Thoughts on vaxen....

Michael Sokolov msokolov at blackwidow.SOML.CWRU.Edu
Sun Aug 2 12:52:00 AEST 1998

   "User Rdkeys Robert D. Keys" <rdkeys at> wrote:
> What should one look for in a VAX?
> Say I was walking along through our state surplus agency (and I do that
> regularly these days, since all kinds of neato unicy goodies are popping
> up from a lot of folks going to NT toys), what kind of parts and pieces
> would I need to put together a minimal VAX, suited to some flavor of
> homegrown 32V/3BSD/4BSD, etc.
> [...]
> So, what parts by name and number should I keep an eye out for, so
> that enough of something might be cobbled together to work?
   Basically, you need a box that says "VAX" on it. :-) Now, there are all
kinds of different VAXen. If you want one that's capable of running
something other than VMS, you have to be really careful. 32V, 3BSD, and
4.0BSD run on the original VAX-11/780 ONLY. There is a VERY low probability
of you (or me) ever finding one. 4.1BSD and 4.2BSD extend this to 11/750
and 11/730, respectively, but these are still very big and scarce beasts.
If you are a REAL VAX patriot (one for whom VAXen are the ONLY computers),
none of this should matter to you anyway, since versions of UNIX before
4.3BSD are unfit for production use on ARPA Internet (the ones before
4.2BSD lack any networking whatsoever, and 4.2BSD lacks DNS).
   If your OS of choice is 4.3BSD, 4.3BSD-Tahoe, or 4.3BSD-Reno, you are in
a much better shape. All of them have kernel support for MicroVAX II, and
Reno (and possibly Tahoe) has support for MicroVAX III. It's still very
rudimentary, though. I personally haven't been able to get it booted yet!
Seeing how much work remains to be done to get Berkeley UNIX running on
MicroVAXen, I have decided to take a crack at it myself. I am actively
working on extending the VAX hardware support in 4.3BSD to MicroVAXen and
everything else not currently supported. My goal is to support everything
from 11/780 to 10000. Total world VAX domination!
   This is very long-term, though, and you probably want something sooner.
When I was faced with a pressing need to get one of my VAXen up and running
in May, my solution was (and still is) to run Ultrix. True, not having the
sources is VERY frustrating, and some DECisms like subsets, setld,
BIND/Hesiod, etc. really piss me off, but presently this is the closest you
can get to True VAX UNIX(R) that runs on something you or I can get our
hands on. (A note for those who subscribe both to this list and to
port-vax at PLEASE don't advertise your freebie toy here.
Fortunately, this list is for LICENSED UNIX(R).)
   If you want to assemble your VAX from parts, first realize that some of
them (BabyVAXen in my terminology) consist of a single system board. On the
other end of the spectrum there are huge beasts. Although they do consist
of a myriad of boards, they are so specialized that you are very unlikely
to ever find a board for one laying separately. The only VAXen that one can
realistically build from parts are Q-bus ones. To build one, you need a Q-
bus enclosure with a Q22-bus backplane, a Q-bus VAX CPU (KA6xx), and,
unless your CPU has on-board Ethernet and DSSI, Q-bus disk and tape
controllers and a Q-bus Ethernet interface (DEQNA or DELQA). Of course, you
also need the disk and tape drives themselves.
   Good luck!
   Michael Sokolov
   Phone: 216-368-6888 (Office) 440-449-0299 (Home) 216-217-2579 (Cellular)
   ARPA Internet SMTP mail: msokolov at blackwidow.CWRU.Edu

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