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A 286 computer, is it totally useless?

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First post, by AlessandroB

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As I have already written in the other post (which is more technically oriented) friends have given me a beautiful Olivetti 286. For my experience and for what I read here on the forum it would seem a useless computer on the retrocomputing side. Excluding those who have a sentimental value for the 286 having been the first computer, it would seem very limited compared to the 386 for the lack of 32 bits and protected mode. Personally, I started my computer "history" in PCs in '92 with a DX2 and already at that time I considered the 286 a very slow and extremely limiting computer. The software that I like to launch from time to time in nostalgia is the same as in the early 90s. I know that graphic adventures can work on this 286, but only that? I wouldn't like to play Dune2, for example, with a grueling slowness. I don't like CGA games or even EGA, except for curiosity, I'd play them just to see what the graphics were like, but I started with VGA and I wouldn't take much less. I could have been wrong in my comments, tell me yours.

Reply 1 of 229, by dionb

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A 286 isn't useless - you're right it lacks a lot of stuff that 386 introduced, but see it as a significantly faster "XT" with 16b bus and more 'normal' hardware & config and it suddenly starts to look interesting.

That said, if you don't like CGA or EGA and want to play 386-era or later stuff, a 286 isn't going to be much fun. Quite a lot would run, but it wouldn't do so at any sort of decent speed, and memory management is a whole different ballgame without EMM386. So, for your purposes you'd be better off avoiding it.

But if you had been nostalgic for the late 1980's, that Olivetti would be beautiful, particularly if you stick in an AdLib and find an MT-32 to hook up to it. So it's not useless in general, it just is for you 😉

Reply 2 of 229, by HanJammer

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AlessandroB wrote:

As I have already written in the other post (which is more technically oriented) friends have given me a beautiful Olivetti 286. For my experience and for what I read here on the forum it would seem a useless computer on the retrocomputing side. Excluding those who have a sentimental value for the 286 having been the first computer, it would seem very limited compared to the 386 for the lack of 32 bits and protected mode. Personally, I started my computer "history" in PCs in '92 with a DX2 and already at that time I considered the 286 a very slow and extremely limiting computer. The software that I like to launch from time to time in nostalgia is the same as in the early 90s. I know that graphic adventures can work on this 286, but only that? I wouldn't like to play Dune2, for example, with a grueling slowness. I don't like CGA games or even EGA, except for curiosity, I'd play them just to see what the graphics were like, but I started with VGA and I wouldn't take much less. I could have been wrong in my comments, tell me yours.

W.. what?
286 have a special charm to them. They are not modern (and yes, 386 is virtually modern - not much have changed until AMD64 was introduced in early 2000s and later adopted by Intel), while they are not as antique as 8086/8 (and I'm not saying 8086/8 is useless - it's not!). At the same time it's relatively simple and have some interesting quirks (like EMS support). Also I just find the limitations very stimulating to creativity. I have several vintage PC platforms - everything from XT to Slot A and 286s are just my favourites (my main vintage PC platform I'm using for testing 'new' ISA cards, and software is 286 and it just works for this purpose).

As for gaming - almost every game until ~93 will work just fine on 286 (especially 16, 20 and 25Mhz variants will do fine).

For sale (2019.12.01 - new items!!!): 8088, 286 stuff | 386, 486 stuff | Socket 5-8 stuff | Old HDDs and 5.25" FDDs

Reply 3 of 229, by Errius

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I remember that Elite, released for the PC in 1987, describes the 6 MHz 286 as a 'powerful' machine.

“Your mission is to attack and destroy the Apple Computer manufacturing plant. You are allotted 35 bombs and 60 lasers."

Reply 4 of 229, by stamasd

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In my youth I played a lot of games on a 286/12. Dune2 in particular was a clear favorite.

I/O, I/O,
It's off to disk I go,
With a bit and a byte
And a read and a write,
I/O, I/O

Reply 5 of 229, by Grzyb

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Well... define "useless".

For somebody who keeps vintage PCs for gaming, there's indeed no need for a 286...
* too fast for 8088@4.77 CGA games
* too slow for 386+ era games
* stuff written precisely for 286 works fine on 386/486 machines, just set them to de-turbo/disable cache

But...

286 is 16-bit, therefore very different compared to 386+
On a 386, if you have enough RAM and HDD, you can run relatively modern software.
On a 286, however, you have to forget about any modern stuff - it's truly vintage, which makes it so fascinating.

It's common to see 386+ machines running a multitasking/multiuser OS, with TCP/IP, and everything...
In the 16-bit world, however, such stuff is pretty rare, and very fun to play with - just try running OS/2 1.x, Xenix, Minix...

Reply 6 of 229, by Errius

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80186 looked in this thread to point and laugh at 286.

“Your mission is to attack and destroy the Apple Computer manufacturing plant. You are allotted 35 bombs and 60 lasers."

Reply 8 of 229, by SirNickity

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I'm not entirely sure what to do with mine -- I have a PS/2 Model 30 286. And, a couple 808x -- Tandy 1000 RL-HD and PCJr. For me, they're basically interesting relics, and hardware hacking platforms. Kind of like an Arduino in a really big case. 😀

Aside from that -- well, there's a reason computers were the realm of scientists and other nerds before the 386...

Reply 9 of 229, by kolderman

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It's not useless. There are just better options. I rarely come across games I want to play that are too fast on a slow 386 equivalent...and the day I do I will use dosbox. 286 goes back to the era of weird screen resolutions and pixel dimensions...so you are probably looking at a vintage monitor as well. Is it really worth it?

Reply 11 of 229, by The Serpent Rider

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From more practical point of view, yeah, it's useless. Everything it can do can be achieved with the right 386 build. Or even more, if a motherboard with swappable oscillator is considered. So you could freely switch between 16-40Mhz + Turbo.

But hey, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

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Open up your hate, and let it flow into me

Reply 12 of 229, by Anonymous Coward

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A 286-12 is the system to have if you're into EGA (which unfortunately, you're not). There are a lot of good EGA games, and despite having only 16 colours, EGA graphics can look pretty nice. I never had one myself. I had an A500, but most of my friends with PCs had either 8088 or 80286 systems, so I have fond memories with 286 games.
One friend had a 286-10 that he kept going for quite a number of years. I think he didn't upgrade to a 386-40 until either 93 or 94. It was really interesting trying to play modern games on a 286 with EGA. Sierra SCI games which use the 640x200 mode to emulate VGA could pull off pretty good results, and I remember the Legend Entertainment games looking pretty good too.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 13 of 229, by Unknown_K

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I have a few 286 systems around here and they are good for CGA/EGA gaming or early VGA. Unfortunately I don't have any EGA monitors just CGA (but I do have EGA graphics cards). The IBM AT clone desktop cases also look very nice.

They are also decent for very early apps and OS that few people care about.

Late DOS games that need UMB to load TSR's are better off on a 386 or later.

Collector of old computers, hardware, and software

Reply 15 of 229, by keropi

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Since you did not grow with a 286 and you only care for VGA stuff then this system is not for you... Sure they are fun to mess but it seems you need something like the DX2 you grew up with... IMHO you should seek such a system and relive your past 😀

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Reply 17 of 229, by Auzner

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x86 computers were much more expensive than the Z80 and 68k home PCs at that time. Folks were gaming on Atari, Commodore, Radio Shack, and Apple II's. The IBM PC-compatible revolution came in around the mid-eighties, and by 1990, most of the gaming culture swung over to the affordable 386 and 486 clones. You never really see 286 builds with sound (16-bit stereo), video (VGA/SVGA), and cdroms installed. Back then they were business machines which maybe a parent had brought home from work.

Last edited by Auzner on 2019-12-03, 07:25. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 19 of 229, by Anonymous Coward

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Why would anyone have put 16-bit sound on a 286? 16-bit sound was a 1993 thing, and the 286 more or less died in 1991.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium