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Listens: Leftfield - Open Up (The Soundtrack from the film: "Hackers")

Prime emulator source released on GitHub

PR1ME Computer
PR1ME Computer

If you were a hacker in the 70s and 80s, you've probably hacked your share of Prime Computers.  These were once an affordable multi-user, mini-computer systems that many schools and companies used before PCs became popular in the office.

Today, with much help from Dennis Boone, Jim Wilcoxson is releasing the Prime  emulator source code on GitHub for non-commercial use.  

This is the full  version of the emulator running on Linux and supports:  

- all Prime CPU modes: 16S, 32S, 32R, 64R, 64V, 32I
- all Prime models, from the P400 to P6550
- up to 512MB of memory, depending on the Primos rev and CPU
- a system console
- 128 incoming telnet terminal connections
- 8 disk controllers, 8 drives each
- support for all 25 disk drives sold by Prime
- a tape controller, 4 drives, using the .TAP format
- a PNC controller emulating RingNet over TCP/IP
- a bypass for Primos system serial number checks
- Unix utilities to read/write physical tapes & Magsav tapes  

Dennis owns the emulator GitHub repo and has also kindly agreed to  take over hosting of the public Prime emulators that have been online since 2008.  There are 7 public emulators running in a virtual Prime  ring, allowing both remote terminal sessions (netlink) and remote disk  access via PrimeNet.  The Prime emulator on Linux is currently running  45-55 Prime MIPS in 64V mode.  

Doctor Who's Tom Baker and Lalla Ward
Doctor Who's Tom Baker and Lalla Ward

Prime Computers were so mainstream that even Tom Baker and Lalla Ward from the popular Science-Fiction show "Doctor Who" hawked them in commercials that appeared in the United Kindgom!

Prime Computer, Inc. was a Natick, Massachusetts-based producer of minicomputers from 1972 until 1992. With the advent of PCs  and the decline of the minicomputer industry, Prime was forced out of  the market in the early 1990s, and by the end of 2010 the trademarks for  both PRIME and PRIMOS no longer existed. The alternative spellings "PR1ME" and "PR1MOS" were used as brand names or logos by the company.

A wide range of Prime software is loaded on the public emulators:  

- ftn screaming fast Prime Fortran 66 compiler, written in assembler
- f77 the not-so-screaming but full-featured Fortran '77  
- pl1g the PL/I Subset G compiler
- pl1 the full PL/I compiler
- plp the original Prime systems language (like PL/I)
- spl the 2nd generation Prime systems language
- cc the C compiler written by Garth Conby of Pacer Software
- pascal the Pascal compiler
- modula Wirth's successor to Pascal
- dbg Prime's source level debugger rivaling modern debuggers
- pma the Prime assembler
- basicv the Prime BASIC compiler
- cobol the original Prime COBOL compiler
- cbl the Prime COBOL '74 compiler
- emacs the full screen editor still used by many today (me!)
- midas the Prime indexed sequential file software  

This week they are working on releasing Prime disk images for all of  the public emulators to make it easy for others to get their own Prime  up and running.  For the truly adventurous who want to bootstrap their own Prime system, there are links in the emulator readme to Prime tape  images at Bitsavers and to a large library of Prime manuals.  

I learned more about operating systems, compilers, concurrency, and  other systems programming topics by reading Prime source code, making  changes to Primos, and fiddling with Prime hardware, than I did from all  of my college degree work.  I loved Prime computers, Prime software,  Prime hardware, and the Prime Computer company, and am grateful to all  of the former Prime engineers that provided this robust and interesting  hardware and software platform.  

I hope you enjoy it too!  

Jim Wilcoxson


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