There’s only one ’t’ in ’FasMath’: LONG-neglected 386DX build

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There’s only one ’t’ in ’FasMath’: LONG-neglected 386DX build

Postby xjas » 2017-9-14 @ 05:23

Yes, I’m still working on the VFX1 build. Have an update for that in progress but not ready to post yet. In the meantime, this one’s also been ongoing so high time to show it off. ;)

FIRST. A little backstory. My build threads ALWAYS have backstory, what were you expecting?

TWO YEARS AGO, I found a functional & rather nice 386DX tower IN THE TRASH at my uni, just waiting for an enterprising and shameless individual to pluck it up. Obviously, I was that individual.

I made a rescue thread on another forum where I cleaned out the cobwebs and got it going. Normally I’d just link you guys to that, but as all the Photos got Bucketed, it kinda sucks to read through now. Fortunately, I was able to reconstruct it and can now share my initial tribulations with this machine here (these are large, like 6-8000 px tall. You probably don’t want to click these if you’re using Netscape on a K6-2 or Arachne or something, which I know some of you are probably doing.)

Part 1:
op1.jpg

Part 2:
op2.jpg

So that was back in May... 2015. I got it sort of working then stuffed it into a closet for two years. Here’s the state it’s in now:
01-beginstate.jpg
The power switch was disconnected, no HDD, its 3.5” bay adapter & 5.25” floppy were stolen for two different systems and a random CD-ROM was stuffed in mostly to keep dust out. It deserves better.

Let’s open it up:
02-open.jpg
Hello old friend...

First problem: the front panel switch wasn’t connected. The PSU I’d swapped in two years ago had a different kind of switch on it and it was soldered onto the leads at the end of the cable. I cut it off but still needed to connect it to these leads:
03-thepower.jpg
Last edited by xjas on 2017-9-16 @ 23:45, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-14 @ 05:27

Now the obvious, easy solution would be to use crimp-on spade connectors ... so that’s what I did.
04-nocontact.jpg
Unfortunately even after triple-checking to make sure I had it wired right, it still wouldn’t power on. Nothing.

After spending HOURS checking the PSU, motherboard, wiring, etc. over every way I possibly could, it turned out the switch itself was broken.

Image

...I guess that makes sense, it being the mechanical part that probably receives THE MOST wear on a system like this, but still, NOT an obvious thing to break. The action was still fine, but something inside it just wasn’t doing its job. With a fair bit of finagling, I did manage to open it up, which was fascinating:
05-unswitchable.jpg
06-flopbits.jpg
But yeah, I’m not gonna fix that myself. I tried to re-seat everything and put it back together but one of the metal contacts was just too worn and wouldn’t stay in place.

In the end I just jumped the power leads together so it's always on until I figure out something else. I seem to remember every PC I owned in the ‘90s being on a big power bar that you just flicked on and off all in one go, so I can live with it that way.
07-hugs.jpg
08-cooktogether.jpg
Sure, that’ll do.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-14 @ 05:32

Anyway, with the switch sorted, it runs!
09-itruns.jpg
Of course the leaky barrel battery is long gone so it can’t remember any CMOS settings. Not a problem for now, but it will be... Incidentally I think that BIOS color scheme is growing on me. Or I’m developing some kind of mental illness. One or the other.

So let’s sort out storage. First thing to take care of is those ugly empty drive bays. I had no intention of running a CD-ROM in this machine, so I dug out its original 5.25” drive, which was in this thing:
10-5andaquarter.jpg
That’s easy to solve; out it came. The 3.5” drive was still in there but its brown caddy was ... somewhere else.

Here, specifically:
11-herespecifically.jpg
:angry:

Now I DO have a black replacement for it that’s supposed to go in there (as well as a black zip drive), but this is at the bottom of my rack, under a table, and it’s a huge pain to get out. That’s a project for another day. After some digging around, I found this one instead:
12-usbzeropointone.jpg
Yes, those are USB ports. It’ll do for now.

And finally, for mass storage, I figured I’d put this to use.
13.jpg
It actually holds two flash cards, one on top & one underneath, so I figured that’d be an easy way to get files on and off. More on this later.
Last edited by xjas on 2017-9-14 @ 17:56, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-14 @ 05:55

I thought I’d be clever and swap out one of those fake floppy faceplates for a CF “drive”, so I spent WAY too long (specifically the better part of A DAY) bodging together this thing:
14-tooclever.jpg

After all that, the result was... kinda shonky. The cover plate was loose and the CF cards were tight and you had to hold it in place to insert and remove the cards and the LED didn’t line up, and blah blah blah ... Yeah, it looked like what I’d intended, but maybe what I’d intended wasn’t the right thing to do in the first place.

In order to install it, I had to straighten the 3.5” drive box which was bent to hell for some reason.
15-straightiron.jpg

...And once that was done, I had to fit another one of these asshole screws again, right in behind the chassis structure where there's no access. (See Part 2 in the first post.)
16-thisscrewagain.jpg

It was a LITTLE easier with the case stripped down as much as it was, but still a PITA. I had to hold the screwdriver at a 45 deg. angle to get it most of the way in and then tighten it with a tiny hand wrench.

17-cablelabel.jpg
Thankfully some thoughtful previous owner had gone and labelled both ends of the floppy cable, which I swapped around anyway because I wanted the 3.5” drive to be A:. I wonder how long these markings have been on that cable, only for me to flagrantly disregard them like that? 20 years? 30??

Put it all together, and:
18-firsttogether.jpg
Looks good! Surprisingly I don’t hate the USB 3.5” drive caddy. Maybe I’ll track down an ISA USB card and have the world’s only 386 with functional front-mounted USB ports.

Still not keen on that CF “drive” though.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby Rawit » 2017-9-14 @ 07:13

I seem to love your build threads. Hopefully you will update your VFX1 one soon :) . If you ever start to hate the CF drive, I've got one of those Addonics 3.5" brackets lying around (no CF adapter included). You can have it if you like.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby chinny22 » 2017-9-14 @ 14:21

I like your Floppy CF card thingy. I have 2 dead CD drives I was going to do something similar with, but now I've seen Rawit's pic above I'll probably get something similar one of these days.
Am I right in thinking the 2 CF cards appear as I HDD to the PC? How well does that work?

Also what do you use that Sony 4 screen thing for?!
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-15 @ 01:15

Thanks guys! @Rawit: I ended up going a different direction with the CF adapter, see below. That's a neat adapter & much tidier than mine turned out (it looks better in the pics than in person) though so thx for the offer!

chinny22 wrote:Am I right in thinking the 2 CF cards appear as I HDD to the PC? How well does that work?

The cards show up as two drives, the jumper on top selects master/slave for the top card (or slave/master for the bottom card.) You can also just stick one card in but you need both positions on the IDE occupied for that to work, i.e. if you stick a card in the top slot and set it to master you need another device on the bus to be slave. I didn't know that yet at this point in the build but we'll get to that in a couple posts. This thread is lagging behind reality by a couple weeks BTW.

chinny22 wrote:Also what do you use that Sony 4 screen thing for?!

Absolutely nothing at the moment. I bought it for an art project a year ago but I haven't gotten around to doing it yet. Why is that such a common theme around here?? :P

Let's talk about sound!

2cards.jpg
Edit: this pic is now a huuuuuuuge version that you can zoom into for maximal 16-bit high-fidelity glory.

I had the choice between two very cool sound cards that I've wanted to use in something for a while. The first was that GUS MAX I found in a trash pile a while back. I'd cleaned it up but hadn't tested it yet; I really wanted this card to work. I've been a GUS fan since the '90s but never had a GF1 card before (only PnPs ... which honestly are totally fine, I've never run into any situation where a PnP is incompatible over a GF1, but I digress.)

The second choice was an ATI Stereo F/X CD. Specifically this ATI Stereo F/X CD. Now this is an extremely interesting card to me, because ... this is literally the card my family had in our 386SX/16 when I was a kid. Most of the hardware from that machine is long gone but with some foresight I hung onto this. Nice that a little bit of its legacy could live on in 2017.

I honestly credit this sound card with me being a musician today. Sure, there were other factors, but this card got me started with Adlib Composer and trackers, right in the middle of my personal heavy-BBS-use era when I could share my tunes and hear new ones from a wider community of people for the first time. You want to see a random piece of hardware that altered the course of someone's life, for the better? Look right here.

Naturally I really wanted this one to work as well. It had been sitting in a box for probably more than 20 years when I rescued it.

20-sound2.jpg
Wait a minute, did I say I had a choice to make?? They both went in. Of course they did.

Incidentally here's what I did to tidy up the power switch cable since it wasn't connected to the switch any more:
21-tidy.jpg
Yep.

I hadn't had any luck with the CF cards and decided I hated my floppy adapter. I wanted this machine to have primary storage in the range of 100-500MB and I didn't have any old hard drives around that fit the bill. So I swapped that out for a 250MB Zip drive and set that up as IDE master (only one channel on my I/O card, so not "primary" master ;) ), then I made a boot disk that would load iomega's Guest.exe and configure it to be C:. Sorted.

22-zip.jpg

With that out of the way I was able to install the GUS driver suite onto my new "hard drive." Incidentally I chucked a MOD player and a couple songs onto the boot disk, so I already knew that the ATI, which needs no drivers, was working fine. But what about the GUS?

23-gusinstall.jpg
I didn't mail in the registration card.
Last edited by xjas on 2017-9-15 @ 21:46, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-9-15 @ 05:53

Your AT case is crap, but not all of them were that bad.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-15 @ 06:53

Anonymous Coward wrote:Your AT case is crap, but not all of them were that bad.


^^ To be fair, it's actually a nice case, just a PAIN to work on due to limited access. (It's been better since I remembered a few things about dealing with these old cases.) At least it's solid and fits together well; I've seen far worse AND better modern ATX ones. On a scale between "unbelievably shit bendy recycled steel jobber case" and "Antec Sonata III" I'd put this at about 66%. :P
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby Rawit » 2017-9-15 @ 07:11

:cool: Nice. As a Gravis UltraSound fanboy I approve :wink:

thx for the offer!

No problem!

I've never run into any situation where a PnP is incompatible over a GF1


Except for the prepgame.exe for Epic Mega Games (which is for the detection routine if I'm not mistaken), it should be 100% compatible. The tempo bugs in FastTracker II and some demos are mentioned often, but I think that has to do more with the motherboard/ISA speed and the programmer's timing solution. FastTracker II runs with serious tempo bugs on my GF1. I do think the GF1 range has a lot less hiss than the InterWave models.

Is the ATI Stereo F/X CD dual OPL2?
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-9-15 @ 12:59

I think what annoyed me the most about AT cases was that almost all of them used those plastic standoff things that need to slide into the oddly cut holes on the motherboard tray. I never understood why they didn't all just use regular screw holes and metal standoffs. It's way more secure, and much easier to get the boards in and out.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby TheMobRules » 2017-9-15 @ 15:10

Anonymous Coward wrote:I think what annoyed me the most about AT cases was that almost all of them used those plastic standoff things that need to slide into the oddly cut holes on the motherboard tray. I never understood why they didn't all just use regular screw holes and metal standoffs. It's way more secure, and much easier to get the boards in and out.

Yes, I don't understand the logic behind using those things. In particular the most annoying situation was when none or only one of the mounting holes in the motherboard matched the screw holes and you had to use the plastic standoffs for the rest. This resulted in a wobbly motherboard and you had to rely on the expansion cards to secure it. The teeny tiny late 486 motherboards were known offenders when it comes to this issue.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ‘FasMath’: a long-neglected 386. FREAKING FINALLY, LET’S BUILD THIS.

Postby xjas » 2017-9-16 @ 00:03

Rawit wrote:Is the ATI Stereo F/X CD dual OPL2?


Nah, single OPL3. I was hopeful when I saw the sheer number of discrete chips it has, but there's only one. ;) I just updated the first pic of both cards so you guys can zoom in and see everything; the OPL is in the bottom right by the CD header.

Honestly for a card with "stereo" in the name I'm not really sure how to get stereo sound out of it. It doesn't seem to support SB Pro stereo, isn't SB16 compatible... I guess the OPL3 is stereo capable but for PCM sounds there's no way. It does apparently have a "stereo effects" (get it?) processor that offsets the phase of one channel in order to widen the sound, but if it supports a true 2-channel sound standard I can't figure out which one it is.
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Re: There’s only one ’t’ in ’FasMath’: LONG-neglected 386DX build

Postby Jo22 » 2017-9-17 @ 17:00

Isn't it also GameBlaster compatible once the two Philips chips are installed ?
Edit: Never mind. I can't seem to find any picture of it, but I guess the "CD" version is something different.
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