Pimp my 386.

Discussion about old PC hardware.

Pimp my 386.

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 06:40

Yes, it's ANOTHER "tune up my 386" thread. We've got 3 going on the first page now? L0L.

My DX25 seems too slow and flakey, so I've been trying to get it to perform a bit better. Some stuff seems to run fine, other stuff terribly. For the recoerd it gets about 18FPS in Wolf3D but only 1 FPS(!) in DOOM (full screen, high detail.) I know Doom's not gonna be very fast on any 386 but I expected better results than that.

I was mainly focusing on the Trident video card, but noticed DIAG reported no cache at all. So I went looking for a jumper or BIOS setting that would enable or disable it (fake cache was more of a 486 thing IIRC.) Well, I don't know how I missed this when I was putting it together, but there ARE NO cache sockets and nothing that looks like cache on the board. So yeah.

Here's the best photo I have of it, sorry if it's a little soft.
386nocache1.jpg

That doesn't look like a cache bank hidden behind the drive bays either:
386nocache2.jpg

Is this common? I thought some cache or at least empty upgrade sockets would have been common by the time the 386 rolled around?? Does this mean this board is bargain-basement stuff?

It came out of a research lab at the university & was decked out with a Cyrix FasMath and 8MB of RAM, so I would've expected they'd have used a quality board too. Somebody paid a lot of money for this thing.

Ironically the board seems to be a CACHING TECH P386S although the layout of mine is a little different from the one in the link.

I wanna make this thing into a nice system and it's got some really good parts in it. I do have a couple other decent 386 boards (including a nice MSI one with a DX/40 and lots of cache) but they're both missing things - BIOS chips, keyboard controllers, etc., and I don't know how much of a pain those are gonna be to get going. What do you guys think, swap or not?

BTW how fast "should" a DX25 be in Doom?
Last edited by xjas on 2017-12-05 @ 10:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby derSammler » 2017-12-05 @ 07:44

No, there's no cache on the board. I'm pretty sure cache wasn't standard on 386 boards, many boards lacked it. This is not en high-end board either anyway.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby Jo22 » 2017-12-05 @ 08:23

I agree to what derSammler says. Also, caches weren't that popular until about the 90s, when 386DX-33 or -40 processors became common.
Apart from professional equipment, of course. CAD/CAM, etc. If you're lucky, you can find a 486DLC chip for cheap.

It has a little on-chip cache and supports I486 instructions. If the mainboards isn't using an oddball design, it should work with it.
Just remember to load a little DOS driver that enables that cache..
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby blurks » 2017-12-05 @ 08:36

Considering the fact, that a DX40 barely runs Doom playable (low res, low detail) you should probably adjust your expectations on what your DX25 can achieve in Doom, especially when it comes to high detail and full res.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby luckybob » 2017-12-05 @ 08:51

64kb of cache in a 386 was high. The A series of IBM model 80's got this treatment. From ZERO to 64kb. From IBM. Cache ram was EXPENSIVE AS FUDGE back 'in the day'. Don't expect cache on a 386 until 33 & 40 mhz. Even then, don't expect a lot of it.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 09:03

blurks wrote:Considering the fact, that a DX40 barely runs Doom playable (low res, low detail) you should probably adjust your expectations on what your DX25 can achieve in Doom, especially when it comes to high detail and full res.


Well, I'm expecting more than 1.1 FPS to be honest. I only got 4.6 FPS on the lowest detail in the tiniest window possible, and the graphics glitched out halfway through.

Anyway it's not just Doom, other stuff seems unusually slow and flaky too while some things (e.g. Crystal Dream II by Triton) run about as well as you'd expect. I'm suspecting something might actually be wrong.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby Deksor » 2017-12-05 @ 09:08

Yeah that's unusual. My SX 25 does better than this I think (I did not bench it but that's how the game feels)

However my 386SX25 is well optimized (with 70NS RAM, a good video card, tight ram timings ...). Check that on yours to get more performance
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby noshutdown » 2017-12-05 @ 09:29

xjas wrote:
blurks wrote:Considering the fact, that a DX40 barely runs Doom playable (low res, low detail) you should probably adjust your expectations on what your DX25 can achieve in Doom, especially when it comes to high detail and full res.


Well, I'm expecting more than 1.1 FPS to be honest. I only got 4.6 FPS on the lowest detail in the tiniest window possible, and the graphics glitched out halfway through.

Anyway it's not just Doom, other stuff seems unusually slow and flaky too while some things (e.g. Crystal Dream II by Triton) run about as well as you'd expect. I'm suspecting something might actually be wrong.


thats pretty slow indeed, i got 8.5fps with 386dx-40 and default settings. :happy:
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby Jo22 » 2017-12-05 @ 09:29

xjas wrote:[Anyway it's not just Doom, other stuff seems unusually slow and flaky too while some things
(e.g. Crystal Dream II by Triton) run about as well as you'd expect. I'm suspecting something might actually be wrong.

Hmm.. Maybe the system has wait states or turbo-button enabled, don't know. Sorry. :(
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby derSammler » 2017-12-05 @ 09:40

DOOM relies on a fast VGA card, your Trident will not run DOOM faster, no matter how much power the CPU would have.
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 09:54

^^ I would have thought it'd be CPU limited due to geometry calculation, etc. The Trident card is an 8900cl (although DIAG identifies it as a 9000 for some reason) and configured for 0 WS memory, but I actually think that it's overdriving the VRAM as I get graphical glitches in some stuff. (I didn't set it up.) I also get a lot of slowdown in SOME games - notably Jazz Jackrabbit & Vinyl Goddess - with a lot of sprites on-screen when they scroll vertically. I have an ET4000 on order, so I'll see how that performs when it gets here. (And yes, I KNOW the ET4000 has problems with some scrolling games.)

Anyway here are my mainboard swap options; I don’t actually know what either of these are or much about them. If anyone knows what they are please post it! I thought the one on the left was made by MSI but I think that’s an inventory code or something.
bordswap.jpg

The left one has a DX/40 already fitted, 128kB cache (upgradable) and appears to be a 386/486 selectable board?? with these little jumper blocks all over to configure it. It has two Contaq(?) chips and one SiS. Unfortunately it’s missing the keyboard controller and the BIOS. Also my FasMath is a 33MHz part (despite being currently paired with a 25MHz CPU), not sure if I could overclock it to run at 40.
01.jpg
02.jpg
03.jpg
04.jpg


(Note that I left some of these pics HUGE so you can zoom in & read stuff.)
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 09:55

(More pics of the left board due to the forum's attachment limit)

05.jpg
06.jpg
07.jpg
08.jpg
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Re: My 386 has no cache??

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 09:59

The board on the right is, to borrow Phil's phrase, quite frankly gorgeous. :P It’s this deep coffee color which doesn't come across in the pics, with striking gold PCB traces in a mostly-planar vertical layout. It seriously looks like ‘80s cyberpunk art. Or I’m just a dork.
01.jpg

It seems to have a full compliment of cache and two parity(??) chips that are shorter than the sockets they’re in. Unfortunately it has a Dallas RTC, which is almost certainly dead & annoys me, and it’s also missing the keyboard controller and the BIOS and the main oscillator, although I could always harvest the current one from the DX25 when I swap the CPU & FPU. The only silkscreened marking on it that might be a model # says REV:A3 386SC.
02.jpg
03.jpg
04.jpg
05.jpg

No idea if either of these work because of the missing chips. How standard are the keyboard controllers? I’m guessing I can’t just swap the BIOS over but I do have an EPROM burner so I could roll my own if I had an image and knew what kind of chip it needed.

Anyone know what either of these are? I’d love to have manuals with jumper settings, etc.
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby luckybob » 2017-12-05 @ 16:28

i used to own one of those contaq boards. Solid board. search these forums for '386 contaq'. there should be a lengthy thread about them.

replacing the bios is super easy. keyboard chip slightly harder. just get the needed part number from images and wait on ebay or salvage it from another board.
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby derSammler » 2017-12-05 @ 17:03

luckybob wrote:keyboard chip slightly harder.

Why do you think? Any 8042 from some other mainboard should work.
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby feipoa » 2017-12-05 @ 19:27

Looking at your first post, I noticed that you were mixing RAM chips of different density, e.g. bank0 has 9-chip, while bank1 has 3-chip. Is this allowed by the chipset, or just something that people tend to avoid doing? I've never mixed chip densities like this myself on a 386.

Cache wasn't that common on 386SX boards. It was less common to have cache sockets missing from 386DX boards, especially the 33/40 MHz variants.

You mentioned that you have an MSI 386 board? Which board in particular? I have an MSI 386 board. Not too much of an issue to source KBCs. If it uses the UMC 481/482, there is a nice MR BIOS for that chipset online.

How are you getting free boards from the university? Do you work their IT, or are you a student there? Back when I was a student, they would leave the recycleable computer items in the hallway with a note saying 'take all you want'. But apart from my student days, I don't have anybody to send me a line when there are computer parts in the hallway.

Jo22: some motherboards have a hardware flush circuit and do not need the DOS driver to use the 486DLC. He mentioned an MSI board at one point. If it is the MS-3131, it has the hardware flush circuit. When combined with MR BIOS, it is a pretty fast board. With the right combination of hardware, you might get 15 fps from DOOM.

xjas: A Trident 8900D should be fairly quick in DOOM, but not the 8900CL. I would remove that cacheless motherboard from the case. I mean... "Solutions" is the brand of the chipset?

I like the look of that MSI board, but I don't think its a MS-3131. It might say if you remove that white sticker. At least that is the location where my MSI board would say "MS-3131", so I'm assuming your MSI board has the model in a similar location. Everything else about the look of the board is similar to my MSI board, like that yellow sticker and the general appearance, Not to mention it says MSI on that grey sticker just as mine does.

I'm not sure of the Contaq brand as a chipset. Ask user Anonymous Coward.

I've never seen silk screened works 386, 486 as selectable by a resistor pack. Looks interesting though.

It probably can use any of the standard pinouts for KBC's of the time, so I wouldn't worry about that. Try to look for a BIOS which works with generic Contaq 591/592 boards. With any luck, there will be a MR BIOS. I like how all the components on this board are tidy, even the DRAM sockets, unlike that unsightly DRAM SIMM offset on your "gorgeous" board.

If I recall correctly, the Symphony chipset was supposed to be pretty decent. Look for MR BIOS for Symphony 362/461. The presence of the Dallas probably saved the board for a battery acid death. Dallas chips are easy enough to remove and to place a socket in their place.

Whoever was getting rid of these boards, not knowing what they were doing, probably thought that the BIOS and keyboard controller chip contained "sensitive information" about their system, so they got rid of the chips.
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby xjas » 2017-12-05 @ 20:29

Thanks for all the input all, isn't deciphering mystery boards fun?

Fairly sure this is the Contaq/SiS board: http://stason.org/TULARC/pc/motherboard ... -3124.html - useful to know.

derSammler wrote:
luckybob wrote:keyboard chip slightly harder.

Why do you think? Any 8042 from some other mainboard should work.
feipoa wrote:It probably can use any of the standard pinouts for KBC's of the time, so I wouldn't worry about that.

This was the answer I was hoping for to be honest. Sounds like I can probably pull the KBC from the cacheless board and try it in either of these? I hate to sacrifice a known-working board to a questionable one though. Is there any chance I could damage something if the chip/pinout is wrong?

feipoa wrote:Looking at your first post, I noticed that you were mixing RAM chips of different density, e.g. bank0 has 9-chip, while bank1 has 3-chip. Is this allowed by the chipset, or just something that people tend to avoid doing? I've never mixed chip densities like this myself on a 386.

Didn't think that would be any issue, I got it that way.

feipoa wrote:You mentioned that you have an MSI 386 board? Which board in particular? I have an MSI 386 board. Not too much of an issue to source KBCs. If it uses the UMC 481/482, there is a nice MR BIOS for that chipset online.

I now think it's the board linked to at the top of this post (MS-3124.)

feipoa wrote:xjas: A Trident 8900D should be fairly quick in DOOM, but not the 8900CL. I would remove that cacheless motherboard from the case. I mean... "Solutions" is the brand of the chipset?

Well, it has at least a partly-UMC chipset... but yeah those "Solutions" chips sound kinda dodgy to me too.

feipoa wrote:Whoever was getting rid of these boards, not knowing what they were doing, probably thought that the BIOS and keyboard controller chip contained "sensitive information" about their system, so they got rid of the chips.

I think they harvested them for EPROMs, both these came out of a box of spare parts for a machine shop so I imagine they knew exactly what they're doing. (Keyboard controllers seem to have a stickers on them a lot of the time making them look like EPROMs??)
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby feipoa » 2017-12-05 @ 21:20

As far as I know, there weren't EEPROM's available for BIOSes in 1990-1992. They were usually one-time programmable, or UV-erasable. Perhaps whoever nabbed them had a UV eraser. Its possible that somebody wanted backup keyboard controller chips. I've swapped around various brands of 8042 keyboard controllers among motherboards without incident. Even those which contain the controller for a PS/2 mouse seemed to work in boards not intending use for a PS/2 mouse. If you are concerned, at least make sure that the locations of Vcc and GND on the donor DIP-40 are the same as on the receiver DIP-40.

Start looking around for the contaq and symphony BIOSes. There are a few sites on the net like this,
http://sannata.ru/bios/386DX/
Look for SYM461.ZIP . this may BIOS will probably work with your Symphony board.

A lot of these later 386 boards contained chipsets which worked with, both, 386 CPUs and early 486 CPus, in which case you can look in,
http://sannata.ru/bios/486/
Perhaps CON486_1.ZIP ? When I open the zip file, though, there is a doc which says 82C546, so probably not for your 591/592 Contaq chipset.

There are other sites with larger repositories. Sorry, I don't bookmark things anymore because I can never remember how to access my bookmarks with these modern browsers.

EDIT: Found some of my old posts,
Try:
http://chukaev.ru54.com/bios_en.htm
e.g. 3sym001.zip for the Symphony

http://files.mpoli.fi/hardware/ROM/MRBIOS/ and its parent directories
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby feipoa » 2017-12-05 @ 21:46

You may also want to contact the poster of this thread, lazibayer, https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=42290
He seems to have the MS-3124 and its BIOS. If he can image it, you can put it onto an EEPROM.

EDIT: Already looked at the oldest MSI website on wayback, but the oldest board BIOSes they have on there are for socket 3, 486.
https://web.archive.org/web/19970329193 ... com.tw:80/
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Re: Pimp my 386.

Postby .legaCy » 2017-12-06 @ 00:16

Isnt the trident 8900cl more suitable to a 286 system?
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