Five years ago, when we were getting done with restoring our PDP10-KI, we were running out of working disk drives to run it from. We were down to one set of replacement heads, two working drives, and we didn’t have a source for new ones. We found some folks that said they could rebuild the packs, but it turned out that they couldn’t re-write the servo surface, so if we lost that we were in trouble.

Alright, what else can be done? The Digital RP06, the drive of choice for the KI, has lots of registers available from the MASBUS. The MASBUS is kind of a UNIBUS, with a synchronous data channel for moving the actual data. We had been having difficulty keeping track of everything on an existing project, so I looked into doing things a different way.

My idea was to use an FPGA, (Field Programmable Gate Array) to emulate the behavior of the control unit inside the RP06. This is like the ease of writing software, but for hardware. No wires to change, no cuts, when I mess up the logic. The PC would be responsible for handling the actual data for the disk, or possibly tape.

I spent a while poking around the Internet looking for an FPGA card that would plug into a PC. There were a lot of expensive, and some less expensive evaluation boards out there. I eventually happened across I had heard of these folks before from my experiences with LinuxCNC, which runs my milling machine at home. These folks have been doing this for a long time, and since they have to deal with industrial environments and big motors, their products are very robust.

For the MASBUS Disk Emulator, (MDE), I chose the Mesa 5i22 card, which has 96 I/O’s I can play with, and a Spartan3 Xilinx FPGA. The 5i22 doesn’t remember what the Xilinx configuration is, so the PC pours in the correct bits each time.

Bob Armstrong, down in the Silicon Valley, wrote all the software for the PC, and we eventually emulated RP06’s, RP07’s which hold twice the data, and TU77 tape drives. Here is a picture of our main collection of MDE’s.

There are 3 Industrial PCs, and 8 MASBUS Cable Driver/Receiver boxes. These are running both PDP10-KL’s, and the PDP10-KS’s. There is a real TU78 tape drive, to the left of the MDE rack. The PDP10-KI, and the PDP11/70 each have their own located elsewhere in the museum.

I also used the 5i22 for all of the emulations that we needed for the CDC6500:


Here we have one Industrial PC, and 6 6000 series channel attach Driver/Receivers, along with one 3000 series channel Driver/Receiver. We emulate the dead start panel, the DD60 Display, Tape drives, disk drives, printers, card readers, card punches, the serial terminal interface and the 6681 channel converter so we could talk to the real 405 card reader. Bob Armstrong also wrote the PC code for all these emulations.

Jeff Kaylin has also used 5i22 cards on the Sigma 9, with Bob doing the software, and Craig Arno and Glen Hermannsfeldt used one to emulate the card reader and punch on the IBM 360/20.

All is not sweetness and light however, after making the 5i22 for over 10 years, the parts are getting hard to obtain, so Mesa Electronics has stopped production of that board. We ordered all their remaining stock of the 5i22s. They no longer make the 5i22, but they make lots of other similar boards, so we ordered some 7i61’s and 7i80’s to play with.

The 7i61 uses USB to talk to a PC, and has 96 I/O’s to play with. The 7i80 uses Ethernet to talk to the PC, but only has 72 I/O’s. To conserve 5i22’s, I converted my CDC 6681 6000 to 3000 channel converter to the 7i61 because it needs all 4 cables for 96 I/Os. I used my code, along with open source code from Peter Wallace, of Mesa Electronics, to load my code into the serial flash chip on the 7i61, so the PC is no longer involved in the 6681 emulation. After turning on the power to the Mesa card, it knows how to be a 6681 automagicly! I no longer have to remember to type the proper incantation into the PC to get it loaded up, this is a GOOD thing!

After getting the CDC 6500 working, I had several broken modules that I wanted to fix, so I built a Module tester, using the 7i80 card:

You can see the 7i80-HD card under the cables down from the test card.

It took me a while to collect the appropriate bits of Peter Wallace’s code, so that I could have the Ethernet interface live in with my test code, all at the same time, but perseverance pays off, and it all works now. I have fixed 4 out of 5 broken UA modules, and I know why I am not going to fix the other UA, and the ED module that I replaced in CP1.

I have to confess: the module plugged into the tester, is not really from the 6500, but it is the same form factor, and technology.

I love these Mesa Electronics “Anything I/O” cards! As their name says, I can teach them to be most Anything!

Bruce Sherry 20180418.