The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

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The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-2-27 @ 20:09

It has taken a while to get around to taking pictures and making a write up of this ALR Powerpro system, I hope you don’t mind me sharing… here she is.

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Background info

I bought this system around October time last year for a modest £80, collecting by car in passing from a nice community Oxfordshire. The person who I bought it from was only the second owner of the system and was only selling it due to a move with his job, immigrating to France with the family. He had bought it from the original owner, who at the time of original purchase (17/07/1992 @ 17:27pm) had paid a handsome sum of £5875 (see pictures below)... including VAT, meaning that now... I'm the third person to own this system. With the VAT receipt shown below, includes the business card of the ALR representative who sold the machine. They had even provided them with the glossy A4 product guides for the rest of the ALR range.

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I have to really take my hat off to both the previous owners as they have done a fantastic job of preserving the system with all of the manuals, books and original 5.25" floppies! I gathered the second owner did not have time to do much (if anything) with the machine since it's original purchase, so I have practically received the machine in near new condition. Attached above is some addition information I found regarding multiprocessing.

The system was originally bought as a 486, however will now be run as a single 386 system. The website th99 reflects correctly that the system does indeed have SMP capabilities: -

http://th99.classic-computing.de/src/m/A-B/31211.htm


System specs:-

Cache: - 256Kb
DRAM: - 49Mb (12 x 4Mb)
I/O card: - Adaptec 1742 EISA full length
Graphics: - MiroCrystal 32S EISA with 4Mb VRAM

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Those of you who are familiar will know I tend to downgrade systems more than I upgrade, and for this system there was no exception. Since buying the server, I have since found a single ALR 386 processor/CPU board.

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Admittedly I wasn’t entirely sure if it was compatible with this system as I know there are a few different types of CPU boards out there… but the plunge I took.

Opening up the system to check the internals and to switch CPU cards found two slots on the motherboard which are supposedly interchangeable and can apparently hold 2 x CPU boards: -

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Turning the system on with the new CPU module….

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Now for the upgrade, by de-soldering the crystal oscillator and putting a new DIL socket paved the way for flexibility, and an AMD DX40MHZ!

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Update 04.03.2017

After initial problems getting the system to run at 40 MHz, and between the late / early hours of this morning, I found myself tinkering with this system once more. Changing the graphics card in for an ISA alternative, putting the 40 MHz oscillator back in the 386 CPU board and re-inserting the 25ns cache module to find that this system can now run at 40 MHz without problem.

It turned out that the graphics card did not like 40 MHz! I'm glad I came to you guys for opinions first, having said it may have crossed my mind before seriously considering taking the board out and start replacing oscillators. Having let the system run at short intervals and conduct a thermal system survey with my digits it turns out the IC's are not giving off much (if any) heat signatures. I have as a precaution stuck down with some arctic silver a couple of heat-sinks on those big Intel chips eventhough they're not really needed.

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I will keep the system at 40 MHz for now while I run some tests, but plan to knock it back down to 33 MHz for the interests of preservation. The systems IC's may not be giving off any heat... but I don't want to put any unnecessary strain on the transistors within.



If anyone has spare parts for this system, or ALR spares which might be compatible I would be interested to hear from you, and if you have any advice on how to move the project forward I would also appreciate comments on.

More to follow...



Update 10.08.2017

... Following on from the original post I have managed to spend a bit more time playing around a bit more with the system. This, and recently hearing from one of our newest members Kalyke who was good to hear from, regarding their ALR Business VEISA system. Their excellent thread for this system is over here: - viewtopic.php?f=25&t=55258


One of the main things I did since the last time I used the system was trying various different oscillator clocks and managing to get the system stable with a 40MHz OSC. A 50MHz OSC didn't even start the system which is expected given that the cache module is only designed to run at 25ns, to stand any chance of the 50MHz system running the cache would be required to be rated at 20ns, having said, the ALR bridge chips are rated at 33MHz... so 40 MHz is most definitely the limit with which the system operates nice and stable.

Keeping the system DRAM a mix of 70ns simms and 80ns DIPs, I tested the TI486SXL2-66 on one of the modules, however, I couldn't get the L1 cache to be activated through the software I typically use, though I still took some benchmarks of this, with another benchmark as a regular old 386 DX40 system: -

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ALR-DX40 / ALR-SXL2-66 (no L1 cache)


These are not too bad considering both the ALR bridge chips are rated only at 33MHz. Should I again have time, or new parts, I might tweak the system further. The DRAM hasn't been upgraded since I acquired the system, this... and of course there is faster cache / other modules out there... somewhere.

Until the next...
Last edited by 386_junkie on 2017-8-11 @ 09:02, edited 13 times in total.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - EISA SMP 386

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-2-28 @ 00:05

Don't mess with the 14.318MHz oscillator whatever you do. It will mess up the timings for a lot of devices.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - EISA SMP 386

Postby NJRoadfan » 2017-2-28 @ 00:43

The EISA bus should be clocked at 8.33Mhz. There should be a clock divider/interface of some sort on the board that handles this. I wouldn't be surprised if the problem is elsewhere, like a PAL/GAL or even cache that can't keep up with the faster cpu speed. What does the big Intel chip on the board say? Earlier Intel 82350 EISA chipsets weren't exactly bug free (the 82350DT was much better behaved). Upgrading the CPU by swapping the crystal isn't always going to work on cranky and complex hardware like this.

Nice reuse of extra MCA bus slots for the CPU cards.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-2-28 @ 07:14

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous Coward wrote:Don't mess with the 14.318MHz oscillator whatever you do. It will mess up the timings for a lot of devices.


I wasn't 100% sure but I had a hunch that this oscillator wasn't the issue. 14.318 is not a multiple of 8.33. I was looking more at the 10 and 1.8432. I know it will not be that simple but deducting the 1.8432 from 10 gives a more suited 8.1568 for the EISA bus. Could it be that introducing 40MHz as the FSB alters one of the others?

It may well be that the system will remain with 33MHz FSB, but would be interesting to see if it is capable like the Systempro. Speaking of Systempro, the motherboard did not have as many oscillators.

NJRoadfan wrote:The EISA bus should be clocked at 8.33Mhz. There should be a clock divider/interface of some sort on the board that handles this. I wouldn't be surprised if the problem is elsewhere, like a PAL/GAL or even cache that can't keep up with the faster cpu speed. What does the big Intel chip on the board say? Earlier Intel 82350 EISA chipsets weren't exactly bug free (the 82350DT was much better behaved). Upgrading the CPU by swapping the crystal isn't always going to work on cranky and complex hardware like this.

Nice reuse of extra MCA bus slots for the CPU cards.


Clock divider/interface are my initial thoughts, though you may be right... the problem could be elsewhere.

When testing, I kept the cache board out of the system so on this occasion we can rule out cache. Much of the board is fixed, below are the big Intel chips: -

Image Image

No 82350's, only an 82357 and an 82358. You think these could have something to do with it?

Thanks in advance.

Edit: -

You know, I totally missed that fact that they were MCA slots... cute how they used them for the CPU, NPU, and cache system bus.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby feipoa » 2017-2-28 @ 07:54

Did you try booting the system with just an ISA graphics card?

Are there any crystal oscillators between 66.6 and 80 MHz that you can use? When I wanted to overclock my SXL2, but not kill it, I went looking for 55 MHz and 60 MHz oscillators in this 4-pin DIP package and they were available.

Have you determined that the system is entirely stable with 33.3 MHz?

On a 386 board I had, I did what you were doing in going from a 66.6 MHz to an 80 MHz osc to upgrade it. The system did not work at all. Strangely, the issue was related to corrosion on the RAM sockets, which I had to replace. While this may not relate to your case, it is just an example of how seemingly unrelated the solution is.

You probably now have more functioning dual 386 systems than any other hobbyist. It would be really neat to setup a high-end dual 486, perhaps with a DX4-100, DX5-133, or Cyrix 5x86.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby luckybob » 2017-2-28 @ 08:45

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It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby NJRoadfan » 2017-2-28 @ 22:30

Both of those Intel chips are part of the 82350 EISA chipset. I can't find info on the earlier non-DT chipset, but I'm guessing the "33" on the 82358 indicates the maximum bus speed its capable of.

http://www.datasheetlib.com/datasheet/1 ... ation.html
http://www.geekdot.com/eisa-indepth/
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby nforce4max » 2017-3-01 @ 02:16

Just don't brick that system as you don't want to live with the regret for the rest of your life, very very nice system and haven't seen anything like it that was 386/486.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby Jade Falcon » 2017-3-01 @ 03:00

luckybob wrote:Image


Image

I find this so interesting I'll think I'll eat myself
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-3-01 @ 07:56

feipoa wrote:Did you try booting the system with just an ISA graphics card?

Are there any crystal oscillators between 66.6 and 80 MHz that you can use? When I wanted to overclock my SXL2, but not kill it, I went looking for 55 MHz and 60 MHz oscillators in this 4-pin DIP package and they were available.

Have you determined that the system is entirely stable with 33.3 MHz?

On a 386 board I had, I did what you were doing in going from a 66.6 MHz to an 80 MHz osc to upgrade it. The system did not work at all. Strangely, the issue was related to corrosion on the RAM sockets, which I had to replace. While this may not relate to your case, it is just an example of how seemingly unrelated the solution is.

You probably now have more functioning dual 386 systems than any other hobbyist. It would be really neat to setup a high-end dual 486, perhaps with a DX4-100, DX5-133, or Cyrix 5x86.


Did not try an ISA graphics card. I'm away with work again and won't get back until later in the week, will give that a go.

Don't have any oscillators in between... didn't even know they exist. It makes me wonder what kinda system runs between an FSB of 33MHz and 40MHz!?

Yea the 486 CPU board it came with had a 66MHz OSC, some of the other chips are denoted "33". Looking at th99 link, the FSB goes up to 33MHz anything above is stated as internal.

I didn't think about that, but you're right, they're probably not many other multi-386 systems out there... could even be some old systems still chugging away without the user even realising what's inside i.e. the military.

Dual 486 is the next step... once I've had my 386 fill and I get time, I'll mod the Systempro to 2 x 586/133's on a 33Mhz multiplier or something to this effect. If this system remains @ 33MHz... I may even do a battle of the dual 486 servers themed thread; - Powerpro vrs Systempro!


NJRoadfan wrote:Both of those Intel chips are part of the 82350 EISA chipset. I can't find info on the earlier non-DT chipset, but I'm guessing the "33" on the 82358 indicates the maximum bus speed its capable of.


Thanks very much for the links, these chips are new ground for me and will be good to have a read of these when I get the chance.

With the chip being denoted "33" i'd be surprised if it was this that's the cause. From previous experiences I've had overclocking other 386 systems with bridge chips that have "33" markings, systems boot up just fine. Even the Systempro and Deskpro's have a couple of chips with "33" on them but I still got them to boot @ 40MHz.

Having said I have had no experience with these Intel chipsets, so before I do aaaaannnnything... I will be familiarizing myself with them.

I really do appreciate you bringing them to my attention, thanks.


nforce4max wrote:Just don't brick that system as you don't want to live with the regret for the rest of your life, very very nice system and haven't seen anything like it that was 386/486.


No, no I certainly do not.

When upgrading 386 systems previously (usually 33 to 40 MHz) at the boot stage I quickly send a grounded finger around all the SMD chips on the motherboard and system boards for any heat signatures and spend quite a bit of time doing this. If fact, when doing any of these upgrade type projects... looking for heat signatures, however faint is always priority # 1. You should have seen me testing the Systempro @ 40MHz the first time, I started off running the system for 5 mins, then 15 and eventually built it up... I took hours doing initial run tests just to be 100% sure, and build my confidence that it was actually alright to run it @ 40.

I have an abundance of 386 sized thermal coolants; heat sinks, fans, even some 486 modifications to fit a 386.

Thanks for the compliments... it is a nice looking system, when I first saw it advertised as a 486 I still felt drawn to it. When I learned I could downgrade it to a 386... 8-o


Jade Falcon wrote:I find this so interesting I'll think I'll eat myself


Ha... yea, there is something about multi-core CPU systems isn't there. The main problem i've had though when it comes to testing them is finding software and an OS that supports such early system designs. I can understand for this reason other people's sentiment when it comes to choosing later generation hardware and not going as far back when it comes to system design.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-3-04 @ 08:49

I made some edit's to the original post. In the box I bought it in had a separate pack that I had forgotten about... it was only when I went looking for the configuration utilities and floppy disks that I looked in the box and found them, with all the other documentation.

Having got the system as a 386 to run Windows 95 and maintain stability, I will do some tests and return the system back to a 33 MHz FSB.

Some things should be left in their original condition, this is one of them.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby feipoa » 2017-3-04 @ 09:58

Nice photos!

Do you have the second 386 CPU card for this machine? Or just dual 486 cards?
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-3-04 @ 11:42

feipoa wrote:Nice photos!

Do you have the second 386 CPU card for this machine? Or just dual 486 cards?


Just doing my bit for the community.

For now, I only have 1 x 386 and 1 x 486. This is a Symmetrical Multi-Processing (SMP) system so I need two of the same, processing together. Needless to say... I am looking for another CPU card.

Starting to modify the Systempro for 2 x 586 operations.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-8-10 @ 17:07

As updated in the thread: -

Image Image
Image Image
ALR-DX40 / ALR-SXL2-66 (no L1 cache)
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby kalyke » 2017-8-11 @ 08:50

Very nice system you have there. Especially with all the documentation and invoice. Nice to be able to review the history of an system.
Before digging up my system I didn't know such modular system existed.

The other CPU you tested, is this the original it came with? I will poste SST pictures of my system after the weekend. I don't see the faster cache doing its magic. At least not with the stock 33MHz.

And thanks a lot for the inspiration for my own thread. Making ALR great again :-).
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-8-11 @ 14:17

I really like all the 386 EISA systems popping up recently. It's a club I'd like to join.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby matze79 » 2017-8-12 @ 09:13

EISA unlocks full 32bit Power :) Unleash the 386's.
I also have a 386/486 EISA Combo Board but only with one ISA Slot :/
its suffering from leaking battery :/
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby Unknown_K » 2017-8-12 @ 23:48

EISA slots can use ISA cards so I don't see how you can only have one ISA slot on an EISA board.
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Re: The ALR Powerpro: - Dual 386 EISA System

Postby 386_junkie » 2017-8-13 @ 10:54

kalyke wrote:Very nice system you have there. Especially with all the documentation and invoice. Nice to be able to review the history of an system.
Before digging up my system I didn't know such modular system existed.

The other CPU you tested, is this the original it came with? I will poste SST pictures of my system after the weekend. I don't see the faster cache doing its magic. At least not with the stock 33MHz.

And thanks a lot for the inspiration for my own thread. Making ALR great again :-).

Thanks, and you're welcome.

We are a community, when we stop helping each other, the fun stops for everyone.

The original CPU the system came with was a 486... though I got lucky and found the lonely 386 CPU board after buying the system. It took me a while to work up the courage to try the 386 board in the system... as I couldn't find any info online or in the manual regarding pictures of the 386 CPU board :?: so I wasn't sure it was the right one and was scared to maybe damage anything if it wasn't... but the gamble paid off, and it will remain a 386.


Anonymous Coward wrote:I really like all the 386 EISA systems popping up recently. It's a club I'd like to join.

I look forward to when you do, it's only a small club but you'd be a big addition.


matze79 wrote:EISA unlocks full 32bit Power :) Unleash the 386's.
I also have a 386/486 EISA Combo Board but only with one ISA Slot :/
its suffering from leaking battery :/

Power to the 386!

Unfortunate to hear about your board, can the battery be removed?

Do you have any pictures of the board? Would be interesting to see.


Unknown_K wrote:EISA slots can use ISA cards so I don't see how you can only have one ISA slot on an EISA board.

Could be part of a proprietary bus system and they do not know.

I found this system had two ISA slots amongst all the EISA’s: -

Image

Until I later discovered they were to provide power to other proprietary ALR cards.
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