My ongoing 386 build (aka The Disasterpiece, aka Phoenix) - it's alive!

Discussion about old PC hardware.

My ongoing 386 build (aka The Disasterpiece, aka Phoenix) - it's alive!

Postby novasilisko » 2019-1-31 @ 09:52

I'm not proud of myself.

I'm really not.

First, a disclaimer: I am quite a newb when it comes to old hardware. A lot of it is indeed older than myself. Even computer building is a relatively recent interest; I only really have been doing that for myself within the past 5 years. I am fueled not as much by nostalgia as I am by a genuine curiosity and passion for technology before my time. I am also still something of a doofus, so expect stupid mistakes :happy:

Anyway, where to start? A while back, I came into the possession of a motherboard - a basically unbranded 386 motherboard; probably some industrial or embedded board judging by the unpopulated SMD position for a CPU. My interest in vintage hardware is a relatively new thing, but this board showed up at just the right time for it to plant the seeds of something dangerous.

Image

The board had a soldered barrel battery which, of course, had leaked. I cut it off as soon as I saw it and cleaned up what corrosion I could (thankfully, no traces seem to have been too heavily damaged). It was difficult to find information on the board, but these are the closest I've found:

https://stason.org/TULARC/pc/motherboar ... 5800B.html <- Very close, but the size is wrong
https://th99.bl4ckb0x.de/m/U-Z/32210.htm <- Also close, wrong size again (just a typo?), but the cache chips more resemble the real board.
https://stason.org/TULARC/pc/motherboar ... VER-2.html <- Matches the M-326 marking, but is a different revision and shows cache sockets instead it being soldered.

(The design of the box shares design language with Amptron's boxes, so...)

This board sat in storage for a time until something clicked inside me, and I felt a need deep down to play mad scientist and bring it to life. So (after much research and anxiety) I bought a CPU.

Image

And I stuffed it in the board, knowing full well I probably would never get the dang thing back out again, this not being a ZIF socket... Also, at some point before this photo, my curiosity got the better of me and I tried to peel up the BIOS sticker to see what the chip itself was, and the results of that will be on display on every subsequent photo. Also, try to ignore the recently-snipped battery-replacement wires that I added then changed my mind about.

Image

Then came more shelf-time as I shopped 30-pin SIMMs (parity, apparently, from the docs I found), and bought an ATX to AT cable adapter so I could repurpose an old ATX supply I had. But the RAM shopping turned out to not have been necessary - a friend of mine with a considerable collection of his own happened to have all the RAM I need for this thing. I'll probably get that next week. In the meantime, I decided to focus on some less-essential elements. I wanted a case! I recognized the board as no remotely modern form factor, but eventually managed to identify it as a half-width Baby AT board (which I hadn't even known was a thing). So, I bought myself an old case of appropriate era, with all the mounting holes I need, and-

No, I'm just kidding, I 3d-printed some support structure and mounted it inside my old ATX case.

Image

I believe it was around this point that I started to lose my mind.

This is definitely going to be a make-do-and-mend sort of build. Factory-original it is not.

Around the same time, I spliced a 7905 voltage regulator into the adapter cable, to provide a -5V line derived from the -12V supply. I have no idea if this will turn out well, but it does at least measure a proper -5V, and hasn't yet burst into flames, so that's a good result so far. It's super sloppy and preliminary right now though, and I really want to redo it nicer if it actually works. I also made a replacement for the exploded barrel battery out of two CR2032 batteries and a diode (to prevent recharging). I found multiple sources saying that it's perfectly fine to put 6V into that battery line (and the voltage drop of the diode brings it down closer to 5V anyway), and I sure hope they're right.




So now, what's left? A fair bit. For bare-minimum operation, I've got the following remaining:

- Memory (here soon, at least)
- VIdeo card (preferably VGA, I guess)
- Floppy drive + controller card (friend can also provide, probably)

Although, a research goal preceding any of those is: Is the board even alive? From what I've been able to piece together, this BIOS will not give any sort of beep codes unless you have some memory installed. So, I've got my fingers crossed that when I get the RAM installed, I'll at least be able to hear a "You Forgot The Video Card, Dummy" bleep from the speaker.

So, what does the build look like right now?

Are you sure you want to know?

Well, okay. Small children and those of a nervous or sensitive disposition, please look away now.

Do you ever do something, and then stand back and look at it and go "What the hell am I doing?"

Yeah.

Image

If you really want more detail, here's an annotated version.

Image

I will continue to post updates as they arrive. If I blow up anything, my misdeeds will be memorialized on this thread for the rest of time. Although, plenty of misdeeds are already on display.


In conclusion: Sorry.
Last edited by novasilisko on 2019-2-21 @ 05:44, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby keropi » 2019-1-31 @ 09:59

hey you got to work with what you have, nothing to be ashamed about - looks fine for an AT board in a modern case
I am waiting for updates now :)
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby canthearu » 2019-1-31 @ 10:58

lol, way too harsh on yourself.

It is stupid and it works, then it isn't stupid. A couple of my AT builds have been put into ATX cases, as finding real AT cases isn't particularly easy.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby chrismeyer6 » 2019-1-31 @ 12:23

Welcome to vogons!! You have a nice start going and I can't wait to see it finished. I really liked your annotated picture
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby dkarguth » 2019-1-31 @ 16:54

Hey if i works, it works. I understand, check out my signature lol
You should see the adapter I made to convert my serial card headers to the correct pinout. And the adapter I made to light up the power LED. And the really jank cable management. Honestly yours looks pretty clean so far, I won't be even the slightest bit ashamed about that. It ought to look pretty slick if you get a black floppy drive for it.
"And remember, this fix is only temporary, unless it works." -Red Green
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-1-31 @ 17:12

Ahh you're all too kind - don't worry, I'm finding a fair bit of humor in how it's turning out, and I already love the system to bits just for how weird it is.

On a more serious note, I really wonder what the heck sort of motherboard this is. I've seen a few floating around the internet, usually in earlier revisions. I did find one reference to the rev 5.2 that I've got, on a polish hardware reseller site if I recall.

And I forgot a random little aside for it - it came with a receipt for when it was purchased at some point. May 1994, from a computer store in Dearborn, Michigan. I checked the address but sadly it closed down some years ago. 1994 seems oddly late for a 386 board to me, but it makes me curious how spread out the usage of various hardware was back then. Indeed, the manual actually mentions something along the lines of "Pentium is a copyright of intel corporation" (despite the manual not mentioning Pentium anywhere...?), so that dates it to at least 1993.

Which, to me anyway, lends credence to the idea of it being intended as an industrial control board. You don't necessarily want or need the latest and greatest if all you want to do is drive a CNC mill or whatever.

I'm also looking into storage options, meanwhile. The options I've considered are:

1. Some sort of SATA to IDE adapter - for one of the old, but newer than this system, HDDs I have around. I know they'll be grossly oversized for the software I'm running though, so even making the system detect it as a valid drive seems like it might be an adventure all its own.

2. CompactFlash - pretty popular lately it seems, although I do worry about wear leveling. Or maybe the cards handle that themselves?

3. Disk-on-module - the least expensive option, oddly enough. I can get a 1-2 GB module on ebay for 10-15 dollars, although transferring files onto it would be a pain.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby SirNickity » 2019-1-31 @ 19:43

novasilisko wrote:CompactFlash - pretty popular lately it seems, although I do worry about wear leveling.


Don't. One of the things about the OSes of that era is that, when idle, they don't sit there and write useless cruft to the disk every single second. They do precisely what you ask them to, and not a thing more. Maybe run defrag once every two years and let it shuffle the sector your Zork save game is stored on. (OK, not really -- the defrag process would likely do more writes than 6 months of normal usage would.)

novasilisko wrote:3. Disk-on-module - the least expensive option, oddly enough. I can get a 1-2 GB module on ebay for 10-15 dollars, although transferring files onto it would be a pain.


I know a lot of people go to some effort to use accessible CF card bays on the front, or slots in the back. But honestly, I don't understand why people worry about this so much. Is everyone torrenting the latest FLVs to their 386s out there or what? ;-) Once you have your OS and game floppies (or floppy images) written, what else do you need to transfer? My retro boxen are all isolated from the world at large, and apart from OS installs on Win9x+, where I might have 5MB to 500MB driver packages and game patches to install, I don't really have much to copy on- or off-box. The bigger files go to the PCs that have USB ports anyway, so....


By the way, as others have said, the build is fine. It takes some creativity (and/or luck and/or ample motivation to find serviceable original parts) these days to put together an AT machine. It is what it is. Back in the day, even new builds often had a little fudge-factor here or there, with cards not aligning quite right to the case, or the spaghetti mess of cables between the turbo button, LEDs, MHz display, and motherboard. Not to mention those big fat ribbon cables.

I doubt this is an industrial board. It looks like a normal PC mobo to me. Yes, the 90s saw a great spread of machines. It was a different time. Significant upgrades came along every two years, systems cost a grand or more, and the usage patterns varied wildly from user to user. It's nothing like having a smart phone, where new OSes mandate a hardware refresh 3 years after release day, and you are obliged to upgrade because it will nag you incessantly until you do, and since you use the thing for hours every day for every imaginable purpose.... Hm. I might feel more strongly about this that I realized. :roll:

PS., you lucky mother. I would give my left :sweatdrop: for a socketed 386 motherboard. ... OK, no I wouldn't, but the right one, definitely.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-1-31 @ 20:52

SirNickity wrote:
novasilisko wrote:CompactFlash - pretty popular lately it seems, although I do worry about wear leveling.


Don't. One of the things about the OSes of that era is that, when idle, they don't sit there and write useless cruft to the disk every single second.


Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well. There's not many writes going on in the first place. Plus newer CF cards have wear leveling done automatically via the flash controller apparently so, yeah, even less of a problem.

SirNickity wrote:
novasilisko wrote:3. Disk-on-module - the least expensive option, oddly enough. I can get a 1-2 GB module on ebay for 10-15 dollars, although transferring files onto it would be a pain.


I know a lot of people go to some effort to use accessible CF card bays on the front, or slots in the back. But honestly, I don't understand why people worry about this so much. Is everyone torrenting the latest FLVs to their 386s out there or what? ;-) Once you have your OS and game floppies (or floppy images) written, what else do you need to transfer?


I already have a little USB 35" floppy drive that I occasionally use to recover things some old disks, so that'd work fine for file transfer of smaller things, and the biggest things would probably already be on CDs anyway.

SirNickity wrote:PS., you lucky mother. I would give my left :sweatdrop: for a socketed 386 motherboard. ... OK, no I wouldn't, but the right one, definitely.


On the occasion I retire this board, I'll keep you in mind, although you can keep both of your :sweatdrop:s
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby SirNickity » 2019-1-31 @ 21:22

Ha! Deal. :-D
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-2-01 @ 01:31

As I'm still waiting on parts, I decided to have a little fun.

Image

Hell yeah.

I need to figure out why the first layers of my 3d printer always come out so terrible. An exposed first layer is not very good for visible parts. I did try to sand it as flat as I could before I gave up.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby dkarguth » 2019-2-01 @ 02:03

If you want to be able to transfer files easily and quickly between a modern pc and the 386, I would highly suggest getting an ISA network card and using the FTP server from mTCP. mTCP is a software suite that makes it really easy to connect a DOS computer to a modern network. All you need is any ISA network card that you can get a packet driver for, and the software suite.

http://www.brutman.com/mTCP/

I have one of these installed in my 286 machine right now:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Intel-PB307708 ... ctupt=true

All I have to do is load up the FTP client on my modern PC, type "FTP" at my dos prompt (I made myself a handy little batch file) and it automatically runs the FTP server. If you don't know how an FTP server works, it basically provides a way for you to essentially mount the old PC's HDD as another drive on your modern computer. Just drag and drop the files to and from the HDD as if it was any other folder. The mTCP website has a pretty handy step by step guide on how to use it, you basically only need to know how to navigate through the DOS file system and edit text files (cd, mkdir, copy, edit).

BTW, I like your custom switch panel. It gives the PC character. lol
"And remember, this fix is only temporary, unless it works." -Red Green
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-2-01 @ 08:20

dkarguth wrote:If you want to be able to transfer files easily and quickly between a modern pc and the 386, I would highly suggest getting an ISA network card and using the FTP server from mTCP. mTCP is a software suite that makes it really easy to connect a DOS computer to a modern network. All you need is any ISA network card that you can get a packet driver for, and the software suite.

http://www.brutman.com/mTCP/

I have one of these installed in my 286 machine right now:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Intel-PB307708 ... ctupt=true

All I have to do is load up the FTP client on my modern PC, type "FTP" at my dos prompt (I made myself a handy little batch file) and it automatically runs the FTP server. If you don't know how an FTP server works, it basically provides a way for you to essentially mount the old PC's HDD as another drive on your modern computer. Just drag and drop the files to and from the HDD as if it was any other folder. The mTCP website has a pretty handy step by step guide on how to use it, you basically only need to know how to navigate through the DOS file system and edit text files (cd, mkdir, copy, edit).

BTW, I like your custom switch panel. It gives the PC character. lol


Well... that would work great, then. The friend I've mentioned just so happens to have a ton of old ethernet cards he doesn't know what to do with, so hey.



Meanwhile, I've absentmindedly been thinking about what I could name the system (which has become a tradition for me). The choice that's immediately come to me is Phoenix, both for the obvious mythological parallels, but also referring to another thing named Phoenix - something that, like this system, is a hacked-together mixture of old and new technology...

Image


:-P


As a further aside, I've just noticed the typo I made earlier which is amusing me more and more as I think about it:

novasilisko wrote:35" floppy drive
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby dkarguth » 2019-2-01 @ 10:04

Approx scale drawing of 35 inch floppy disk coming right up

Image
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby DankEngihn » 2019-2-01 @ 14:18

Interesting board! I've done similar things, where I used epoxy and pieces of plastic to mount a micro ATX motherboard in a beat -up HP Pavilion LTX case. Looked like shit, but it worked.

Hopefully that board works. Every AT board that I've come across has been completely and totally dead.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-2-01 @ 19:56

DankEngihn wrote:Hopefully that board works. Every AT board that I've come across has been completely and totally dead.


There are some signs of life, at least. The turbo LED works when I short the turbo jumper, for instance - at first I thought it was just a passive thing, but it seems like the LED actually traces back to and is controlled by one of the chipset ICs, so if nothing else, that chip is alive.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby alvaro84 » 2019-2-02 @ 07:33

novasilisko wrote:Image


I can say only one thing:

Image

Btw. I'm in the position that I don't have to treasure every single 386 board I come across and stack up only the completely undamaged ones that are in perfect working order and of good performance but... hell, imagining almost any other situation I'd go lengths too to keep and get yours working. I really like the creative ways of your project so keep it up :) Fingers crossed for the board to work.

Also like the ceramic AMD DX40. Once 386DX40s were very popular around here though I don't know how many of those were ceramic, they probably mostly were soldered PQFP ones. Now I keep ceramic (and PQFP-on-interposer) ones in my collection of course, and boards that can accommodate them.
Shame on us, doomed from the start
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-2-02 @ 20:48

I have perhaps inadvisably begun to impulse-purchase some random cards. So far a random multifunction card for floppy/IDE/serial/parallel, and, perhaps indulgently, a new in box (but inexpensive) dual-port serial card. I still need a VGA card, but all of the inexpensive ones I can find seem to be in the former soviet bloc for some reason, and/or totally untested...

But so far I've only really looked at ebay. Not much else I can go for locally though, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, I've been having silly thoughts. I've been shopping around for places to buy new (or at least new old stock) AT P8/P9 power supply connector housings because I really want to make a better adapter than this cable-with-protruding-regulator setup I have now. I've actually designed two PCBs so far - one simple and small that splices into the existing adapter, and another that covers everything, where you just plug an ATX connector into it and it has the regulator and such (as well as status indicators for the four voltages), with the P8/P9 connectors coming off of it. It's the latter case that I want the housings for, so I can crimp my own connectors with some generous length to allow a lot of clearance. Hell, if I could get a good and reliable design, maybe I could turn that into something to sell. You can still buy AT power supplies, but I'd say most people into this sort of thing will have an ATX supply lying around, so maybe there would be a market.

...But I'm probably getting ahead of myself. This lack of RAM is making me antsy.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby canthearu » 2019-2-02 @ 23:41

Yes, first things first. Get RAM, get video card.

Test the board first.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby x0zm_ » 2019-2-03 @ 02:15

novasilisko wrote:I'm not proud of myself.

I'm really not.

First, a disclaimer: I am quite a newb when it comes to old hardware. A lot of it is indeed older than myself. Even computer building is a relatively recent interest; I only really have been doing that for myself within the past 5 years. I am fueled not as much by nostalgia as I am by a genuine curiosity and passion for technology before my time. I am also still something of a doofus, so expect stupid mistakes


In some respects, make-do DIY builds like this can be more interesting and enjoyable than another run of the mill IBM XT, PS/2, or favoured brand of OEM machine of any given time period. They are nice as a museum and historical piece, but doing something creative is much more rewarding I feel.

You look at it and know it is your build. It's unique and you can be proud of the work and effort you've put into it. I know to some people using non-accurate pieces can be a point of disagreement, but not giving up because you can't get X, Y & Z while getting into the hobby is a great mindset to head in with. Prices are getting higher and parts are getting rarer, so it is becoming more and more common to see things like this happen. It's nothing to be ashamed about.

novasilisko wrote:I have perhaps inadvisably begun to impulse-purchase some random cards. So far a random multifunction card for floppy/IDE/serial/parallel, and, perhaps indulgently, a new in box (but inexpensive) dual-port serial card. I still need a VGA card, but all of the inexpensive ones I can find seem to be in the former soviet bloc for some reason, and/or totally untested...


Popular video cards and sound cards can go for stupidly high prices. Thankfully, looking at something that is slightly less popular and perhaps a bit newer, or a bit worse performing can often yield significant savings.

It also isn't uncommon to take a gamble on cheap, untested hardware. People who are selling tested retro hardware often know what it is, and what people will pay - thus high pricing. A box of sound, video and I/O cards listed as "old computer parts" might only cost you $15 but yield you a 75% working rate on a box of 20 pieces of hardware, and a fair chunk of those 25% non working pieces can often be repaired with some simple soldering of replacement components.
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Re: My ongoing 386 build (or: The Disasterpiece)

Postby novasilisko » 2019-2-03 @ 07:39

x0zm_ wrote:In some respects, make-do DIY builds like this can be more interesting and enjoyable than another run of the mill IBM XT, PS/2, or favoured brand of OEM machine of any given time period. They are nice as a museum and historical piece, but doing something creative is much more rewarding I feel.

You look at it and know it is your build. It's unique and you can be proud of the work and effort you've put into it. I know to some people using non-accurate pieces can be a point of disagreement, but not giving up because you can't get X, Y & Z while getting into the hobby is a great mindset to head in with. Prices are getting higher and parts are getting rarer, so it is becoming more and more common to see things like this happen. It's nothing to be ashamed about.


I definitely feel that way too, I think. Might be a bit of sacrilege to say, but I don't feel all that much interest in acquiring any sort of pre-built IBM compatible stuff; I'd much rather make it my own thing like I'm doing now. That doesn't rule out other things like, say, C64s or whatever, but I just find this process more enjoyable and interesting. That being said, someday when I've got more resources and room, I certainly wouldn't turn down the opportunity to get some old iconic machines back to their former glory.

x0zm_ wrote:It also isn't uncommon to take a gamble on cheap, untested hardware. People who are selling tested retro hardware often know what it is, and what people will pay - thus high pricing. A box of sound, video and I/O cards listed as "old computer parts" might only cost you $15 but yield you a 75% working rate on a box of 20 pieces of hardware, and a fair chunk of those 25% non working pieces can often be repaired with some simple soldering of replacement components.


Yeah. The multi-function card I bought was literally just named "Multifunction card" and was a great price =p

...Of course, shortly afterward, my friend found two of them in his own card stash. Oh well.
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