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OpenVMS Hobbyist Program | Alpha Systems Forums | Alpha Hardware Forum
Author Advice on Alphastation purchase...

Posts: 7
Joined: 17.08.19
Posted on August 18 2019 03:11
Hello. I'm new to the forum, and to the world of DEC and VMS for that matter. I'm a hobbyist always looking for fun vintage computers and OSs to play with and VMS has always been on my list. Here's my question. I have my eye on a couple of AlphaStations for sale on eBay because I want to run OpenVMS on real hardware, not an emulator. I need some advice on whether to proceed with a purchase.

One of them (AlphaStation 250 4/266 w/ 512MB RAM) looks cosmetically good and includes a HDD. The seller can't proceed past boot because he doesn't have a keyboard. It boots to a prompt that says something like "keyboard not found booting into serial mode". I have asked him to try and get past that to see if it will actually boot OpenVMS on the hard drive (which he claims it has). I have two questions for this particular computer. 1) Is there a way for the seller to get past the keyboard check? He has tried to just plug in a PC keyboard, no luck. 2) I have requested OpenVMS Alpha license from HPE according to the instructions I found on this forum, so will I be able to get OpenVMS working on this machine if I but it (e.g., use a new license with what's already installed on the HDD, or install fresh?).

The other (AlphaStation 200 4/233) looks cosmetically good as well, but doesn't include a HDD. The seller does have a HDD with OpenVMS 7.3 that he uses to prove (via screenshots) that the computer boots up properly. My question to you is that if I need to find and install a HDD and install OpenVMS will that be a herculean effort that a newbie has no chance of doing? I see where I can buy a refurbished SCSI HDD that's the exact model of what originally came with the computer, so is it as easy as connecting it up and then installing OpenVMS from CDs?

Sorry, so many questions. I really want to get an AlphaStation with OpenVMS running to add to my vintage collections. I just don't want to buy what ends up being an expensive paperweight because I can't get it working.


Author RE: Advice on Alphastation purchase...
Bruce Claremont

Posts: 599
Joined: 07.01.10
Posted on August 18 2019 03:38
OpenVMS installation from CD is straight forward. Boot the CD, then run the menu driven installation process. Download FreeAXP and practice in a virtual environment.
Edited by Bruce Claremont on August 18 2019 03:40
Author RE: Advice on Alphastation purchase...

Posts: 7
Joined: 17.08.19
Posted on August 18 2019 05:07
Thanks Bruce, that's reassuring about the installation. Do you have any idea about my keyboard question? I'd like the seller to be able to get past the keyboard check so I know the AlphaStation will boot properly.

Thanks again, Brian.
Author RE: Advice on Alphastation purchase...
Bruce Claremont

Posts: 599
Joined: 07.01.10
Posted on August 19 2019 01:39
The system should boot without the keyboard. Connect a PC or VT terminal to the serial port. Default would be 9600 baud. You should see a boot prompt or if an O/S is installed, the user login prompt. Alpha's run both OpenVMS and DEC or Tru64 UNIX.
Author RE: Advice on Alphastation purchase...

Posts: 527
Joined: 15.04.08
Posted on August 22 2019 02:39
Serial port is typically an MMJ connector on the older Alpha or a PC 9 pin serial port on a newer Alpha.

The 25 pin connector is a parallel port.

MMJ connectors are RS-423 connections with two signal returns, one for outgoing signals and one for incoming signals. If connecting them to RS-232 a very common wiring error in home-made adapters is not to connect both signal returns which can result in flaky operation.

MMJ does not provide RTS/CTS.

PC terminal software and a few real terminals may require the RTS/CTS signals to be looped to each other or connected and the DSR/DTR either also looped or connected to the proper lines on the MMJ or 9 bin adapter.

The alpha console ignores CTS and DSR, but should assert RTS and DTR while booting.

You should be able to find Linux and BSD variants to boot on Alpha. Some of the BSD documentation is vary useful.

Beginners should stay away from Alpha Multia's if you can find a live one.

A DS-10L actually can make a good alpha system. You can max it out to 2 GB ram and use up to 4 128 GB PATA disks / DVD / CDROMs on it.
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