Data General NOVA4/X recovered from Bakersfield

Tom Jennings, updated 24 January 2005

On 17 January 2005 I drove up to Bakersfield, CA (from Los Angeles) to recover a Data General NOVA 4/X system from becoming landfill, thanks to Bruce Ray (of both Simulogics and WildHareComputers) who found out in time. I wasn't really looking for another pile of dusty iron to fill the lab with nor another project, but no one else was able to get up there on a few days notice, so I rented a truck and drove up with the dogs to go fetch.

The machine was purpose-built, around 1980 (late for a NOVA 4) to monitor some test smokestack. It was built into a portable trailer with a few tons of A/C equipment. It appears to have been turned off five or so years later, and simply abandoned. The person I got it from wanted the trailer, having received it all with a larger parcel of surplus stuff. Bruce Ray made mad, last-minute arrangements to get them to hold off dumping it 'til someone could get up there.

It was a worthwhile haul, the system well-preserved and complete; though the A/C was off for 20 years in the Bakersfield heat, all of the cabinet doors were closed, there were no water or dust leaks, no animals, no rust, corrosion or mildew.

The system originally consisted of:

Since this isn't a rare machine, and it's in basically excellent shape, I'm just bringing it up to operating condition reasonably quickly. Boards and chassis were pulled for cleaning and inspection, power supplies checked per FRU sequence, and so on, but it's otherwise pretty straightforward.

The CPU came right up. Had to make a console cable, took some time to trace down correct wiring (the original installation was made intentionally console-less since it was essentially an "embedded controller"). Console is 9600/8/n/1. I originally used minicom on a unix laptop as the console, but I've since obtained a read Data General D410 terminal, seen here. I switch back to minicom/unix to capture console output.

The 6070 disk didn't come up at first, and when it did, oh boy. You can read my sordid tale on my near-disastrous experience. The short answer: it's working now, and as of mid-February 2005, formatted and initialized.

The 6021 tape drive is now up and running. It was a pretty straightforward debugging process. It is a servo system so you have to figure out how to test closed-loop things (in this case you can break the loop). The vacuum switches used on the columns fail from age, but are repairable.

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