Discussion:
Just picked up my first MicroVAX, a 3400
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Alex Perez
2017-05-11 05:30:51 UTC
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Hey folks,

I'd like to introduce myself, and my first VAX acquisition, which is an "rtVAX 3400" which I made a lowball best-offer for on eBay, and picked up locally today. I have only powered it on headless, and it starts with the "6" on the hex-display, and ends at E, which I've read is often a memory problem, but I presume is not good :)

It came with your standard processor module, an eight-port CXY08-M serial QBUS module, a Dilog SQ739 SCSI controller, an M7622 5017155-01 32MB memory module, and a TQK70 tape drive controller (but no tape drive)

I've got a SCSI2SD unit, and would like to try booting NetBSD on it, for starters. Does anyone here have any recommendations? I have a VT420, but no MMJ cable.

I found the Dilog SQ739 manual at https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362

(or https://ia601909.us.archive.org/29/items/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362/2120-0209_SQ739_SCSI_MSCP_Disk_and_Tape_Controller_Oct91.pdf for the PDF version)

...but haven't really delved into where to go from here.
Steven Schweda
2017-05-11 05:48:18 UTC
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It came with [...]
Sounds like a relatively nifty antique. A working SCSI
adapter should greatly simplify interfacing disks (magnetic
or optical).
[...] I have a VT420, but no MMJ cable.
If you can't get hold of a real MMJ cable, it's possible
to carve a functional (if not rugged) substitute from a
normal RJ-whatever cable. (Use a sharp blade to chop off
about half of the wing, until it fits and (half-)latches.)
...but haven't really delved into where to go from here.
I'd start with trying to get a working console terminal.
The LED hex digit is generally less informative than a real
console.
j***@yahoo.co.uk
2017-05-11 07:46:51 UTC
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Post by Alex Perez
Hey folks,
I'd like to introduce myself, and my first VAX acquisition, which is an "rtVAX 3400" which I made a lowball best-offer for on eBay, and picked up locally today. I have only powered it on headless, and it starts with the "6" on the hex-display, and ends at E, which I've read is often a memory problem, but I presume is not good :)
It came with your standard processor module, an eight-port CXY08-M serial QBUS module, a Dilog SQ739 SCSI controller, an M7622 5017155-01 32MB memory module, and a TQK70 tape drive controller (but no tape drive)
I've got a SCSI2SD unit, and would like to try booting NetBSD on it, for starters. Does anyone here have any recommendations? I have a VT420, but no MMJ cable.
I found the Dilog SQ739 manual at https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362
(or https://ia601909.us.archive.org/29/items/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362/2120-0209_SQ739_SCSI_MSCP_Disk_and_Tape_Controller_Oct91.pdf for the PDF version)
...but haven't really delved into where to go from here.
Welcome to the world of VAX and MicroVAX and comp.os.vms.

Have you had much contact with Qbus and MicroVAX and such in the
past? If you're already familiar with that stuff, much of what
follows may be of little interest. But if it's unfamiliar, there
may be surprises ahead.

0) rtVAX

You mention rtVAX. Hopefully it's not relevant, and what you've
got is a standard (micro)VAX 3400 system, maybe one re-packaged
for industrial use. (If you bought the system recently sold by
Prism Electronics, it does say rtVAX3400 on the cabinet...).

Background: For a few years, DEC sold stuff badged as rtVAX
which was sometimes cheaper than the non-rtVAX equivalent
because the hardware had been specifically hobbled so it
wouldn't run VAX/VMS, but just DEC's own distributed
realtime OS, VAXELN. At other times, rtVAX just meant
that a standard system had been repackaged for use on
factory floors etc.

I can't remember whether the VAX 3000 series were subject
to this hobbling but the MicroVAX II/KA630 and
rtVAX1000/KA620 setups certainly were.

The hobbling was in the memory management innards, and
I'm not sure of its relevance to *BSD.

If you know that *your* system's current config has
previously run VAX/VMS, this caution probably doesn't
apply to you.

1) Documentation

There was lots of documentation for these systems. You may
want to get hold of some for the CPU side of things, from
places like Bitsavers which you've already found for other
stuff. E.g.
http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/dec/vax/3400/
has VAXserver 3400 manuals for Installation, and for
Operation, and a Technical Information manual too.
Doubtless lots more elsewhere. See what looks
interesting.

The processor card family in this system was probably
the one known as KA640. There's documentation around
under the KA640 label too in the same kind of places.
The available documentation for the KA640 includes a
service guide for field service folks, with huge
amounts of detail.

Somewhere among the various manuals will be something
aimed at system managers that explains the meaning of
the various stages on the LED display.

There's not really any such thing as "your standard
processor module", but that's not necessarily a problem.

Each DEC-originated card in the system will also have an
M-number on it too, e.g. a serial line card sold as a
CXY08 card might come with an M3119 label. Sometimes the
M numbers can be helpful too - you've mentioned some

Some of the Bitsavers PDF stuff hasn't been OCR'd and so
isn't readily searchable, in which case you might want to
OCR your copy (my Window boxes use a free product from
Tracker Software - PDF-Xchange Viewer - to do that).

[A VAXserver 3400 was a VMS-capable VAX 3000/400 sold with
a licence that didn't allow interactive use except for
system management]

2) QBus device configuration

It's a Qbus box, whose add-in cards follow Qbus configuration
rules, which may involve card addresses that change (via
jumpers?) depending on what cards are in the box. Sometimes
if things don't initially work as expected it can be a good
idea to remove everything which isn't essential, and see
what happens.

3) Do the built in ROMs support your chosen boot device?

This system comes from an era when SCSI as a boot device
on a VAX/VMS system may not have been widely supported. See
the relevant manuals for the system in question. There were
various ways around this, from DEC and from 3rd parties,
eg use a storage controller that appeared as a supported
device as far as software was concerned, but used SCSI
devices downstream.

4) Is it working yet?

There's probably a single-digit LED display on the processor
card, whose use and interpretation is described in the
relevant docs (assuming the system powers up in some kind of
fashion).

Beyond that you'll need a serial console of some kind (real or
emulated). It doesn't need to be VT-compatible, it does need
to be cabled correctly and at the correct speed. There may
be a speed select mechanism on the processor card.

Once you've got your serial console showing signs of life,
you're making good progress and nearly in the land of making
your chosen software work as desired.

Any help?

Have a lot of fun.
Steven Schweda
2017-05-11 12:30:37 UTC
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Post by j***@yahoo.co.uk
It's a Qbus box, whose add-in cards follow Qbus configuration
rules, which may involve card addresses that change (via
jumpers?) depending on what cards are in the box. Sometimes
if things don't initially work as expected it can be a good
idea to remove everything which isn't essential, and see
what happens.
Of course, if the cards were configured properly, then
removing one a card can spoil a valid configuration, too.
There's a standard method, using the console CONFIGURE or VMS
SYSGEN CONFIGURE command. (One of the many reasons to have a
real console terminal.)
Post by j***@yahoo.co.uk
[...] use a storage controller that appeared as a supported
device as far as software was concerned, but used SCSI
devices downstream.
Like that DILOG card, for example. My experience is
limited to other cards from other makers (CMD CQD-223/TM,
Emulex UC08), but they're all vaguely similar, in that they
appear to the system as supported [T]MSCP adapters. Again,
with a working console terminal, you can arrange to talk to
the card itself. (Or, connect a terminal to the card
itself.)

As I read the manual, the DILOG card does both disk and
tape, and automatically figures out which is which, so it may
be easier to deal with than a card which does only disk _or_
tape, (or only disk or only tape), or one which must be which
SCSI IDs are disk and which are tape.
Post by j***@yahoo.co.uk
[...] NetBSD [...]
This is a VMS group, of course, so you may find better
NetBSD info elsewhere, but some of us antique collectors can
be found here for hardware questions.
David Froble
2017-05-11 19:07:38 UTC
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Post by Alex Perez
Hey folks,
I'd like to introduce myself, and my first VAX acquisition, which is an "rtVAX 3400" which I made a lowball best-offer for on eBay, and picked up locally today. I have only powered it on headless, and it starts with the "6" on the hex-display, and ends at E, which I've read is often a memory problem, but I presume is not good :)
It came with your standard processor module, an eight-port CXY08-M serial QBUS module, a Dilog SQ739 SCSI controller, an M7622 5017155-01 32MB memory module, and a TQK70 tape drive controller (but no tape drive)
I've got a SCSI2SD unit, and would like to try booting NetBSD on it, for starters. Does anyone here have any recommendations? I have a VT420, but no MMJ cable.
I found the Dilog SQ739 manual at https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362
(or https://ia601909.us.archive.org/29/items/bitsavers_dilog21200kandTapeControllerOct91_1557362/2120-0209_SQ739_SCSI_MSCP_Disk_and_Tape_Controller_Oct91.pdf for the PDF version)
...but haven't really delved into where to go from here.
Not a fan of Q-bus systems, but, they did work ....

As for the MMJ cable, lots of people have the crimpers and terminals to build
them. Not a big problem. I've probably got spare MMJ cables laying around, and
could make a new one. Where are you? Don't want shipping to be 100 x the value
of the cable.
Phillip Helbig (undress to reply)
2017-05-12 05:22:00 UTC
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Post by David Froble
As for the MMJ cable, lots of people have the crimpers and terminals to
build them. Not a big problem. I've probably got spare MMJ cables
laying around, and could make a new one. Where are you? Don't want
shipping to be 100 x the value of the cable.
Do all VAXes have the MMJ connectors for the console, or are there some
with RS232? Certainly there are terminals with RS232 connectors.
Steven Schweda
2017-05-12 06:14:02 UTC
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Do all VAXes have the MMJ connectors for the console, [...]
I believe that old ones (in BA23 or BA123 cabinets, with
the rear-mounted bulkhead) used a (non-PC-like) 9-pin
D-connector, and newer ones (in BA213 and similar cabinets)
used CPU modules which had an MMJ hole on the ("dual-width,
with I/O") module cover.
Jason Howe
2017-05-12 17:14:42 UTC
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On Fri, 12 May 2017 05:22:00 +0000 (UTC), Phillip Helbig (undress to reply)
Post by David Froble
As for the MMJ cable, lots of people have the crimpers and terminals to build
them. Not a big problem. I've probably got spare MMJ cables laying around,
and could make a new one. Where are you? Don't want shipping to be 100 x
the value of the cable.
Do all VAXes have the MMJ connectors for the console, or are there some with
RS232? Certainly there are terminals with RS232 connectors.
You just need a db25 -> mmj adapter. I have two of them, closely guarded.

-- Jason

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