ThinkPad 860 Saga – Part 1

(note this is a guest post from Tenox)

Not long ago I have managed to purchase a working ThinkPad 850. This was no small achievement because in last 15 years I only scored 2 dead ones, for parts. As luck strikes twice, merely a week after 850 I’ve acquired the ultra uber and ultimate laptop of all – RS/6000 Notebook 860. Err what?

860-1

Technically 860 is a ThinkPad. However it was marketed for the business / RISC users, as a laptopized  RS/6000 to run AIX, instead of oddball an ThinkPad with weirdo CPU that couldn’t even run Microsoft Office which was 850. In fact both the sales manual and product brochure do not even mention Windows NT or OS/2 at all. Smart move, but too little too late.

What are the differences? Most importantly compared to it’s younger brothers the laptop has a whooping 12″ display and massive resolution of 1024×768. This is actually not bad even in today’s standards, compared to my MacBook Air 11″. Having 860 and 850 aside the difference is massive.

tp

Secondly the CPU is much faster running at 166 MHz vs 100 MHz for TP850. While 66 MHz in today’s standards is nothing, the actual difference is more than 50%.

That’s the good side. But there is the bad and ugly.

The laptop arrived with a rather nasty looking memory error:

mem

I’ve tracked down the error in a support document, it translates to “Memory Error. Run memory tests”. So I did and memory passed just fine. What is going on?

test

So I’ve decided to ignore and try to install an OS. So happen I did have a handy Windows NT 4.0 CD and ARC floppy disk. I’ve went and installed ARC, but Windows NT wouldn’t boot and it was freezing during driver load. Nothing would help.

I have spent days trying to fix the problem. Tried replacing memory cards, running diagnostics, everything else. Because lower 32MB RAM is soldered on the motherboard I was just about to order a replacement one.

Then by a coincidence I’ve found this FAQ question … “ThinkPad 860 prompts for HAL diskette”, wait what? The answer has it – “860 support was planned for NT 4.0 PowerPC edition which never shipped. There is an unsupported HAL disk image here…”

Once HAL disk was loaded to Windows installer the system booted correctly. Note that the HAL disk also contains a video driver for the GT20 graphics card which is S3 M65 (86CM65):

1

It also turns out that once the hard disk was formatted and Windows NT was installed the memory error went away! Completely. I haven’t seen it since. I’m thinking it wasn’t a memory error but rather corrupted boot record or partition table.

Anyway here it is Windows NT 4.0 PowerPC:

3

I’m not going to go through Windows setup or ARC screens as they are covered elsewhere.

So the next step was to get the beast on to the net. Not an easy task to find a suitable NIC nowadays! Fortunately Windows NT CD has a HCL.HLP – Hardware Compatibility List. Browsing the help file I was able to filter out a handful of PCMCIA network cards with PowerPC support:

  • 3Com 3C589 Etherlink III PCMCIA Ethernet Adapter
  • 3Com 3C589C Etherlink III PCMCIA Ethernet Adapter
  • IBM PCMCIA Ethernet Adapter II
  • National Semiconductor InfoMover NE4100 PCMCIA Ethernet Adapter
  • NoteWorthy Ethernet PCMCIA Adapter II
  • Socket Communications Socket EA PCMCIA

The last two are actually NE2000 compatible and use a common NE2K driver. Remembering some issues with the card I decided to go for a 3C859C from ebay instead. Later on I’ve found that the only supported PCMCIA LAN cards under AIX 4.1 are, surprise – IBM PCMCIA Ethernet Adapters. So I’ve got one of them on ebay as well.

4

The 3Com card worked flawlessly out of the box. Showed up in the PCMCIA control panel, driver installed automatically and I’ve got in on DHCP.

From there it was rather easy. First thing one needs is latest service pack and hotfixes. Unzip and wsftp32 also come handy. And then there is the text editor!

Finding a working web browser was a challenge again. The default IE1 wouldn’t even support HTTP/1.1. Mosaic is not much better. Fortunately Internet Explorer 3.01 saved the day!

6

Apart from that there is almost zero software available for download for Windows NT PowerPC. The only larger utility collection is Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit which surprisingly has full support for PPC. There are also Dependency Walker, Psychedelic Screensaver, Winimage, PkZip, etc. If you have more software please send! I’m also porting some more.

On the hardware side interestingly Cygnus Supply has a very large stock of replacement parts for these laptops. If you have a broken one you can try your luck there. You could probably assemble a full laptop from the parts. Don’t be put of by “request a quote”. I used them many times before and they usually come up with reasonable prices for the parts. Make sure to have an exact IBM P/N. Also you can buy a “brand new” replacement battery. For failing hard drives a 2.5″ SCSI disk may be a problem. You can by a CF card adapter here.

Last but not least I’ve collected some links to sites with TP 8×0 stuff:

In the next part I will cover MSVC, SDK, DDK and some porting efforts I’ve been doing…

Updates:

  • Ronald Gaudet sent me some useful software like Putty, Vim, Emacs!
  • Working to compile some more like Lynx, VNC, maybe even early Mozilla
  • The hard disk started giving up. I have ordered CF Powermonster II 2.5″ SCSI to CF converter!
  • Few high res screenshots made with IP KVM:

splashSplash screen…

easysetupEasy Setup…

firmwareSecret Firmware Prompt…

QNX 2.21 Arrived Today

(note this is a guest post from Tenox)

So that QNX 2.21 from the previously established purchase fund has arrived today. As an added bonus, I expected 4 x 5.25″ disks, but the media turned to be a single 3.5″ floppy disk. So it’s better suitable for more modern 286 machines and emulators.

qnx221 floppy

I have imaged the floppy to a raw disk dump and booted in VMware Workstation for verification.

qnx 2.21 on vmware

The floppy disk image was sent to those who contributed in the previous post.
Manuals are always available here.

QNX 2.21 Purchase Fund

(note this is a guest post from Tenox)

So QNX 2.21 popped up on eBay. I’m organizing a collection so that everyone interested in getting a copy can chip in. I have previously covered QNX 2.1 that I purchased on my own and was getting a lot of requests for the install disk images. So this time instead of pissing people off I decided to let everyone participate! 🙂

Please comment with the amount you can chip in and once say 1/2 will be covered I will purchase it.

Update:
I have purchased the item for $500 via best offer. This is much more reasonable. Of course still looking for people to chip in for the purchase.

Please send your contributions to: as@tenoware.com selecting for “friends and family” instead of goods or services. Thanks.

Recent Aclock Ports…

 

So here are the newest additions to Aclock binary family. In order of appearance:

#187 – Motorola MVME m68k – OpenBSD by Plamen

aclock-ppc-beos-pef–1.1d6
#188 – AT&T Hobbit – BeOS by Bear
#189 – PowerPc BeBox – BeOS 1.1d6 PEF binary by Bear
aclock-geos-appleII
#190 – Apple II GEOS by Peter Godwin

 

c64-real-hardware
#191 – Commodore C64/128 GEOS by Peter Godwin

 

aclock-unixpc
#192 – AT&T UnixPC aka 3B1 / 7300 by Bear

 

aclock-machten-ppc
#193 – Power Mac – MachTen by Peter Godwin

 

aclock-unixware
#194 – i386 Univel UnixWare 1.0 by Michal Necasek

 

aclock-hp9k300
#195 – HP9000 300 Series M68K – HP-UX 9.x by Bear

 

aclock-osf1
#196 – DECstation 5000 – MIPS OSF/1 by mrRadio

Thanks a lot for your contributions!!!!

There are also a few new screenshots from previously available platforms:

aclock-aros
AROS on QEMU
aclock-indy
SGI Indy with original LCD panel. The case is black because it’s Tandem / NonStop branded machine.
aclock-amiga
AmigaOS
aclock-intel-aviion
DG AViiON with Intel running x86 DG-UX

ThinkPad 850…

(note this is a guest post from Tenox)

So after around 15 years of searching and going through 3 or 4 dead units I finally laid my hands on a working system! For those who don’t know, ThinkPad 850 is not an ordinary laptop because it rocks PowerPC!

ppc2

It means that apart from AIX, I will be able to run such cool operating systems like OS/2 PowerPC, Solaris PPC or Windows NT PPC.

ppc1

The system is quite banged up, the keyboard has broken keys and the built-in cdrom doesn’t seem to work. The battery is of course dead. But the base system works just fine. Here is a screenshot of a top secret firmware prompt:

ppc3

Virtual Floppy Drive – Part III – Fun with HxC

(note this is a guest post from Tenox)

As promised in a post about Floppy Disk Emulators, here is a review of HxC Floppy Disk Emulator. I ordered it from Lotharek via eBay. Initially stuck in Polish post made it just before the weekend! This made my Christmas gift as I had a lot of fun playing with it. The unit comes with two front panel stickers, one grey and one black to match your equipment type. Quite nice touch. I choose grey as most of my units are of this color. I have to say the LCD screen makes a modern touch to an old 286 machine!

hxc286
286 machine with HxC installed in 3.5″ floppy bay.

Initially I have stumbled upon a lot of issues. Floppy disks are not easy as it seems. No wonder I had so much trouble with the real ones. I spent a lot of time experimenting with ID jumpers and correct BIOS settings. The unit only worked on ID3A but I can probably attribute it to a weird machine. Then I had problems converting my raw images to HFE format. The main project developer helped me a lot on their forums.

HxC Software. The latest version includes Track Analyzer!
HxC Software used to load and convert disk images. The latest beta version includes a Track Analyzer!

Once I got a grip how to do it semi correctly I was able to torture the machine with bunch of operating systems it has never seen before.  Let’s go directly to the screenshots!

 

QNX 2 worked just fine!
QNX 2 worked just fine!
Minix 2.0 also loaded without problems.
Minix 2.0 also loaded without problems.
So did Xenix 2.3
So did SCO Xenix 2.3
Xenix 2.3 boot complete.
SCO Xenix 2.3 boot complete.
Microsoft Xenix also saw daylight.
Microsoft Xenix also briefly saw daylight.
Xenix switched to CGA mode and died.
MS Xenix switched to CGA mode and died.
OS/2 1.3 did boot but my machine did not have enough memory to continue.
Guess which operating system is this?
Coherent 3.10 boots correctly as well.
Coherent 3.10 boots correctly as well.
PC/IX booted to Stand Alone Shell. I don't know what to do next.
PC/IX booted to Stand Alone Shell.
ELKS
ELKS
VenturCom Venix/x86
VenturCom VENIX/86
os2-2
I guess 640 KB is NOT enough for everybody.

 

This pretty much concludes operating systems for 286. If you have more let me know! I will try 386/486 operating systems in a separate post.

So how does HxC works for an end user? You store floppy disk images in a special format called HFE as files on an SD card. HFE files can be made by a virtual floppy disk emulator + rawrite, reading and imaging in an existing floppy, or converting existing floppy images. The list of supported disk images is quite impressive. The conversion however sometimes fails. It detects a wrong format and you have to change file extension or it completely screws things up making 64 “sides” to a floppy disk. Most if not all these have been fixed in the latest beta version of software, but you need to know about it.

When you insert the SD card to the emulator it will read the file list and allow you to switch between different floppy drives on the fly. Interestingly you can mix and match different floppy disk types on the same SD card. So you can have bunch of 3.5″ or 5.25″ disk in different files. Each HFE file contains specific settings for the emulator including the floppy interface type. The operating systems I’ve tried above ranged from 360k, 720k, 1.2MB and 1.44MB images stored on the same SD card. However changing floppy disk type in the BIOS was necessary for the images of different format to load correctly.

One extremely interesting feature is a host control software, that let’s you manage the floppy disks from inside the machine where HxC is attached. Sort of like VMware tools. The software is available for Atari, Amiga and Amstrad CPC. Unfortunately not for PC so I could not test at this time.

Because of the pain with formats, errors in conversions and confusion about some settings I can only give it 8 out of 10 for ease of use. So let’s conclude:

  • Packaging: excellent
  • Quality of hardware: excellent, LCD panel with menu is invaluable!
  • Software: OK with improving tendency in the beta version
  • User manual: OK but could be better
  • Compatibility: excellent! (see above)
  • Ease of use: excellent once you get grip on things
  • Value for money: excellent!
  • Total: very very good!

If you have a large collection of floppy disk images or you maintain a bunch of old machines that rely on floppy disks to work – get HxC quickly. It may save your life.

Updates: Venix/86 and ELKS, Tried OS/2 V1.0 and 640 KB RAM was not enough to boot.

Still missing: Microport SYSV/AT

Other floppy disk emulators.

Review of Gotek emulator.

 

Virtual Floppy Drive – Part II – Testing Gotek

(this is a guest post from Tenox)

This is a continuation of my another post where I do a high level overview of different Floppy Disk Emulators. Gotek is one of them but from various research I have done before buying it I antcipated it will be the worst. Unfortunately the claims turned to be true.

The emulator arrived by FedEx earlier on today. It only took two days since the order, which is excellent, but unfortunately this was the only good thing about Gotek.

The FedEx bag looked like it has been used by at least 5 previous shipments and has already circled the globe few times. The inner package was even worse, a bit of old bubble wrap taped together with the unit and unpacked cdrom. Disgusting!

The unit itself looks rather good, they have made a better looking self adhesive front panel label.

gotek-f

I went to replace my original 1.44MB floppy drive with Gotek. First roadblock that I encountered was the fact that the emulator is about an inch shorter and the original floppy cable did not reach so I had to improvise. The unit powered on so I went on to the documentation and software.

gotek-ribbon

Documentation is absolutely horrible. Written in Engrish is rather hard to understand, however invaluable because without it you will not be able to figure out how to use the software. Looks like they are aware of the software limitations because the documentation is full of workarounds and troubleshooting.

The software is even worse. It only works on Windows XP / 2000, so I had to run it inside VMware Workstation with USB pass-through  It actually did work but usability is similar to RiscOS or Plan 9. Here is a photo from one of the manual pages that illustrates both the documentation and the application itself.

gotek-sw

So how does it actually work? Here is a small excerpt from the user manual: “We will divide a pen drive into 100 partitions of 1.44 mb capacity each.” – err what? That’s right, this is what they are doing. Dividing a pen drive to small partitions and multiplexing them so that you see one at a time. You select the partition using the buttons on the front panel or from the software. When you switch the floppy drive will be mapped to another partition. On the host computer you can see it as a removable drive in Windows Explorer.

gotek-drv

Gotek has promised me that the Type-F will support non-FAT and bootable floppy disks. So I started testing with writing QNX2 aclock demo floppy disk using ntrawrite.

gotek-rawrite

The system has completely freaked out and went to an error mode. Fortunately described in the troubleshooting guide, however requires full reformatting. Now imagine rewriting 100 floppy disks stored on the unit… I spent hours trying to figure what is going in. What I think is that the non-FAT bootable disk can only be used in “singular mode” where you store just a single floppy disk image on the pen drive. What a waste, but it did work and in the end I did boot QNX2 on my 286 from a pen drive.

gotek-qnx2

The next test was trying to boot Xenix from emulated 1.2MB 5.25″ drive. I have re formatted the singular drive to 1.2MB and switched it in the bios. However the system never actually loaded.

When it comes to FAT compatible operating systems like MS-DOS or OS/2, you can actually boot and use multiplexed floppies. You can install MS-DOS 6.22 by flipping the selector to change disks. Pretty cool. I was also able to run BIOS built in floppy disk diagnostics.

gotek-diag

So the device sort of works. I was able to boot a non-DOS operating system and for DOS based floppies I was able to hold more than one disk per USB key. However the whole experience was rather horrible. The verdict:

  • Packaging: garbage
  • Usability: garbage
  • Software: garbage
  • User manual: garbage
  • Compatibility: garbage
  • Total: garbage

So in short do not waste your time with this. Do not buy Gotek unless you absolutely have to.

I’m still awaiting for arrival of HxC, however it appears to be stuck in Polish Post Office, probably due to the holiday season.

Update: EMUFDD has provided me with a link to their page that lists all Gotek-like cheap Chinese and Indian made devices – with a warning how bad they are. They are claiming that German Ipcas also sells Gotek like devices, so I will be updating my previous post.

Virtualizing Floppy Disk Drive – Part 1

(this is a guest post from Tenox)

I had a really bad weekend associated with floppy drive failures. Either all my floppy disks or all my drives decided to jump the ship. Nothing worked! Worse, I could not buy any “new” floppy disk anywhere. Office Depot still stocks floppies but not in stores and you have to order online and wait. Neither Halted nor Weirdstuff had them as well. Seriously?

A major disaster! Something had to be done to make it future proof. So I went to research floppy drive replacement solutions. And this is what I found. There are several Floppy Disk Emulators on the market.

Here is the list and a little bit of research on every one of them. They do have major differences to be aware of.

  • EMUFDD – The first one I found. Italian made, intended to be used in industrial machinery. The device is extremely compatible, customizable, feature rich and according to the company, individually installed in each deployment. I bears a lot of interesting features such as Network option. Apart from the high price the device is not intended to be used by hobbyists.

emufdd

  • Gotek – This one is by an Indian company. Very cheap and you can find it everywhere. It costs about $25 on eBay including shipment. However a major warning: they work by dividing the SD card in to 100 partitions, each size of a single floppy disk and multiplexing them to emulate a floppy disk. Because the partitions are formated with FAT12 the device is not usable for anything else than MS-DOS and Windows. Apparently revision F is capable of storing a single “bootable” or non-MS-DOS disk image. Also they have separate models for 720k, 1.2MB and 1.44MB.  There is a whole army of Gotek clones.

  • IPCAS – This is another clone of Gotek, however worth separate mention and a warning, it costs $300 – ouch!

ipcas

  • HxC – this one was found by claunia. As with most French stuff bit confusing because it has several web sites (one two three). The devices are manufactured in Poland by Lotharek. The price is around $150 and you can buy it on eBay. Feature wise may be the best of all, it definitely supports all the non-PC platforms and even very weird formats. The software naively supports conversion from the notorious IMD and TD0. For some people it will be appealing the HxC is an open source project and you can build it yourself. Certainly it helps to ensure longevity in case of the vendor going out of business. Definitely a winner here.

  • HxC USB Version – This is interesting variant that instead of SD card uses a wired USB connection to a host machine.  The main drawback is that it is read only. However you can’t beat it’s $70 price. For this I could probably refit few of my machines and use it for boot only.

hxcusbonly

 

  • FlexiDrive – Made in Argentina. The manufacturer claims to support all floppy disk formats including 8″ disks. SD card or USB based. They are made for industrial machinery and customized firmware for different applications. Cost $385.

FlexiDriveMV-SD

 

  • DTX200 – from Datex a French company. These are also made for industrial machinery. They maintain a large database of emulated floppy drive types. Interestingly they have video of MicroVAX using their emulator, certainly interesting from retrocomputing point of view! They also make MFM 2 CF hard disk emulator. The price is $495.

dtx200

 

I have ordered two units for testing: HxC, SD revision F from eBay and Gotek Rev F from the manufacturer. I guess testing of the units will be subject of part 2 of this post. I’m planning to try to install some of the weirdest operating systems with wildest disk formats.

Also as a final note, for more modern computers with USB support there are some more mainstream options. I have used following two professionally:

  • Floppy Emulator in Pendrive / USB Stick. The best success I had so far was zMate pen drive from DaneElec which registers as a floppy drive with the system in addition to regular removable disks. I used it several times for booting, loading Windows storage drivers or saving BIOS diagnostic logs from servers without FDD.
  • Lantronix Spider, which allows you to mount a virtual floppy disk or cdrom image from the viewer machine or SMB share, just as you would using VMware or VirtualBox. Pretty cool.

Updates:

  • Mac Floppy Emu – is specifically designed for Macintosh. However currently it only support 800K. Very promising project and once they add 1.44MB support I will want to retrofit my Macs with this.
  • 1541 Ultimate – Floppy disk emulator for Commodore C64.

Three tonnes of mini computers

It looks almost religious doesn’t it?

I just received this note from the HECnet mailing list, and I thought I’d broadcast it out..

This is a shameless plug for something I and the Update Computer Club 
have been working on this spring and opened yesterday.

The exhibition "Three Tons of Minicomputers" at Museum Gustavianum in 
Uppsala, Sweden.

<a href="http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/node13" target="_blank">http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/<wbr>node13</wbr></a>

We have collected computers primarily used by the university at some 
point in time. Highlights include a Linc-8 and a DECSYSTEM-2060 with 
peripherals.

Here are some pictures from the opening:

<a href="http://www.update.uu.se/~jeppe/tmp/vernissage/" target="_blank">http://www.update.uu.se/~<wbr>jeppe/tmp/vernissage/</wbr></a>

I strongly recommend anyone nearby Uppsala this summer to take a swing 
by Gustavianum. If you want a guided tour, let me know and we'll figure 
something out.

It's only open for a few months, so don't wait to long.

Regards,
Pontus.

I don’t know when I’ll be in Europe next, but now I really want to go to Sweden!