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Thread: Whence Alpha among the hobbyists?

  1. #11
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    I gave my Alphas away because they seemed too modern compared to my PDP-8 or PDP-11 systems.

    The RICM has one Alpha machine that would be fun to get running. It is a CRAY T3E-900 that has 36x 450 MHz 21164 DEC Alpha processors in it. I can't imagine how much power the system needs.
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  2. #12

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    I'd say today's cool factor of alpha based system is that it is really fast native OpenVMS system. I did not have much exposure to vax, so once I've got myself a vaxstation to play with and installed openVMS on it, I started to envy the speed of eisner server at decuserve. Then I've got alpha station, and was very happy with openVMS speed on it.

  3. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by m_thompson View Post
    I gave my Alphas away because they seemed too modern compared to my PDP-8 or PDP-11 systems.
    I think this is kind of the meat of it. Alphas are PCs with Alpha chips. "Whee"

    If you're an OpenVMS fan, then that's a different thing, as they're a nice platform for that.

    But from a hardware POV, meh, "it's just a PC". Running an Alpha with NetBSD looks and act like, well, running anything with NetBSD.

    The PDP stuff is popular because its large boxes of heat spewing blinkin lights, plus its heritage. VAX is popular because of it proprietary hardware and "whacky" OS (in contrast to what we deal with today). A tower Micro-VAX is a nice little chunk of vintage computing, bridging the 70's in to the late 80's, with the nice DEC design, they're not pig slow, and they can plug in to the wall without blasting your breakers. You don't need an 8600 to experience "VAX".

    But an Alpha? A PC running Windows. "Oh".

  4. #14
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    I thought it might as well be cosmetics more than anything.

  5. #15

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    I've actually always wanted an alpha since being wowed by their speed back in the 90s. Never got one though

  6. #16

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    I’ve had 3 alphas. I got the first one in college. It was a DEC 3000/700 and I think I paid like $35 for it. For a while I was bit by the alpha bug and I was very interested in them. I got an Aspen Systems Durango II that was basically a PC164LX, but somehow could run VMS when others didn’t. Later I grabbed a PC164 motherboard. At some point the prices on eBay started going up and I sold the PC164LX for more than I paid for it. Recently I’ve looked at getting another, and the prices are silly these days. I don’t understand how they are more now than they were 20 years ago.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by jafir View Post
    I’ve had 3 alphas. I got the first one in college. It was a DEC 3000/700 and I think I paid like $35 for it. For a while I was bit by the alpha bug and I was very interested in them. I got an Aspen Systems Durango II that was basically a PC164LX, but somehow could run VMS when others didn’t. Later I grabbed a PC164 motherboard. At some point the prices on eBay started going up and I sold the PC164LX for more than I paid for it. Recently I’ve looked at getting another, and the prices are silly these days. I don’t understand how they are more now than they were 20 years ago.
    People will dig them out and offer them for sale once is is worth the bother and or they get bored of them.
    What I collect: 68K/Early PPC Mac, DOS/Win 3.1 era machines, Amiga/ST, C64/128
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  8. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck(G) View Post
    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.
    I think there is a whole host of reasons why, but availability might be a big part. Physical VAXen and PDP are becoming limited, but people can also play with SimH for both and use the software. For me, picking up Alphas was easier, since 2005 I've collected:

    • 1 x AlphaStation 255/400 - has a hardware fault and haven't figured out the fix yet.
    • 2 x AlphaServer 800/500
    • 2 x AlphaServer 1200 (one was a NT only 5305 but you can fix that with an NVRAM patch)
    • 3 x MicroWay NumberSmasher 264DP servers which are close enough to a DS20 that OpenVMS runs and DEC firmware patches worked
    • 2 x AlphaServer DS10L
    • 2 x AlphaServer DS10
    • 1 x Workstation 433au
    • 2 x Workstation XP1000


    I only have one (physical) VAX - a MicroVAX 3100 Model 95 but a few SIMH emulated ones also.

    When we moved from Ohio to Texas in 2017 I gave away the AS800's, AS1200's, sold the DS10L's. I may still have the Workstation 433au but I think I gave that to the same guy as the AlphaServers.

    The DS10's were new acquisitions since arriving in Texas.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alegend View Post
    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.
    One of my XP1000's is going to a friend in trade for an Emulex UC07 QBUS SCSI controller for my PDP-11/53. Maybe a few other PDP-11 parts as well as he thinks he's getting the better side of the trade. Maybe so since I haven't seen an XP1000 listed anywhere in a while and the last ones were in the $800 range. Mine were much cheaper when I got them.

    Quote Originally Posted by g4ugm View Post
    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....
    All very true. By the time Alpha came along (1992) things were winding down for DEC. The writing wasn't on the wall yet, but the wall was being built.


    Quote Originally Posted by g4ugm View Post
    ... 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....
    Alphas were always OpenVMS or Digital UNIX first, but NT came along in time with the PWS (Personal Workstations) and the "white box" version of the AlphaServers.

    So far the DS10's, DS10L's and XP1000's have had no P/S problems (knock on wood) but my AS1200's did have a few failures and I have to find spares.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by m_thompson View Post
    . It is a CRAY T3E-900 that has 36x 450 MHz 21164 DEC Alpha processors in it. I can't imagine how much power the system needs.
    We used to have a DEC catalogue with the Cray MPP in it. As I remember its power requirements were quoted in MW rather than W or KW
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  10. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by m_thompson View Post
    I gave my Alphas away because they seemed too modern compared to my PDP-8 or PDP-11 systems.
    For me it’s the attraction of the early days of DEC coupled with the possibility of component level fault finding/fixing of both the electronic and mechanical subsystems. I’ve thought time to time of dumping my 11/93 and microvaxes because they’re more or less bland cream boxes with limited repair possibilities and much the same as running the OSs on SimH, just noisier. It’s not so much DEC themselves that’s the interest but the wealth of documentation they supplied in their early days that make for an interesting hobby. From a software viewpoint SimH has it all.

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