Quite frankly, I'm too young to be able to brag about having grown up with puch cards, PDP-11s and VAXen. My computer career started in 1984 at age 15 on the Highschool's CBM computers and then my very own C64. Duh! But I have read an article about the VAX 11/780 back then and I wanted to get one. Then I went on with PCs and got hooked to UNIX. I'm with BSD since 386BSD 0.0new. I ended up working for a place where they used VAXen extensively, and now I'm giving their old stuff a decent retirement home. I learned just as much VMS that I could go my way but -- frankly (and no offense) -- I hate VMS and seek to avoid it where I can. Luckyly, the 4.x branch of BSD Unix has been designed for the VAX and NetBSD has revitalized this great tradition.

VAX 6000/400


My first VAX is (going to be) a 6000/400. I will hook it up to my household power supply on a 220V 15A branch in my basement. Then I will have to hunt for an SCSI adapter for this machine and I'll hook up some SCSI disks. First I will hunt for an Ultrix tape to get this going. Then I will try to squeeze some time to help Anders Magnusson and others to get NetBSD fully operational on this machine. If I can't find an Ultix tape to start with, I might have to use VMS for a transition period, just to try out whether all parts are working.

If this all works out, I might very well be hooked to a new hobby. And I will collect each and every VAX related item that I can get my hands on. (My dream is still a VAX 11/780.)


As I work on this project, you will see status updates and lots of images appear on this web page. As of now, I am just lucky to have some fellow colleagues to guide me in this endeavour. I'm following in the footsteps of the following two projects:

Project: VAX 6000 model 410

The Vax 6000 Series Website


3/31/2001: I found out that one can get quite a few DSSI disk drives on e-bay pretty cheap. I also may get an affordable DSSI adapter for my 6000. If everything works well, I should be all set with disks by next week.

3/31/2001: I am hopeful I can get Ultrix from somewhere

4/2/2001: Inventory of machines and parts: There are 4 VAXen named VAX1, STORK, EAGLE, and USRDEV. Standard cabinet, all labeled VAX 6000-420 on the front panel. No disks at all. VAX1 and STORK about same age. VAX1's power unit is flaky if not broken. One of the machines (probably VAX1) has a problem with the connection to the ethernet card (cable broken?)

4/2/2001: I learned that I can put as many as 6 processors into one machine, which I will do using VAX1's processors. I could also add all of VAX1's RAM for a total of 640 MB, but not if I add two processors. The DSSI card is also an XMI card, which leaves me down with one free slot for a total of 544 MB. If I could get a 128 MB memory board for 4 32 MB boards, I could get it up to 640 anyway. Ah! The beauty of this machine is that you can beef it up :-).

4/2/2001: Gee, I don't get the VAX into my basement! The thing is 78 cm wide and must go through at least 2 doors that are only 72 cm wide. Guess I'll keep it in the garage for now. May be disassemble-move-reassemble. Both strategies have problems. Garage is not fully heated/climatized, and Indy weather has its extremes. OTOH, getting the millions of cables and screws back together w/o damage or screw-ups is a challenge too. Will start out in garage and monitor conditions, then when I am more familiar with it, I may move it downstairs.

4/3/2001: Won the bidding on 2 GB DSSI drive via eBay for $102.50. Acceptable though not cheap. About the price of a new IDE drive of even greater capacity. Still about 1/4 of what the VAX-stuff retailers charge you.

4/xx/2001: I disassembled VAX1 and have done a series of photographs documenting the anatomy of a VAX 6000-420.

4/yy/2001: Brian and I brought the other three VAXen home.

4/zz/2001: Yes, I can get the VAX through my doors and down into the basement where it is nice and cool all year round. Doesn't it fit neatly next to the washer and dryer :-)

4/22/2001: We're making progress with the power issue. It appears now that all I need is a receptacle connected to the 2-phase dryer line, connecting P1 to L1 and P2 to L2 and L3, N to N and pGND to pGND. Challenge is to get such a receptacle, can't be bought at your favorite home improvement store. We'll have a detailed description of the whole power story available in the near future, for now refer to this month's archive of

5/21/2001: I tried powering on the VAX. It ran for 15 minutes with indicator lights signaling things were in reasonable shape, but suddenly the power would break down. The system is dead since then, just the clicking of the main power relay is being heard when turning the key. Not unlike sitting in a car whose computer is dead ... just that this computer is better not dead! Read the full story here.

5/25/2001: Finally I got the machine up and running. Someone must have swapped the known faulty power and logic box between what was VAX1 and USRDEV. I have changed my wiring strategy a little bit though. See summary here.

5/26/2001: Received a KDB50 adapter set (T1002 and T1003) for $40. This will connect to the SDI disk (RA90 and RA92) once I have those. But oops, no cab kit included. Major trouble. See how I get out of this one :-)

The Airpax blower motors are prone to die when taken out of service after 10 years of 24/7 work. I only have 3 working blowers out of 6! Not even enough to run two machines.

6/17/2001: Meanwhile I have found a better offer for KDB50 with cab kit for the same $40 that I got just the cards from. This is a real nice vendor. I had problems getting the cab kits installed right, the thing to remember is pulling the crews quite tight.

Finally I have my main VAX down in the basement. We didn't have enough people, so my friend Andreas String helped me screw the things out of the cabinet so that we two could handle it. While he drove back to Cleveland I put everything back together, and it works even better than before :-)

Real nice people are helping out with drives and stuff. Will post a list of acknowledgements here soon.

10/20/2001: My first VAX treck! Got a Penske rental truck, a 16' diesel with a hydraulic lift gate. Drove 980 miles total (at $59/day + 10 cents/mile! You can only get that deal at Penske on long hauls, but be sure to ask, since this is actually the business rate. Privatiers are being charged twice as much per mile.) Brought home a full truck including the following items:

  • 1 VAX 6000-510 and another remainder of a 6000-510, consolidated makes one 6000-520 with 64 or 128 MB of RAM.
  • 2 star coupler panels labeled "A" and "B". Along with a lot of CI cable to go with it.
  • 2 HSC90. Now I coul build a very serious VAX cluster ... if I had the room for it that is.
  • 2 SA600 disk extension cabinets each fully loaded with 8 RA90 drives. Another lot of SDI cabling to go with it. Also 2 or 3 RA90 and 2 RA92 drives extra. The extra drives were pretty dirty from being stored in a barn together with lots of birds (yet at least one of them seems to actually work!)
  • 2 TU81 PLUS tape drives and one TU78 tape drive.
  • A box full of precious original documentation, system tapes both TK cardriges and 9-track reels.
  • Several terminals VT320 and 330 and terminal printers. I gave away two terminals and one printer along the way.
  • A really big impact printer in a cart/pedestal. Prints on that 11 (or more?) inch wide paper with the gray/green stripes.
  • A DEC server 500 (PDP-11 with Q-bus? and Ethernet card plus serial MUXen.) With manuals and stuff. I gave away the server to Isildur, manuals and stuff will be in the mail.
  • A lot of thick-wire ethernet cable. More miscellaneous cables.
  • A box full of items removed from an interesting but dust-covered VAX 6000-310. Items I rescued include such rare items as: a blower that works (RARE :-); a KDM70 (XMI to SDI); and -- tatatata! -- an emergency power supply battery-pack. Also another DMB32 and KLESI-B, with the cab kit stuff, of course.
The bulk of this comes from Micheal McCabe, himself a DEC collector who had rescued a machine room from a local newspaper company. He did an excellent job of rescuing *everything* that's needed, including cabling software and manuals (he only barely left the air-conditioning system behind :-)

More detail about this VAXtreck, plus pictures are coming up soon. Stay tuned.

10/26/2001: Man, an HSC90 cannot be disassembled to move, it has to go in a piece. There is no way to drop off significant weight. It's a mystery how they have assembled it in the first place, but I have independent confirmation that it is not reasonably possible to take it apart and back together undamaged.

10/28/2001: the VAX 6460 boots for the first time: VMS 5.4. All 6 CPUs join the processor pool man that looks good! I learned a few important lessons:

  • You have to have 3 SDI cables and 2 bulkheads in the way for SDI to be connected properly. That's because SDI bulkheads seem to cross over the wires.
  • Be careful about dust in RA90 drives. An innocent leg from a dead spider can cause a short circuit and blow fuses or even cause permanent damage to the drive.
  • You can't boot from a TU81+ via KLESI-B. Very disappointing!
  • Ultrix 4.1 does not work for VAX 6400. My unlucky attempts booting from an Ultrix 4.1 TK50 are not due to bad tape or drives but because it just isn't supported properly.

11/13/2001: Slowly I get order into the chaos and stuff moved from my wife'spart of the garage into the basement where my "computerroom" is under construction in the laundry room. I have somethinglike 24 rolls of SDI cable sorted through and 16 rolls of CIcable. The TU81+ is in the basement along with the RA81 assembled into the TU81+'s rack. Just today I moved one SA600 with those 8 RA90s. Man if I ever have to move out of my house ... it won't be fun to get this stuff up the stairs.

10/xx/2001: I visited a friend in Houston. We have sighted a VAX 11/785 although on a scrap yard and not in good condition. A breathtaking collection of big iron: 8650s, even a VAX 9000. Some remains of a PDP8/A I will get from there.

Also David Williams ( gave passed upon me his PDP8/A things, which are 1 and a half PDP8 machines. I have one of them working and wait to get the stuff from that yard to get the second one up. The set included two RK05J drives, which was initially a little more than I bargained for, but I look forward to having them shipped to me now.

12/xx/2001: I got an Ultrix 4.3 CD ROM from which I will make myself a boot tape. Hope that gets the VAX 6000-460 away from VMS.

1/21/2001: Short visit at Brian Wheeler in Bloomington, IN. He gave me an RA82 and some parts from another RA8x plus a uVAX II. Thanks Brian! I am a big-VAX collector but I do appreciate the uVAX II for its historical significance (first VAX that was affordable for a single department or laboratory.) An inventory of cards.

1/22/2001: In just a few days I will get myself a VAX 11/780. I am so excited! A place in Madison WI is throwing a LOT of stuff out. Merle Pierce from the Rhode Island Computer Museum is going to drive all the way and I get to hitch-hike with my 11/780 plus a couple of peripherals, like an RP07 washer, ahem, drive and a TU78 (hopefully with the matching blue stripe.) Merle must take my VAX 6000-500 along with one SA600, a TU81, HSC90 and the Dataproducts printer plus that I got from Micheal on my last haul, plus the other TU78 from Isildur. I need the room in the Garage for the real VAX!

Other Sites of Interest


Chuck's house of VAX


DEC Hardware Information Page - somewhat disappointing, but may be in progress ...

Last updated the 31st day of March 2001. Copyright © 2001 Gunther Schadow. All rights reserved.