Tuesday, August 8, 2017

And now for several things that are completely different: Vintage Computer Festival aftermath, I pass a POWER9 kidneystone, and isindex isdead which issad

So, you slugs who didn't drag yourselves to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View for this year's Vintage Computer Festival West, here's what you didn't see (and here's what you didn't see last year).

You didn't see me cram two dorm refrigerator-sized Apple servers and a CRT monitor into my Honda Civic,

you didn't see my Apple Network Server exhibit, complete with a Shiner HE prototype and twin PowerBook 2300 Duos and an Outbound notebook serving as clients,
you didn't see a functioning Xerox Alto,
you didn't see SDF's original AT&T 3B2,
you didn't see Bil Herd, Leonard Tramiel and other old Commodore luminaries talking about then and now,
you didn't see a replica "CADET" IBM 1620, "just as it was" in 1959 (the infamous system that used lookup tables for addition rather than a proper adder, hence the acronym's alternative expansion as "Can't Add, Doesn't Even Try"),
you didn't see a JLPGA PowerBook 170 signed by John Sculley,
you didn't see a prototype dual G4 PowerBook,
you didn't see a prototype Mac mini with an iPod dock (and an amusing FAIL sticker),
you didn't see components from the Cray-1 supercomputer,
you didn't see this 6502-based astrology system in the consignment section, of the same model used by Nancy Reagan's astrologer Joan Quigley,
and you didn't see me investigate this Gbike parked out front, possibly against company policy.
You could have, if you had come. But now it's too late. Try again next year.

But what you still have a chance to see is your very own Talos II POWER9 workstation under your desk, because preorders opened today. Now, a reminder: I don't work for Raptor, I don't get any money from Raptor, and I paid retail; I'm just a fairly intransigent PowerPC bigot who is willing to put my Visa card where my mouth is.

Currently on its way to my doorstep is a two-CPU, octocore (each core is SMT-4, so that's 32 threads) Sforza POWER9 Talos II with 32GB of DDR4 ECC RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro WX7100, a 500GB NVMe SSD and an LSI 9300 8-port internal SAS controller. The system comes standard with a case, eight SAS/SATA bays, EATX motherboard, fans for each CPU, dual 1400W redundant PSUs, USB 3.0 and 2.0, RS-232, VGA, Blu-ray optical drive, dual Gigabit Ethernet, five PCIe slots (PCIe 4.0, 3 x16 and 2 x8) and a recovery disc. It runs Linux on ppc64le, which is fully supported. The total cost shipped to my maildrop with a hex driver for the high-speed fan assemblies is $7236.

Now, some of you are hyperventilating by now and a few of you may have gone into frank sticker shock. Before you reach for the Xanax, please remember this is most assuredly not a commodity x86_64 machine; this is a different (and Power ISA successor) architecture with fully auditable firmware, the ability for you to do your own upgrades and service with off-the-shelf parts, and no binary blobs with hidden spies like the Intel Management Engine. This is a niche box for people like us who value alternative architectures, especially in a design that we can build and trust ourselves, and I always said something like this wouldn't come cheap. But let's compare and say you're in the market for a Mac Pro or something. You'll still be paying a lot, especially if you get any of the tasty BTO options, and the next Mac Pro is still months away or more. And if you were actually in the market for an AmigaOne X5000, this blows it out of the water. You could just run UAE on this and have cycles to spare!

When the Talos II arrives, I'll be sure to post some unboxing photos and take it through its paces on first boot and give you some initial impressions. My immediate goal is to get a RAID set up, get QEMU able to run a decent subset of my old Mac software (I'll probably start with OS 9, and then create a Tiger instance or clone the G5 to it), and get Firefox running with compiler settings appropriate to the CPU. Then will come the real fun of writing a JavaScript JIT for POWER9.

But don't worry: the G5 isn't going anywhere and neither is TenFourFox. I've got a lot invested in this Quad and it will still be serving workstation duty for awhile yet. Nevertheless, get your credit card and your intestinal fortitude out in the meantime and reserve a Talos of your own while the pre-order period is open. Time to get in while it's hot. This is the next evolutionary step in personal computing with PowerPC.

As we wind up our discussion of the future, however, one part of the past will soon be almost completely gone: the venerable old <isindex> HTML tag. Firefox will be removing it from 56 for technical reasons after it was already removed from Google Chrome and the Safari preview. This construct dates back to the very earliest days of the Web when early browsers didn't have form support; it was designed as an easy way of enabling the user to send search keywords or parameters to a webserver, much like Gopher servers receive queries over item type 7. Mosaic 1.x even had a little form that was a permanent part of the browser chrome with a search button, as you can see from the screenshot at the Macintosh Repository, which would be activated when the tag was seen. Later on, subsequent versions of Mosaic and most of the successor browsers turned it into a pseudo-form that functioned the same way as far as the server is concerned and some of those sites are still around. Myself I use the tag mostly as a convenience for old browsers and Lynx on the Hytelnet-HTTP gateway; the search system offers both a conventional search form and an <isindex> query, both of which work the same, and both of which can still be seen in 52ESR, 54 and the 55 beta for the time being. It goes without saying that I will not be removing it from TenFourFox, and it will eternally remain in our codebase and on my servers as a relic of the way things were and an echo of the way the early Web was.


  1. I would absolutely love to go to one of these conventions someday: vintage computers have been a passion of mine ever since I was about 10 years old, but I'm the only person I've ever met IRL that has any interest in them - these types of fairs don't seem to happen around San Antonio, and I certainly don't have the money nor vacation time to spare to go to one :(

  2. Super post, very very very exciting. Thanks for the report, and "dommage" I live too far!!

    did you shoot any video of actual screen activity ?

  3. Just got round to reading some of your older posts here. Wow. I never used Workgroup Servers, but the Duos and PB170s were great.

  4. I know this comment is a few years after these events occured in 2017 but I would like to say thx for keeping the memories of AT&T Computer Systems and its products alive. I was employed in AT&T CSC from early '84 until the end in '91 when CSC was shutdown. After the CSC shutdown I continued at AT&T in switching & wireless for another decade. I think the legacy of AT&T CSC is in the 80s we gave away a lot of 3B equipment, Unix Sys V licenses to Universities and this enabled these schools to expand their computer training beyond mainframe, Wang, DEC and similar technologies, into true Unix and C training.


Due to an increased frequency of spam, comments are now subject to moderation.