First post, by Tali

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Hi! During the coming few months, I intend to build a few rigs to cover most periods and OSes the way I remember those.

Now, I did miss out on the original IBM PC era (Speccy was where it was at back then), and for me "DOS times" started with a 286, which is already too fast for time sensitive stuff, so, for now, I don't see what it could bring to the table that 386 does not. Anyway, here goes the list:

  • 80386, MS-DOS, perhaps Windows 3.11
  • 80486, MS-DOS, Windows 95
  • undecided, not sure I need something in here
  • Pentium II, MS-DOS, Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000 (DOS/W98 only if I don't build something mentioned above, such as P166MMX, perhaps)
  • undecided, either P3 Tualatin, some pre-PowerNow! Athlon, or, perhaps, S775 P4 for XP; perhaps, two rigs instead, Windows XP
  • Core 2 Quad (or a Xeon if I successfully mod the bios), Windows 7

Of the rigs mentioned above, P2 is already built and mostly complete, with pics posted in that large thread.
Every other build is also going to be done in the same Define R6 case, but with different lighting and accents.
I currently have pretty much everything I need for the C2Q (Abit Fatal1ty nforce 650 SLI mobo, 2x GTX285, etc...)

But the most interesting ones are the 386 and 486 builds, which currently are still being assembled.

Compuadd motherboard (I just couldn't resist this beauty, it looks almost one of a kind, and it has most things I need in a board, including an off-board battery)
80386 DX - 25
80387 DX - 25
4 MB ram (to be eventually expanded to 16MB)
Trident 8900 VGA (two reasons: official - compatibility, real - nostalgia, as that's what I had back in the day)
Some unknown brand IO controller
Gotek Floppy Emu (already works)
PATA SSD via XT-IDE (I've ordered a couple NIC's with free ROM slots, among other things, for this purpose)
ESS 1869 aka Business Wavetable card
(eventually) HardMPU (those aren't cheap, and I need to equip more than one rig with them)

Here is a pic of the board on the workbench, with most things disconnected. Ain't she a beauty?

And the 486:
DECPC LPX+ motherboard (I have this unhealthy fascination with DEC, and a PC by them is something I find quite special, plus, it is VLB/ISA)
The fattest meanest CPU I can put in (the board officially supports DX2-66, but it is a SIS 85C471, so, odds are, it might take something newer, if BIOS allows; will start with AM5x86, and go down if needed)
256 kb external cache (won't accept more, sadly, but it should be enough)
64 MB ram (currently 40; back in the day I used to have 16 and thought it was enough, but W98 tended to disagree with this statement)
ATI Mach32 with 2 Mb
Gotek Floppy Emu (already works)
DVD-RW (not period correct, but I don't care, I just have a couple reliable slim drives I put into all IDE systems, and they work, and generally don't change anything for how the system behaves, as far as software is concerned)
PATA SSD via XT-IDE (same as above)
perhaps, ESS, perhaps, something else for SB-PRO, perhaps, if I get lucky, an actual SB-PRO (I also have a choice of Diamond MF-009, ALS-100 based card, and CMI8330, which I even used to own back in the day, but my memory seems to be painting a better picture than reality, I wasn't as impressed with it now as I was back then)

And here is the pic of the mobo:

Now, I generally don't try to go for 100% authentic hardware, I want it authentic where it counts, which means, from the software perspective. And most software cares about what CPU is in, but certainly not what is at the end of that IDE cable, as long as it still responds the way it should. Also, while my case choice gives me excellent ergonomics when working, ample space to hide all cables, and an outstanding side window, it does have only one 5 inch drive bay. One external drive bay in total, actually. So I use some dark magic to squeeze floppy and CD drives in there, using Dell NR95F caddies. Finally, I do intend to hook all my DOS era machines to MT-32 and SC-55, hence the need for HardMPU boards. Currently I've successfully used both via existing sound card on P2, but it certainly is better to have intelligent mode in hardware.

I will update this thread with new information and pics as projects develop. Also, looking forward to advice on those "undecided" rigs. Thanks in advance!

Reply 1 of 24, by Tali

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Managed to get 12 Mb worth of SIMMs for the 386 by Samsung. Now waiting for them to arrive... If all goes well, it will have 16 Mb.

Speaking of which, I'm calling that rig "it" because I don't have a name for it yet. P2 is, for obvious reasons, called "Shaman", while his younger sister (a modern rig for video editing/streaming) is called "Sorceress". So, naming ideas welcome.

Reply 2 of 24, by pshipkov

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How is the performance of these to boys ?
It will be great to post some screens of the usual tests people use around.
Both of them look like early 386/486 mobos.
It will be interesting to see how "right" they were done.
Thanks and great post !

Reply 4 of 24, by Tali

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I will post a couple tests once I get either of these running beyond booting from a floppy. Currently I can boot dos install disks, but there are no hard drives to install to. What benchmarks beyond 3dbench and Norton system information do you have in mind?

I know, that back panel won't fit my case, and I don't need it to get the keyboard running. I have an offboard controller for com/lpt ports (pic below). Since you've had access to a similar board, perhaps, you could answer a couple questions? Have you experimented with replacing the keyboard controller? It is socketed, and happily runs PS/2 keyboard, so I'm wondering if I could get PS/2 mouse working if I put a VIA chip instead? There was a relatively simple mod somewhere here on the forum, but it would depend on the bios and the motherboard supporting newer keyboard controllers...

Reply 5 of 24, by Tali

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On an unrelated note, just snagged a Korg NX5r for my MIDI collection. Unless some foul play is involved, it should still contain an XG daughterboard, making it twice the fun to have.

Reply 6 of 24, by Tali

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While waiting for RAM and NICs for the 386 and 486, tested a pair of GPUs for the C2Q/Xeon(if supported) build. Here are the cards:

Those do seem to be fingerprint-happy... Anyway, looks are for later, now I just needed to make sure they work and the motherboard accepts them. So, I installed one of them, and was immediately greeted by a nasty series of beeps. After a long hard fight with this old machine, it turned out I dislocated one of RAM modules, or something. Since I was planning to replace all that memory with OCZ Titanium, did that as well.

That's the system I am planning to rework and turn into another "museum rig". It does need some love and care (and cleaning), as can be seen from the photo. Its current case won't go to waste either, but that system is a totally different story.

After finally booting and installing the drivers, a short test in OCCT yielded the following:
- both cards work
- both cards are somewhat ok to listen to even at load
- fan curve might need some tweaking
- OCCT is a monster (I think I knew that in advance, 91C seems like overly high temps... unless you've experienced 9800GX2 Black Edition from XFX before, that thing had normal running temps at 110C)
- there is a good reason why OCZ put those heatsinks on its RAM modules

As for the DEC 486, some attempts to add a PATA SSD ended prematurely. It just refuses to accept that drive. Autodetect fails, and even if I input values manually, it won't initialize it. Guess I'll have to wait for those socketed NICs and XT-IDE to do its magic...

Anyway, about time to give those machines some names, to avoid further confusion. So the 486 is to be called "Bard", as it is supposed to have several sound cards, while the S775 system will bear the proud name of "Assasin", because it's so dard blood red. The family is growing!

Reply 8 of 24, by Tali

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@Zack_H I'm not sure why I'd need one. Frankly, I'm leaning more towards either Pentium Pro or some fast MMX P1. Even then, it will probably not happen any time soon, as I have a handful as it is.

@pshipkov I have received the NICs with sockets, and thought I'd get HDDs up and running with XT-IDE. What I didn't figure was that those are all 28 pin sockets, and I only have 32 pin EPROM at hand. So more waiting. Still, I did get a few packages already, and managed to make full use of those, plus a couple benchmarks incoming.

First I received 8 Mb of Samsung 30 pin SIMMs, 8 pcs in total. Installed them right away, and the still nameless 386 happily accepted them. There is one more bank empty, and more Samsung SIMMs on the way, so, by the looks of it, I'm going to have one hot 386 with 16 Mb of ram pretty soon. I've also run a couple benchmarks for both machines off the floppy, so here are a couple pics for 386 (sorry for the quality).

It doesn't appear to be particularly fast, but not too bad either for a 386-25.

Now, the 486, a.k.a. Bard (at least, until I change my mind). Since my Am P75 appears to show no signs of life, I've ordered a new one, but it hasn't arrived just yet. So here are the tests from its "original" DX-33

I also happen to have a DX4... and now that interposer has arrived, I simply couldn't resist. And, to say I'm impressed is to say nothing. I'm flabbergasted! That same chip, with an S3 Trio in FIC 486-VIP-IO would score 55 in 3DBench when in good mood!

Reply 9 of 24, by Tali

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First, let me be old-fashioned (as befits this place) and congratulate the better half of humanity with 8th of March!

Second, a short update incoming. To begin with, I've tested the new ram on the Assasin (P4), and it checks out. Apparently, all those memory errors were due to one of the three (perhaps, more than one) HDDs ready to give up the ghost, and Windows 7 swapping extensively with "just" 8 GB of RAM straight into some bad sectors. That pc is waiting for a case (en-route), a new SSD (not yet ordered) and a PSU (we'll see about this one).

Shaman (P2) got a proper PC speaker, and so did the other two machines. I've also prepared the CD/FDD caddy for Bard (486). And since I'm speaking about these caddies a lot, here's the whole process.

1) What's needed:
- a 3 inch floppy (in my case - Gotek),
- a slim CD (or, rather, a DVD Burner, but who cares? I certainly don't, so long as it works. Hey, there's an SSD going into that thing...) with IDE (not SATA) connector,
- a converter from laptop to desktop IDE form factor,
- some power wires (in my case, a splitter)…
- and, of course, the caddy itself, along with an assortment of screws. It is a contraption by Dell, part number NR95F

2) As tempting as it may be to start with a CD, Floppy must go in first.

There is a solid reason for that (see below)

I can easily access these screws, because there is no CD drive yet. If I had one, getting at those would be a pain in the flip side.

2) Now, once the floppy drive is secure, CD drive goes in.

Note that the converter panel is still not attached to the drive. That's because there is a notch in the caddy that stops the drive from falling through. It will just as easily stop the converter panel, preventing the drive from going in all the way.

3) Once the drive is installed, however, that notch won't interfere with adding the converter from the other side. It's a tight fit, but it works.

4) Finally, the whole caddy is populated and ready to go into a 5 inch bay.

Reply 11 of 24, by Tali

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Thanks, will try that. I happen to have ordered a later model VIA chip that is certain to support PS2 mice, but I'll probably put this off to last. In the mean time, working on some power wires (will probably finish tonight).

Sadly, the fine gent that was making those proper ATX to AT adapters seems to be temporarily out of business (or, at least, the one I was buying those from), so I'm making my own. I've also updated the "design" with a latching relay feeding off of 5VSB, which seems to be doing its job just fine. Unfortunately, due to the typical eBay PSU extenders having colour coding anywhere they feel like BUT what it should have been, making photos of the whole process would be misleading at best. I'll post a pic once it's done, but it is a pretty straight forward job anyway with normal ATX PSUs, nothing like making Sorceress was (my current main PC running a pair of Xeons on a Dell mobo with their custom ATX connectors)...

EDIT: Also, the 386 seemed only too happy to accept a HDD/CD combo on the onboard IDE, so now I need to plan for it as well. I was thinking to make do with just a floppy, but if it can take a CD drive, why not? Makes it easier moving data around (mostly into the retro machines), and I have an extra caddy around...

EDIT2: Thinking about those low numbers for the 386 in 3DBench, I am more and more inclined to suspect Trident has something to do with it. It is a D variant, supposedly a faster one, but still... and now I'm torn between having bug-free side scrolling at the expense of some speed (and an eyesore this card is on LCDs), vs picking a Tseng for performance and better visual quality.

Reply 12 of 24, by Tali

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As promised, here is a pic of a couple hellish contraptions intended to power my retro rigs, complete with latching relays for using with modern cases.

I didn't bother carefully removing wires (the ones I had to cut) from the connector since those aren't connected to anything anyway. And, as stated before, with this strange colour coding, it is not a very good howto material. Suffice to say, there are three elements: a voltage converter from+12V, GND to -5V, a dummy load on 3.3V to GND and a latching relay with +5VSB, GND in, switching the PS_ON to GND when pulsed on control wires (white ones with black heatshrink). And since AT connectors use only so many pins, there are enough wires for all these additions in any 24 pin ATX extender.

Reply 13 of 24, by Tali

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Memory for Bard has arrived, and so did the cases. If I have nothing better to do, I just might start putting nice ancient green boards into a hyper modern black box with a side window. 😀

Reply 14 of 24, by Tali

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Just installed the motherboard.

Work in progress...
And no, I'm not installing Windows 98 on a 386. I just need this floppy/CD setup combo to test... well, floppy and CD functionality. 😀

And now this project is on hold, need a few parts to continue.

Reply 16 of 24, by Tali

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Not everything goes according to plan. While fiddling with Bard, I've unfortunately damaged the SIMM retention bracket on CT3670. Those things are 100% plastic, and, at this point in time, old and frail plastic at that.

Being quick to anger at myself (and not that sure of my desoldering skills), I've decided to let my wallet suffer and ordered another one. In the mean time, I'll attempt to fix this one I have. Best case scenario, if I manage to fix it - I get to keep two such cards, and, space fluffies know, I have plenty of computers that would gladly make us of one.

So far I've successfully (I and my multimeter think so, at least) desoldered the bracket, and a replacement is being shipped with metal "arms". With a little luck, I just might indeed have two working 3670s. Putting it into a 386 may be overkill, but it still is essentially a SB16, only a much cleaner one, so why not? It would nicely complement the ESS1869. Plus, at the time, at least here, it wasn't uncommon to have machines of a specific platform live and be used long past their time. Or I could put it into P2, which has Ymf724, therefore also missing SB16 compatibility, but still boasting two free ISA slots. Finally, if I do decide to build some P1 MMX or something between the 486 and P2... choices, choices... Now I just need to get it fixed.

Reply 17 of 24, by chinny22

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I know alot of people don't agree, but rekon old hardware looks damn fine in modern windowed cases 😀
and yeh, hate messing round with Ram on AWE's (and some older motherboards) it's not a matter of if but when will the plastic tab finally break, good luck!

Reply 18 of 24, by Tali

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Thanks, that's why I ordered two of those brackets. Just in case...

Oh, the 386 actually has angled brackets too, but those seem to be way ahead in quality and foresight, since I can't find anything in those that could break off (not that I tried). They just seem to be so much better designed, even better than the ones with metal arms. I guess, Compuadd was indeed a premium brand at some point, as some wiki articles attest to.
Note the angled ones on the left, then look at straight ones on the right. The angled ones are essentially the same as straight ones inside. Just angled...

Oh, and if you like old hardware in new cases, here's a pic of the P2 (named Shaman).

I've updated the brightness of orange background lighting to better match that of its much younger sister... but it does look darker on the photo for some reason. Must be the light from the window.
I've also dug up my old trusty Compaq keyboard. That thing was my favourite for quite some time, and now that it's back, I see why.

Reply 19 of 24, by chinny22

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yep duel slot 1 is already cool but I'm liking both the led fans on the cpu's and the 2 on the cards, kinda make it look like a modern GPU mounted sideways