Unix Computer Museum

As a software professional, I appreciate elegant design. I was fortunate to be exposed to Unix® and other POSIX operating systems early. I took to heart the philosophy of: Do one thing, do it well and work together with other such tools using the universal interface of text streams. Many Unix programs perform quite trivial things on their own but combined, become powerful, general-purpose tools.

Eventually I started collecting Unix computers. Some I repurposed from our deprecated home computers. I bought some from the local Goodwill. A few of the oddballs I purchased on eBay or local auctions. A couple were donated by acquaintances in the local Linux user group. Most I rescued from the dumpster at companies where I worked.

Many originally ran their own commercial form of Unix. Some ran simple home computer OSs, but thanks to the proliferation of GNU and Open Source Software in the '90s, Linux and OpenBSD/NetBSD/FreeBSD were ported to those architectures. Part of the hobby was getting them running again, increasing resources (hard disk space, RAM and peripherals), adding them to my growing network and, often, installing Linux or BSD on them in order to take advantage of newer features and simpler software porting.

Unfortunately I never acquired any of the early DEC PDP or VAX minicomputers, Hewlett Packard HPPAs, IBM RT or RS/6000 PowerPCs, Silicon Graphics (SGI) workstations, an Atari ST or Amiga PC.

Many of these exhibits have decayed. Others I simply ran out of interest and somewhere to keep them all. As such, some have been donated or recycled. Some remain — only the most interesting like the Motorola branded machines, the NeXT slabs, an A/UX machine and some of the old Apples we personally used as Mac OS desktops before they were replaced by faster Macs.

AppleQuadra 7001991Apple ROMsDebian GNU/Linux 3.0Motorola 6804025 MHz20 MiB
AppleQuadra 8001993Apple ROMsA/UX 3.1.1Motorola 6804033 MHz24 MiB
ApplePower Macintosh 7300/2001997OpenFirmware 1.0.5Debian GNU/Linux 4.0Motorola PowerPC 604e200 MHz32 MiB
ApplePower Macintosh 8600/2001997OpenFirmware 1.0.5Debian GNU/Linux 4.0Motorola PowerPC 604e200 MHz88 MiB
AppleMac Mini G42005OpenFirmware 4.8.9f1Debian GNU/Linux 8.10Motorola PowerPC 7447A1249 MHz512 MiB
ApplePowerBook G42005OpenFirmware 4.9.1f1Mac OS X 10.4.11Motorola PowerPC 7447A1670 MHz1536 MiB
Data GeneralAViiON AV/40001989DG 09.21DG/UX 5.4R3.00Motorola 88100 ×233 MHz112 MiB
Data GeneralAViiON AV/5301990DG 01.07DG/UX 5.4R3.00Motorola 88100 ×233 MHz128 MiB
DECAlphaPC 1641997DEC Console V5.5-1DEC Alpha 21164466 MHz512 MiB
DECMultia1994ARC v?, SRM v?DEC Alpha 21164132 MHz32 MiB
MotorolaPowerStack E603-66P1994PPCBUG 1.8Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Motorola PowerPC 60367 MHz128 MiB
MotorolaRiscPC Plus MTP604-133NTW1995PPCBUG 1.9Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Motorola PowerPC 604132 MHz128 MiB
MotorolaStarMax 4000/200 MT1996OpenFirmware 2.0.2Debian GNU/Linux 4.0Motorola PowerPC 604e200 MHz96 MiB
NeXTNeXTstation Color1991NeXT ROM Monitor 2.5 v66OpenStep 4.2Motorola 6804025 MHz32 MiB
NeXTNeXTstation Mono1991NeXT ROM Monitor 2.xNetBSD 5.1Motorola 6804025 MHz20 MiB
PowerComputingPowerWave 604/1321995OpenFirmware 1.0.5Debian GNU/Linux 4.0Motorola PowerPC 604e200 MHz224 MiB
SunSPARCstation 101992Open Boot 2.12Debian GNU/Linux 3.0Sun SuperSPARC 390Z5550 MHz16 MiB
SunSPARCstation 101992Open Boot 2.22NetBSD 6.0Sun SuperSPARC 390Z5550 MHz64 MiB
SunSPARCstation 201994Open Boot 2.19NetBSD 6.0Sun HyperSPARC ROSS RT625 ×2125 MHz64 MiB
SunSPARCstation 201994Open Boot 2.22NetBSD 6.0Sun SuperSPARC 390Z55 ×450 MHz336 MiB
SunEnterprise 420R1999Open Boot 3.29Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Sun UltraSPARC II ×4450 MHz4096 MiB
SunNetra X12001Open Boot 4.00Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Sun UltraSPARC IIe500 MHz1024 MiB
SunNetra X12001Open Boot 4.00Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Sun UltraSPARC IIe500 MHz512 MiB
TatungCOMPstation U10-440R2U1999Open Boot 3.10.8Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Sun UltraSPARC IIi440 MHz512 MiB
TatungCOMPstation U10-440R2U1999Open Boot 3.10.8Debian GNU/Linux 5.0Sun UltraSPARC IIi440 MHz512 MiB

Exhibit Rules

1. Runs Some Form of Unix

This is a Unix museum, after all — obviously it runs a Unix-like operating system. One can infer that all exhibits must also be running.

Unfortunately time has caused much attrition. I've been able to replace many parts such as RAM, disk drives, power supplies, some I/O cards, etc. but I've lost machines to critical chips or boards going bad. In particular, several '80s and '90s era minicomputers and workstations stored their boot firmware on various models of STMicro MK48T NVRAM/timekeeping chips. These consist of a small realtime clock micro, a SRAM and a battery. As one might guess, eventually the battery is going to reach its practical limit of charge/discharge cycles and make the chip a volatile RAM. The effect was exacerbated when I didn't power the machines frequently enough to keep the NVRAM battery charged. Some have been recoverable, but the necessary firmware gets more difficult to find as time and rarity take their toll.

2. Not Intel

Ever since the emergence of the various BSD on Intel and Linux, Unix on x86 has been easy. And commonplace. Boring.

Even so, I do kinda wish I had kept my AMD 8088 PC clone running Minix. It was the first Unix I owned and it provided many great learning experiences.

3. TCP/IP Networking

As a practical matter, I wanted to get to my Unix computers over the network. I installed a SSH server on all of them. All but one had serial consoles but only a few had video, keyboard and sometimes mouse interfaces. So SSH was a satisfyingly practical way to go. With Ethernet, why would I ever need more than one computer with a video screen?

Oh yeah…

A fourth practical rule was that it was reasonably feasible to run in my house. This effectively meant 110VAC power, smaller than a full rack, weight less than 100 lbs., etc. This, unfortunately, excluded a lot of the more interesting, historical Unix platforms. And I needed to get exhibits cheap wholesale, at auction or rescued from depreciation, decommission and destruction (which were the best finds).