Best 386 Motherboard?

Discussion about old PC hardware.

Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby bakemono » 2018-1-27 @ 00:56

With regard to video cards, I often see debates about DRAM vs VRAM. What are the differences?

Real VRAM is dual ported, so the CPU and GPU can access it at the same time (or in some cases the GPU uses both ports, serial for screen refresh and parallel for drawing operations)
bakemono, I find the older 386 chipsets, like those based on CHIPS and SIS tend to have faster memory throughput, particularly with read (according to the speedsys graph)

I'm not familiar with speedsys or the TI CPU, I'll have to look into it to see how the results compare with others. The MEMSPD utility that I mentioned uses REP LODSD to read various block sizes. I know the LODSD instruction normally takes 4 cycles per iteration on an i486 and 6 cycles on a 386DX. I've also used the "profile" program which comes with scitech display doctor to test memory performance before, it does read, write, and move, but I don't know what the block size is (probably less than 2MB)
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-27 @ 01:17

Are these programs freeware or shareware? If so, could you include them?

I'm pretty sure I tested the motherboards with the AMD 386DX and the SIS and CHIPS were still quite a bit faster than the others in memory throughput, not just in speedsys, but also cachechk.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Jupiter-18 » 2018-1-27 @ 02:26

Well i must say, thank you @feipoa for the large text dump. That will help a lot.
I had a bit of retro inactivity, as evidenced by my inactivity here for a while, mostly because of school. But i've been slowly getting back into the swing of things, and i hope to be working on projects again soon.
I have not had the time (or budget) to begin my 386 project, but i do have it planned out:
No combo boards
No VLB
Whatever the fastest true 386 is (might be persuaded to go for a 486-upgrade CPU like a 486sxl or something (I'd love a DRx2, but those seem impossible to find))
For graphics, unsure yet
387 for sure
Maybe a socket for a Weitek, just for playing around with (what programs made use of the Weitek FPU anyhow?)
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-27 @ 03:20

Not sure. Did the older versions of AutoCAD use the Weitek? I have never hunted down a Weitek FPU because of how specialised they are said to be. For collection purposes, it would be neat to have one though. I wonder if there is any hack to get the Weitek to work as a standard FPU, albiet, probably crippled?

The fastest true 386 would be one which does not contain a hybrid chipset. Unfortunately, the easiest to find and and often cheapest 386 motherboards are those which contain a hybrid chipset. Many people end up settling for a 386 hybrid chipset which does not contain the 486 socket. It would be interesting to find a 486 board which contains a PGA168 (for the 486) and a PGA68 (for the 387 FPU). This way, you could use the TI 486SXL2-66 in PGA168 form, which is easy to find, and an FPU. Anyone ever seen such a board?

If you've given up on having a 386 with VLB, then the fastest ISA graphics card is one based on the GD5434 (e.g. Speedstar 64), but those based on the ET4000AX and ET4000/w32i tend to be nearly as fast, e.g. 14.99 fps vs. 14.89 fps (4000AX) in DOOM. The Mach64 falls a little behind these, but it was probably the most advanced ISA graphics card and could hold up to 4 MB RAM. I recently found the 2 MB upgrade module for mine thanks to a tip from a member here.

The vast majority of 386 boards contain an FPU socket which can take either a standard 387-series FPU or a Weitek. I don't think I've seen a board which had just a smaller socket for the 387.

I like the idea of running a SXL-40, SXL2, or DRx2 in a 386. This is what many people did to extend the life of their system back then. On every mainstay system I've run over the years, I have always eventually upgraded it to the max to extend its usefullness.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Radical Vision » 2018-1-27 @ 08:40

feipoa wrote:There are certainly deals to be had, but they are becomming harder and harder to scores for older rare hardware. A TI486SXL2-66/PGA132 sold for $20 on eBay recently. This occured because the seller didn't know what he had and just so happened that nobody else saw it, which is hard to believe because quite a few people are looking for it.

My core interests are 386/486, but go up to dual PIII Tualatins. Like most users here, I have fond memmories of the 386/486 era and this shapes my interest today.

bakemono, I find the older 386 chipsets, like those based on CHIPS and SIS tend to have faster memory throughput, particularly with read (according to the speedsys graph) compared to 386/486 hybrid chipsets, e.g. VIA 495, UMC 481, etc. Some results in brief here, download/file.php?id=20091&mode=view

Also, for some reason, AMI BIOSes for the UMC 481/482 chipset implement more wait states for the main memory compared to using MR BIOS for the same chipset. The results above are when using MR BIOS, but still not nearly as good as CHIPS or SIS.


Well you got lucky i guess, otherwise there is no chance if the seller knows what he have... That type of deals are the very best when the seller does not have a clue what he holds, this is how i did get IBM Model M gen 3 for 5 euro, or now P3B-F for like 6-7 euro, but that happen once in a years if lucky...There are also people that know very well how much their old hardware costs and if its priceless, but they just don`t need it anymore, they don`t have space to store them, and they just give them away as presents, this is the best that can happen to a collector, but it happen very rarely, rest of the time i need to hunt parts down, to look for them in sites like ebay (but not ebay) to look just for old computers as many people don`t have a single clue what is inside the white old case, this is how i did found ASUS P2B with working Quantum 10GB and AWE 64 Value, i found some computer that did have pictures only on the outside, so i did ask for pictures inside and i saw the AWE 64 and P2B, but it takes time to do so, but when i found something is very nice for minimal cost...

Im not sure if some chipsets are better on 386 boards or not, some boards specially the ones with OPTI chipsets seems very retarded as they don`t if i don`t fill all the RAM slots, also they don`t post if they don`t like the ISA video card even if its Trident...

Now im having problems running OPTI board but it is with a damn AMD DX CPU and i want to make it alive, but so far nothing, the batter was leaked and there is little damage, but i think it should be fine, the CPU is getting hot after a while so that is good thing, but no matter what i try the damn board just don`t post, for now i don`t have 8 SIMM modules to fill all the slots and to see if it will run...
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Jupiter-18 » 2018-1-28 @ 00:15

the only reason a 386 sans VLB is on my list is because i thought they were extremely uncommon, VLB being a 486-based bus. If i could find a 386 VLB board than great!
I do also like the idea of a pure 386 build, so i suppose it's whichever comes first.
My philosophy is always the maximum capability of whatever generation i'm working with. Thus, a DRx2 system would be awesome, perhaps alongside a VLB Mach64 or ET4000/w32i.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-28 @ 00:56

Seems like I've seen a few VLB-containing ALi-based boards which sport a PGA132 ("386 socket") and no PGA168 ("486 socket"). One had the solder pads for the 486 socket, while the other didn't. Even the solder pads would offend me. I am also interested in finding a VLB-386 system with no signs of a 486 socket, but I'm not keen enough of this combo to pay much, so I usually miss out. I mostly want it for benchmarking and comparison of various architecture.

There was also an interposer for the PGA132 which let you run any 486 CPUs on a 386. e.g. https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=53096 I'm curious to benchmark such a VLB 386 with a more conventional socket 3 VLB system. Its obvious who the winner would be, but would be interesting to put a number to it. I suppose I could already do this comparison with an ordinary ISA card on both systems, but I'm more interested in the VLB results. Fulfilling such curiosity isn't worth spending a lot.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby bakemono » 2018-1-28 @ 08:02

feipoa wrote:Are these programs freeware or shareware? If so, could you include them?

I'm pretty sure I tested the motherboards with the AMD 386DX and the SIS and CHIPS were still quite a bit faster than the others in memory throughput, not just in speedsys, but also cachechk.

I just found the speedsys program and ran it on my Pentium MMX. It appears to give the same results as memspd. Here is a link for memspd though http://www.hyakushiki.net/junk/memspd.zip

Scitech display doctor had a trial version, the last one was 6.53. The result for system memory writes matches speedsys but the others differ somewhat.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Jupiter-18 » 2018-1-28 @ 21:33

So, i suppose this separates it into two categories:
Combo 386-486 boards with VLB
Pure ISA earlier 386 only boards
I am interested in the maximum of both :D
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-28 @ 21:45

Well, I also like 386-486 combination boards without VLB if there is no evidence of a 486 socket. You'd never know the chipset was an early 486 chipset. The benefit of these boards is that they often have built-in BIOS support for the DLC and SXL's L1 cache.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Jupiter-18 » 2018-1-29 @ 00:34

Ah! So, that with maybe not a DRx2 but a DLC?
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-29 @ 07:36

Not sure I follow your sentence grammar, but to rephrase, the motherboards which contain a 386/486 hybrid chipset tend to have built-in BIOS support and sometimes hardware support (the FLUSH circuit) for 386 CPUs which contain L1 cache, such as the DLC, SXL, SXL2, and DRx2. Even such, it is still sometimes necessary to tweak some cache settings in software when running SCSI DMA and Windows. For 386-only chipset boards, I've always been able to get the L1 cache working with software.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Radical Vision » 2018-1-29 @ 09:39

feipoa wrote:Not sure I follow your sentence grammar, but to rephrase, the motherboards which contain a 386/486 hybrid chipset tend to have built-in BIOS support and sometimes hardware support (the FLUSH circuit) for 386 CPUs which contain L1 cache, such as the DLC, SXL, SXL2, and DRx2. Even such, it is still sometimes necessary to tweak some cache settings in software when running SCSI DMA and Windows. For 386-only chipset boards, I've always been able to get the L1 cache working with software.



As you are really old/retro hardware user, say what boards are better then other on 386/486 to know, as they all seems really similar. So far i think the boards using that damn f**king OPTI chipsets are really bad ones, hard support of memory, video cards, i have 2 boards 386 with that chipset and one of them is really really annoying, the second can`t even turn on, as im not sure what is the problem.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-29 @ 10:40

Personally, my favourites for pure 386 boards are the Chaintech 340SCD and the AMI Mark V Baby Screamer.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2018-1-29 @ 15:21

Gotta love the name "Baby Screamer". When I search for this board using google image search, I get many pictures of screaming babies.

Both the Chaintech and AMI are good boards, but I suspect that there are other equally good ones waiting to be discovered.
Will the highways on the internets become more few?
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Jupiter-18 » 2018-1-29 @ 15:39

Gotcha. I'm starting to get it now :D
I suppose that whole "extra circuitry" thing is why i sometimes see those CPUs as SMD components on small circuit boards that then have the PGA pins on them? THe circuit boards would contain the extra components needed to support them?
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby feipoa » 2018-1-29 @ 19:40

Presumably, yes, especially on older 386 boards. The DRx2 does have the FLUSH circuit built in, which I believe is wired for such motherboards with a serial cache controller.
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Radical Vision » 2018-1-30 @ 02:08

Will be nice if you find that Chaintech board and post the picture here, as im not sure how to find it..
Damn that old 386/486 boards they are hard to know who the hell did make them..
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Re: Best 386 Motherboard?

Postby Radical Vision » 2018-1-31 @ 12:58

Yeah i did saw it on my first look for it, but was not sure if that is the correct board..
Interesting to see the chipsets are SIS, that chipset brand is considered from many to be bad and not worthy..
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