inch platter containing 2.5 Megabytes of data. Compared to the original PDP-11/40, [Dave] estimates his machine is about 10 times slower. Still, an original 11/40 system fills multiple server racks, and the most common installations consume several kilowatts of power. The Arduino Mega can fit in a pocket and can be powered over USB.

Future developments for this system include improving the accuracy of the simulator, running more advanced operating systems and the DEC diagnostic programs, and possibly speeding up the simulation. We’d suggest adding some switches and blinkenlights on an additional shield, but that’s just us.

All the code can be found on [Dave]‘s git, with a description of his SPI RAM shield coming shortly.

VT100 Gets BeagleBoned

vt100

How do you make a great terminal even better?  The answer is simple: add a BeagleBone Black to it! [Brendan] got his hands on one of the staples of classic computing, the DEC VT100 terminal.  The VT100 was produced from 1978 to 1983. The terminal was so widely used that it became the standard for other terminals to emulate. Open any terminal program today and chances are you’ll find a setting for VT100 emulation.

[Brendan] originally hooked his terminal up to a laptop running Linux. The terminal, cables, and the laptop itself became quite a bit to manage on a small desk. To combat this he decided to add a BeagleBone Black inside the terminal case. It turns out the VT100 actually lends itself to this with its Standard Terminal Port (STP) connector. The STP was designed to add a “paddle board” in-line with the serial stream of the terminal. DEC and third party manufacturers used this port to add everything from disk drives to entire CPM computers to the VT100.

[Brendan] began by designing a board to interface between the VT100 and the BeagleBone. The board level shifts serial lines from the BeagleBone to the VT100. The STP also allows the terminal to provide power to the BeagleBone Black.  He did notice some power glitches as the supply of the VT100 came up. This was solved with a standard TI TL77xx voltage supervisor chip. The hardest part of the entire design was the card edge connector for the STP. [Brendan] nailed the dimensions on the first try.  In the end [Brendan] was rewarded with a very clean installation that didn’t require any modification to a classic piece of hardware.

We should note that most PCB houses use Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) as their standard coating. This will work for a card edge connector that will be plugged in and removed a few times.  Cards that will be inserted and removed often (such as classic console cartridges) will quickly scrape the ENIG coating off. Electroplated Gold over Nickel is the classically accepted material for card edge connectors, however the process most likely is not going to come cheap in hobbyist quantities.

USB adapter for an old VT100 keyboard

VT100

Ah, the VT100, the first dumb terminal that was controlled with a microprocessor. This ancient beast from the late 70s is quite unlike the terminals you’d find from even five years after its vintage – the keyboard connects via a TRS quarter-inch jack – the electronic and code design of this terminal is a bit weird. [Seth] was up to the challenge of making this mechanical keyboard work as a standard USB device, so he created his own USB adapter.

On the little quarter-inch to USB adapter, [Seth] included an HD 6402 UART to talk to the keyboard, along with a Teensy dev board and a few bits of circuits stolen from DEC engineers. The protocol between the keyboard and terminal is a little weird – first the terminal sets a bit in a status word, then the keyboard scans all the key rows and columns in sequence before telling the terminal it’s done. Yes, this gives the VT100 full n-key rollover, but it’s just weird compared to even an IBM Model M keyboard that’s just a few years younger.

[Seth] finally completed his circuit and wired it up on a perfboard. Everything works just as it should, although a little key remapping was done to keep this keyboard adapter useful for Mac and Windows computers. It’s a wonderful bit of kit, and any insight we can get into the old DEC engineers is a wonderful read in any event.

Vidias below.

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Vintage VT100 terminal computing…with a Beaglebone

decbox

A cool little project came our way, which we thought might be of interest to some of you vintage computer buffs. [Joerg Hoppe] wrote in to share a DEC VT100 terminal he resurrected in a novel fashion.

His “DECBox” system was created with a Beaglebone, which he uses to run a wide array of PDP11/VAX terminal emulators, thanks to the SIMH project. [Joerg] constructed an expansion shield for the Beaglebone that provides several UART connections, enabling him to connect it to his DEC terminal over a serial interface. Since he added several serial plugs to the Beaglebone, he can even run multiple emulator installations in parallel on different terminals without too much trouble.

[Joerg’s] efforts are mainly for a vintage computer display he is constructing, but setting up such a system of your own should be no problem. If you happen to have one (or more) of these boxes sitting around collecting dust, this would be an easy way to get them all up and running without bulky external hardware, since the Beaglebone tucks nicely into the rear expansion slot on a VT100.

Be sure to check out his site for more details on how his DECBox software package works as well as for more pictures of vintage terminal goodness.

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