Computers Sharing My Home

There are currently nine general-purpose computers sharing my home. Five of them are active, and the other four are pretty much just taking up space at the moment. I also have one X-terminal. In order of acquisition, they are:

AMI Phoenix

Description:

Who made it:

American Microsystems, Inc. - a semi-custom chip manufacturer which was bought by Gould in the late '70s and merged into their Biomation division.

What makes it special:

The Phoenix was the first microprocessor development station available for less than $5,000. (When it was released, the cheapest competitor was about $15,000.) The OS and all utilities, assemblers, simulators, etc. also ran on all of the other major development stations available at the time, with total binary portability.

Why I got it:

I was the primary software architect for AMIX, the system programming environment, and many of the end-user tools and utilities.

Current Use:

None

Plans for future:

I still have a bunch of the software. I'd like to copy it to one of the unix boxes; then donate the whole thing to a technology museum.

SOLOsystems 1116

Description:

Who made it:

SOLOsystems was a startup company. The 1116 was the only product they produced during their three year existance. The company suddenly went Chapter 13 (bankruptcy - immediate liquidation of assets) due to the unexpected pullout of the investors. The 1116 was doing fairly well in Beta at that point; and had sparked considerable interest.

As a side note - they considered the hardware being produced by the slightly younger and smaller Sun Microsystems; but rejected it. The rejection was based on a few, relatively minor, technical details; and on the reluctance of the investors to bet on both a software company (SOLOsystems), and a hardware company (Sun) succeeding...

The Sun-100 purchased for the evaluation was the first unit that Sun Microsystems sold; and sat on my desk until SOLO failed. Sun then bought it back at the auction. It was prominently featured in their 5 year anniversary celebration; and then displayed in their corporate lobby for several years. It is now on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Science and Technology.

What makes it special:

One of the very first workstations ever built; and one of the first to incorporate removable hard disk technology.

Why I got it:

I was the principal architect of the OS, implementation language and compiler, program editor, and various system tools. After SOLOsystems failed, the former employees had the option to purchase existing hardware at reasonable prices.

Current Use:

None

Plans for future:

Again, I'd like to copy all of the software to a newer system and donate the 1116 and media to a technology museum.

Commodore Amiga 1000

Description:

Who made it:

Commodore Business Machines, Inc.

What makes it special:

This was the first home computer that came with a full preemptive multi-tasking OS. The custom co-processors and audio/video capabilities made it an interesting machine for hobbiests and game writers. It supported both Graphical User Interface and command-line access.

It was also one of the first computers of any size with true plug-and-play auto-configuration of expansion devices. (No dip-switches, no jumpers, no slot-specific addresses...)

The floppy disk capacity was increased from 770Kb to 880Kb by writing each track as a single huge sector, with no sector gaps. (That's a 14% increase with no change to media or disk hardware.)

And in the purely cosmetic area, it was packaged in an attractive low box with a bay in the front that you could slide the keyboard into to get it out of the way.

Why I got it:

I wanted a system that somebody else was supporting, and that had commercial software available.

Current Use:

None.

Plans for future:

None. It ought to be good for something, but I don't know what... (Note that I'm using the monitor from this system on the 2000.)

Commodore Amiga 2000

Description:

Who made it:

Commodore Business Machines, Inc.

What makes it special:

Interesting expansion bus layout. The cards were the same form-factor as full-length ISA boards; but the edge connector was at the other end of the board. This let them layout the main board so that there were two slots that had both Zorro-II (Amiga) and ISA connectors. Bridge boards were available that provided a PC as a co-processor and made the ISA bus available to the Amiga OS.

Why I got it:

Better performance and more expandable than the Amiga 1000. The better Amiga software available at the time required the extra video RAM not available on the 1000.

Current Use:

Ruth Ann uses it to keep track of her checking and savings accounts, and to play games.

Plans for future:

Uncertain.

Commodore Amiga 4000/040

Description:

Who made it:

Commodore Business Machines, Inc.

What makes it special:

Additional video modes for more colors and resolution than previous Amigas. Memory mapper capable of supporting demand-paged virtual memory. (Available on previous Amigas only via processor upgrade boards.)

Why I got it:

I thought the extra resolution would make it more likely that I would actually spend the time to do some software development or porting for it.

Current Use:

Ruth Ann uses it for word processing and some games. It drives our HP DeskJet 550C.

Plans for future:

Uncertain. I may install NetBSD on it and put it on the LAN. This will require buying a Zorro-III to ISA bridge board to get access to an Ethernet card. There are (were?) one or two Zorro-II/III Ethernet cards but the bridge/ISA solution is slightly cheaper, and gives me access to two more ISA slots for cheap serial/parallel/etc. It might make a great printer server, capable of handling all three printers.

Sun SPARCstation 1+

Description:

Who made it:

Sun Microsystems, Inc.

What makes it special:

Why I got it:

I like Sun hardware and software, and got a good deal on it.

Current Use:

Just after I got the SS2 (see below), this one stopped booting, and I haven't had the time to track down why. Currently it is just taking up space.

Plans for future:

It's getting old and slow enough that it probably isn't worth the trouble to fix any more. I'll probably pull the disk and RAM, and maybe the floppy, and get rid of the pizzabox and main board. (Keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. will be kept as spares.)

WorkForce 486

Description:

Who made it:

Some PC-clone systems integrator...

Why I got it:

I was working on a speculative venture targetted at Windows (because that's where the market is. Sigh.)

Current Use:

Various.

Plans for future:

Continue word processing, finances, and program development.

Build a FreeBSD system disk so that I can try some BSD kernel/util hacking without disrupting my gateway machine.

I'd love to install Solaris-x86 (2.4 or later)

homebuilt 486

Description:

Who made it:

Err, I guess I did... I bought the various parts separately and put them together.

What makes it special:

Why I got it:

The serial ports on the SPARCstation 1+ only go to 38.4Kbaud; and any higher-speed interface is a bit pricey for my personal pocket. Dedicated routers run about what I paid to put this machine together, but wouldn't give me the flexability and control that a BSD unix system (including system sources) does. And it gives me another platform that I can use to work from home.

Current Use:

Internet gateway, Web server, etc. Some general computing

Plans for future:

If I can justify the cost, I'd like to move to a higher-bandwidth connection. This machine should be able to support it easily.

Sun SPARCstation 2

Description:

Who made it:

Sun Microsystems, Inc.

What makes it special:

Why I got it:

I picked it up used as a cheap upgrade to the SS1+.

Current Use:

This is my primary workstation. I use it for program development, reading mail and netnews, etc. Also as a remote display for the other unix machines.

Plans for future:

I'd like to replace it with a newer SPARCstation, but haven't figured out how to justify the cost. Until then, it will remain my primary workstation.

Pagine C2000A X-Terminal

Description:

Who made it:

Pagine, Inc.

What makes it special:

Why I got it:

I picked it up used as a -very- cheap way to allow someone else to use the unix machines while I'm logged into the main console. Particularly, I had hoped to let my domestic partner log in to the SPARCstation and run some Windows apps under WABI. (She is not a computer geek, and uses Windows at work.)

Current Use:

Not often used. It turns out that Pagine went out of business and I haven't been able to get a full copy of the software for it. Also, I can't get WABI to display to it. This may be because I don't have the full software distribution; or it may be some problem with WABI -vs- old X-Terminals.

Plans for future:

I'd like to get the full software distribution for it and brint it on-line.

Pat Lashley, <patl@Phoenix.Volant.ORG> | <pmlashley@earthlink.net>
Last modified: Tue Nov 21 21:11:29 1995