The Tualatinator, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still useful?

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The Tualatinator, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still useful?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-12 @ 13:03

Hello everybody, I'm a newcomer in the forum, despite I lurked as a guest since a very long time.

You can call me Looking4awayout, I'm a computer repairman from Italy who always got a thing for old computer systems. However, unlike most, I'm not into gaming, or at least I'm not into that anymore as I used to be as a kid. Instead, what I enjoy most from vintage computers is to push them to their limits, their extreme limits, and see if they still can be capable and productive in present days, without resulting to overclocking or watercooling but keeping the pieces as stock as possible, just like what would the average user do.

So, inspired from Oldtech81's videos on Youtube and from what I learned through experience, I can safely say that there are a lot of obsolete machines that with the right expansions, can still be used as modern productivity platforms and can still be used as daily drivers, despite their ancient architecture. Of course, 8 bit and 16 bit computers are out of the league with my concept, because we know that 8-bit machines capabilities as full-fledged "daily drivers" nowadays are quite limited, while 16-bit platforms can still have a lot of vitality, so it would be an "easy win".

But enough with sophisms, time to introduce you my long time work-in-progress, a computer I like to call the "Ferrari Coppermine".

IMG-20170809-WA0021.jpg


The Ferrari Coppermine started as a Dex (Italian OEM, no longer in business since a decade) Pentium 3 800EB with 128MB of PC100 RAM, a 20GB Seagate 5400RPM hard drive, onboard Soundmax audio, an ATI Rage 128 graphics card, two LG optical drives (both broken) and an extremely unstable installation of Windows ME and an MSI 6309 V2 Lite motherboard. It was purchased in year 2000 and came with a Windows ME product key sticker applied on the rear. The computer was brought to our store with the hope it could receive a rejuvenation with the installation of Windows XP, but my father, who's the boss in charge (since the store is family owned) deemed it not worth to be upgraded as too much obsolete, so the owner traded it with a brand new Asus laptop with Windows 8. It happened in 2013.

Fast forward to year 2015, I accidentally killed my previous retro PC, a Pentium MMX 233Mhz by installing both EDO and SDRAM sticks, so I had to find a replacement. And what could be the best replacement, if not that Dex, that was languishing on the shelf since two years, waiting to be scrapped?
So, I brought it home and begun to fiddle with it. I have replaced the puny Cooler Master heatsink with a bigger AVC one coming from a scrapped Athlon XP, replaced the two broken optical drives with a Matsushita combo CD/DVD reader, installed a TEAC 5.25" floppy drive salvaged from the MMX PC, replaced the 20GB Seagate HDD with two Maxtor 160GB and 200GB 7200RPM, upgraded the BIOS version to the latest one available, installed a 256MB Geforce FX5500 paired to a 3DFX Voodoo1 taken out from the MMX and a Sound Blaster Live as a graphics card, expanding the RAM to the amount I had back then, which was 768MB. The keyboard, a Chicony KB-5181 and the mouse, a Logitech MB-82-9F and the monitor, a Sam*Tron 1554-V 15" CRT monitor from 1997 were from the MMX build.

So, I proceeded with the installation of the OS. First, I've installed Windows 98SE and fully patched it, then Windows XP Home SP3 and then Lubuntu 14.04. After installing them, I noticed that the computer wasn't that slow to use for other things besides classic gaming, so I concentrated myself to expand it further, and first thanks to a scrapped Compaq Evo laptop, I managed to upgrade the CPU to a Pentium 3 1GHz E, the one with the 100MHz FSB. The performance boost was like a transition from night to day, and I got keen on keeping upgrading it.

I connected it to the internet with a US Robotics 5423 USB WiFi dongle, and then, thanks to Ebay, I continued my work of pushing it up to its maximum limits while keeping it as much retro as possible and even making it, at least in look, older than it looks. I've replaced the CPU with a P3 1000EB with 133MHz FSB, replaced the graphics card with a Geforce 6800GT 256MB, taken the Voodoo1 out as it died of old age (most likely a reflow might make it spring back to life, but I don't have time nor interest to revive it at the moment), installed a NEC USB 2.0 PCI card, replaced the Sound Blaster Live with a Yamaha sound card that offers DOS drivers and supports Lubuntu out of the box with no additional hassle and then I did the most important thing after the graphics card replacement: I maxed the RAM out to 1,5GB.

Then, I have replaced the Sam*Tron monitor with an even older model, a 14" Crystal CM-1402E early SVGA "8514/A compatible" monitor from 1992 kept at 640x480, and replaced the Chicony KB-5181 keyboard with a NIB BTC-5060XT I bought from Ebay back in 2012 and never used since because it was apparently an XT only keyboard (I found out it was an autosensing XT/AT keyboard only by accident), and here's the current setup:

IMG-20170809-WA0025.jpg
IMG-20170809-WA0015.jpg
IMG-20170809-WA0013.jpg
IMG-20170809-WA0023.jpg


    -Intel Pentium 3 1000EB 1GHz | 133MHz FSB
    -Maxtor 160GB and 200GB 7200RPM IDE Hard Drives
    -Inno3D Geforce 6800GT 256MB AGP
    -Logilink USB 2.0 PCI Card (NEC chipset) with internal USB port for cache drive
    -Yamaha YMF724 sound card
    -Crystal CM-1402E SVGA "8514/A Compatible" 14" CRT monitor
    -BTC 5060XT 84 keys XT/AT foam-and-foil keyboard
    -Logitech MB-82-9F 300DPI serial mouse
    -US Robotics 5423 USB WiFi dongle

I'm positively impressed by how the computer is fast and snappy despite the very obsolete architecture. Of course, I had to do some compromises in order to make it as much lightweight as possible, by tweaking the BIOS, disabling special effects, themes, unnecessary services, playing a lot with browser settings and installing Eboostr to build the cache on a 4GB flash drive permanently connected to the internal port of the USB 2.0 card, but using this computer doesn't make you think you are using a Pentium 3, but more of a Pentium 4.

Being a totally insane retro enthusiast, the series of upgrades aren't finished yet. In September, I plan to buy a pin modded Pentium 3-S from South Korea and see if it runs on my computer (and now much of a performance boost I'm going to get), and then finding out if it's possible to load the serial mouse driver in the XP safe mode. After that, I think my quest will be over and I will be finally able to enjoy a PC that's been really "built to last".

Here are some other shots of the Ferrari Coppermine, this time the guts:

Image

And the rear:

Image

The motherboard is an MSI 6309 V2 Lite, from 1999. No capacitor on the board is leaking, luckily. Since the salvage, I have installed two additional fans to provide extra cooling and replaced the old 230W PSU with a P&O 550W one that seems to be adequate. The PC works quite well so far, usable and smooth, although the monitor sometimes gave me some issues due to the fiddly connector, but after I have straightened the pins, disconnected and reconnected it to the graphics card, it's no longer giving issues so far. Curiously, the red pin is actually shorter than the other ones.

I wonder how fast will it run with the pin-modded Tualatin, in future, and one day I'd like to try to install a SATA controller card and hard drive, to see if I can give it extra performance, but the latter is just an idea since the two IDE drives work very well, despite they come from a computer that was used as a bittorrent workstation, so it was constantly downloading programs from the internet.

Until then, this is my first step in the VOGONS scene. Gaming wise, I'd like to keep this computer as an all-in-one solution. So, Windows 98SE for DOS and 9x games, Windows XP for more recent games and emulation -along with daily desktop use- and Lubuntu for the same daily use as XP, while learning how to use Linux.

So, long story short: can a retro PC be still useful and productive for daily use? Yes, it can! As long as it can be expanded to the maximum limits and as long as you have enough patience to do all the required tweaks to improve its performance and reduce the amount of RAM and CPU usage, there's still a lot of life to squeeze out of these obsolete architectures, and the Pentium 3, in my opinion, is the best retro architecture for this scope, since it's old enough but not too obsolete to make it still a viable option for desktop and good oldschool gaming.

Until then, this is Looking4awayout, signing off. :wink:
Last edited by looking4awayout on 2018-2-24 @ 21:12, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby cj_reha » 2017-8-13 @ 15:20

In the future do you have plans to add more things e.g. zip drives, ISA sound cards, etc?
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby konc » 2017-8-13 @ 17:24

I do admire your retro-build, appreciate your post and by all means, I have no intention to sound like an ass.
looking4awayout wrote:So, long story short: can a retro PC be still useful and productive for daily use? Yes, it can!

But I do have an honest question, for what exactly do you think such a PC can be productive in daily use today?
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-13 @ 19:02

cj_reha wrote:In the future do you have plans to add more things e.g. zip drives, ISA sound cards, etc?


No, I don't plan to add those in future. Mostly because I don't know if the ISA slot supports DMA, plus I'm not sure if an ISA Sound Blaster card would be compatible with Windows XP and Lubuntu. But I got a Yamaha YMF724 PCI sound card that includes DOS drivers so I can use it for DOS games. ZIP drives aren't my kind of thing either. I have a USB 2.0 card so I can use my SATA external hard drive to transfer files between computers, while I can use Link Maven with a parallel cable to transfer files to and from older computers.

konc wrote:I do admire your retro-build, appreciate your post and by all means, I have no intention to sound like an ass.
But I do have an honest question, for what exactly do you think such a PC can be productive in daily use today?


You don't sound like an ass at all. It's a legitimate question. :wink:
When it comes to productivity, I'm a fairly average user. I don't use my PC (not even my Core2Duo laptop!) for modern heavyweight games or advanced programming with Visual Studio and so on. So what I want to achieve with this computer is more or less what Oldtech81 does in his videos: web browsing, watching streaming videos, word processing, spreadsheet and database, and gaming of course.

I have pretty much achieved all of these by either upgrading the PC to the maximum limits (or even going beyond, I have some crazy ideas for the future, but I'd need lots of money :-D ), or by tweaking the services and settings to achieve the maximum performance and reduce RAM and CPU usage, or by using alternative and/or older versions of programs we use every day. For example, for watching Youtube videos I just use Minitube, and it does its job very well, while to do that in Linux I just use VLC, so I don't give strain to the graphics card and the CPU.

About gaming, I don't need modern games to have fun. Emulation and classic games of the PC's period are more than enough to keep myself entertained. In fact, I also tested some DOS games through the XP NTVDM, and they work well, while the ones that misbehave or don't work properly will be moved to 98SE to have full compatibility.

Obviously, that doens't mean you can do EVERYTHING with those computers. But 95% of the stuff you can do on a fairly recent computer can be done on older systems too, as long as you max them out and tweak them. If there are people who still use classic 68k Amigas as daily drivers, why not a Pentium 3 that is much more recent? :wink:

I wonder how much faster the PC will become once the pin-modded Tualatin will be installed!
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby SW-SSG » 2017-8-13 @ 20:06

looking4awayout wrote:... and replaced the old 230W PSU with a P&O 550W one that seems to be adequate.

Would recommend replacing that PSU as one of your next things to do; Deer (the manufacturer) are notorious for bottom-barrel PSUs and the "550w" rating on this one is most certainly a lie. Check around for Enermax or FSP/SPI/Sparkle units that emphasize 5V rail capacity.

Nice build overall.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-13 @ 20:12

Alright. Will do it once I find one at an affordable price, or if I happen to stumble upon one from a traded in PC. I'm perpetually on a shoestring budget, so I can do upgrades only quite slowly. Would a 550W PSU be adequate for my configuration? Or should I look for something a bit more powerful? Consider that the PSU was taken from a scrapped computer, just like most of the parts. I just installed that one because I thought the previous 230W original unbranded PSU would be a bit too weak.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby Jade Falcon » 2017-8-13 @ 20:20

Oh may, if that's a deer built psu trash is right now. Dint even leave it pluged in.

A good 300w or better psu will do, 350w would be more than enough if its a good psu
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby KCompRoom2000 » 2017-8-13 @ 20:20

looking4awayout wrote:Alright. Will do it once I find one at an affordable price, or if I happen to stumble upon one from a traded in PC. I'm perpetually on a shoestring budget, so I can do upgrades quite slowly. Would a 550W PSU be adequate for my configuration? Or should I look for something a bit more powerful?

Consider that the PSU was taken from a scrapped computer, just like most of the parts.

I doubt you'll need a power supply that's more than 550W considering the P3 doesn't take up that much power and the GF6800 video card is your main power concern, heck I'd say a 400W supply should be a fine minimum here since I once used a 450W supply on an AMD64 3200+ w/ a GF7800GS and it was just fine, a more beefier supply is nice if you end up with one though.

BTW, the case design reminds me of the Dell Dimension towers from the beige era, nice system.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-13 @ 20:34

Jade Falcon wrote:Oh may, if that's a deer built psu trash is right now. Dint even leave it pluged in.

A good 300w or better psu will do, 350w would be more than enough if its a good psu


Wow, are they really that bad? So far I never had any trouble with that PSU, but now that you're saying that, I will hunt for a better one in future, even though this one is still working well with no hassle since 2008. I guess I should look for PSUs that have more than 24a for the 5V rail? So I guess that if I find a PSU with 28A on that rail, it would be good? The P&O I have at the moment provides only 20A for the 5V rail.

KCompRoom2000 wrote:I doubt you'll need a power supply that's more than 550W considering the P3 doesn't take up that much power and the GF6800 video card is your main power concern, heck I'd say a 400W supply should be a fine minimum here since I once used a 450W supply on an AMD64 3200+ w/ a GF7800GS and it was just fine, a more beefier supply is nice if you end up with one though.

BTW, the case design reminds me of the Dell Dimension towers from the beige era, nice system.


So perhaps a 450W would already be the sweet spot for such a configuration or even a 500W PSU. That's good to know. :blush:

About the case styling, yep, I agree. Many people said it looks similar to the Dell Dimension XPS, and I can't deny it's been quite influenced by the styling of that computer, IMHO one of the most beautiful Dells ever made. The case was made in Italy by Micronica SRL, a company that's no longer in business, much like the OEM it used to work for... The case is solidly built and quite heavy and thick, and the plastic feet give a nice retro feeling to the overall look.

EDIT: I forgot to upload the rear shot of my PC. I have updated the main post now.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-8-13 @ 20:44

looking4awayout wrote:
Jade Falcon wrote:Oh may, if that's a deer built psu trash is right now. Dint even leave it pluged in.

A good 300w or better psu will do, 350w would be more than enough if its a good psu


Wow, are they really that bad? So far I never had any trouble with that PSU, but now that you're saying that, I will hunt for a better one in future, even though this one is still working well with no hassle since 2008. I guess I should look for PSUs that have more than 24a for the 5V rail? So I guess that if I find a PSU with 28A on that rail, it would be good? The P&O I have at the moment provides only 20A for the 5V rail.

KCompRoom2000 wrote:I doubt you'll need a power supply that's more than 550W considering the P3 doesn't take up that much power and the GF6800 video card is your main power concern, heck I'd say a 400W supply should be a fine minimum here since I once used a 450W supply on an AMD64 3200+ w/ a GF7800GS and it was just fine, a more beefier supply is nice if you end up with one though.

BTW, the case design reminds me of the Dell Dimension towers from the beige era, nice system.


So perhaps a 450W would already be the sweet spot for such a configuration or even a 500W PSU. That's good to know. :blush:

About the case styling, yep, I agree. Many people said it looks similar to the Dell Dimension XPS, and I can't deny it's been quite influenced by the styling of that computer, IMHO one of the most beautiful Dells ever made. The case was made in Italy by Micronica SRL, a company that's no longer in business, much like the OEM it used to work for... The case is solidly built and quite heavy and thick, and the plastic feet give a nice retro feeling to the overall look.


30A is typically what you need for Barton 3200 chips. Your Coppermine can make do with less. As for the Deer, my primary concern would be whether it's a health/fire hazard. Post some internal pictures in the PSU Bust a Myth thread and we'll let you know if it looks safe.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-13 @ 21:25

gdjacobs wrote:30A is typically what you need for Barton 3200 chips. Your Coppermine can make do with less. As for the Deer, my primary concern would be whether it's a health/fire hazard. Post some internal pictures in the PSU Bust a Myth thread and we'll let you know if it looks safe.


Once I will have the courage to open it, I will... I've been shocked pretty badly by an AT PSU many years ago, so I'm still quite afraid to open them. But someday I might give a go and take a picture. Most likely I'll already have it replaced with a brand new model.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby Jade Falcon » 2017-8-13 @ 23:00

Follow common sense safety.
Power on the PSU, then pull the AC cable while its on, then (while unplugged) short each output.
Let it sit for a few hours.
When you open it use a electrician screwdriver if you have one.
Keep one hand behind your back at all times.
Don't go poking around at parts, don't touch anything on the inside unless if you know for sure it's discharged.

Follow that and you should be fine.

That being said if it's a deer, just toss it.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-13 @ 23:29

Alright. Once I will have enough courage, I will do it... :)

Now, I was thinking about other ways to increase its already good performance: since the motherboard only supports the ATA100 protocol, and I have two 7200RPM ATA133 hard drives, if I install an ATA133 card, would I get a visible increase in read and write speed? I have a 4GB el cheapo flash drive permanently connected to the internal port of the USB 2.0 card, and with Eboostr, I've built the cache on that drive to speed XP up.

I wonder if the ATA133 controller would make things even faster.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby mrau » 2017-8-13 @ 23:51

imho marginal, you would need to go scsi to see an improvement
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby SW-SSG » 2017-8-14 @ 00:21

looking4awayout wrote:... since the motherboard only supports the ATA100 protocol, and I have two 7200RPM ATA133 hard drives, if I install an ATA133 card, would I get a visible increase in read and write speed?

You would not. Because (for example) if your 200GB Maxtor is the particular model I think it is, it physically cannot move data onto and off of its platters faster than ~65MB/s, and will only reach ~115MB/s when reading or writing to its cache buffer (which is probably only 16MB, and thus, you would certainly not notice a difference in speed from upgrading your controller).

The speed rating (100 and 133 in this case) refers to the maximum data rate the protocol supports. In the case of the motherboard, this does not reflect the actual speed at which data is moving through at all times; in the case of the HDD, this does not reflect the speed at which a particular model can actually operate.

I think if you want to saturate your motherboard's/an ATA-133 card's ports and see a significant improvement, you would use a CF-to-IDE adapter and a fast CompactFlash card, or install an SSD attached to a SATA-to-IDE adapter. There does not actually exist a (native) IDE drive that can make even ATA-100 a bottleneck, and a similar story can be told about SATA HDDs.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-14 @ 07:39

Gotcha. Thank you very much for the explanation. I can't complain about the speed, the hard drives are quite fast, also thanks to the help of Eboostr as I've reserved the 4GB flash drive for the cache.

I might search for a SCSI controller and hard drive so I can put the OS there while keeping the 160GB IDE drive for data, if I can find both for a low price and if they are compatible with 98SE, XP and Lubuntu 14.04. But that's not a priority, will do it someday.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-8-14 @ 13:37

Modern SATA drives are certainly faster, and some SATA to ATA translators can begin to push ATA100 speeds.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp9AyMQ62js

Of course my socket 7 machine can only push UDMA33, but it gets all that, and the latency is shockingly low.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-14 @ 16:07

Great, with that one I can easily use a 500GB SATA drive so I could keep all the data into one hard drive... Or just replace the master IDE drive with the SATA one to speed things up. I have found the same converter on ebay and put it into my watch list. ;)

I'm actually thinking about a crazy thing: buying a Western Digital Velociraptor 10.000RPM hard drive to couple with the converter... But the budget is limited, so I have to do things step by step.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-8-15 @ 03:11

Not really needed, I think. Any modern SATA drive is quite fast. Raptor 10k drives don't have as much per platter density as newer 7200 rpm drives.
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Re: The Ferrari Coppermine, a.k.a. Can a retro PC be still productive?

Postby looking4awayout » 2017-8-15 @ 15:19

I've found 300GB Velociraptor drives on EBay for a good price. If I can manage to backup my three OSes successfully, I can try one and see if it helps to speed things up. ;)
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