Stories of HP 3000 longevity are legend. Less than 10 years ago, Paul Edwards could report on a Dallas-area customer who was running a Series 70 system in production. Paul was circumspect about who the lucky company was — lucky because they were still leveraging a system HP stopped selling in the late 1980s.
We heard from a longtime 3000 lover in Buffalo recently who wants to turn back the calendar on his Series 42 system. By his system, we mean that literally: Matthew Bellittiere took personal possession of the same system which he learned MPE upon in the early 1980s. The 42 was a server that considered a DDS tape drive an upgrade. Reel to reel was the standard backup peripheral for any computer HP first sold during the early half of the 1980s. HP gave the Series 42 its debut in 1983.
Bellittiere waited awhile to rekindle his old flame. About 20 years ago, he took the Series 42 into his home, but only this month is he working on getting it up to speed. A system that is 30-plus years old, that hasn't been started in 10 years: some might think this is scrap, or worse. But listening to his request, we hear a man who's finding a long ago sweetheart, rescued from the mists of time.
This HP Series 42 is the first HP mini mainframe that I started on around 30+ years ago. I arranged many updates over its active life. Some of the updates include increasing the memory by exchanging the 1/2 meg cards with 1-meg boards. I upgraded to the HP670H disc drives, and also to the DDS tape drive. In 1996 the company upgraded to a Series 947, and HP did not want the 42 back. It was going to scrap, so I requested it and it was given to me. I have had it ever since with plans to get it up and running.
I had to ask: Is the Series 42 project a hobby, or a work system? "Yes," Bellittiere admitted, "it is more of a project for me." But he needs the help of MPE V experts in our community to bring his old flame back to life.
Bellittiere understands there are special procedures required for a server whose discs are its newest parts (circa 1990, so 25 years old already). "My first question: does it need any special treatment before powering up?" he asks. "I think any internal memory will have been lost long ago. It has been at least 8 to 10 years since being powered up."
The components that die soonest in a 3000 are usually the power supply and the internal battery, although the disks are often not far behind. "I am not sure of the power up routine — can you help with some ideas?" I said we knew some 3000 experts with MPE V, CISC-generation hardware savvy. He replied with some hopeful praise aimed at his community.
"I am glad that you are still out there. I would not know who else could help me."
The Series 42 was a noble steed, one of the genuine workhorses of the 3000 line. HP used it like a team of draft horses in its labs. I took a tour of the company's disk drive manufacturing plant in the late 1980s — in the days when HP still built some of the world's most dependable drives in the industry, in Boise, Idaho. A wall stacked with Series 42s was doing burn-in testing for the 7973 drives that were already a mainstay in 3000 shops. At five-plus years already, the Series 42s looked like tiny tugboats, computing craft like ships whose decks was peeling but whose hulls were still buoyant.
I hope there's an MPE lover out there who's got advice for Bellittiere. The wisecracks are easy enough about boat anchors or semiautomatic target practice. People said the same thing about F-150 pickup trucks for awhile, too. My son Nick bought his first F-150 right after cut its lines on the 3000, when that truck was 22 years old, an age Nick hadn't yet achieved himself. People live and work in our world who find old tech a delight. Send your help and advice to Matthew via email, or at 716-536-3298. Let him see a colon prompt from a server introduced before fax machines were common office tools.