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>IBM RT 6150
 SGI 4D/340VGX


AIX  Version 2.2.1
Automatic system initialization in progress.
Fri Nov 25 23:26:21 1988
Verifying root file system.
Root file system verifies OK.
Starting configuration process.
Configuration process completed successfully.
Verifying file systems.
File systems verify OK.
Starting errdemon
Cleaning uucp spool directory.
Enabling default ports.
Starting qdaemon
tcpip daemons: syslogd lpd routed sendmail uucpd portmap inetd named rwhod.
System initialization completed.
IBM AIX/RT Operating System
(C) Copyright IBM Corp. 1985, 1988


The IBM RT (or IBM 6150 series) was a computer workstation sold by IBM and based around IBM's ROMP processor, a spin-off of the IBM 801 pioneered at IBM Research. The system was introduced in 1986 as the RT PC (RISC Technology Personal Computer) and ran AIX 1.x and 2.x, the Academic Operating System (AOS), or the Pick operating system. It was commonly, but incorrectly, known as the PC RT, and IBM later simplified the name. It didn't enjoy much success, and all models were discontinued by May 1991. However, the system spurred further development, as it was followed by IBM's RS/6000 and the corresponding POWER processor line, which is the basis for today's PowerPC.

  • Size 8" (base is 12" wide) x 24" x 25"
  • 16 megabytes of RAM
  • 6 MHz ROMP Enhanced Advanced 032 processor
  • AIX 2.2.1
  • 930MB storage

In March of 2008, a friend directed me and a few other folks I know to a particular Craigslist ad posted by a firm in Albuquerque; they were cleaning house and one of their IT guys came upon a large amount of old computer equipment. Knowing there would be people interested in it and that his duty merely involved getting rid of them, he decided to give them to the first people to ask. Naturally, we inquired immediately, whereupon we were informed that most of the stuff was still present. Taking a day off, we all rode up together to see the goods.

Upon arrival, the guy showed us what all there was: A Sun 4/110, an old HP-UX system, and a few MicroVAX, along with plenty of software tapes. As we loaded the bulk of it into the back of the truck, he informed us that there had been an IRM RS/6000 system, but someone else claimed it already; otherwise it would also be in the lot. He also stated there was an older IBM machine in storage, an RT, something from before the RS/6000, possibly one of the first RISC machines. We decided to go check it out; as soon as my eyes fell on it, I was in love. A massive off-white monolith with a 120-lb. color monitor from 1986: how could I resist? We loaded it into the truck as well and took off.

Upon returning to Socorro, I plugged in the machine and flipped the massive red switch on the front. After a series of POST numbers flashed on the LEDs on the front, I was hoping to see something come up on the monitor; however, nothing else happened. I thought maybe a lack of keyboard was to blame, so I grabbed one of the many I have lying around and attempted to plug it in. It was at this point that I discovered one of the downfalls of the RT - an entirely-proprietary, never-seen keyboard and mouse plug. A strange layout it was indeed; rectangular in shape, it held a 3x2 array of pins for conductors. Mildly distraught, I contacted the guy I got the machine from in the hopes that he might be able to find the original.

After over a month, the answer finally came back - the keyboard and mouse had both been lost to time. At this point, I knew my only hope of getting the machine to boot would involve looking online regularly for the keyboard's model number and pray I find something. Over the course of another month, I encountered and obtained the repair manual for the monitor and a tape drive designed for the unit; alas, it seemed all hope was lost on finding the keyboard. That is, until one day - I decided dejectedly to browse eBay for further old computer parts and, on a whim, searched for the keyboard serial number. Lo and behold, someone was actually selling one. I won the auction and paid immediately.

A week later, the keyboard had arrived; I felt like a kid at Christmas. I plugged it in and fired the machine up - sure enough, after all the POST, the keyboard beeped and the computer started booting. As it finished, it displayed something I hadn't thought about - a login prompt. Naturally, I didn't know the root password to the machine; I was locked out.

This is where the story gets interesting.

Another friend of mine, someone who'd witnessed me struggling with this machine and trying to get it running, suggested I start looking around for people who might have been involved with the creation of the RT; presumably, as was reasoned, anyone who had been working on that project would at least have been known within the walls of IBM, and it being a completely obsolete machine, surely they'd be willing to provide assistance. Maybe there was a back door or something built into the system.

I initially contacted IBM directly with my problem. As one might expect, they were less than helpful. I suspected I might never get the thing to a useable state, but I kept looking.

One day, I don't remember how, I came across the name of the head designer on the RT team; a quick Google search told me that he had since retired to playing the organ for a small church in Texas, as I recall. Expecting no response, I wrote to his email address with my inquiry.

The response took a day or two, but it was glorious: While he himself did not know how to help, he was so impressed that there was one of these machines still kicking around that he forwarded my email to the entire development team, a total of I think maybe six people. Many of these folks had long since moved on from IBM, though there was one still working in their research department. The email thread became a veritable Who's Who of IBM employees; several had gone on from the RT project to head development of the RS/6000, the PS/1 and PS/2, and several other quintessential IBM systems.

The solution to the problem required the installation media for IBM AIX 2.2.1. These would have been multiple 5.25" floppy disks, bundled together and provided alongside the machine. As I knew I didn't have them, and I was pretty sure the guy I'd gotten the computer from didn't have them either, I was stuck once again.

Ever hopeful, however, I continued my search online for the necessary media. After about a week of searching, I came across a webspace dedicated to the IBM RT and all the software it could have run; as luck would have it, they had copied the original installation disks to file and posted them online. The guy who owned the webspace, the head developer for the OpenAFS project at the time, was also more than happy to help, and further directed me to several other people who might have some ideas. It seemed like everyone I spoke with during this time period was a fairly well-known individual in the field of computer science, and it only made me more excited to get the system working.

With help from one of my friends who was more familiar with UNIX than myself at the time, we finally managed to reset the password on the machine; with further help from the aforementioned head of the OpenAFS project, we got X11R5 installed and running reliably. I had my machine.

This computer, which I had named Guru, I never really had any other plans for it when I got it; I just wanted it to run. Once I got it up and running properly, my goal was to make it into a sort of art workstation; it had come with the big, powerful, full-color monitor, after all, and there are 5083 tablets out there that will work with it. I did end up getting a tablet that supposedly can work with it; however, it needs an adapter to fit it to the proprietary mouse plug, and further still needs a stylus. Still, it's doing alright.

% motd

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       \  .-\__ `-. -'__/-.  /       8:                                        
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==`-.`___`-.__\ \___  /__.-'_.'_.-'==     '88:,. .,:88'   ':.                  
               `=--=-'                       '*****'                           

% _