Monday, June 21, 2021

My Dad and the Digital HiNote VP575 tribute build

I am sure you are wondering why I am looking at a PC laptop today, a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) HiNote VP575 laptop to be exact. 

Well, this one is a very personal thing. My father passed away in late January this year, after a six month fight with Motor Neuron Disease. It was really tough for me and my family to watch him deteriorate so rapidly.

My Dad served in the Royal Australian Navy from the age of 15 years old, stationed across South East Asia, Japan, and served in Vietnam during the war. After that, he left the Navy and settled down to raise his new family in Adelaide, and worked for DEC as a network engineer and various other technical and managerial roles for 28 years, before they were taken over by Compaq in 1998, and a few more years working for Compaq too. 

Things sure changed from when he started at DEC in Adelaide in the 1970's! PDP-11's, VAXstation, VT100 terminals and reel to reel tapes - oh, and of course the flared pants thing was all the rage too :-)

Dad's job at Digital inspired me to learn more about computers from a very young age. I was exposed to some very cool systems and hardware looking around his office occasionally, and I knew when I was 5 years old that I wanted to work in IT. 

I did work in IT as soon as I finished my IT course at University, and I am proud to still be working in IT for over 23 years now. But this post is not about me!

My Dad loved working at Digital, and he was proud of the computers, networking equipment and servers made by DEC over the years. 

He kept all sorts of Digital promotional material, training books from courses he did, and even a DEC flag!





He was most upset to see how the company was systematically broken up and sold off in pieces by the new management team that came in the early 1990's. Bad management always destroys good companies. True today as it was then. Some things never change!

Surprisingly enough, I never actually owned a Digital computer growing up. They were just too expensive!

My Dad bought us Intellivision, C64, C128 and Amiga 500/2000 computers as I was growing up, and he bought me a second hand generic 386 PC from a work colleague when I went to University. He bought his own first DECpc for home use in the mid 1990's, after I had already left our home in Alice Springs to go to university!

As a tribute to my father, I decided to finally get a Digital computer of my own - to experience a bit of the company and technology he designed and worked on for all those years.

I would have loved to get a DEC Alphastation, but they just cost too much these days. Instead I went for something more modest, a DEC HiNote VP575 laptop.

This one is a Pentium 166MMX, with 32MB memory, CDROM and floppy drive built in and a 2.1GB hard disk, running Windows 98 Second Edition. 


We are rather spoilt in 2021 and it is easy to forget just how heavy these "lightweight" laptops were back then. This thing is seriously heavy!


This laptop came from Ebay, sent from the USA, and it is in very good condition considering it's age. It also survived the trip unscathed.

Checking the bottom of the laptop I see the model number TS30G and I also came across the Digital Passport, a warranty service offered by Digital. This laptop was even made in the USA!


As you would expect the laptop battery is dead being over 24 years old now! The laptop whirred to life when connect to the power supply, and soon enough Windows 98SE was up and running:



At the time this computer was released, I had almost finished University, so I got to cut my teeth on Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95/98 and Windows NT4 when I entered the IT industry.

From that experience, I know that it is important to back up this ancient hard disk, as it contains the OEM drivers files which will be almost impossible to find today...The hard disk is easy to remove from the front of the laptop, with a handle to pull it out - it is IDE:


Not sure why the previous owner felt the need to scrawl all over the disk in red marker. Oh well. I removed the drive from the tray.


I used my SATA/IDE to USB converter to connect the laptop hard disk to my Alienware 15 R3 laptop so I could image the disk in full to an image file using win32diskimage.


With that done, I stored the hard disk safely, and I pulled out a small 2GB IDE MicroSD card (with SD Card converter) to use with a IDE to SD card converter:


Actually, I bought this for my Amiga 600, but after it's last failure, I decided to re-use here. It is kinda funny seeing it connected to the Digital IDE HD tray - it is so small!



I elected to do a new install rather than use the old imaged one. But I did copy the all important OEM folder from the original HD to my AlienWare 15 laptop so I could copy it to the MicroSD later on.

Now here is some real nostalgia - I hunted through my old CD's and stuff from my IT career and I still have an OEM version of Windows 98 SE in original OEM packaging with boot disk. Seems a perfect time to use it!



Power on and SD Card is detected fine.



I used the boot disk and CDROM to boot into the setup to get things going:



I formatted the C Drive to prep for Windows 98, but I didn't complete the installation:



I removed the SD card, connected back to the Alienware laptop and copied the OEM Windows 98 setup folder to the SD Card. This contains all the essential drivers for the DEC HiNote (I have no recovery CD or driver CD so this is very important!). 

I then booted using the Windows 98 boot disk to command prompt, then started the Windows 98 setup from the OEM setup folder:



I haven't done a Windows 98 install in, well, a VERY long time. It's all coming back to me though...


Name my computer:


And wait for the setup to do it's thing...



The first reboot from SD card following the install went ok:



Eventually I get the Windows 98 desktop on the DEC HiNote! All working well:


I set to work putting on Office XP and other stuff:



When I copied the OEM setup files I also copied my MOD collection and Open Cubic Player too - always need to have music right? 


I set to work getting wireless LAN networking setup on the HiNote, using the Orinoco WIFI card I use on the Amiga 1200/600. I picked this because I have the original CD for it with the Windows 98 drivers...


That done, to complete my tribute to my Dad, I found this 40 Years Celebration CD released by DEC for internal employees when Digital turned 40, not long before the company was sold off to Compaq. Dad had a pristine never opened one I have kept, and this one which was already opened.



It has software to install to enjoy a tribute to DEC, which works very well on this computer as it was around the same time as this computer was made. There was even a screensaver and Windows background to use, which I definitely set after installing!


The tributes are video history and employee presentations, and textual history from many different employees across the world. It was nice to see this for the first time.


There is even a Trivia game to play!



Anyway, this completed my build and it was quite an emotional one for me to do. I hope this was interesting for you to see! 
 

I am very glad to have this machine and the memories it gives me of Dad make it worth it. Thanks Dad, for everything.

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