Archive for February, 2020

Unusual Sony Notebook Drive Bay Modules

February 29, 2020

It is not completely unheard of to have a modular bay system for notebook computers, having the possibility for the user to chose whether to have an optical drive there, or maybe an additional battery, or the like.

But I think that there was a decision meeting missing after a brainstorming session at a Sony computer department when they came up with these additional bay modules:

PCGA-CWN1 Compact Woofer

Yes, this is a woofer. It works because it seems that the bays were open at the bottom:

sonywoofer

PCGA-TKN1 Number Pad

Yes, it is exactly what you think it is – an additional number pad you can flip out of the bay:

sony10key

And, no, these were actual products, no photoshopped fakes.

Not crazy, but also quite unusual is this bay module:

PCGA-MDN1 Net MD drive

Yes, that’s a MiniDisc drive for a notebook.

sonymd

NCR Safari 3115

February 27, 2020

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Recently, on ebay, I stumbled upon another NCR mobile, pen-based computer. In contrast to my beloved 3125s, I have never heard of it.

It looks like the older, smaller, much uglier brother to the 3125, but it is not. It is the much rarer, smaller, much uglier, younger brother of the 3125: the Safari 3115.

“Safari” already hints to the time it was released, because Safari is the family name of the AT&T mobile computers. NCR was taken over by AT&T in 1991/92, so this release must be later than that.

Now, the model designation 3115 puts it in the NCR 3000 family, below the 3125, but the “3000 family” was always a marketing lie as the computers in it differ a lot architecture-wise and OS-wise.

The operating system of the 3115 was Windows 3.1 with pen support. The RAM seems to consist of a DRAM card that is accessible via the interface bay. Mine is a Samsung 4 MB model. It is labelled “ICMC V4.1” which is the same as PCMCIA 2.0.

There is an “unofficial NCR (Safari) 3115 support page” which holds most of the information on this machine, but it seems to updated last in 2000…

It weighs 1700g, so it is even 200g heavier than the A4-sized 3125… And although the outer area of the 3115 is smaller than the one of the 3125, the outline volume is probably about the same or even larger!

The Computer History Museum even has a docking station called “CommStation” for the 3115.

I did not think that this machine even deserves more research, because, boy, it is ugly, and because there were a lot of Windows-based pen tablets out there after 1991.

However, I opened the case to see what’s inside because some things (like the concrete CPU model) are not even known. And I have to say, the inside is more advanced than what I thought it it would be.

IMG_20200227_174610362

What I was surprised first was the fact that the computer seems to be at least splash-proof. There is a thick seal in between the case halves, and most of the interfaces are put behind rubber plugs. There is not even an electric interface connecting the machine to the docking station, but an array of infrared LEDs.

The second suprise was that most of the weight seems to be contained in the display which is secured in a metal case. The PCB is not very large, the case not that heavy.

The final suprise was the “harddisk”. It is not a harddisk, it is basically the second generation prosumer-grade SSD in form of a SunDisk(sic!) SDI-20 20 MB SSD with a date of 1992-1993. The first generation was developed by SunDisk (now SanDisk) for the original IBM ThinkPad in 1991. It had a capacity of 20 MB and costed $1000. Obviously, an SSD is much more suited for a rugged pen-based computer than a rotating harddisk.

Other things I found inside were: an Intel 80486SX CPU and 4 MB of soldered RAM.

So, here is my final verdict: This was an attempt to created a rugged, small, pen-based Windows tablet. Unfortunately, it is way too heavy and ugly. Although I don’t know the original price, it probably have not been cheap. It is more interesting that what meets the eye and it is a very, very rare thing.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: NCR
Model: Safari 3115
CPU: Intel 80486SX@25 MHz
RAM: 4MB (8 MB max)
HDD: 20-40MB
Weight: 1700 grams
External dimensions: 23cm*23cm*7cm
Pen: Cordless 1 button digitizer pen made by CalComp Inc, transmits on R/F ranges 0.0576Mhz and 0.0614Mhz, runs on 4(E 393 buttoncell batteries)
Display: 6.25″ Backlit Monochrome VGA
OS: MS-DOS 5.0/Windows 3.1 with pen support
Interfaces: 1 RS232C DB9 serial port, 1 Centronics 25-pin Parallel port, 1 PS/2 Keyboard port, 2 PCMCIA-II expansion slots, 1 PCMCIA-1 memory card slot, 1 Infrared communications/docking port, 1 external power/charging connector
Battery: 9.6V (NIMH) 1200mAh, 1.2A, good for 4hrs per charge?
Released: 1993
Initial price: ???

References

Sony NEWS Portable Workstation NWS-1250

February 27, 2020

1750

We do not see many vintage Japanese workstations in the West. We also do not see many portable workstations (of any make). So, what we really rarely see, are Japanese portable workstations. I feel quite fortunate to have recently acquired one, even if it is not working as of right now. But, once more, let’s start at the beginning.

Sony is, by-and-large, a consumer electronics company and is well-known for their MSX offerings back in the day and their VAIO line of PCs until quite recently. Not so well known is the fact that Sony produced classic workstations from 1987 to 1995. By “classic” I mean they started off by Motorola 68k-family CPUs and ending in RISC CPUs, and they used Unix as their operating system.

The story of why Sony was producing a class of computers that did not really fit their usual lineup goes like this: The manager of a newly established computer project wanted to create a new, cheap office computer, but his engineers wanted instead to do a computer that would replace the VAX 11/780 that was hard to get computer time on, but which they used in earlier projects. The manager settled with the wishes of his engineers and out came a machine that gave each engineer his own substantial, graphical compute power. Now, the concept of workstations is well known in 1986, but Sony competes in the market via the cheaper price and the better price/performance ratio.

The first generation of Sony workstations (1987-88) had mainly dual 68020 CPUs in them and often a Motorola 68881. The second generation (1988-90) used a single or dual 68030 CPUs and a 68882 mathematical co-processor. The third generation (1989-95) used MIPS CPUs, first a R3000, then an R4000, R4400, R4600, R4700, and the final model in 1995 used a R10000.

The operating system, NEWS-OS, was first a BSD variant, in later iterations an System V derivate.

In the long list of 60 models Sony produces, there are also two models (with two variants each) of portable workstations. Both models use the same case and look the same.

The earlier models, the NWS-1230 and NWS-1250, are second generation and have a single 68030 CPU and a 68882 co-processor. They are released in 1990 at a price of 1,250,00 and 1,550,000 Yen, respectively. The slightly larger model, NWS-1250 is the one I got.

“Portable workstation” here does not mean laptop computer, although it is certainly possible to place it on the lap. But without a battery, a weight of about 8 Kg, and measuring 35x42x10cm this is not exactly something you pack in your bag. The machine contains a black-and-white LCD, a keyboard, a 3.5″ floppy disk drive, and a (SCSI) harddisk.

How rare were portable Unix workstations at that time? Let’s have a look at the competition in 1990. There are, of course, many portable PCs available, although typically not of a workstation class. The only other portable Unix workstation that I found before 1990 are the 1985 HP IntegralPC (with a 68000 CPU and Unix in ROM) and the 1989 Opus Portable Workstation (with a 88000 CPU) for $14,000. The next models that I found are the 1992 Tadpole SparcBook 1 and the 1994 Sun SparcStation Voyager. All in all, it seems to me that in 1990 there weren’t many portable Unix workstations around (if you do not count PCs with Unix). And also: why should there be battery-less portable Workstations? The main use is probably showing potential customers your Unix programs, and that is a real niche market.

However, the design of these portables is still quite beautiful and thought-through. When you close the lid with the LCD, it brings your keyboard in a horizontal direction and basically seals it off so no dust can enter in transport. When you open the lid, the keyboard swings down a few degrees, giving you a nice typing angle.

Apart from the design, there is nothing too special about the hardware except the audio capabilities. This machine has dedicated headphone and line in, and mic sockets right at the side of the keyboard. There is also an “MIC ATT” switch (0 db and -20db) and one that switches between mono and stereo. There is dedicated audio hardware onboard, but I do not know the concrete characteristics of that.

Now, my machine is not functional because it lacks a harddrive. These things used SCSI drives and were purportedly picky with which model they chosed to collaborate (there is one guy who says that the kernel has a list of allowed harddisk models). My model had a 240 MB harddisk, probably a Hitachi DK312C-25. Let’s see whether I bring it to life, one day.

Technical data

Manufacturer: Sony
Model: NWS-1250
CPU: Motorola 68030@25 MHz
FPU: Motorola 68882
RAM: 8 MB, extendable to 12 MB
Harddisk: 240 MB
Floppy Disk Drive: 3.5″, 1.44 MB
OS: NEWS-OS
Display: 11″ b&w LCD, backlit
Graphics: 1120×780
Interfaces: mouse, audio (phones, line in, mic in), SCSI, Ethernet (AUI), serial (DB9), parallel (proprietary), SCSI (SCA?)
Released: 21.07.1990
Initial price: 1,550,00 Yen (or 25,000 DM)

References

A few remarks on the Canon Cat

February 23, 2020

I’m currently writing a German article for the club journal (“LOAD“) of the VzEkC (basically the national German vintage computer club).

Here are some remarks that did not fit into my article.

Cat Manuals

There is a whole load of manuals for the Cat available electronically. Simply visit
https://archive.org/details/jefraskin for the

  • How-to Guide
  • Reference Guide
  • Online Help (the files from the Cat ROM)
  • Tutorial (the file from the Cat ROM)
  • Quick Reference Card
  • Hardware Schematics
  • Workshop Manual
  • Technical Documentation for the Canon Cat Editor
  • tForth Manual

LEAP in the 21st century

One of the main features of the Cat was Jef Raskin’s LEAP technology. It is basically a fast search-in-the-entire-document-space (in the memory of the Cat) plus moving the cursor to the found location. If you can remember a name, a location, or a phrase, you can find the corresponding location across all documents on the Cat.

This would be a useful function even (or especially) today if you could do it over all things you have ever typed in on all machines that you have ever used. It would require some technology to track all things typed in by a user, but nowadays we have enough compute power to search in that type of data amount quickly.

Finally, although there is a lot of things you can find about the Cat electronically, I received with my machine some things that I did not find in the Internet.

Canon Cat prospectus

It seems to me that this must be the standard marketing material.

IMG_20200223_175906749

IMG_20200223_175940388

IMG_20200223_175958708

IMG_20200223_180028011

IMG_20200223_180043134

IMG_20200223_180058490

Software

Obviously, there was also a little bit oft software for the Cat. I do not know whether these would be sold separately, whether the shop simply copied them to customers, or what their status was. For the CATFILE program a “Note to dealers” basically says that this should be given out to customers so they “will appreciate this usefull addition to their Cats, and we hope they will be encouraged to tell their friends and business associates about this recent upgrade to their Cat systems”. Does not sound as if the Cat sells itself easily, does it?

CATFORM
CATFORM is a Cat program that allows to manage forms on a Cat and to print them out. You can create, store, and fill out forms with this program. I have a printed manual for that. This manual is also available electronically under: https://archive.org/details/DTCJefRaskinDoc048/page/n17/mode/2up

CATFILE
CATFILE allows yout to manage name and address lists on the cat and to use them for mail merge. I have a printed manual for that.

CATFILE Utility Disk
Now this program is not directed towards the users, but towards the dealers. It “is used to create and customize the Catfile Application Software disks for your customers use. I have a photocopied manual for that.

“Secretarial Workstation” demo disk and marketing material
This package was meant for dealers to demonstrate the “secretarial workstation” potential to potential customers. To that end there was a demonstration disk and a short printed manual that explained how to use the disk.

Family Tree v2.1
I do not know what this app really is. Obviously, it is some form of tool to record data for a Family Tree, but I do not know whether this was a commercial program or whether the last owner did program this himself.

BTW, if everythings works out, I will show off my Canon Cat (and the software) at the Classic Computing 2020 exhibition in Thionville, France on the 26th and 27th of September 2020.

Western Digital Pascal MicroEngine, an Update

February 16, 2020

Yesterday, I received a 2nd MicroEngine board, unfortunately in a worse state than my first one. Also, probably an earlier patch level as there is less patch cableing on the board. Nevertheless, nice to have.

Also, if you look for images for boot floppy disks, you can find them under ftp://ftp.dreesen.ch/WD9000/MicroEngine.zip.