PDP-11/70 console panel on BlinkenBone - Small Box

Parent Category: Projects Category: BlinkenBone physical PDP-11/70 panels Written by Administrator

 After I connected my PDP-11/70 panel to BlinkenBone, I displayed it on several VCFs in Berlin and Zurich, also on local vintage computer shows.


In November 2017 I decided to visit the newly founded "VCF North West Pacific" in Seattle in February 2018. As Oscar Vermeulen shows his PiDP11 replica there, the real 11/70 would be a good display too.

Only problem: European conventions I reach by car, but Seattle is a flight. And the "Big Box" design would not fit into my suitcase. And also on the shows before I noticed people like to look inside the case, to detect what's the simulation is made up. And the inner layout of the "Big Box" was confusing.

So I made a new case for the 11/70: the "Small Box".

blinkenbone pdp1170 smallbox 1

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I reused the components of the Big Box, and throw that case away. Dismantling a running system was harder than expected, but I did.

The "Small Box" is now as slim as possible: matching the 19 inch panel exactly, but only 6 centimeter in depth. No empty spaces as before! I first feared the final assembly would fall over because the DEC bezel is so heavy, but it has a good stand. It can almost be hung on a wall, like a picture. More important: I can store three of these in the space of one "Big Box".

The case is a custom aluminium build by a local metal worker, double price of mass produced stuff, but at least no shipping costs. Lighter to transport, and easier to tool than a steel case, but plastics would be even better ... if you want to go WiFi. Greedy as I am I ordered four of these.

blinkenbone pdp1170 smallbox 5

A lot was learned from the "Big Box":

  • The arrangement of power supply, BlinkenBone, BlinkenCape and BlinkenBoard must be logical, as in a teaching system.
  • Use of a small "mini-ITX" PC power supply, instead of a clumsy regular PS from scrap. I used some chinese low-price item. The data sheet on it is pure fiction but not much power is needed.
  • Switch from the old "BeagleBone White" to "Black", and from Angstrom Linux to Debian. No, they are not plug-compatible.
  • Mount the BeagleBone upside down on top of the BlinkenCape, so it is visible, and the SDcard can easily be changed.
  • Mount RS232 connectors in a way they don't need case cut outs (which I ever ruined so far).
  • Make use of 3D printed parts, even if it takes weeks to get by design and printing problems.
  • Cover cables and DIP switches with a transparent plate to protect from damages on travel (debugging a damaged installation on a crowded VCF show is impossible, believe me).
  • Hide the wires as much as possible: under the circuit boards, under the power supply, in storage space or in a cable channel.
  • Arrange for an USB WiFi stick on the BeagleBone USB port.


blinkenbone pdp1170 smallbox 3

blinkenbone pdp1170 smallbox 4


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The whole thing has a weight of 7.5 kg now, mostly because of the iron and steel of the DEC panel. For the Seattle-show I had much trouble to lower the weight of my suitcase down to 23.0 kg by removing extra clothes, shoes, reserve cables, power distributors, tools ... so every 100 grams saved by the small case allowed for an extra T-shirt or a pair of socks. Tight fit.

I still love it!

 blinkenbone pdp11 70 1