On 2019, Aug 28, at 2:56 PM, Clem Cole <clemc@ccc.com> wrote:

On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 1:32 PM Larry McVoy <lm@mcvoy.com> wrote:
Perhaps Clem can shed some light on why DEC did a MIPS machine? 
I did not work for DEC at the time and obviously, I was not in the room, so this is what I can say I picked up.  Supnik would be a better person to ask.  That said, some things I do know about the time/and behinds the scene.
  • Jupiter and Prism had been canceled. 
  • Alpha did not yet exist (and would not for another 2 years)
  • Cutler had left for Microsoft etc..
  • Sun was clearly on its game
  • The VAX on a Chip just was not cutting it
  • RISC architectures were the hot item
Here is where I get fuzzy on details.
  • I believe a prototype (i.e. skunk works) MIPS was running at WRL in Palo Alto running Ultrix and DEC windows, I think using some sort of cheap ??PC?? chassis.
  • But the performance of the prototype was excellent and cost was cheaper than the current vax products.
  • Somebody sr, maybe Bob, shows this to Sr management and got the money to productize it.  The issue as making an official Ultrix for it was I know a big one.  Ultimately, DEC farmed that work out to us at LCC (with us eventually taking over all of Ultrix - MIPS and Vax).
I was at the Digital Systems Research Center in Palo Alto between 1984 and 1989.  Also located in Palo Alto were the Western Research Lab (run by Forest Baskett), Workstation Systems Engineering, and the West Coast Systems Lab.  Steve Bourne was at one of these.

All were within a few blocks of each other and easy walking distance to “Louis’” chinese restaurant, whose official name was “The Little Restaurant”.  The rule was that you could not go to Louis' for lunch if you had eaten lunch there the day before.  

At the time, SRC was building multiprocessor research workstations with VAX chips (the Firefly, I did some of the hardware) and WRL was building an ECL RISC machine (the Titan).   WSE was started, I think, to commercialize a multiprocessor VAX workstation something like the Firefly.  WSL was a software group working on window systems and things like multimedia software.

The WSE machines became the VAXStation 3520 and 3540, code named FireFox (showing the ancestry I guess!).
The folks at WSE, I think with egging on from WRL, who were in the same building, then built the R2000 based “PMAX” and then the R3000 based “3MAX”.  These were rather nice machines for 1990 and 1991.  They also invented a flat attaching I/O card format “TurboChannel”.  The impression I has was that the RS6000 and the PA-RISC and the various MIPS machines put a large scare into Digital.

I don’t know how the politics worked for this.  The west coast was a long long way from Maynard.