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Tech Tuesday: What is it?

Just as the vast majority of political discussions on the internet end with one person invoking the name of Hitler, when people talk computers on the internet there's a good chance the discussion will turn into a contest to see who has been messing with computers longer.

Most people think if they went into a Radio Shack in the 1980's and saw a computer for sale they were some sort of alpha geek. If you've seen these debates -or if you've been in one of these debates- you might like this week's Tech Tuesday.

Today we get to separate the graybeards from the wannabes. And put 50 bucks in the graybeard's pocket.

As I've gone thru my career I've saved a piece of technology every 4 or 5 years as sort of a milepost in our technological advancement. One day I'll frame them or donate them to a museum or something. For example I have a 5 1/2" 10MB hard drive that, at the time, was amazing.

This piece is a little older than that.


(Click for a closer look)


Do you know what this is? It might be worth 50 bucks to you.
I put both a tape measure and a dollar bill on it to illustrate the scale.



(Click for a closer look)


It's 16" wide and a foot deep!


(Click for a closer look)

More Below


(Click for a closer look)


So here's the deal. I spoke to Kevin and he said he'd give the first person to properly ID this hunk of computing history 50 bucks. And considering the age of this thing, if you remember it, I'll throw in a box of dried prunes and an extra large box of Depends.

Take your best guess below. (Note: If this is drop dead simple and you know it before anyone else has even guessed, email me rather than drop it in comments. (paul at wizbangblog.com) I want it to last more than 20 minutes.)

And I'll be pretty generous about awarding the prize.. (Hey, it's Kevin's money ;-) If nobody gets it exactly right but someone gets very close, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Update: We really have a winner. The comments are still open but unless you knock my socks off with knowledge, I'm pretty much done. See my comment about 9:30ish.


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Comments (114)

Memory. Do I have to count... (Below threshold)

Memory. Do I have to count the chips to provide a total?

Wouldn't happen to be a mem... (Below threshold)
Shaun K.:

Wouldn't happen to be a memory card from a VAX or PDP-11 would it?

Looks like a memory card fr... (Below threshold)
mojo:

Looks like a memory card from an EMC SAN

Big deal. Wanna see my mainframe memory card from 1978? A whopping 4K of RAM, baby....

Definitely memory, but the ... (Below threshold)
Don:

Definitely memory, but the shocker is how much...or how little. I'll go with a whopping one megabyte.

And I'll add in the comment... (Below threshold)
Paul:

And I'll add in the comments.... If some people are close but one person nails it later in life, I'll probably go with the guy who nailed it.

Judging will be a fair and I can make it.

256 K of Memory.... (Below threshold)
Robert:

256 K of Memory.

Memory from an early EMC Sy... (Below threshold)

Memory from an early EMC Symmetrix Storage Array. I'm guessing, circa 1991?

Hmm...can I have a second b... (Below threshold)

Hmm...can I have a second bite at the apple?

It's and EMC 1 megabit chip memory board developed for Prime computers, circa 1985-86

You disappoint me. You are ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

You disappoint me. You are all way off base. It's one of 3 main boards to Sen. Robert Byrd's first pacemaker.

My guess is that it is a TW... (Below threshold)
MichaelT:

My guess is that it is a TWENTY dollar bill in the first picture, and the remainder is historical junk that has (fortunately) been outdated.

Seriously, I have no clue. I was lucky to identify the TWENTY dollar bill, given my eyesight.

Could it be an ALU? I gues... (Below threshold)
Michael K.:

Could it be an ALU? I guessed in email to Paul that it was memory, but something in the circuit tells me otherwise.

I believe it is an ALU (Ari... (Below threshold)
Larry Hardy:

I believe it is an ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit) from some type of computer. I see some chips labeled as A18, A19... A24, which leads me to belive that they are accumulators. So perhaps this is the CPU of some computer system.

It's part of a computer. (... (Below threshold)
Michael:

It's part of a computer. (This makes me the default winner if everyone else is wrong.)

I'm sticking with the memor... (Below threshold)
jmaster:

I'm sticking with the memory module ID. I would have guessed it was for a Prime system, but somebody beat me to that. So I'll go with an HP.

Well, I'm going to against ... (Below threshold)
Anachronda:

Well, I'm going to against the flow and say parity-protected memory for an 18-bit DEC machine such as the PDP-7, -9, or -15.

I still have an AT knockoff... (Below threshold)
Micah:

I still have an AT knockoff in the basement, and I'll go along with the memory board theme. For specifics, I'd guess the original board from the IBM XT, with the UNBELIEVABLE amount of 640K RAM.

Hal? Is that you?... (Below threshold)
D. Carter:

Hal? Is that you?

It's for an IBM mainframe 9... (Below threshold)

It's for an IBM mainframe 9121.

It looks like it could be a... (Below threshold)
Howard:

It looks like it could be a 16k memory board for a late 80's early 80 minicomputer

Hmm, I had some 24 bit vide... (Below threshold)
ldglite:

Hmm, I had some 24 bit video memory cards on
an ancient SGI workstation that looked sorta
like that.

1MB EMC memory board from 1... (Below threshold)
Joe Zwers:

1MB EMC memory board from 1985. Was definitely between 1983 and 1987 since that was when they were in Natick.

Circuit board for processin... (Below threshold)
John:

Circuit board for processing '80s Census data.

Wild guess, but for some reason this board makes me think big bureaucratic government.

...I'm guessing a 1 meg mem... (Below threshold)
leelu:

...I'm guessing a 1 meg memory board out of a DEC VAX minicomputer.

As I recall they could hold up to eight. ;-)

I believe we ran with four meg, running 12 CAD terminals off one VAX. It could get *real* slow real fast....

This is emc's memory upgrad... (Below threshold)
debra:

This is emc's memory upgrade (circa 1983?) of 1 megabit RAM, or maybe it's the 64-kb memory board?

do you know matt? he had o... (Below threshold)
bender:

do you know matt? he had one of those at my parents house a few months ago (maybe in october?)

Anyway - I cant remember if his was a 1 mb ,512 k, or 256 k... i just remember it being really small and we tossed it aroudn for the dogs.

yes, again...how about 640K... (Below threshold)
debra:

yes, again...how about 640K of memory? (The most memory that bill gates once said we would ever need....)

Sixteen bit wide error corr... (Below threshold)
htom:

Sixteen bit wide error correcting memory, not s-100 or xt or pc or mac or VME from the form factor. One of the PDPs?

It looks like a line card f... (Below threshold)
DJFelix:

It looks like a line card from an EMC2 PBX system. I can't quite place it ... but definitely from a PBX.

Memory module for a Sperry/... (Below threshold)

Memory module for a Sperry/Univac UYK-7 or UYK-20

Gawd! We're surrounded by ... (Below threshold)

Gawd! We're surrounded by a bunch of geeks.

(Uh, Dude, how long have you been reading blogs? - Ed.)

Is it the circuitry inside ... (Below threshold)
Michael K.:

Is it the circuitry inside the joystick of an Atari 2600? ;-)

DEC has already been mentio... (Below threshold)
profligatewaste:

DEC has already been mentioned, so I'm going to say a memory board for a Data General Eclipse.

Is it an old cell phone?</p... (Below threshold)
Michael K.:

Is it an old cell phone?

HA! I like that one!

ok, it's me again...it's a ... (Below threshold)
debra:

ok, it's me again...it's a high heat dissipation mounting for solid state devices and circuits, circa 1975-1980.

I believe that it's a piece... (Below threshold)

I believe that it's a piece of the original Cross.

If you look closely, you'll see the bloodstains of Jesus.

It's the memory card from t... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

It's the memory card from the Heath kit that Al Gore created the Internet on while doing secret research for DARPA long before he was elected to office WHILE he was in Cambodia.

Is it a drive controller?</... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Is it a drive controller?

An I/O board for a Prime sy... (Below threshold)
Dustin:

An I/O board for a Prime system.

>It's the memory card from ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>It's the memory card from the Heath kit that Al Gore created the Internet on while doing secret research for DARPA long before he was elected to office WHILE he was in Cambodia.

We have a winner!

Processor board for the dig... (Below threshold)
jack:

Processor board for the digital display on my mother-in-law's bathroom scale.

I'm going to guess that it ... (Below threshold)

I'm going to guess that it is a 640kb-1MB of memory board for either a minicomputer or a mainframe circa... 1979-1983. What can I say, the first computer I ever owned was a 386 w/ 2mb of ram and a 100MB hdd.

Update: Someone emailed me ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Update: Someone emailed me in Russian and I thought we had a winner...

Excepted I pasted some of the message into google translator and it said something about the fact I could "guzzel like a fountian" so maybe not....

Also, for all who mailed... No, it is not a processor from a "Cialas" brand computer whatever those are.

oh jack that was low - funn... (Below threshold)
Paul:

oh jack that was low - funny but low

The motherboard for what be... (Below threshold)
mcg:

The motherboard for what became the very first SUN workstation?

Last try...memory from an H... (Below threshold)
debra:

Last try...memory from an HP 3000.

Main processing board for a... (Below threshold)

Main processing board for a video game console?

I'll guess PacMan, but will expect to be announced the winner if it's anything close...

It's obviously a memory car... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

It's obviously a memory card of some sort. The main section of chips is in a perfect grid layout, and most board designers don't put anything in rows and columns unless it's RAM.

I'm guessing it's from an old VAX, 11/xxx series of some sort. Looking at the later VAXen, they had 2- and 4-slot boards, but no 6-slot boards like this one is. I'm 99.9% sure it's memory, though.

Or a memory board for a Pri... (Below threshold)
Dustin:

Or a memory board for a Prime computer circa 1980's

Ok, can't. stop. submitting... (Below threshold)
debra:

Ok, can't. stop. submitting.

Memory board for Pong?

Look at Yahoo with a search... (Below threshold)
Bill:

Look at Yahoo with a search argument of emc history
for your answer. It is the first hit.

64-kilobyte chip memory boa... (Below threshold)
Man:

64-kilobyte chip memory boards developed for Prime computers

Bill,Wow, $36,000.... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Bill,

Wow, $36,000.00 per megabyte of RAM!

I used to sell 10MB hard drives for $700.00 at wholesale and I thought that was a lot.

Solid state disk ... (Below threshold)
Bill:

Solid state disk

I agree with man:64 ... (Below threshold)
Ken:

I agree with man:
64 KByte memory for minicomputer using 4Kx1 DRAM IC's

E=MC squared! Omigosh, it'... (Below threshold)

E=MC squared! Omigosh, it's an atomic bomb! (A dirty bomb, too, from the looks of it).

It's part of a UFO that you... (Below threshold)
Michael:

It's part of a UFO that you swiped from Area 51.

PDP/11-70 memory... (Below threshold)
steve manseau:

PDP/11-70 memory

Breathalizer at the Kennegy... (Below threshold)
KobeClan:

Breathalizer at the Kennegy compound.

I'm going to go out on a li... (Below threshold)

I'm going to go out on a limb that I haven't seen anyone else venture onto yet, and say that its a memory or CPU upgrade for the Apple IIe. I remember installing one of those way back in the day, so I could play even more of the coolest games ever made.

That's "Breathalizer at the... (Below threshold)
KobeClan:

That's "Breathalizer at the KENNEDY compound". Me Bad.

Its a Video Card circa 1983... (Below threshold)

Its a Video Card circa 1983-1989.

couldnt tell you what the h... (Below threshold)
neil:

couldnt tell you what the hardware is...but what you said was a dollar bill looks more like a twenty to me....no wonder you conservatives have fucked up the deficit and couldnt estimate the cost of the Iraq war and almost shortchanged the Veterans Affairs budget...thank god you wont be able to touch Soc Security now...

16k of PDP-8 memory.... (Below threshold)
cameo:


16k of PDP-8 memory.

Cache memory card for a WAN... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Cache memory card for a WANG VM

This is a SERVER!... (Below threshold)

This is a SERVER!

It may be a calculator boar... (Below threshold)
Man:

It may be a calculator board but I can't recall any using this board.

OK I got it's a part for th... (Below threshold)
Man:

OK I got it's a part for the Bull Express5800 server.

It is an EMC 1 Mb (megabit)... (Below threshold)
AztecL0B0:

It is an EMC 1 Mb (megabit) upgrade RAM module from 1985.

We used to have boards like... (Below threshold)
J Kevin:

We used to have boards like that on our National Semiconductor C1700 & C1800 series processors. They were used in grocery sites to run the cash registers. Looks like 1-2 Mb memory boards. Probably 1Mb. I would be surprised to find that is is from a video game machine. Pac-Man or one of the shoot-'em-up games.

Remember folks the most com... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Remember folks the most complete answer wins.

YES you can say "It's a computer part" and be correct.

But if someone comes behind you and says it's an XXXX computer part from an xyzzy computer they win. KnowwhtImean?

BTW there is a buried hint in this message.

Too tired at the moment to ... (Below threshold)
MichaelT:

Too tired at the moment to try to figure out the hidden meaning. But have come back a few times, strangely intriqued by Debra's sense of humor. My guess would have been the digital display from TED KENNEDY's bathroom scale.

Buried so deep I can't see ... (Below threshold)
Man:

Buried so deep I can't see it unless it has to do with the 4451 xxxx computer graphic.
I'll just reread the lesbian article and look for hidden meanings there.

Hmm, a buried hint in that ... (Below threshold)
Shad:

Hmm, a buried hint in that message, you say? ... from an xyzzy computer...

Some kind of memory card from a PDP-10 running Colossal Cave Adventure?

just to let you know, if yo... (Below threshold)

just to let you know, if you still look @ these...

there is a computer museum in San Diego, California that would probably love this.

I've visited it with my father and he claims he remembers using some of the older computers in there.
(He used to work for the IRS way back when)

Memory card from a Commodor... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Memory card from a Commodore KIM-1.

Or as they were called back... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Or as they were called back then -- MOS Technology.

On the other hand, it does ... (Below threshold)
Shad:

On the other hand, it does look an awful lot like this EMC Symmetrix 240-021-906 Memory Board.

Certainly hope that isn't it, though -- seems a bit off to be offering a $50 prize to identify a $12.99 item =)

Regardless, congratulations on finding a piece of hardware that you could put up for identification and not get an answer back within just a few minutes.

Shad,I searched eB... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Shad,

I searched eBay for EMC2 and missed that -- good catch.

Good job Shad it does look ... (Below threshold)
Man:

Good job Shad it does look exactly like the EMC Symmetrix 240-021-906 Memory Board in the ebay picture.

I dunno, Shad; these guys <... (Below threshold)
Anachronda:

I dunno, Shad; these guys http://emisolutions.com/EMC.htm want $300 for one.

The connectors look like a ... (Below threshold)

The connectors look like a VAX plane, IIRC, and it's definitely memory, so my guess would be memory for a VAX. Actually, was that a VAX or the Encore Multimax that had those connectors and snaps? Memory fading... (no pun intended).

Looks like memory from an o... (Below threshold)
Eneils Bailey:

Looks like memory from an old Datapoint Display Terminal...2200 maybe.

Actually, Jeff, DEC used th... (Below threshold)
Anachronda:

Actually, Jeff, DEC used those connectors for almost everything. UNIBUS boards could be hex boards, as could later OMNIBUS boards of the PDP-8/a vintage (a hex board wouldn't fit into the earlier 8/e box). I suspect that other systems used hex modules as well.

OK Shad-- You are indeed th... (Below threshold)
Paul:

OK Shad-- You are indeed the master search engine user.

Now what pray tell is a 240-021-906???

BTW The cool guys don't call it Colossal Cave

Mamory card, for sure.... (Below threshold)
JohnW:

Mamory card, for sure.

Data General Eclipse series MV9000 or earlier, perhaps?

I myself have the processor daughterboard for an MV1000 in the basement, so I know whe're you're coming from.

My hands-on experience goes all the way back to DEC PDP-8's! :)

EMC's mainframe compatible ... (Below threshold)
Bill:

EMC's mainframe compatible solid state disk subsystem, the Orion

Advanced storage subsystems... (Below threshold)
Bill:

Advanced storage subsystems developed for IBM System/38 and AS/400 computers

Somebody above must have wo... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Somebody above must have won by now, with all the clues it looks like a memory board from an old DEC/VAX mainframe.

Colossal Cave was originally written for PDP-11

Or the cool name -- "Advent... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Or the cool name -- "Adventure"

Well, I don’t have it in me... (Below threshold)
jmaster:

Well, I don’t have it in me to worry about this one anymore, but I will give some advice to anyone out there who wants to keep digging.

You should be able to identify the brand of computer this went into by studying the latches on top of the card, and by the pitch of the edge card fingers at the bottom. By the pitch, I mean the varying distances between the connector banks.

Those are mechanical features that were used back then to key the modules to specific areas of a particular system.

OK folks we have a winner.<... (Below threshold)
Paul:
OK folks we have a winner.

The judging was mighty subjective... A few people scared it and the "winner" scared the hell out of it without actually killing it. But he clearly remembers those days and that was the point.

As far as who won, the sprit of this contest was to give the person who actaully remembered the thing the cash.

One person cleary knows more than the rest of the contestants.

Don't feel bad, there were many good guesses and some that we technically correct but saying "It's memory" ain't enough to pry 50 bucks from my hand -- even if it is Kevin's.

I'm leaving comments open, and to extend the fun, I'm not going to tip my hand just yet. I'll probably post tonight or tomorrow.

BTW- Shad, you get the brownie points for best use of the search engine but while you actaully produced the best info, it was clear you learned it today. I assume you understand.

that wasn't the cool name ;... (Below threshold)
Paul:

that wasn't the cool name ;-)

HP 1000... (Below threshold)
Rob:

HP 1000

Wait, don't make a decision... (Below threshold)
Michael:

Wait, don't make a decision yet. I knew I'd seen that thing before. I was called in after business hours to solder some cracked connections on an EMC Symmetrix 240-021-906 Memory Board. Can't believe it took me so long to remember because, y'know, I got overtime and everything.

XYZZY is taught by math tea... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

XYZZY is taught by math teachers the world around as a mnemonic device to remember how to do cross products.


Guess I found the wrong hidden message (KWIM).

Soooo Lemme get this right.... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Soooo Lemme get this right.... You remember the exact part number of a board you soldered 20+ years ago....

OK let's see... What is it from???

I think it's the upper boar... (Below threshold)
Lew Clark:

I think it's the upper board of a matched pair of verticolators in the main hestifanz frameout of a Colbanda 915X.

I have to admit that I am q... (Below threshold)
jmaster:

I have to admit that I am quite shocked that this post might break 100 comments.

I'm still pondering whether thats a good thing or a bad thing.

WTF? Why does that have to ... (Below threshold)
Juniper:

WTF? Why does that have to be good or bad?

Why are you even shocked? It was interesting and people enjoyed it.

Why do I have this mental i... (Below threshold)
Beth:

Why do I have this mental image of dozens of dudes all sitting in creaky computer chairs with worn-out seats, with bottles of piss stationed nearby?

::running away::

;-P

"Soooo Lemme get this ri... (Below threshold)
Michael:

"Soooo Lemme get this right.... You remember the exact part number of a board you soldered 20+ years ago....

OK let's see... What is it from???"

That's easy. It was from a COMPUTER. What, you don't believe me? While I was soldering, we ordered a double-cheeze and sausage pizza from Dominos. You can check the records at the Dominos in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

DOMINO'S??? BLEEECH!!!... (Below threshold)
fatman:

DOMINO'S??? BLEEECH!!!

The pizza was kinda just wa... (Below threshold)
Michael:

The pizza was kinda just warm when it arrived, not really hot, but we didn't complain. So you won't find a record of of our complaint in the Domino's archives. But you can find our order of a double-cheese and sausage pizza, circa 1982. (BTW, Ann Arbor is where Domino's Pizza started out -- their basic business model back then was to deliver hot pizza to Michigan dormitories full hungry students that were sick of cafeteria food.)

Michael,I was in a... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Michael,

I was in a dormitory at the University of Michigan in 1982 and having grown up in Chicago would never have allowed myself or anyone I knew to eat that undercooked bread that Domino's tries to call pizza.

The Cottage Inn had a much better pie and every tenth pizza was free which was very important to us poor college kids.

But, I guess if you didn't know any better, anything was better than the dorm food -- in the West Quad at least.

Go Blue.

Mesablue:Thanks fo... (Below threshold)
Michael:

Mesablue:

Thanks for confirming at least part of my story.

XYZZY is taught by math ... (Below threshold)

XYZZY is taught by math teachers the world around as a mnemonic device to remember how to do cross products.

OK_ so what is the story behind PLUGH and PLOVER?

I can only ID it as a memor... (Below threshold)

I can only ID it as a memory card for an older model computer, probably along the lines of a DG NOVA or another 32-bit machine. However, I feel I can safely say that thing sold for a couple grand back when it was new. I was trying to figure out how large a block of RAM that was, and I admit I'm confused by the 8X19 array. Would you mind explaining that when the winner is announced?

John,Plugh is supp... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

John,

Plugh is supposed to have been randomly generated by Crowther and plover was added by Woods and refers to the species of bird.

IBM Displaywriter? I never... (Below threshold)
BR:

IBM Displaywriter? I never looked inside, so I don't know about the "EMC-2" thingie, but the dimensions sure remind me of the CPU of my beloved old Displaywriter. Used to cost around $10,000 in 1981. Later on, when offices were selling them for $600 a piece, a friend and I stacked up her garage with them. We never used them after that, but oh, the sentimental value! That was the word processor made (in)famous by Ollie North's secretary during her testimony in the Iran/Contra hearings. And it had a "toaster" standing next to it for the 2 large floppy disks. We who knew all the shortcuts were loathe to change to PCs - so much so that even today I'm computer-savvy-resistant :) Never got over them taking our Displaywriters away! Never forgave IBM for not keeping up and expanding its Displaywriter's software into PCs. Boo hoo hoo, I'm crying all over again! Oh Paul, even if your pictures are not of the Displaywriter, thanks for the memories. (Actually, I'm not that old, it must have been a past life recall :)

Hee, well thanks to Paul, I... (Below threshold)
BR:

Hee, well thanks to Paul, I finally got to see the insides of an IBM DisplayWriter - found it here - allegedly a 1983 version:

http://www.obsoletecomputermuseum.org/displayw/scott05.jpg

(Since I'm still trying to figure out what "hot linking" really is, I haven't added the "

Oops - forgot preview.... (Below threshold)
BR:

Oops - forgot preview.

...haven't added the "a h r e f" stuff around the above link :)

XYZZY?What about E... (Below threshold)
mojo:

XYZZY?

What about ELI the ICE man?

Are you going to announce t... (Below threshold)
Michael:

Are you going to announce the winner? Cuz, I'm checking my mailbox, and I don't see my money.

Actually, quite funny readi... (Below threshold)
Gil:

Actually, quite funny reading some of the attempts...

The board is a memory board for UNIBUS DEC systems...

now, as to whether it is for a PDP11/x4 or a VAX-11 is a good question...

I'm still looking for some docs for my EMC uVAX II memories...




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