2016: computer museums

During previous year I visited some computer related museums. Not every I planned to but still there were a few of them.

Faculty of Information Technology, Brno

In February, during Devconf.cz conference, I visited their small “IT Museum” where several machines used in Czechoslovakia were presented.

There were mainframe setups, several storage units and operating memories from different decades.

80s (and 90s) called with several ZX Spectrum clones, PMD-85 with it’s clones and some other microcomputers from this side of Iron Curtain.

It was nice place to visit even just to see all those computers made in Czechoslovakia.

For more photos please go to my “2016-02 devconf.cz it museum” album.

Technical Museum, Warsaw

In April I came to Warsaw for OpenSource day conference. And visited Technical Museum there to see some Polish computers of mainframe era.

There were many interesting machines. One of them was AKAT-1, the first transistor-based differential equation analyzer:

Other was K-202 — first Polish 16bit computer. Never became popular due to being shutdown by goverment.

Few years later Mera 400 was released. It used K-202 technology:

There were also few Odra systems:

For full resolution photos go to my Muzeum techniki w Warszawie album.

The National Museum Of Computing, Bletchley Park

May came. I went to UK to visit Bletchley Park. Awesome place to visit. And right next to it is The National Museum Of Computing (TNMOC in short).

Inside there is history. I mean HISTORY.

By mistake I entered museum through wrong door and started from oldest exhibition. It was showing the story of breaking Lorentz code used by Germany during second world war. And hardware designed for it. Contrary to Enigma there was no Lorentz machines in Allies possession.

Rebuild of British Tunny Machine:

Rebuild of Heath Robinson machine:

Next to it was room with working replica of first computer: Colossus.

And here you can see it running:

There were several other computers of course. I saw ICL 2900 system, several Elliotts and PDP systems, some IBM machines and others from 50-70s.

One of them was Harwell Dekatron Computer (also known as WITCH). It is oldest working computer:

Then there was wide selection of microcomputers from 80s and 90s. Several British ones and others from anywhere else. There was a shelf with Tube extensions for BBC Micro but it lacked ARM1 one:

For full resolution photos check my The National Museum Of Computing album.

The Centre for Computing History, Cambridge

This museum was on my list for far too long. When I was in Cambridge few years ago it was closed. Next time I did not managed to find time to go there. Finally, during last Linaro sprint, we agreed that we have to go there and we went during lunch break.

For me the main reason of going there was my wish to see ARM1 cpu. It was available only as Tube (extension board for BBC Micro) and only for some selected companies which makes it quite rare.

The first thing I saw after entering museum was “Macroprocesor”. Imagine CPU in size of 70s mainframe with LED on each line, register bit etc.

Next room was arranged in a form of British classroom. Set of BBC Micro computers arranged with monitors, manuals, programs.

And then I went to look around. There were many different computers shown. Some behind glass, some turned on with possibility to play with them (or on them). It was opportunity to see how design was changing through all those years.

There were also several Acorn machines — both ARM and 6502 powered ones.

As most of computer museums that one also has some exclusive content. This time it was NeXT workstation which was used as first web server by Tim Berners-Lee:

And Apple Macintosh SE 30 owned by Douglas Adams, author of “Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy”. Note a towel on top of computer:

Other interesting thing was comparison of storage density through all those years. Note 5MB hard drive being loaded into plane in top right corner.

And again — for more pictures and higher resolution visit my The Centre for Computing History album.

2017 plans

In 2017 I would like to visit Computer History Museum in Mountain View and museum in Paderborn. Maybe something more 😉

Sound under Linux got broken for me

I am starting to dislike current situation of handling sound under Linux.

On my desktop I am using Fedora which is using PulseAudio to handle sound. And recently something changed cause I have to reach mute button too often.

Normally I have Deezer in Chrome playing some background music with volume in web app set to the highest value. I can use KDE mixer to control how loud it is and it works fine. When I run YouTube, Vimeo it is fine. Adobe Flash videos? Fine as well. And according to PulseAudio mixers it keeps stream value at same level every time.

But I do not like that browser. I use Firefox for most of my web stuff. But every time I play YouTube video it jumps with PA stream volume to the highest possible setting so even my next street neighbors are probably able to hear it. Sure, I can change YT volume to nearly zero but when will have to do it with all other web applications as well (and many of them do not have loudness control).

MPlayer (which I use for movies) plays nicely with volume – alters only own PA stream volume.

I think that it is a time for me to report bug against Firefox.

I saw so many computers at Pixel Heaven 2013

During weekend I was in Warsaw at Pixel Heaven 2013 retrocomputing event. It was interesting but I had no idea which machines I will see there as normally on such events in Poland you can see some Atari, Commodore 64 and Amiga computers. But here we got far, far more.

All computers were provided by Stowarzyszenie Miłośników Zabytków Informatyki with few exceptions. I have to visit them in Katowice one day and look at rest of their machines.

Main room was filled with Commodore machines on one side:

CBM PET CBM PET - 2KB? VC 20 (aka VIC-20) Different cases of Commodore 64

Commodore +4 Commodore 116 Commodore 116 Commodore SX64

As you see from PET line though VIC-20 to C64 (in nearly whole range of cases) and it’s portable SX64 version. Then C16/116/+4 line. There was also C128D but crowded for most of time so I did not took a photo.

I always though that C16/116/+4 line was disaster one. But one of guys doing C64 pixel graphics told me that they had 121 colours (compared to 16 on C64) so it gave him more possibilities.

Next set was from Atari:

Atari Video Computer System (aka 2600) Atari 400 Atari 600XL Atari 800XL Atari 1040ST

There were also 130XE, 800XE for which I do not have photos. Too bad that Atari 400 got wrong monitor — picture was snowing due to NTSC output instead of PAL (this was description from owner of same model). And each time I see TOS on Atari ST I want to run away screaming…

Wide line of ZX Spectrum compatibles:

Timex 1000 and ZX81 ZX81 with other keyboard ZX Spectrum ZX Spectrum+

Timex 2048 Timex 2048 with AY and DivIDE ZX Spectrum +2 ZX81 clone from Hong Kong

The green one was bought by my friend V0yager. It had names like “Basic 2000” or “Lambda 8300” and probably many others…

Speaking of ZX Spectrum… We got Polish computers based on Z80 as well:

Meritum Elwirka Elwro 800 Junior

First one (Meritum) was compatible with TRS-80. The second one was closer to ZX Spectrum (there was some compatibility iirc) but was extended with networking and was supposed to be used under CP/J (version of CP/M with networking and shared drives). That piano in the middle was a toy produced earlier by same company so they reused a case (including note holder).

Of course such event should have Commodore Amiga computers as well:

Amiga 600 Amiga 500 Amiga 4000

Amiga CDTV Amiga CD32 Amiga 4000: PCI daughterboard

Amiga 500/1200 were present as well as another Amiga 4000 desktop.

600 was my first own computer (had Atari 65XE before) so I took a photo. Then we have revision 3 of Amiga 500 mainboard. Lot of things done different then in later ones — such as expansion connector. Amiga 4000D was property of my friend. It had PCI daughterboard inside (with network, usb 2.0 and VooDoo3 cards) and was powered by Cyberstorm PPC card. You can see cards on the last picture.

Some selection of strange IBM PC and compatibles:

IBM PC XT Canon all-in-one Unknown PCSchneider EuroPC

Second one had touch screen, phone, fax and printer…

Other ones:

Vectrex Sharp MZ-700 Spectravideo SVI-738 X'Press Universum TV Multi Spiel 2006

Vectrex (the first photo) is machine with vector graphics only, then Sharp MZ-700 with tape recorder and printer, Spectravideo SVI-738 X'Press and then German clone of Atari Pong.

But none of them gave me such joy as line of products from other British company:

BBC Micro BBC Master Acorn Electron Acorn A3010 Acorn A3020

From left:

  • BBC Micro
  • BBC Master
  • Acorn Electron
  • Acorn A3010
  • Acorn A3020

I spent some time playing with RISC OS on A3010. It had some crazy ideas like AppDir but was fun to play with. Managed to drop down to text mode but it’s shell was too strange for me. Same with ARM BASIC. But it was great fun being able to play with one of first ARM based computers. Too bad that later someone change graphics mode to one incompatible with monitor ;(

It was great selection of old computers. I want to thank David Alan Gilbert for his comments on my Google+ posts related to British computers.

New hard drive

During UDS-Q I bought 3TB Seagate disk in USB 3.0 enclosure. Today I finally connected it to my desktop, formatted as ext4 and mounted.

I am surprised by speed of USB 3.0 – 147MB/s according to hdparm test is more than rest of my hard drives have. If technology will increase that way my SSD may became obsolete at time when another hdd will join my setup.

What for 2.73TB drive someone may ask. I plan to use it for backup of my machines.

Scythe Mugen 2 and socket 1155 mainboard

When I moved my home machine to i7-2600K I realized out that Scythe Mugen 2 cpu cooler which I was using lacks elements to mount it on socket 1555 motherboard.

I looked at shops and found out that I need SCCSMG2-1156 (Scythe Mugen 2 mounting kit for Socket 1156/1155) as I have quite old version of cooler (then there was Rev. B released with support for all socket types). But then problem started — no one in Poland had them…

So I contacted Scythe directly and later after spending 10€ I got mounting kit delivered at Xmas Eve. Took me some days to find time to mount it.

First attempt ended with lot of curses, angry email to Scythe and stock cooler mounted again.

But I decided to not give up. Did some extra research and found this YouTube video where I saw that I mounted bolt screws wrong…

So I did another try. This time it fitted perfectly and I can enjoy silence.

Next step: replace new case fans with more quiet ones.

I feel the power of i7

Lot of time passed since last time I upgraded my home computer. Yesterday I moved from P35 based mainboard and Core2Quad cpu to P67 and i7-2600K processor. And 16GB of memory.

Main reason for change was memory. Building packages on SSD is nice and fast but I hate how system slows down when 3-4GB of data needs to be removed from drive. With 8GB of memory it was hard to fit pbuilder’s instance and all running applications. And P35 based mainboards do not support more than 8GB ;( Why I did not buy P45 based mainboard… They supported 4x4GB setup…

So I checked what is on a market. Then I waited months for AMD to release Bulldozer processors. Finally they did just to show that it was waste of time.

Current PC market sucks. Shops do not know what they sell, you need to go to vendors websites for every information. Intel Sandy Bridge platform has very limited amount of PCI Express lines which means that you can not have more than one x16 slot. But shops look at board and write “two/three/../seven x16 PCIe slots” — never mind that it is one of:

  • x16 + x8
  • x16 + x4
  • x16 + x8 + x4
  • x16 + x4 + x4

And in most configurations x16 degrades to x8 when second slot in use as you need PCI Express switch like NVidia NF200 to “provide” more lanes to get two x16 slots.

And fun goes even more when you look at those ‘three x16 slots’ mobos:

The PCIEX4 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX1_1 and PCIEX1_2 slots. When the PCIEX1_1 slot or the PCIEX1_2 slot is populated with an expansion card, the PCIEX4 slot will operate at up to x1 mode.

I remember board where using such x4 slot killed Serial ATA controller…

So, after long reading of all those specifications, reviews, I selected Gigabyte P67X-UD3-B3 mainboard. P67 chipset is not newest one but I do not plan to use on board graphics. I have x16 + x8 PCI Express slots (working as x8+x8 when both in use), USB 3.0 ports, firewire (which I never used), 8 Serial ATA ports (4x 6Gbps and 4x 3Gbps ones) and possibility to have 32GB of DDR3 RAM (but this has to wait for cheap 8GB sticks).

I did one speed test today: tmpfs based build of my cross toolchain packages for Ubuntu. Took one hour for armel and armhf ones. Very nice 🙂

ATI onboard strikes back

As we plan to move from Poznań to Szczecin this week we are spending at Ania’s parents house.

To have better work equipment then my Dell D400 laptop I grabbed some unused components from home to build computer. The list was not so long:

  • 120GB ATA hard disk (it was system one some time ago)
  • DFI RS482 mainboard with 2.1GB ram and Athlon64 X2 cpu (my previous desktop)
  • cpu cooler
  • keyboard
  • PS/2 mouse (which I used before buying wireless one)
  • power supply
  • USB->Serial adapter and some other USB gadgets
  • some cables
  • headphones

The only thing which was needed to make it computer was case. And this shown that Szczecin lacks good computer shops — I had to visit 4 of them just to buy decent case as most of time they only had cheap ones.

Anyway I am using this machine for few days now (connected to old 17″ CRT which I used in 2006) with on-board ATI graphics card. It has many names… “RS485, ATI Radeon x1250 Chipset” etc… And this is crap never mind which drivers are used ;(

First I started with “xf86-video-ati” one. Version shipped in Debian ‘sid’ (6.8.0) is very old and reports that I have the same monitor connected to VGA and DVI outputs. Result is not funny. Driver from “experimental” is much better. But 1024×768@85Hz resolution which is default is not so nice — 1280×1024@85Hz is much better but needs to be set by XRandR call or tweaking of X11 config file.

So I tried to use official ATI driver: “fglrx”. As usual it required patching to build with last release kernel (2.6.25) but patches are already in Debian so it took less time then my last fight with NVidia driver. Effect is also strange — this time monitor started in 2048×1536@60Hz which is just insane on 17″ CRT. After switching with XRandR to sane 1280×1024@85Hz it is much more usable.

Good side is that I do not need to use this machine too often so it will stay like it is for some time. When we move it will be one of my build machines.

And if I ever will have to use it I will put NVidia card into this — they at least works perfect in X11.

CPU cooler upgrade

As you probably noticed I upgraded CPU in my desktop machine. But cpu cooler was same as before — stock Athlon64 BOX one which was included with previous A64 3200+ processor.

Akasa AK-876 CPU Cooler

During idle cpu was running on 1GHz speed (thanks to cpufreq governor “ondemand”) and had 37-39°C temperature. Under load (such as OE/Poky builds) it was up to 65°C and after some time overheating check switched frequency to 1GHz…

Now with Akasa AK-876 heatsink this machine has 30-32°C when idle and 46-50°C under load. And fan speed is much lower — keeps under 2000 RPM under load (previous one goes up to 4000 RPM) so machine is usable without listening music.

There was some problems with fitting such big heatsink into case but it sits properly in place and air flow is in proper way — from CPU fan -> CPU heatsink -> case fan -> out. It also shows that my next machine will get new case — Codegen 9002 which I use now starts to be too small to keep all drives, fans and cables in good order.

CPU upgrade

I usually did big computer upgrades (AMD Duron with SDRAM -> AMD Athlon with DDR, then to AMD Athlon64 with DDR) but this time it was only CPU. From Athlon64 3200+ (2GHz) I switched to Athlon64 X2 4200+ (2.2GHz). Operation was quite simple — take one CPU, insert another but old one glued to radiator so I had to use some force 🙁

Then first boot and question… will BIOS recognize new CPU or not. It properly displayed information and then Linux started — just to show me 1 CPU. Quick installation of already prepared SMP kernel and /proc/cpuinfo had more informations.

Machine is quite loud when operating on full speed but most of time CPUFreq is able to lower frequency (1.0/1.8/2.0/2.2GHz steps are available) so it is noiseless. It is nice to see how CPU usage is split into two cores — now I do not have to wait when two builds are progressing and I want to run some applications.

Now doing builds will be more comfortable 🙂

One gigabyte of memory is not enough?

Today I started to work at home. Here I use amd64 system powered by Athlon64 3200+ (2GHz) with 1 GB of RAM (64M used by onboard graphics). But it looks like it is not enough to have working system and build in background:

11:11 hrw@home:~$ free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:        962312     949312      13000          0      57664    295256
-/+ buffers/cache:     645772     316540
Swap:       987988       5724     982264

After getting first payment I will upgrade this machine to atleast 2GB of memory…