A 2,200 Pound Personal Computer

[Connor Krukosky] wanted to buy another computer. Even though he is only 18, he had his first computer at 18 months old. He’s had plenty since then and his interest in computers led him to pursue a career in electrical engineering. A few years ago, [Conner] started collecting vintage computers.

He’d bought up some Apple computers, terminals, and even a Data General minicomputer. Then he found a notice that Rutgers was auctioning off an IBM z890 mainframe computer. People warned [Conner] that this wasn’t a desktop workstation, it was a 2,200 pound case that probably wouldn’t fit through standard doors.

He was undeterred. He won the auction for under $240. The real expense, of course, would be moving it. He planned to make two trips: One to strip the machine to parts and bring some parts back and then a second trip to get the remaining parts.

You can see in the video below that he had a lot of adventure moving the beast. Things didn’t fit and even some excavation had to happen to get the computer in his basement.

Once all the parts were in place, he found problems with getting the machine back together. There was bad thermal compound, and it needed 220V 3-phase power at 30A and had an odd plug that needed work.

Did he get it to work? Watch the video below and find out. Surprisingly, we’ve covered mainframes a good bit before, although usually the computer in question is in a museum.

Thanks to [K5JMH] for the tip.

46 thoughts on “A 2,200 Pound Personal Computer

    1. And how is he? By the way, the Big Guy he bought communicates with an odd accent, it speaks with a NJ accent. I also know a chap who knows Connor and is some what envious of him. Although he owns a humongous museum of his own in Pitt PA area, he feels that way because the one who lives with Connor runs.

  1. I bought a Sun 2/170 used from my uni when I was I school. It wasn’t as heavy as this one but it did come with two half-racks, one of which held a 9 track tape drive. It had a Fujitsu hard disk that was two pounds per megabyte, as I recall. I think it weighed a couple hundred pounds. When it was seeking a lot during boot, you could feel the whole thing shake a bit.

    1. In a word “Nice!”, I’ve been trying to find members of that generation of Sun systems for a long while. The closest I came was a SPARC based UltraSPARC 5 system. It was my webserver, but now it only serves files for the shop, and grouches.

      1. I just last week started playing around with a Sun Ultra 10. I got for free about 5 or so years ago and (like a lot of my vintage computers) it’s been gathering dust since.
        It had Solaris 9, but I had no password for it. Put the disk in my Linux workstation and found I was unable to enable read support for UFS. Anyway, I could read the filesystem, and ‘John the Ripper’ only took 20 minutes to ‘recover’ the root password :)
        Now I have a fully functional (after I surgically fixed the drained NVRAM battery) Solaris machine, that I have absolutely no idea what to do with. It seems since the Oracle takeover, finding *anything* for these systems (at least on the web) is hard, be it information or software. Ideally, I’d like to get a hold of some precompiled ‘fun’ software to play around with. Now, I’m just sitting with a blank stare at the CDE, wondering if maybe I should just pack it all down again…

        1. I recently got a SS5 out of long term storage (friend returned it after we both forgot I loaned it out 15 years ago) and ran into the same problems. NVRAM was fixed with the usual battery hack, but the once plentiful free resources from Sun are apparently now gone. I did find my old Solaris 8 hobbyist CD, but I lack a SCSI CDROM, and I had no success with any of the online guides to Jumpstart over ethernet with a Linux server.

      2. Unfortunately the U5 you have is one of the least liked of the sun workstations due to it’s use of IDE and PCI rather than SCSI and sbus and other lower cost design decisions.

        Ultra 1 and Ultra 2 are nice for running Vintage software. I have an Ultra 10 whch is the tower version of the Ultra 5 also and used Blade 2500 and Ultra45 in school (they phased them out about halfway though my degree though :/

        If you don’t care as much about speed or ram a Sparcstation LX is quite nice if you want a box to set your monitor on that doubles as a nice little box to play around with (there was also the Sparcstation ZX that came with a 24bit ZX graphics accelerator card and a beefed up PSU I believe)

        I think my Ultra 10 will run Solaris 10 but … its rather slow. Unfortunately I don’t own any of the somewhat faster workstations… just a T2000 which is fine for multithreaded stuff but dog slow otherwise (single FPU for the whole cpu and it has in order execution)

      1. And how. I plugged mine in and flipped on the triple-gang circuit breaker on the back panel and it roared to life. After it stabilized, I tried to boot it, but it didn’t work.

        Only then did I notice the big switch on the front labeled “Spin up.”

        And THEN it started making noise!

  2. I’ve played with http://www.hercules-390.eu/ and worked where big mainframes were used but actually acquiring one and getting it working is an amazing thing to do, I don’t think I’ve ever been that dedicated at anything I’ve done. If Connor can chase down goals like that I imagine that one day when he is given a big budget and a hard real world task he will do extraordinary things with the opportunity.

  3. Reminds me of when my school got rid of a couple of Pr1me computers. There was no way I had space for the 9950 (several server racks) but I ended up with a 2350 which was the size of a large tower PC, with two external 300MB CDC hard disks that were 56kg each, and a 9 track tape drive that was slightly lighter.

    The hard disks generated a lot of heat and noise so I couldn’t leave it on for a long time. The motors drew so much power that they almost but not quite tripped the (220V 16A) breaker while running; I had to configure them for staggered startup because during spin-up, they used even more power.

    Alas, when I emigrated, I had to trash all of it; I wish I would still have it because there is almost no information available online about Pr1me computers.

  4. Reminds me of the time I bid on a surplus IBM AS400 F35. Work didn’t want it, IBM spares didn’t want it, so the supply department advertised it for auction.

    AUD$10.00 got me a fully-functional refrigerator-sized AS400 – except the operating system licence was non-transferable, so it would have cost me $$$$$.00 for another. It also wanted a 240VAC 30amp supply. A neighbour with a truck owed me a favour, so transport cost was zero. I had SO much fun pulling that thing apart – logic boards, hard drives, even the internal power supply, batteries and service processor. I’ve still got the CPU board and the service processor, but the rest is gone. I was going to use the rack as a cabinet for a home-made freezer, but never got around to it.

  5. I will never understand vintage computer collection. Vintage clocks yes, vintage cars yes, vintage furniture yes, vintage electronics ehhh I guess, but vintage computers…no thanks. Something about that oven like qualities and the click and clack of it doing something that took 1kw of power…it just doesn’t do it for me. Now, classic computers I can understand. It’s something from my childhood, something I’d like to experience again. I just don’t need to experience loading a refrigerator sized sound box into my home to relive the feeling of whole house heating while doing basic addition. I’m sure the people buying up these things are enjoying it, so I can’t blame them. I just don’t understand them.

    1. Well, in my case it wasn’t quite “vintage” at the time. It was out-of-date, but it still ran SunOS 3 when SunOS 4.1 was still the current rev.

      I made what I still claim is a nearly unique computing transition – I went straight from Apple ][ to Sun. ProDOS to SunOS. The first “PC” I ever bought I loaded with FreeBSD.

    2. I love em! Had nearly 80. I think it stems from being introduced at an early age and how they augment the imagination of kids.The early computers had quirks style and character. Nothing like the bland beige boxes that the X86 revolution ushered in. Plus, you get to own the models that you fantasised about but couldn’t afford to buy, dirt cheap. Well, dirt cheap until people on e-bay realised that they could scalp enthusiasts.

      1. You know I am only 36 years old now, but I remember back when I was Like 14 yo, a friend of my sister dropped off what seemed like 20 or so x86 pc’s with monochrome screens and some keyboards. Told me he doesn’t know what works and what doesn’t. From those i build up like 5 working ones but only hat 1 working screen. The memory chips were like actual chips you add directly on the motherboard. The HDD’s were like 10 to 20mb, but took up a whole 5″ tray and sounded like an aircraft warming up it’s jet engines. I really had fun, i remember it took allot to fill that 20 mb space hahahaha.

        If I am not mistaken I had two games I ran on those, one was King’s Quest and the other was Leisure Suit Larry hahaha

    3. Why would you want a vintage car!
      They are slow, have terrible emissions, the brakes are terrible and no seat belts or airbags, The AC if they have any is not going to be great and you will be lucky to have an AM radio!

    4. I’d love one, but I couldn’t cope with it in my house. I still occasionally dream of getting a load of Wyse 60 terminals and a Honeywell Bull Unix System V machine, and stringing the terminals around the place, use them to chat from the bedroom to the front room, stuff like that. Was a 68020 with 12MB RAM, back when RAM was horribly bloody expensive. It’s what I learned Unix / C / COBOL on at college. Me and a dozen others at the same time. C makes a lot more sense on a Unix system, they’re designed for each other.

      We had SO many shell scripts doing stuff for us. I wrote a multi-player game, and a version of Space Invaders, among actual coursework. It’s pretty rare you’ll see an actual green-screen terminal these days. The system was new at the time, but still pretty obsolete really, early 1990s, just before everyone got PCs on their desks. So was COBOL.

      Was also fun to mess with /etc/passwd. The file was protected (rw-r–r– I think), but for some reason any user was able to delete it. So, make your own copy of passwd, delete the real one, then plop yours in, on a running system. I think the prob was, users shouldn’t have write access to the /etc directory itself, which would stop them being able to delete files in there. Am I right? Admin didn’t know that. Fortunately it was only used for training students, so nobody died.

  6. I thought about buying something like that too and play around with it, but I already have almost no space and could never find enough for a full rack. Also I live in the country with the second highest energy cost in the world, so I could only run it for a few hours or it would become expensive. The largest thing I have is a IBM x3550 server that I got for about 50€ on ebay and use for tests with ESXi. As rack I use a ikea table, fits perfectly.

  7. Any youngsters wanting to get some old mini/mainframe skillz that will make them a lot of money… Find a used AS400 with the OS still intact on the boot drive. there are TONS of companies out there still running AS400’s and people that know them can command $50 an hour easily.

    1. I used to know someone who did databases on an IBM, a Z machine I think. Late 1990s. He charged 400 quid a day, and since I knew a bit of this and that, charged me out for a couple of hundred too. Didn’t work every day, but for a company that doesn’t need much computer admin done (those reliable IBMs), it was cheaper to pay him than to take someone on full time.

      This job was hooking up the IBM to a PC that controlled an enormous multi-million pound fabric dyeing machine. The machine was a pain in the arse, but the eventual solution was pretty simple, took a few days.

      One thing I remember, all the database files had charming 6-letter all-caps names. That comes from back in the day, 6-bit characters on a 36-bit machine. In this case I think it was just a hangover from older machines.

  8. Apparently the journey continues as Connor picked up a cache of oldies but goodies at VCF-SE 4.0 this weekend to take back in the family RV and Dad didn’t appreciate the super-cool factor of it! Keep collecting Connor. We love ya!

  9. My main curiosity would be, does he still live with his parents? If so, It’s incredibly nice of them to let him keep this nice unit. Personally my parents just about never let me keep test equipment, and i’m still upset about my bag of resistors they threw out..

      1. Oh wow, Nice! which era? 70’s? HP/TEK sure made some nice units back in the day. Me my self being a retro test equipment enthusiast. I’m known at my hackerspace as the scope hoarder xD

        1. 50’s through 70’s. Mostly tube stuff and early analog sampling(which is mind blowing stuff), but I like some of the 7k series, as specially their early attempts at digital plugins (7D01, 7D02, 7D20). The 519 and 661 are the current crown jewels of the collection, and there’s a 514 on the bench right now in the middle of restoration. I have an appalling amount of oscilloscopes in an NYC apartment…
          All the gory details here: paulcarbone.com/blog

    1. Is there really any money in gold plating? It’s micrometres thick. Even with high gold prices. I’ve heard of people “scrapping” but it seems more like a way of making money selling manuals to naive rubes than actually doing it.

      1. Not to mention the chemicals and acids you need to remove the gold. Then you still have to refine that gold again to get something pure. I’d bet you might break even.

      2. In 1982-1990 I worked for Sperry Univac, on mainframe computers. They had full backplanes that had gold plated pins. Any damaged or scrapped boards where put into a secured metal container. I think there was enough gold to make them valuable for recycling. I’m not sure of how much plating has changed since then. Today, the plating is probably so thin it doesn’t make it worth salvaging? The IBM z890 is from 2004. I guess that’s a bit more modern.

    1. Nice! But, one ECL gate goes wrong, and I think you’d be ringing your local spirit medium to get Seymour Cray on the line. They can’t be easy to fix. Then there’s the plumbing!

      You can probably emulate it on your desktop now. Or on your phone.

  10. I did something similar when I was 20. An eBay auction came up selling a bulk lot of hundreds of pieces of Apple hardware for some paltry sum, I think a few hundred dollars. This was equipment spanning the Apple II era all the way to the G5. The catch? The gear was sitting in a large barn in the middle of the outback. We’re talking rural Australia, a five hour drive from Melbourne and probably almost as much from Sydney.

    I work as a chemist at a university in Melbourne. It turned out that the computer controlling the microwave spectrometer in our department (a venerable Mac IIci) had gone bust and the machine, custom-engineered and the only one of its kind in the world, was on the verge of being scrapped. From this chance happening, I managed secure some cash to haul the lot in exchange for bringing back a handful of IIci’s that were in the lot. I set about outfitting my Ford Falcon for the trip, hired a trailer (with a dodgy trailer light and the wrong kind of license), only for my transmission to give out barely out of the city. I had to spend the rest of the cash replacing the transmission and extending the lease on the trailer so I could bring it back from its mooring on the other side of the city. Undeterred, I requisitioned a little more funding and made the trip up on the train, coming back in the owners’ truck. The owner fortuitously needed to pick up some items in Melbourne. This trip was successful and I later made a second trip to pick up the remainder of the good bits of stock.

    Of course I was living with my parents at the time, so the garage bore the full brunt of a literal tonne of Apple gear. I still haven’t done anything with the stuff. I do pay my parents rent (in addition to my own apartment rent) to stop them getting it all carted off…

    I almost bought the pair of PDP/11’s that had controlled Melbourne’s train network for 30 years when I was 15, but that’s another (less interesting) story.

    1. Reminds me of the times I bought a bunch of computer hardware from a hospital auction.
      Was mostly PC hardware some of it collectable PS/2s ended up selling a lot of it for a lot more then I paid.

      Also had a chance when I was a teenager to get a Vector graphic S100 and an IBM 5120 for cheap as most people didn’t know vintage computers were worth something at a the time kinda regret not getting them.

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