Work Log: Ex-Government Australian Built "Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I": Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade Project

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Work Log: Ex-Government Australian Built "Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I": Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade Project

Postby x0zm_ » 2018-7-12 @ 03:59

Hey guys. Just a little fun project to keep me occupied for awhile as I wait for parts to come in stock for my watercooled build.

Here I've got an Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I computer. Ipex was an Australian PC manufacturer from 1984 to 2008 based in Victoria, and I'd argue their heyday was the mid 90s to early 00s. They are mostly known for the computers they built for the Australian Goverment and anyone who spent any time in public schools, Defence Force bases/DoD offices and many other public sector buildings would likely have seen an Ipex computer or peripheral during this time. Here's a logo to jog your memory for those Aussies out there:

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Not many of Ipex's computers made it out into the "wild", so to speak. The Government was fond of recycling or destroying these PCs after their lifespan was up, and the few you do find these days are more than likely ex-business, not ex-government.

This one is from the Government. It hasn't been used since 1999 and has been in storage since then. Without going into too much detail on how I came across this (not stolen) and which department it's from, it's a machine I'm going to keep for myself mainly for nostalgia, but also because it's a cool little piece of Australian computing history. One of the only large scale Australian PC builders that existed out there!

So let's dive into this, take a look at what was inside and go through what I want to do with it. I've blanked out the Ipex serial numbers on the components PC, since they are recorded.
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The front of the case. Notice the lines are styled to match their logo? Neat! I only noticed that the other day. Two spots visible where the Government serial number/barcodes used to be. Plenty of LED options, too!
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This CD drive seems out of place. 24x? Floppy seems fine though!
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Side, Top and Back views.
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The inside.
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The Hard Drive. Seagate Medalist 1276, 1.2GB. Understandable pick, reliable as hell and large storage for the time!
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The Optical Drive. Acer 624A 403. 24x Speed. Mfg date March '98. No Ipex sticker. It works just fine, but something's wrong here!
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The PSU. Ipex ST-230WHF. 16A +5V, 12A +12V, 0.3A -5V, 0.5A -12V. No idea who the OEM is, and haven't really researched it either. Plenty of certifications though, and I'm confident they aren't faked since these were Government PCs after all. Caps not checked, so I'll likely check those at another date and recap if necessary. Fan still working and fairly quiet.
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The Floppy Drive. Sony MPF920-1. Original part, works, Jan '97. However, this had a different serial number on the Ipex sticker. I'm guessing it was a replacement.
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Now we'll get into the cards, board and everything else.

BIOS. Award PCI/PNP 586. Nothing special here. '95 Date.
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RTC. Odin OEC12B887A. Again, nothing special here. Dead.
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CPU/Cooler. Intel Penium 120, exact SKU not checked. Cooler - San Ace MC 109X4412H6022. Made in Japan of course! Working fine, but may replace with a new one since I have a couple of them NIB.
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Motherboard. ECS P5VX-Be Rev 2. PCISet SB82371SB/SB82437VX
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Graphics Card. AESL PT70 S3 ViRGE/DX. No Ipex serial number, so not sure if it's original or not.
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Sound Card. AESL AW35. Crystal CX4237B-XQ3 sound chip. No Ipex serial number either.
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Network Card. SMC EtherEZ ISA. SMC 83C785QF chip. Ipex serial number that matches case, so certainly original.
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RAM. NEC MC-424000F32P-60. SMC 83C785QF chip. Ipex serial number that matches case, so certainly original.
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Now an interesting tidbit I found while disassembling this machine.
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These are the screws that were holding in the three expansion cards. Sound card, Graphics Card, Network card from left to right. The Sound Card is clearly out of place, which I found unusual for an OEM machine, but didn't think much of it.

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I then saw this later on. A matching screw hidden away in the side of the case. The fact the Sound Card and Graphics Card have no Ipex warranty sticker, combined with the fact that there is a single different screw in the case holding one of them in, the fact they were registered with the FCC in 1997, the sound card having a different warranty sticker and the original screw was hidden away leads me to believe that these are not original parts.

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I also like these cable routing clips and holders they built into the case.

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So that's the PC. Now why is the title a "Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade" project? Here's what I want to achieve with this PC.

Restoration:
  • Full backup of current install as a reference point (still has everything on it).
  • Thorough cleaning of all parts.
  • Retrobright the case.
  • Source replacement RTC.
  • Fresh install of NT 4.0 (original OS on here), minus the Government Department additions, but keeping the original Government wallpapers and some software.
  • Source an Ipex keyboard and possibly mouse. I have an Ipex PS/2 mouse but would prefer a serial one.
  • Recap PSU if required.
  • Possibly replace CPU Fan.

Downgrade:
  • Get rid of the Acer 24x CD Drive.
  • Replace with either a 4x or 6x CD Drive.
  • Potentially remove some of the extra RAM that seemed to be added after the fact. There is 64MB of RAM in here, and that doesn't seem right. But it very well could have been, given where it came from. Unfortunately I don't have anything to compare to or research with.

Upgrade:
  • Remove the S3 and the Sound Card, since I am convinced they aren't original. I will keep them however, just in case it turns out they are.
  • Source and install AWE32 (preferably Value) Sound Card. May use my AWE64 Gold, but it's too out of place in my opinion.
  • Decide on a more appropriate graphics card. Though the ViRGE/DX is fine, I wouldn't mind something a bit more powerful yet still in the '95 to mid '96 era.
  • CF adapter for easy file transfers.

I'll update the post as I make progress! Thanks for checking it out guys.
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Re: Work Log: Ex-Government Australian Built "Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I": Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade Project

Postby voodoo5_6k » 2018-7-12 @ 06:09

Wow, that's a really neat little machine, and a great find by the way! It'll be very interesting to see how this restoration works out. Bookmarked :)

On the photos, the case doesn't look too yellow. Is it so bad that you really need to stress the plastic with retrobright?

x0zm_ wrote:Notice the lines are styled to match their logo? Neat! I only noticed that the other day.

That is cool, I like it very much :) Great case!

Downgrade: I agree with most of it, but the extra RAM won't hurt so maybe keep it in there?
Upgrade: Spot-on in my opinion!

Have fun with this great little side-project, all the best! :)
END OF LINE.

My retro systems:
1: E4700 2.6|512MB|P5PE-VM|Voodoo5|SB0240|UM-1>UM-550>CM-32L+SC-55
2: P3-S 1.4|512MB|D815EEA2|Voodoo5+Voodoo5 6000|SB0350
3: P4 3.4EE|4GB|P4C800-E|FX 5900 Ultra+Ti4600|SB0466
4: X5470 3.33|8GB|P5Q-E|GTX 580 3G|SB0886
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Re: Work Log: Ex-Government Australian Built "Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I": Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade Project

Postby chinny22 » 2018-7-12 @ 13:24

I think I may have come across 1 or 2 of these growing up? logo seem a little familiar? I didn't know they were as big as this.
I also now wonder if it was common to get contracts for other states. or if say Ipex was big in Vic, but not so much anywhere else?

Across the border in NSW I grew up with
Our high school had Beem (or was it Beam) 486's up till I left in 1998, my first high school had something different again but I cant remember what.
Local TAFE had Digital Pentium MMX or maybe early P2's, while popular models at the campuses my dad worked were Dell, Compaq, a few old Osborne's and other non big name brands which may have been larger then I realised.

Awesome a relatively unknown part of Aussie history is saved though!
Are the Aux, Headphone/Mic ports hooked up to anything?

Surprised your keeping NT4! I get it and actually like the OS but its usefulness is pretty limited.
I'd keep the 64MB of ram, NT loves RAM!
If your looking for suggestions ATi Mach 32 or 64 is period correct, hardware acceleration, Good NT4 compatibility, and PCI should be dirt cheap.
Not saying its the best choice but a common one from the time.
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Re: Work Log: Ex-Government Australian Built "Ipex Pentium-120 PCI/I": Restoration / Downgrade / Upgrade Project

Postby x0zm_ » 2018-7-13 @ 03:11

voodoo5_6k wrote:On the photos, the case doesn't look too yellow. Is it so bad that you really need to stress the plastic with retrobright?

Downgrade: I agree with most of it, but the extra RAM won't hurt so maybe keep it in there?
Upgrade: Spot-on in my opinion!

Have fun with this great little side-project, all the best! :)


I have very harsh white light in the room the photos were taken in, so it looks brighter than it actually is. It's pretty bad when looked at in natural light.

On the topic of RAM and the Sound/Video card:

I found the service log for this (well, all) of the PCs from here. The extra 32MB of RAM was added weeks after procurement by the software vendor for the main piece of software this machine was running, so I suppose that's close enough to "stock" to keep it.

The Sound and Video card were added in early 1998, so they are definitely going out. Unfortunately it doesn't say what was *originally* in here aside from "VGA Card" and "Audio Card".

chinny22 wrote:I think I may have come across 1 or 2 of these growing up? logo seem a little familiar? I didn't know they were as big as this.
I also now wonder if it was common to get contracts for other states. or if say Ipex was big in Vic, but not so much anywhere else?

Across the border in NSW I grew up with
Our high school had Beem (or was it Beam) 486's up till I left in 1998, my first high school had something different again but I cant remember what.
Local TAFE had Digital Pentium MMX or maybe early P2's, while popular models at the campuses my dad worked were Dell, Compaq, a few old Osborne's and other non big name brands which may have been larger then I realised.

Awesome a relatively unknown part of Aussie history is saved though!
Are the Aux, Headphone/Mic ports hooked up to anything?

Surprised your keeping NT4! I get it and actually like the OS but its usefulness is pretty limited.
I'd keep the 64MB of ram, NT loves RAM!
If your looking for suggestions ATi Mach 32 or 64 is period correct, hardware acceleration, Good NT4 compatibility, and PCI should be dirt cheap.
Not saying its the best choice but a common one from the time.


I'm from NSW and we had a few of them at school, or in primary school at least, along with some Acorns. By high school we were getting some Acers and possibly some IBMs. I've seen them in at least three Defence/RAAF bases around Sydney, two other schools in Sydney that I didn't attend.

Checking wayback, they were apparently at one point the largest Australian owned system integrator, so that's something.

I've actually got an ex-TAFE PC in that pile in the photos that I have to get to at some point, but it was nothing special. Pretty sure an instructor built it since it's unbranded and has stuff written in permanent marker.

Image Image

They aren't. Only Power, Turbo and HDD are.

I was considering an ATI Mach 64. I'm happy to use anything a bit cooler than the S3, but not a Tseng ET6000 or ET4000. Overdone in my opinion, and too expensive for what they are. Also considering chucking in a Matrox (Millennium most likely). All comes down to price at the end of the day. I want to try keep the whole thing under $100 - $120 at most.
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