My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

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My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby trapflag » 2015-10-28 @ 06:47

Hi folks,

Nostalgia hit me very hard a few months ago, so I had to so something to scratch the itch :)

A bit of history: My first computer was a Eastern-European ZX Spectrum clone, but the first "real" computer I ever used (and fell in love with) was our school's computer, a HP Vectra 486 machine with 8 MB of RAM. On that machine I learned Pascal programming and I spent countless hours enjoying classic games such as DOOM, Prehistorik, The Lost Vikings, Prince of Persia, Lotus III, Mortal Kombat, etc.

My second computer had a Pentium MMX CPU at 166 MHz, 32 MB EDO RAM, a 1.7 GB Seagate Medalist hard drive, a S3 Trio64V+ video card (1 MB, later 2 MB), a Panasonic (Matsushita Kotobuki) 24x CD-ROM drive and a Yamaha OPL3-based sound card. In '97, this was a fantastic computer for programming, but obviously less so for games. Still, I have very fond memories of that machine, especially around removing software copy protection mechanisms, unpacking/decrypting beasts such as HackStop, CrackStop, Protect!, etc., and writing tiny anti-virus programs.

Now, without further ado, I'd like to share with y'all my nostalgia fix:

Image

It's an original HP Vectra VL5/200 Series 5, basically a combination of the HP Vectra I had a school (the case looks very similar) and my second computer, the Pentium MMX.

Hardware specs:

CPU: Pentium MMX at 200 MHz
Chipset: Intel 430 HX (Triton II)
Memory: 32 MB EDO RAM
L2 cache: 256 KB
HDD: Quantum Fireball, 2.5 GB, 5400 RPM
CD-ROM: HITACHI CDR-8335, 24x
Video: S3 Trio64 V2 DX/GX, 2 MB
Sound: HP MM Pro 16V-A PnP (seen as AZT1008 PnP Sound Device), based on the AZT2320 chip (a very pleasant surprise: good sound and excellent compatibility)
Network: HP Ethernet 10/100 BaseT Network Board, based on the AMD PCnet-PCI-II 79C971 chip

The setup couldn't be complete without an original HP keyboard & mouse pair and a HP 17" CRT monitor that I found NOS on eBay. The speakers are not period-correct, but they're Altec Lansing, a very desirable brand in the mid '90s (at least in my country).

Upgrade ideas:

- Memory: an upgrade to 64 MB makes a lot of sense. Above that it's difficult, because the 256 KB Level 2 cache cannot handle more than the first 64 MB, leading to a performance decrease. While the 430 HX is capable of caching up to 512 MB, and theoretically I can install a 512 KB L2 cache chip, the HP manual states that "the capability to cache more than 64 MB has not been enabled in the BIOS". I guess it'd be a fun project to add the necessary code in the HP BIOS :evil:

- Disk: a CF-to-IDE converter and a 8GB CF card would cost me less than $20, so this is clearly an idea worth considering.

- Video: a Voodoo Graphics card, possibly even a Voodoo 2, would pair up very nicely with the S3.

Software:

- OS: the machine runs Windows 95 OSR2 (so DOS 7.10) with the Microsoft Plus! Pack.
- Antivirus: TBAV, F-Prot, RAV 6, AVP, various tools from the Slovak Antivirus Center, various other AVs made in Romania (all period correct)
- Shells: Norton Commander, DOS Navigator, Volkov Commander
- Programming: Borland Pascal, Borland C++, Turbo Assembler, WATCOM C/C++, DJGPP
- Reverse engineering: IDA, SoftICE, TR, plus my old collection of executable packers and unpackers
- Music: FastTracker, plus my old collection of MOD/S3M/XMs
- Demos/Intros: various
- Games: DOOM, Quake, Warcraft II, Blood, Heroes of Might and Magic II, Ignition, Worms, etc.
- Others: Norton Utilities, the Opera browser (but unfortunately browsing the 2015 WWW on a 1997 machine is not a pleasant experience :blah:)

Some things to note:
- HP Support is amazing. I was able to find all the drivers, manuals, BIOS updates, etc.
- This isn't only a "nostalgia" machine. I actually enjoy working and playing on it. It seems to have more "soul" than current systems. :kiss:

Cheers,
trapflag
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby oerk » 2015-10-28 @ 09:23

Nice system! You can't go wrong with Socket 7, and I have a soft spot for OEM and HP. I like the case. Any chance you can post a photo of the guts?

trapflag wrote:- Memory: an upgrade to 64 MB makes a lot of sense. Above that it's difficult, because the 256 KB Level 2 cache cannot handle more than the first 64 MB, leading to a performance decrease. While the 430 HX is capable of caching up to 512 MB, and theoretically I can install a 512 KB L2 cache chip, the HP manual states that "the capability to cache more than 64 MB has not been enabled in the BIOS". I guess it'd be a fun project to add the necessary code in the HP BIOS :evil:


Grrr... what's the point of the HX chipset then? Still, 64MB would be plenty for Windows 95.

Also, yes, you need more storage and a Voodoo card. Voodoo 1 would be period correct.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby Mr_ppp » 2015-10-28 @ 10:59

Thats such a lovely neat little system :)
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby raymangold » 2015-10-28 @ 13:02

Is that CD drive a darker colour than normal? I'm guessing it's custom option made for HP if so (similar to the blue-button CD drives that IBM had made).

Yeah, older computers seem to have a lot more character.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby Arctic » 2015-10-28 @ 15:37

Beautiful HP Vectra!

Reminds me of my first PC in 1997 :D
P166 MMX oc to 200
32MB later 64MB EDORAM
Intel 430VX
S3 Trio 64V+ 2MB
later Voodoo 2 8MB
Avance Logic sound (with volume wheel etc.)
Seagate Medalist 1.7GB IDE
Mitsumi 16 or 32x CDROM


Does the motherboard already have the ATX standard?
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby trapflag » 2015-10-28 @ 19:05

Thank you all for the nice words!

oerk wrote:Nice system! You can't go wrong with Socket 7, and I have a soft spot for OEM and HP. I like the case. Any chance you can post a photo of the guts?


Here it is:

Image

oerk wrote:Grrr... what's the point of the HX chipset then? Still, 64MB would be plenty for Windows 95.

I think it was all marketing, as the minitower version of the VL5 had 512 KB of L2 cache and could handle up to 512 MB. It reminds me of my 2008 Sony Vaio VGN-CR240 laptop, that had a Core 2 Duo with Virtualization support disabled in the BIOS, so that the CR series wouldn't compete with Sony's business line of systems. Astonishingly, they even set the "lock" bit, so that virtualization couldn't be enabled by user software. If my memory serves me correctly, back then I used a BIOS editor to extract & unpack the files, then patched the code myself to enable the feature.

Vectra's BIOS structure is weird. The program used to flash the BIOS is "PhoenixPhlash 4.0 Release 1.39". The BIOS modules are compressed but I cannot find a good tool to unpack them (all blocks seem to start with the signature 0x42,0x43,0xD6,0xF1,0x00,0x00). Suggestions are welcome!

Otherwise, I'd probably have to either reverse engineer the executable to extract the decompression code, or load the program in a debugger, and step through the decompression routine. But there's a huge risk in re-packing the binaries, ensure the checksums are correct, etc., so it's probably not worth the effort.

raymangold wrote:Is that CD drive a darker colour than normal? I'm guessing it's custom option made for HP if so (similar to the blue-button CD drives that IBM had made).

Yes, it seems so, same with the floppy drive. It'll be hard to replace if it decides to die on me! Surprisingly, it was able to read all my older CDs.

Arctic wrote:Does the motherboard already have the ATX standard?

Yes, I was actually very surprised by this. My old non-OEM computer was AT.

Anecdote: Just for fun, I fired up TR, my favorite debugger from back in the day, for the first time in 15+ years. Everything felt natural and "just right". I wish I could say that about LLDB (or it's just me growing old?).

Cheers,
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby raymangold » 2015-10-30 @ 02:55

Looks like it's the same 82430HX chip as my socket 7 system. If you can find the maximum-sized SIMMs for the system, it would be interesting to see if it does take past 64 MB or if the BIOS deliberately locks itself. Does the HP documentation state what size of tag it uses? They MIGHT have artificially limited the memory to 64 MB if the 11-bit tag wasn't used. Of course that'd be sad because with the power of a K6-III you can bypass it.
(I haven't a clue how expensive SIMMs for this system would be)

It appears that HP still used the same proprietary power supplies back then as they do now! I thought it was a recent thing, guess not.

I'm assuming the CD drive is not proprietary; although replacing with a different colour may irritate the OCD inclined such as myself... so it may as well be.

Odd that a discreet VRM module was implemented.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby stuvize » 2015-10-30 @ 05:56

I have a system almost just like that it does support 128mb ram with the 512kb cache module I actually have an extra. Great little system the color scheme HP used in this era of vecrtras really stands out
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby oerk » 2015-10-30 @ 08:40

trapflag wrote:
Arctic wrote:Does the motherboard already have the ATX standard?

Yes, I was actually very surprised by this. My old non-OEM computer was AT.


Forgive my ignorance, but what is ATX in this PC? The motherboard form factor certainly isn't, the power connectors neither, so what is? It has PS/2 connectors, yes, but so did other OEMs at the time.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby trapflag » 2015-10-30 @ 16:50

oerk wrote:Forgive my ignorance, but what is ATX in this PC? The motherboard form factor certainly isn't, the power connectors neither, so what is? It has PS/2 connectors, yes, but so did other OEMs at the time.

My bad! I was impressed by some of the power management features and assumed it was ATX. For example, the OS is able to turn off the machine; on my old computer, I had to manually press the power button to turn it off after seeing the "It's now safe to turn off the computer" message :happy:
Sorry for the confusion.

raymangold wrote:Does the HP documentation state what size of tag it uses?

Here's the relevant quote from the HP manual:

HP Manual wrote:
Level-2 Cache Memory Controller

This unit controls the L2 cache memory, adopting a write back policy, in a direct mapped organization. An 8-bit tag is used to allow the lowermost 64 MB of main memory to be cached (if more than 64 MB of main memory is installed, accesses to the uppermost regions will be made directly to the main memory modules, and not via the cache memory mechanism). When a 512 KB cache memory module is installed, the chip set allows provision for an 11-bit tag to be used to allow 512 MB of main memory to be cached, but this facility has not been enabled in the HP BIOS.

I updated the BIOS to the latest version (HA.07.11) dated November 22, 2000, but since the changelog is empty it's impossible to know if the functionality was enabled or not.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby raymangold » 2015-10-30 @ 18:07

trapflag wrote:
HP Manual wrote:
Level-2 Cache Memory Controller

This unit controls the L2 cache memory, adopting a write back policy, in a direct mapped organization. An 8-bit tag is used to allow the lowermost 64 MB of main memory to be cached (if more than 64 MB of main memory is installed, accesses to the uppermost regions will be made directly to the main memory modules, and not via the cache memory mechanism). When a 512 KB cache memory module is installed, the chip set allows provision for an 11-bit tag to be used to allow 512 MB of main memory to be cached, but this facility has not been enabled in the HP BIOS.

I updated the BIOS to the latest version (HA.07.11) dated November 22, 2000, but since the changelog is empty it's impossible to know if the functionality was enabled or not.


Okay so the 8-bit tag is the default, but the 11-bit tag is optional (and curiously HP implies that it's not been enabled in the BIOS). I've underlined the text of interest, since a K6-II+ and K6-III / III+ don't use the intel cache (or "cache memory mechanism" as HP calls it), you could probably pop one of those CPUs in and initiate the K6's cache-- and get more than 64-MB cached. Because it would be the K6 seeing the memory and not the intel cache.

Assuming of course the HP BIOS is made compatible with AMD CPUs (my socket 7 board enabled AMD support on the Y2K BIOS release, which is the same year of your latest BIOS release as well).

Also... since Triton II supports DIMM modules, it theoretically is possible to solder on DIMM slots, which is what HP should have done in the first place; I'm kind of peeved they didn't.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby chinny22 » 2015-11-12 @ 13:02

Just make sure you download everything you want while you can!
This year HP took down a lot of the old Compaq stuff, and I missed out on a few things for my Prolient 1600. I'm guessing it has to do with them splitting up the company
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby shamino » 2015-11-18 @ 15:24

That's the same keyboard that came with an HP Kayak from 1998, so there's a good chance it could have been original to this machine also. If it's not, then it's close at least.
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Re: My HP Vectra VL5 / Pentium MMX

Postby trapflag » 2015-11-18 @ 23:08

The auction was for "Multimedia Keyboard & Mouse set for Vintage Hewlett Packard HP Brio, Vectra VL2". I'm not sure if the VL5 came with this keyboard, but the keys feel and sound great. A bit too many buttons for my taste, though.
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