Multia under Thermal Camera

(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

DEC Multias are known for notoriously overheating. Someone even coined a term “Multia Heat Death”. The typical folklore recommendation of the time was to only run it vertically and replace the built-in fan with a more powerful one.

In modern times one can inexpensively acquire a thermal camera that attaches to a mobile phone. So why not take a peak inside the inferno.

Multia with 166 MHz CPU Under FLIR

This is how Multia looks like in a thermal camera. PS is on top right. CPU on the left. FDD/HDD bottom left.

The CPU, Alpha AXP, runs at around 60C, not great, not terrible.

Scanning up close through individual chips I found this curiosity:

Wedged between the memory chips and the power supply is a little chip that generates almost 100C. That’s a boiling temperature of water. Note the thermal image is shifted in regards to the visual part due to close range.

What does this chip do? I have no clue. Perhaps someone can help here. What I however did to it is this:

Slapped on this really nice radiator. In fact I added little radiators you can buy for Raspberry PI to all the chips generating tons of heat.

This is how the motherboard looks like right now:

I also added a tiny fan on top of the CPU. Drilled some holes in the case and of course replaced the main fan with a highest air flow I could find.

Time will tell if this resolves the heat death, but my Multia now runs much cooler with help of all the radiators and extra fans.

UPDATE in 2022:

Readers frequently asked “what about the heat death chip?“. Multia indeed has one specific chip that is a source of most of Multia casualties. According to NetBSD Multia Page the chip is 74F623 and is located on the bottom (flip) side of the motherboard.

You can tell it’s little charred. I so I went to take a peek with a thermal camera:

Can you locate it? FLIR found it immediately… Up close the chip goes above 100C:

I have added a small heat sink to it and now looks a little better!

Time will tell if it helps or not.

Confessions of a paranoid DEC Engineer: Robert Supnik talks about the great Dungeon heist!

What an incredible adventure!

Apparently this was all recorded in 2017, and just now released.

It’s very long, but I would still highly recommend watching the full thing.

Bob goes into detail about the rise of the integrated circuit versions of the PDP-11 & VAX processors, the challenges of how Digital was spiraling out of control, and how he was the one that not only championed the Alpha, but had to make the difficult decisions that if the Alpha succeeded that many people were now out of a job, and many directions had to be closed off.

He goes into great detail how the Alpha was basically out maneuvered politically and how the PC business had not only dragged them down by management not embracing the Alpha but how trying to pull a quick one on Intel led to their demise.

Also of interest was his time in research witnessing the untapped possibilities of AltaVista, and how Compaq had bogged it down, and ceded the market to the upstart Google, the inability to launch a portable MP3 player (Although to be fair the iPod wasn’t first to market by a long shot, it was the best user experience by far).

What was also interesting was his last job, working at Unisys and getting them out of the legacy mainframe hardware business and into emulation on x86, along with the lesson that if you can run your engine in primary CPU cache it’s insanely fast (in GCC land -Os is better than -O9).

The most significant part towards the end of course is where he ‘rewinds’ his story to go into his interest in simulations, and of course how he started SIMH when he had some idle time in the early 90’s. SIMH of course has done an incredible amount of work to preserve computing history of many early computers. He also touches on working with the Warren’s TUHS to get Unix v0 up and running on a simulated PDP-7 and what would have been a challenge in the day using an obscure Burroughs disk & controller modified from the PDP-9.

Yes it’s 6 hours long! But really it’s great!

Digital teamlinks demo diskette

I recently got some old diskettes, and sure enough I was lucky to find this gem a ‘virus free’ disk, the Team Computing demo disk.

Vintage 1992!

Vintage 1992!

So naturally it’s MS-DOS based, as that is all that was left in the early 1990’s.



And it’s chock full of vintage networking pitches, as Digital was trying desperatly to get people to buy their Enterprise software for being that all in one of file/print sharing, email and business process automation.

Digital networking

Digital networking

So 1990’s.

Teamlinks workflow

Teamlinks workflow

And of course it touts over and over again ‘open standards’ although I’m suspecting none of them really are that open, nor surviving.

Teamlinks over the world

Teamlinks over the world

Did it go anywhere?  Did anyone actually use it?

It sounds like a somewhat useful all in one thing that I’m sure cost far far far too much money.  And of course, in 1997 there was Microsoft Exchange 5.5 which basically killed everything.

I’ve only found a copy of Pathworks 7.1a on Ebay many many years ago, which I’ve used to get Windows NT onto Hecnet.  That’s as much ‘Digitial for Windows’ software as I’ve used.

For anyone so inclined, you can download the demo files

Just got a DEC AlphaServer 800…

All 100lb of it. It is HEAVY.

Anyways, long story short, after hauling it around Financial District, and Times Square, it’s now safe and installing Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server.

AlphaServer 800

AlphaServer 800

It’s got a single 5/500 CPU, along with 256MB of ram, and 2x 36gig disks. I’ll have to check to see if I have any ram that’ll fit it. I may very well turn it into a public access thing too….. But we’ll see.

DEC Legacy Event

Well I just found out about a “DEC Legacy Event” being held in the UK. Sadly I already booked tickets to the UK *this* month not the correct one… But then who knows… 😉

From the site:

The DEC Legacy Event that will take place on the 17th & 18th April 2010 in Windermere, UK.

The purpose of the event is to bring together people with an interest in the company Digital Equipment Corporation and their legacy of hardware, software and ethos. There will be both vintage DEC computer hardware and software and more recent HP hardware and software being demonstrated at the event.

I suppose this would have been the place to get some win terminals going, and have multi-user access into a VMS system running on SIMH on an Alpha…

Oh well…

At any rate they promise to upload video from the aftermath, and they’ve got up some interesting promo pics