IBM Power Series Exotica

One might think that for example a ThinkPad Power Series 850 is an uncommon system, but such things are relative. The OS/2 Museum recently learned of not just one but two very rare Power Series systems, one of which is virtually a complete unknown. Both now live in the UK and both had been manufactured there (in Greenock, Scotland). The machines are a Power Series 800 and a Power Series 600.

6030 Front, Open

In 1994, IBM started producing several PowerPC systems on a small scale and distributed  them to software developers as part of the PowerPC development program. The most common was the Power Series 440 (6015) aka Sandalfoot, a desktop machine equipped with an early 66 MHz PowerPC 601. Operating system developers however also needed a portable in order to develop support for PCMCIA, LCD screens, and so on. That was the Power Series 800. What exactly the Power Series 600 was is less than obvious, but the system will be described in detail below.

Power Series 800 (6020)

The Power Series 800 is a portable system, a predecessor of the ThinkPad-branded Power Series 820/850. The case design is clearly extremely similar to the ThinkPad 850, with liftable keyboard, SCSI CD-ROM in the center of the body, integrated speakers, and a relatively large wrist-rest area.

6020 Portable

The official designation of the Power Series 800 was type 6020, and its unofficial code name was Woodfield. There are various indications that this system was available to AIX, NT, OS/2, and Solaris developers, and all four of those systems are likely to run on the Power Series 800.

6020 Label

The exact technical specifications of the 6020 are not known, but it is very likely that it used a PowerPC 603 processor, Western Digital 90C24A2 graphics, NCR 53C810 SCSI controller, Ricoh RF5C366B PCMCIA controller, and Crystal Semiconductor CS4231 audio. It probably only had 8 or 16MB RAM on the system board, expandable via IC DRAM cards.  This information is largely derived from the PReP specification (see below) and not from any extant IBM announcements.

6020 Badge

In general, the Power Series 800 shared numerous design characteristics with the Intel-based 750/755 series ThinkPads, which is hardly surprising. The Power Series ThinkPads 820/850 (types 6040/6042), and the RS/6000 Notebook 860 are updated models of the 6020. Visually, there are almost no differences between the 800 and 850, and technically the two systems are very similar as well (one of the more important differences being a 603e vs. 603 processor).

6020 References

Finding any references to the Power Series 800 in IBM’s offering information is tricky. IBM used the term “Power Series 800” to refer to the entire (albeit small) range of Power Series desktops (830/850) and portables (820/850). No specific reference to the Power Series 800 portable seems to have survived.

However, IBM did in fact announce the 6020 as part of “IBM Power Personal Developer’s ToolBox Program with Portable system and Supporting Options”. This is still available as announcement letter ZG94-0482 dated November 08, 1994. It is the EMEA region announcement and not the US version, which presumably must have existed as well.

The portables were offered in two configurations, for AIX or for NT development. The announcement is notable for specifying CD-ROM speed (2x), hard disk size (810MB), memory size (24/32 MB for NT/AIX), and even L2 cache size (128KB) but not the CPU type or speed.

It should be noted that the 6020 machine was not generally available. Only qualified developers could participate in the Power Personal Developer’s ToolBox Program and receive the laptop.

Power Series 600 (6030)

While the Power Series 800 is an extremely rare system, the Power Series 600, also known as type 6030, is more like a black swan. It’s quite difficult to find written evidence that the 6030 ever existed. But since at least one specimen survived, there is a more substantial proof.

6030 Front, Closed

The Power Series 600 was a bit of an odd duck (apologies for the metaphor mix), essentially a laptop system in a desktop case. It could be thought of as a Power Series ThinkPad in a larger case with no built-in keyboard and display and a standard-size hard disk and CD-ROM.

Much like a laptop, the Power Series 600 used PCMCIA slots for expandability (four sockets); there were no PCI expansion slots. And much like a laptop, it also used the PCMCIA-like IC DRAM modules for expanding RAM (two internal sockets). There was memory soldered on the system board but no SIMM slots, only IC DRAM sockets.

6030 Mainboard

Like most other Power Series systems, the 6030 used an NCR 53C810 SCSI controller, and likely used the same hard disks and low-profile CD-ROM as the Power Series 440.

The graphics chip was a S3 928P, the same used in the Power Series 440 but different from the ThinkPads. And unlike the 440, the graphics chip was mounted on a custom board with proprietary connector (no PCI slots!), even though it was a PCI device.

6030 Graphics

Available evidence indicates that the Power Series 600 remained in the prototype stage and IBM never offered Power Series systems derived from it. The actual Power Series 600 was likely available as part of a developer program but no successor was ever generally available.

6030 References

The Power Series 600 (6030) seems to never have existed… almost.  Several systems clearly survived, although their owners can’t do much with them. There are no references to the 6030 in any IBM literature accessible to a search engine… except for one mention in a publication titled “Using the AS/400 Developer Kit for Java” (yes, really!) which lists IBM trademarks and includes “Power Series 600” as one of them.

Digging deeper, there are one or two mentions in seemingly random IBM announcement letters. For example IBM Hardware Announcement 194-378, from October 25, 1994 offers IC DRAM cards for ThinkPads… and for “PC Power Series 600 systems”. Withdrawal letter 997-374 from December 16, 1997 mentions machine 6030-A1L, “PC Power Series 600 NT Dev”, and 6030-A3L, “PC Power Series 600 AIX Dev”. However, no surviving AIX or NT materials indicate that the Power Series 600 was a supported system. That said, the available IBM offering information from the era is incomplete.

A tiny news item in InfoWorld from September 19, 1994 (page 3) headlined “IBM delays PowerPC introductions” talks about “the Power Series 400 desktop systems, the Power Series 600 ergonomic desktop systems, and the Power Series 800 ThinkPads”. Clearly there had been some changes in plans.

It’s unclear if OS/2 for PowerPC runs on the Power Series 600. It is possible that a beta version did, and that the code name of the 6030 was “Polo”. Unfortunately there is no model number associated with “Polo” in the OS/2 files so this is difficult to verify.

Last but not least, there is one more official reference which is somewhat difficult to find because it never mentions Power Series 600 or 6030 by name/number. Appendix A.2 in the PowerPC Reference Platform Specification (page 178 in version 1.0, page 184 in version 1.1 of the specification) describes an “energy-managed workstation” which magically fits the Power Series 600 to a T.

Four PCMCIA sockets, no ISA/PCI slots, IC DRAM memory, SCSI storage, S3 928 on a custom daughter card, Intel 82365SL PCMCIA controller, it’s all there. The PReP appendix is by far the best technical description of the Power Series 600, and not just because it’s the only one.

Now briefly back to the Power Series 800. Even without dismantling the laptop (a tricky operation without the corresponding Hardware Maintenance Manual), it seems reasonable to assume that the “portable” described in appendix A.1 (page 173 in version 1.0, page 179 in version 1.1 of the previously mentioned PReP specification) is in fact the Power Series 800/6020/Wiltwick.

The Survivors

It’s not clear how many 6020 and 6030 systems were ever manufactured. Given the restricted distribution of the systems, it seems unlikely that more than a few thousands were ever made. It’s also unclear where the machines were made—only that at least some were made in IBM’s factory in Greenock, Scotland.

6030 Rear

The Power Series 600 the OS/2 Museum knows of is unfortunately a bit sick—the display output isn’t working right and presumably the graphics chip or video memory is damaged. Because the graphics board is a custom part, it can’t be replaced with an off-the-shelf S3 928P-based PCI board (a big advantage of the Power Series 440 desktops). Worse yet, the hard disk had been wiped aeons ago and it’s very unclear where one might even source an OS capable of running on a Power Series 600. And worst of all, the system insists on a System Management Services disk specific to this system… which is nowhere to be found.

6030 Screen Corruption

It’s entirely unknown how many Power Series 600 and 800 systems survived to this day, but it’s very unlikely to be more than a handful.

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7 Responses to IBM Power Series Exotica

  1. Zaki Jääskeläinen says:

    The 6015 was generally available as 6015-40P and it ran IBM AIX version 4.1. Even though it was a fairly simply machine the price was not low as one customer in Sweden were running AIX on Apple PowerMacs as these were cheaper…

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    Yes, but not quite. The RS/6000 40P was actually type 7020, not 6015. It was almost the same system as the Power Series 440, but it had a different case and different firmware. The mainboard was the same and many if not most components were identical, but the branding (RS/6000 vs. Power Series) was different.

  3. Were these the fabled ultra modern ppc os/2 workstations that never surfaced?

    I wonder if IBM had opened up os/2 on the ppc without any emulation layers it it would matter….

    Or how much it would cost to license.

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    Calling the Power Series 600 “ultra modern” sounds right, although “weird” would also work 🙂

    I do wonder what happened with the OS/2 PPC source code. I don’t think opening it up would make any difference, not after nearly 20 years. But it would still be good to see.

  5. Fernando says:

    To this day we don’t have an object oriented desktop, this would be interesting for me.
    I remeber that some people at IBM say that they can’t give the source code for OS/2 because of patents/technologies from other companies that they licenced. This sounds very likely and would be the same problem with Windows, MacOS, etc.
    Now, what I would really want would be to compare the source code for OS/2 2.0 and a preliminary version of NT 😉

  6. I have a 6020 “Woodfield”. When I ran the AIX command to report CPU info and decoded it (a long time ago, my memory could perhaps be faulty), I came out with a 66 MHz PPC 603. Somehow it is much slower than the 6042 ThinkPad 850. Much slower than just the difference in clock speed. I was never sure how to account for that.

  7. paul hunt says:

    I have one of these 6030 polo machines, picked it up in the 90’s and hung on to it as it was so unusual. I’d forgotten all about it until stumbling across this page, hasn’t been out of the (original) box in 15 years.
    the reason I’m replying here is that one thing I did do when I got it was to hunt for the sms disk, which it didn’t come with. actually managed to acquire a copy, thank you Chris Kendrick. real million to one shot.
    I’ve just created images of the various floppies, if you’re at all interested in trying to get that polo up and running, I’d be happy to send them to you.

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