The DECOmputer

Nov 3, 2005

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This computer is on loan from the Flash Gordon Estate.  Mr. Gordon was known as an avid antique computer collector and this example is representative of his extensive and tasteful collection.  Built in the thirties, the DECOmputer was constructed from many the new materials that were available.  These materials include aluminum, stainless steel and Bakelite.  The DECOmputer's styling is considered Art Deco though it shows the strong influence of Machine Age styling also.

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OK. Seriously.  I'm a sucker for polished cast aluminum especially the pre-war stuff.  This case was actually built in the mid-thirties when items were over-engineered and stylists were unafraid to express an artistic flair.

 

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My goal was to build the case from materials and items that were actually from the thirties.  For example, the emblem is an Art Deco brooch made by The Napier Jewelry Company.  Napier made jewelry from 1875 until 1999.  This piece is actually sterling silver with a vermeil wash, whatever that means.  I like the raw Art Deco design of three rays projecting through a gear-like center.  I replaced the pin gear on the back with tiny studs that mount through holes in the front cover.

 

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The electrical panel meter was made by Weston Instruments in the thirties, of course, and is constructed of Bakelite.  Bakelite was what they used before plastic was invented.  The meter is connected to the computer's hard drive activity output signal.  The three buttons are Cutler-Hammer pushbuttons and are made of nickel.  They are connected to the computer's power and reset functions.

  

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Confession time.  Pictured here is a 1938 Calkins Appliance Co. device called a Breakfaster.  I came across mine on eBay while trawling in the old-stuff section.  The Breakfaster is a combo toaster/hotplate that was marketed to apartment dwellers of the day.  They must have sold a lot of them because there are bunches of them being offered on eBay.  One thing that really sucked about this appliance is that is has no controls.  None at all.  You plug it in to turn it on...unplug to turn off.

 

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Yes, it really is a computer.  This shows the entire setup including motherboard, power supply and hard drive.  The board is from the German company Kontron.  It is a 3 1/2" form factor industrial board that features an Intel Pentium M processor rated at 1.8GHz.  This is the Dothan core with the 2MB of L2 cache.  The board is mounted to the cases' stainless steel base plate using tall risers.  The Seagate Momentus 40GB 2.5" hard drive is mounted in the space beneath it.

 

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This view shows the mini-box.com 200W power supply that plugs directly into the motherboard.  The single DDR memory slot is filled with 1GB of Crucial memory goodness.  Full size, no SODIMM here.  The IDE cable can be seen on the left as it folds down under the board.

 

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Turned over.  The hole on the right is where the appliance's electrical cord came through.  I'm using it for the same purpose.  The black piece mounted to the bottom is something I added to bridge the two Bakelite case feet.  It is made from wood and painted to match the black Bakelite.

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In my opinion, the best part of this case.  The quality of these aluminum castings is phenomenal.

 

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These are the Bakelite feet.

 

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This lousy photo shows the DC power jack that I mounted into the appliance's original power cord hole.  It was a perfect fit.

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Here is the top piece flipped upside down.  The casting is very robust and weighs a lot even though it is aluminum.  I created the instrument panel (hot plate) mounting system through great trial and error.  In the original appliance, the hot plate was held up into the hole with the internal components.  After gutting it I had to figure something else out.  Studs, fender washers and wing nuts did the trick.  Who doesn't love wing nuts?

 

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Before I forget it..the obligatory size comparison shot.  It really is small.

 

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The entire computer is held together by four aluminum bolts running up through the feet into the top section.  This traps the side castings between them.  There were Bakelite handles on either side on the bottom that I Dremeled off.  They made is look too much like a kitchen appliance (imagine that!)

 

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Backside shot. The problem with using these types of boards is the total lack of  I/O plates.  Most radios from that era also had open backs so I don't feel real bad about it.  It's not like I'm losing a seal either :)

 

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Here you can see the bridge piece I built across the bottom.  This helps dress up the backside somewhat.

This computer really is a little rocket ship.  Flash Gordon would be proud.  The Pentium M w/1GB of memory allows it to scoot right along.  I am running Java Desktop System ver.2 on it as an OS.  I got a copy of it from the Sun rep at CES.  I would like to thank the following companies for having the balls to sponsor this rather off-the-wall project and having confidence that I could pull it off.  Cheers to you.

Kontron AG.....thanks Martin 

Crucial Technology......thanks Sam

Seagate Technology......thanks John

mini-box.com......thanks Andrei

Thanks for looking!