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Thread: Whence Alpha among the hobbyists?

  1. #1
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    Default Whence Alpha among the hobbyists?

    Please pardon a simple question from a non-DEC (at least since the 11/750 VAX) user, but why the enthusiasm for the PDP-11 and small VAXen, but nary a mutter about Alpha?

    Just curious is all.

  2. #2
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    For me it's because I had the opportunity to get PDP and Vaxen but an Alpha is rare and expensive. One of the times I was most shocked by the performance of a machine it was a small Alpha that blew the doors off the machines I was using on a daily basis.

    In fact if anyone in the UK would like to donate an Alpha to me, that would be lovely.


    Cheers,

    Andy.

  3. #3
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    Andy, I've just given two Alpha's away and I had to leave some behind in work as I didn't have the space in the car to shift them with the other kit i saved. I will have another of our offices to move in the future so I will keep you in mind if I rescue any from there and Leicester would be on the way back from that office.

  4. #4
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    My interest in having PDP-11 comes from fixing PDP-11/23's, 11/73's and 11/70's in my first job. I trained on maintaining many of the VAX range and in 1994 attended an Alpha maintenance class at DEC near the Solent but didn't really fix that many before I moved on to another employer. One of my customers now still has a lot of AlphaServers, ES40 up to GS160 with storage on EVA, they will be going to the scrapyard in the sky soon and nope that customer won't let me have any So I now have a small collection of PDP-11, Vaxen and Alpha. I have an interesting Alpha PICMG in my collection running Tru64, I'll have to dig that out as I haven't powered up for a while.

  5. #5
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    Back in the early 'aughts the Weirdstuffs of the world had stacks of small Alpha systems; couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a DEC Multia. I'll admit I turned down several opportunities to take home a free one. I knew several people that had them doing trivial desktop server things under Linux or NetBSD because, you know, back then we went through this phase where running those OSes on something that wasn't "mainstream" was somehow intrinsically interesting, but I think by the time an opportunity for a free one came up I'd already kind of soured on that with Sun boxes.

    Maybe part of the problem is your typical desktop Alpha machine tends to be *very* PC-like, with EISA or PCI slots and mostly slightly modified PC adapter cards, so they're just not particularly "interesting". Also might not help that a lot of the DEC Alpha workstations shipped with the Windows NT-friendly BIOS instead of the Unix/VMS one? (We all know what an amazing success Windows NT on Alpha turned out to be in the end.) The only Alpha machines I ever saw in "production" (at a college in the mid-late 1990's) were Multias with NT on them.(*)

    (* Actually, technically, several early NetApp controllers had Alphas in them too, I think I've "touched" one of them, but those don't really count, do they.)
    My Retro-computing YouTube Channel (updates... eventually?): Paleozoic PCs

  6. #6

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    I think the other part is that the Alpha was too late in the game and around for too short a time to really acquire the kind of cultural cachet that the earlier DEC systems did. The -11 and the VAX both loom large in the history and lore of hacker culture, but unlike the -10 (and like the -8) they were minicomputers (and then micros,) manageable enough that mere mortal hobbyists could actually manage the care and feeding, if they could source one. Accessible, but cool. Alphas, on the other hand, turned out some impressive numbers and saw plenty of use out in the field, but in the '90s everyone was making RISC *nix systems, and they didn't have the flash-'n-dazzle factor of your SGIs.

    That said, I still find them nifty. Need to get around to setting up Tru64 on my hacked-up PC164 rig one of these days...
    Computers: Amiga 1200, DEC VAXStation 4000/60, DEC MicroPDP-11/73
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  7. #7

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    I once swapped a fully loaded Alphastation for a QBUS SCSI controller, just so I can bring a MicroVAX II back to life. I think Alpha is too new, too fast, and too similar to a profusion of other RISC and PeeCee workstations of the time. Old MicroVAXen and PDPs are 'primitive' enough to be much more interesting...

    -Alon.

  8. #8
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    I have an AXPpci/33 Alpha system I put together from scratch. Bought the board from DEC directly, installed it into a tower case and added the appropriate extra bits. Ran NT and Linux, but mostly Linux starting with the first Alpha version (0.94 ish?) downloaded from the net on 30 some odd floppy images. I used it as my primary home computer for several years. Currently it has RedHat 5 something and NetBSD on it. I use it to transfer data to/from floppies for older systems.

  9. #9

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    My VAXes are all ebay finds (Florida kinda sucks for vintage computing) and they were affordable within reason when I found them.

    Alpha's, DEC or Compaq, are still pricey. Even the same VAXes I bought are now in the thousand dollar range.

    So yeah, I'd love an Alpha if I could get one
    Collector of all things Digital, but mostly VAXes and corporate knick-knacks (books, mugs, etc).
    VAXes: VAX 4000-100A, VAXstation 3100-30, VAXserver 3100, VAXstation 4000 VLC
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  10. #10
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    I think VAX and PDP-11s are the stuff legend is made of. Kernigan and Richie did most UNIX development on the PDP-11. Much of BSD was developed on VAX.
    When DEC was producing PDP and VAX they were still the machines of upstarts and challengers to corporate culture.
    They were exciting. They came with lots of technical documentation...
    To me they are still exciting....

    ... then along came Alpha. To me in many ways it was just a fast PC. How can a real computer have PCI slots? In fact PCI slots are a problem, not all cards work....

    .. the other issues with Alphas is that they are still expensive. The PSUs seem temperamental, and a lot of the stuff out there were originally Windows boxs....

    .. but they definitely have there following. I recently acquired an Alpha Server 1000 which is big. and I haven't had time to try it..

    .. I suppose I might be persuaded to pass it on....
    Dave
    G4UGM

    Looking for Analog Computers, Drum Plotters, and Graphics Terminals

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