John Floren

Home | Blog | Uses | Links
Back to blog archive

Posted 2023/5/19

The Nicolet 660 Computer

Way back in 2009, I went over to the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics to pick up a surplus PDP-11 (this was back in the days when old computers were just given away, not sold at absurd rates on ebay). While there, I was also offered a Nicolet 660 computer and the attached Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer. I had never heard of Nicolet before, so I took a look.

The system had been mothballed for several years at that point due to a bad hard drive. It consistend of a mini-rack cabinet with slide-out rails for the separate CPU, disk, and PSU units. It had a VGA monitor and an AT keyboard, both Nicolet branded, but despite the PC interfaces I believe it was a custom architecture, or at the very least a custom integration of some existing architecture. I have vague memories of a 20-bit word size, but I’m not sure. It had two floppy drives and a SMD hard drive.

Though the hard drive didn’t work, we were able to boot from some floppies. One floppy was the regular Nicolet Operating System (NICOS) which had programs to work with the spectrometer. Another was a diagnostic disk; we ran the SMDBUSTER disk diagnostic, which said it couldn’t even find the hard drive.

Anyway, it’s been a very long time, so I don’t remember much more, and I cannot find any documentation for this computer online, so I’m just going to dump the pictures I took:

Nicolet 660 image gallery

Here’s a mailing list thread from back in the day, in which we try to figure out what the heck it is and what’s wrong with it: Nicolet 660 thread