VOGONS


First post, by xjas

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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:

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Part 2:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Last edited by xjas on 2017-09-16, 23:45. Edited 3 times in total.

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Reply 1 of 17, by xjas

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Now the obvious, easy solution would be to use crimp-on spade connectors ... so that’s what I did.

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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.

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...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:

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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.

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Sure, that’ll do.

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Reply 2 of 17, by xjas

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Anyway, with the switch sorted, it runs!

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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:

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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:

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😠

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:

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Yes, those are USB ports. It’ll do for now.

And finally, for mass storage, I figured I’d put this to use.

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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 2017-09-14, 17:56. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 3 of 17, by xjas

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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:

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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.

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...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.)

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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.

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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:

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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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Reply 4 of 17, by Rawit

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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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My build: Speedsys

Reply 5 of 17, by chinny22

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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?!

Reply 6 of 17, by xjas

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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?? 😜

Let's talk about sound!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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?

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I didn't mail in the registration card.

Last edited by xjas on 2017-09-15, 21:46. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 7 of 17, by Anonymous Coward

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Your AT case is crap, but not all of them were that bad.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 8 of 17, by xjas

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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%. 😜

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Reply 9 of 17, by Rawit

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😎 Nice. As a Gravis UltraSound fanboy I approve 😉

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?

My build: Speedsys

Reply 10 of 17, by Anonymous Coward

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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.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 11 of 17, by TheMobRules

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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.

Reply 12 of 17, by xjas

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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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Reply 13 of 17, by Jo22

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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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In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 14 of 17, by xjas

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I had this thing out for another reason so I figured I'd take care of some little items that were on its to-do list. Time for an update!

Firstly, I FINALLY replaced the original brown 3.5" FDD adapter. I didn't mind the white one, but this one just completes the look that much better. Actually it matches the drive so well I wouldn't be surprised it if came with it. Was that a thing?

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Secondly, I chucked in a SCSI card:

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Unfortunately, this is a SUPER-basic model with no boot ROM, so it doesn't solve my biggest outstanding issue with the system. I barrel-ectomied it way back when I got it, so it has reoccurring CMOS amnesia. It's also too old to autodetect the HDD parameters so I have to manually enter them in EVERY time I boot it in the incredibly cumbersome setup screen, which is kind of a pain. At least I've had to do it so many times I've memorized the parameters (type 47, 993-16-0-0-63. 😜)

I was hoping to put a SCSI controller with its own BIOS and one of my few 50-pin HDDs in instead of the CF card, but this was the only ISA SCSI card I found in my storage room, so it'll have to do. Still useful for other things.

Anyway, in it went. I had to pull it once to change the base address because it was conflicting with the GUS, but other than that it was completely painless to configure & get working. Second from the top; I moved the IDE/FDD controller up one slot but there was still room!

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I love a well-populated system. Every ISA slot is now used, even the single 8-bit slot.

From top to bottom:
IDE/FDD controller
Adaptec SCSI
ATI Stereo F/X CD
Gravis Ultrasound MAX
Game/serial/parallel I/O card (8-bit slot)
SMC Ethernet card
Tseng ET4000AX VGA
Xeltec UniPro EPROM burner interface card 😉

Looks good from the back too:

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BTW I just realized I never posted a pic of my improved mount for the CF-IDE adapter. Here's where I ended up putting it:

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Pretty happy with that. It's out of the way, easy to swap the card out if the case is open, and doesn't make for cable hell. Sometimes overcomplicating the solution makes for a worse result.

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Reply 15 of 17, by SW-SSG

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xjas wrote:

scsi.jpg

Man, that has to be the most blatantly cost-reduced/market-segmented expansion card I have ever seen... 95% of the PCB is just empty solder pads. :p

Nice system, btw. I like the little punched labels on the back panel showing which card is what.

Reply 16 of 17, by xjas

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SW-SSG wrote:
xjas wrote:

scsi.jpg

Man, that has to be the most blatantly cost-reduced/market-segmented expansion card I have ever seen... 95% of the PCB is just empty solder pads. :p

Nice system, btw. I like the little punched labels on the back panel showing which card is what.

Yeah, I was kind of amused by what was actually on the card vs what wasn't. I guess buying it back in the day was a bit like backing a kickstarter; all that promise of greatness that you're never going to see. 😜

I still need to make a SCSI label for the rear panel. I keep buying those punch labeller things at thrift shops if they've got a roll of tape left inside, because it's cheaper than buying new tape, so I've got quite the little collection now. Love the "1980s lab gear" look.

Here's what I wanted the SCSI card for:

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Now technically I could have hooked up a CD-ROM to either of the two sound cards (I have all four interfaces covered - Panasonic, Mitsumi, and Sony on the GUS, and IDE on the ATI), but I don't have any of the first three and all my IDE drives are way newer & I'm not even sure they'd be compatible. I also have one internal SCSI drive but it's a CD-RW from 2000(!) and looks wrong.

I figured this thing is pretty cool and suits the look. It has a 1992 build date on the bottom. 😀

No operation on this system is particularly quick, but man I'd forgotten how slow double-speed drives are. I'm just glad I didn't have to connect one through the parallel port.

Incidentally, when I was poking around in there, I discovered an external battery header that I didn't even know it had. That would solve my one major outstanding issue with this thing. Here it is:

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Oh yeah, that's gonna be fun to get hooked up. That'll be a project for another day.

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Reply 17 of 17, by respect2759

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I found your screws on my carpet

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S26361-D756-X Intel i486DX 33MHz, 4Mb ram, 512Kb - 1Mb graphics on board