The Restoration

How the project started

The kernel of the idea to breathe life back into a forgotten piece of British technological genius was given by Paul Walker, of 4Links Ltd, who worked with the Inmos Transputer in the early days and took forward some of its design ideas to help create SpaceWire, a serial communication technology used throughout the space industry.

How I got started

I volunteered to take on the Transputer project. The first thing to do was corral the disparate parts of the Transputer system and evaluate their condition. It wasn’t promising. There were boards with missing components, dead components, broken circuit board tracks, corrosion all over, blown power supplies and a generous helping of grime!

I had a spare PC that I rescued from a skip in 1999, an ancient Compaq Deskpro 386s/20. This had been used by me as a firewall, on continuously for about six years before the broadband speeds exceeded what the ISA bus and the 386 was capable of. The machine sat collecting dust until re-purposed for this project. It was rather beaten up, but worked 24/7 without complaint. I installed a new real time clock unit (RTC or CMOS) and a solid state disc (SSD) to further enhance its reliability. I aimed to create an exhibit that would require the bare minimum switch on/switch off instructions and would work reliably, unattended.

Replacing the real-time clock chip in the 386

Fitting the SSD into the 386

The video cards were both missing several components including the VRAM, I looked around the world for these ICs, eventually locating a surplus from an IC recycler in China. These boards are currently undergoing restoration.

Replacement VRAM on the Inmos B007 Transputer video board

Tantalum bead electrolytic capacitors do not like being stored in damp environments. This is very unfortunate for us trying to restore old equipment as the majority of it has been stored in attics and garages... Their failure is random and spectacular. This one let go despite being baked and checked...

A blown tantalum bead capacitor on the B042 board

The power supplies manufactured by the long defunct Quel PowerLine Ltd, also didn't like being brought out of retirement! Thankfully, these are nicely made, sturdy, simple to work on power supplies and repairing them, whilst being a long-winded chore, was straightforward.

Blown power supply components, their replacement and refitting