Where to find a VT-100?
August 11, 2011 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Where would I buy an old terminal, specifically the DEC VT100?

I've long had a fascination with old terminals, there's just something cool about the glow of a CRT with lines of ASCII text running down it that I find enthralling. Terminals are something some of us still use every day, albeit usually emulated in software, in fact the protocols for terminal interaction haven't changed all that much since the 80s. As I recently found out after reading this article, most of these terminals are actually fully compatible with the latest version of OS X.

So I'm looking into buying one for a roguelike project I've been working on in my spare time as well as general terminal stuff (git and whatnot) and perhaps some animation projects. The only problem is I have no idea where to buy one, that's where you guys come in.

I live near Sydney, Australia so keep that in mind, a seller in the Asia-Pacific region would be ideal. I've looked around on eBay and done a few searches on other sites but I've had no luck. The specific model I'm after is the DEC VT-100, any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by _frog to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend looking for a vt420. Newer hardware, still a genuine terminal, wider feature set while retaining full vt100 compatibility.

In any event, you can often find vintage and miscellaneous hardware at university surplus auctions - while I never did anything with it, I wound up with an ancient terminal off a palette at one such auction.
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:27 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: This thing's probably going to be appearing in videos and whatnot so I'd rather not get a generic beige box, the VT-100 was my favourite looking model. Also, I'll keep an eye out for university auctions although something more immediate would be nice. Thanks for the help!
posted by _frog at 8:32 PM on August 11, 2011

Some of the Wyse terminals look excitingly old school, as do the IBM terminals.
posted by gjc at 8:56 PM on August 11, 2011

Long shot, but I'd check with the surplus property / auctions people at universities, also local amateur radio swap fests, and finally, maybe call IT departments at banks (they seem to use ancient equipment long after nearly everyone else).
posted by zippy at 9:14 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The VT100 itself may be hard to come by, given its somewhat iconic status (mainly because it unintentionally became the bog-standard Unix Terminal, around which most others were designed).

Broadening your horizons a bit should go a long way. Be warned that IBM stuff may not be compatible with anything.

Other neat-looking terminals include the (bakelite!) ADM3A, Soroc, or Hazeltine 1500

I'm sure there are many others...

Here's a broken soroc and an adm20.
posted by schmod at 9:35 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Those are some great suggestions, very cool looking hardware, I'll just have to look into wether I can interface with them from OS X. I've also sent of an email to the local university's informatics department as I know they have a lot of old hardware lying around.
posted by _frog at 9:42 PM on August 11, 2011

Oh, and nobody's going to have terminals of this vintage still in use.

Most folks moved to the Wyse WY-50 and WY-60 (or similar) around the mid 1980s, due to their low low price, and compact size. You do still see a handful of *those* around though. Sadly, they're also a lot less photogenic.
posted by schmod at 9:48 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah I'm not expecting the search to be easy, I'm sure a lot of people have simply thrown out these terminals.
posted by _frog at 9:55 PM on August 11, 2011

A certain Flea market?
posted by sammyo at 9:58 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: I'd love to but I doubt it'd be worth buying a plane ticket to the US.
posted by _frog at 10:00 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Maybe 2 more long shots:
Hamfests? I don't regularly attend (I drop by a local one every 2 or 3 years), but I've seen HP, Wyse, and Siemens terminals there.

The Telstra Museums? They may not have anything directly - but they're only semi-official, and run by volunteers, mostly retirees, of the old tech kind to have squirreled away a lot of stuff. They were also usually offered first dibs on any stuff to be tossed, and Telstra were still tossing out old terminals in the mid-00's when I left. Wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot of old HP, Wyse, Honeywell, and the odd DEC terminals (mostly 220's) squirreled away by those guys.

(Actually, Telstra had *lots* of the twin-tape HP2645A's; at least 1 or 2 in every decent-sized ARE-11 exchange. They might be a cool option, because they were easily scriptable - they used them for daily/weekly/monthly dumps of OMP & TCP data - and you could save to & run scripts off tape. I think almost every apprentice switching tech wrote fake TCPDUMP scripts that displayed a self-destruct countdown and ffwd-ing & rwd-ing the tape drives when run… ;-)
posted by Pinback at 10:03 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and nobody's going to have terminals of this vintage still in use.

We have two in constant use in the machine room. One on a cart, one in the switch build room, and a H19. All still working, all have been there since at least 1987. Until about 5 years ago, we stil supported old 80's era MICOM lines throughout most of the engineering/cs buildings on campus (if you were crazy enough to want to use it).
posted by zengargoyle at 10:03 PM on August 11, 2011

Yep, sorry I shouldn't post from just reading the headline. ;-} I had one in the attic, well a different model, very molded plastic. I bet there are a fair number tucked away that might turn up if you put the word out.
posted by sammyo at 10:05 PM on August 11, 2011

Check with any old school nerds you may know. I had a VT420 as my main home terminal (with a rockin 56K modem) in the very early 90s because I knew people who had hoarded their old machines.
posted by bendy at 11:51 PM on August 11, 2011

However, when I worked at DEC in 1990 I had a VT100 on my desk. If only I'd thought to steal it, I could sell it to you for a pittance and a favorite.
posted by bendy at 11:54 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: Haha it's alright, I'm sure I'll find one in time.
posted by _frog at 12:56 AM on August 12, 2011

http://www.boundless.com/terminals.html still do new dumb terminals, although you won't get the desirable retro look.
posted by curious_yellow at 2:19 AM on August 12, 2011

A friend just suggested these guys (though they don't seem to currently have anything retro enough for the look you're after), as well as these guys.

"Check with any old school nerds you may know."

Maybe I'm too old-school - I've only got a couple of old Siemens baudot teleprinters. I keep meaning to ditch them, or I might just wait until the steampunk craze really takes off :-)
posted by Pinback at 3:05 AM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: Hamfests.

Junk galore. Cheap. Premium on obsolete things.

Do it. You know you want to.

(I think it's great you like old stuff. Yesterday's dreams and careers lived there once.)
posted by FauxScot at 5:41 AM on August 12, 2011

Oh, and nobody's going to have terminals of this vintage still in use.

Fie, sir! I have a VT220 in my Data Center, and I hook it up to all manner of modern servers (Sun boxes from a 210 through our brand new M5000s). I love that little guy: like a P-38 can-opener, it's simple and never fails me.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:27 AM on August 12, 2011

Also, post on the Sun-Rescue mailing list -- I expect there'll be someone there who can help you:
posted by wenestvedt at 7:28 AM on August 12, 2011

I've sent a link to this thread and your email address to my friend Andy. He has a warehouse full of state-of-the-ark DEC equipment, and I bet he'd lend you a VT-100.
posted by flabdablet at 10:06 AM on August 12, 2011

I'll just have to look into wether I can interface with them from OS X.

As far as OS X is concerned, the terminal is just a serial port.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:23 AM on August 12, 2011

Mars Saxman: "As far as OS X is concerned, the terminal is just a serial port."

Yeah, but…
  • No point buying an IBM 3270 or equivalent; EBDIC vs ASCII.
  • There's a surprising amount of 20mA current-loop equipment out there - it's serial, but not RS-232.
  • There's also a surprising amount of later telex stuff out there which uses a separate current-loop interface box connecting to an RS-232 interface on the terminal - but the terminal speaks Baudot.
  • Slightly later stuff is much more common, and it's mostly ARCNet or Token Ring. Lot of ex-Government stuff is IBM Twinax.
  • I've come across more than a few USB RS-232 interfaces that won't talk anything other than 8N1. No good if your terminal is hardwired / hardcoded to 7E1.5 or something (though most should be switch/strappable).

posted by Pinback at 3:58 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My main guide on setting up a terminal for OS X is this page which explains how to get the serial port to show up and how to get getty to show a login prompt on it.
posted by _frog at 6:09 PM on August 12, 2011

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