Paraphrasing a recent inquiry from Daniel Gast:

Q: "There seem to be several different Symbolics systems. I'm having a hard time grasping what parts constitute a system. A daunting (at least for an outsider) array of options are shown on your parts-available page, but I can't quite get my mind around what makes a complete (working, usable, not loaded) system. What might a typical Symbolics machine entail?"

A:
In general
: There was a bit of confusion about this even back in the boom days when Symbolics roared. There are various answers. I'll sidestep arguments which see a lispm as a virtual entity, an architectural thing. Addressing just the Symbolics products, the truth is that most were modular systems which could take a variety of components and configurations. But the sales people generally found it profitable to market bundles as semi fixed entities.

Take the 3620 and 3610. A bit of background: Symbolics made a quantum leap from the L-bus architecture to the G-machines. The 3650 used the same meaty cabinet as the old L-bus 3640, but was aimed at the truly loaded customer. Symbolics made a splash launch of the 3620, a cut down 3650 architecture, for economy customers.

[BTW, I well remember Howard Cannon in the 3620 launch (a great lisp software engineer from MIT days, later turned salesman for the company - to the horrors of some true Symbolics devotees who could be unsympathetic to the sales culture). He waltzed across the stage carrying a 3620 under one arm, presenting it (tongue in cheek) as the first portable. Well, compared to the 3600 or PDP-11 it was.]

Anyway, back to the story. The 3620 has just enough L-bus card slots (2) to run, but none spare. So it could run basic Lisp, and no added graphics, just additional memory in spare S-bus lots. I think the idea was for those who felt that the 3650 was a sledgehammer for their simple lisp work, here was a more economical option. The price of the software licenses were just the same.

But then market pressure grew for a "delivery" system; that is a system cut down even more so it could only be used for customer ZetaLisp (later Genera) applications delivery. To this end Symbolics offered the 3610 at a fraction of the price of the 3620. The hardware was almost identical. (They have different badges, an ID chip variation, and the 3610 missed a small protruding foot (that I understand was to prevent clusters of 3620s from being positioned too close to cool)).

As far as anyone is concerned now, the 3620 and 3610 are identical. Last millennium, the licensing for each was very different. Big smack on the knuckles for anyone doing software development on a 3610.

Boxes: The range of Symbolics boxes were few but diverse. What defines a "basic system" is debatable, it depends upon what you want to do with it. For the sake of simplicity I'll pigeonhole some specifications for minimal systems and suggest some of the flexibility/additions possible. (Suggestions for information that I'm missing would be gratefully received).

see Parts Chart (Specs)

A simple suggestion for a basic Symbolics lisp machine specification for Lisp design work on Genera 8.1:

3620 including Processor and FEP-I/O L-bus boards, one or two MW S-Bus memory, ST506 disk, Ethernet, console and cable, keyboard and mouse, power cables.

Extras to consider: cart-tape drive (internal or external), paper documentation set, serial ports, modem, more memory, more disks, ...

This would amount to a neat system capable of serious Lisp work, interfacing into other systems via Ethernet, including via X-Windows. And allow use of stock PC/Mac/Unix boxes and other devices for storage and backup etc. It will comfortably fit in a normal home table setup and use standard domestic power.

It would be complete and self contained, ready to run.
That's the metal, you add the brains.

Pictures of the kit: 3620 with open cabinet lid
Monitor-issues
Further pictures

Main index