Vintage VT100 Terminal Computing…with A Beaglebone


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.

25 thoughts on “Vintage VT100 Terminal Computing…with A Beaglebone

  1. 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.

    Excuse me but does it run PDP11 and VAX emulators or does it run terminal emulators? And if it’s already a VT100 terminal why does it need to run a terminal emulator?

      1. The Beaglebone is a small linux PC running SimH. It’s not a terminalemulator. It emulates complete minicomputers. The Terminal itself is a real VT100 not an emulator. It is connected via TTY to the beaglebone.

      2. Thanks, that’s what I mean. Now wouldn’t it be awesome if HaD editors would take their time to research the subjects they’re writing about? They’re not expected to be experts in every field, but saying that simh is a “PDP11 terminal emulator” is just off the scale.

  2. Well, OK I guess. But I stopped using my PDP-11/73 around ’91 when I wasn’t getting paid to do stuff with it anymore. I got rid of it when I moved in ’99. And I can’t think of any reason why I would want a PDP-11 or VAX ever again. Or a PDP-8, or a -10, or basically any old slow computer that won’t run reasonably current software.

    1. This way a computer museum could have a dead/non-functioning PDP-11 set up for display, but the VT-100 would look like it is running the real thing.

      As long as the PDP-11 had fans running and lights blinking…as they used to say “Only her hairdresser knows for sure!)

      1. I think a museum should be willing to either demonstrate the real thing, or say, “We have one, but it doesn’t work.” I was pretty disappointed with the Henry Ford Museum (near Detroit, MI, USA) promised a steam engine demonstration and it turned out they were turning it with an electric motor.

      2. @Dave M
        There’s a big difference between saying “this is a demonstration of the operation of a steam engine” and saying “this is a running steam engine.” The former claims to recreate the experience or inform users on the specifics of operation, while the latter claims complete authenticity. As long as they don’t try to lie about it by straight up denying that it’s not really running original hardware there’s nothing inherently wrong with setting up a demo machine that’s actually an emulator.

        Sooner or later there simply won’t be any other options, much like how demonstrating how ancient Egyptian weaponry was used will necessarily involve using replicas.

    2. There’s “for the fun of it” which is a big part of hacking. It’s not our daily bread and butter for all of us, and many of us (I suspect) have a lot of fondness for these adorable, slow, lumbering iron dinosaurs. I personally want to get my hands on a PDP-8 some day, as I was given a DECMate-1 when I was younger, but had to get rid of it before we ever got the RX-02 disk drives working again. Just my $0.02. I’m definitely intrigued by SimH at the least.

      1. I can understand that. I confess some residual attraction to the straight 8 hardware and console (or the 11/70 for that matter) but it isn’t enough to overcome my ambivalence towards harboring computers that I have no interest in actually using. I wrote just enough code in college for the already obsolete PDP-8 to know how painful it was (tiny address space, small code pages, minimal instruction set, etc.).

      1. If you will enjoy it, then have at it.

        I had a lot of fun with it too, but since there is no meaningful user community that cares about new PDP-11 software, and no market for systems based on the PDP-11, it seems pointless to me.

        It is instructive that the code I wrote in Macro-11 is mostly dead and gone (some is still available from old DECUS tape images), but some of the code I wrote in C for RSX was ported to VMS and Unix, and was used for many years by the people I wrote it for.

      2. @Dave M: Russia is (relatively) full of nostalgic freaks who share the unnatural love to PDP-11. I’m not sure you can really expect a cult following with your new software, but perhaps find a few close souls :)

  3. brings back a lot of memories. my very first programming job was as a vax/vms cobol programmer in 1987. if not for starting in this environment i probably never would have been able to have a career in software development. the tools available (EDT editor, DCL, COBOL debugger, etc) made it easy. thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  4. Heheh,

    Man it’s been quite a long time since I laid eyes on one of those ‘beauts’. Anyone else remember coding the speech generator engine to ‘talk’ to others in the office. I’m really dating myself….

  5. I’ve been searching for a working VT 100 terminal (not emulator) for several years. I remember that I want one for retirement, get fired up, do a lot of browsing, then wonder down other paths and forget.
    If anyone knows where one might be for sale, I’d appreciate an email.

    1. I have a hazeltine esprit dumb terminal it works and it looks like a VT100 ,,, it’s in really nice condition and it’s for sale if your interested reply back to me for more info ,,, thank you and have a safe and happy new year ,,,.

  6. Emulated old systems are not old and slow. You can run several old systems on a tiny board. The Net options are generally part of the board. All your other systems can access the emulated systems easily. Many users of these systems like console based OSes, even if their primary
    system is a ” mouse / windows ” system. Keep hacking and doing what you enjoy.

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