VOGONS


First post, by OSkar000

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A few years ago I got myself another 386 just because it was looking good and it was a brand that I'm a little bit obsessed with.

It has been sitting in my basement since I got it apart from a few tests with more or less good results, mostly not so good.

First of all, this is not a "normal" 386 with a "normal" baby-AT motherboard... this thing is huge! The motherboard doesn't seem to follow any standards at all and is about 40x40cm or 16x16". A large part of the board is covered with TTL logic and large numbers of PAL-chips and the amount of information about it is more or less impossible to find. I tried to research it a few years ago with no luck. The other Facit machines I have is made by Mitac so it would not be very unlikely that this one also was made by them and sold under at least a few other brands.

Configuration when I got it:
CPU: Yes, more on that later in this thread
FPU: No
Memory: 8 x 1MB FPM
VGA: Oak VGA, 512k?
Harddrive: Seagate ST3123A, IDE, not working
FDD: Teac 1,44MB 3,5" and Teac 1,2MB 5,25", both working fine
Other: a few dents and scratches, not bad for a computer from late 1990.
OS: none, dead drive. Booting DOS from floppys for testing.

It had a few quirks and not so good things when I tried it the first times. All attempts to enter the bios failed and since it was configured with lots of errors due to been sitting for to long it took ages to start it up from floppys. Some of those problems were solved when I found a configuration program for old Phoenix bioses and could set it up with correct memory size and stop it from searching for a harddrive that was long gone and didn't have any replacement. Having those problems solved made it worth to put some more time and effort into it and try to make some future plans for it

The most intelligent thing to do when you have questionable hardware that you just have got working is throw some sensible upgrades on it. I will try to keep this a little bit period correct when it comes to upgrades so early 1990s is the main goal for most parts. Exceptions will be made due to practical reasons and part availability. Some are not decided and some will probably change more then once before its "done".

I have some 4MB 30pin modules for upgrades if I feel that 8MB isn't enough and there will be a sound card in this machine when its done, probably something with good SB Pro compatibility and OPL3. At the moment it has a 1GB Fujitsu SCSI hard drive that seems to be fine but I have some others that might find its way into it.

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CPU and no FPU at the moment... there will be some changes here later 😀

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First of all, we need to get away from the onboard IDE controller so throwing in a SCSI card from Adaptec is never wrong. This should be a 1542 and one of the most common and reliable cards in that period.

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And to get some files onto this computer we need a NIC, my standard solution is always a 3com 509B when it comes to ISA-based systems and this is not an exception.

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The original Oak VGA got replace by this card... its just a "tiny" bit faster and has a whole megabyte of video ram!

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This is more or less where this post will end and whats the current state of the computer. The CPU that was in it when I got it is going back and I think it will get interesting if I can get it to work fine in this system.

More information and pictures will come later 😀

Reply 1 of 12, by kaputnik

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Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

Reply 2 of 12, by OSkar000

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kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 15:04:

Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

More pics and updates will come on this project. There are a bit to many projects at home at the moment so it will take a while before I can put the Cyrix cpu back into this machine.

I still have some doubts about how much memory I should put in this machine... It has 8mb now but can be upgraded to 32mb.

Reply 3 of 12, by kaputnik

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OSkar000 wrote on 2023-05-07, 19:03:
kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 15:04:

Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

More pics and updates will come on this project. There are a bit to many projects at home at the moment so it will take a while before I can put the Cyrix cpu back into this machine.

I still have some doubts about how much memory I should put in this machine... It has 8mb now but can be upgraded to 32mb.

Got 8 MB in my 486, it has been enough for everything I've thrown at it so far. RAM was expensive back then, and before Win95, the requirements were quite moderate. The stuff you run on a 386 should be fine with even less 😀

Reply 4 of 12, by OSkar000

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kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 20:35:
OSkar000 wrote on 2023-05-07, 19:03:
kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 15:04:

Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

More pics and updates will come on this project. There are a bit to many projects at home at the moment so it will take a while before I can put the Cyrix cpu back into this machine.

I still have some doubts about how much memory I should put in this machine... It has 8mb now but can be upgraded to 32mb.

Got 8 MB in my 486, it has been enough for everything I've thrown at it so far. RAM was expensive back then, and before Win95, the requirements were quite moderate. The stuff you run on a 386 should be fine with even less 😀

Keeping this one with 8mb just gives me a reason for building another one with more memory and more of a workstation approach.

After all, you need at least 4-5 systems from each generation 😀

Reply 5 of 12, by OSkar000

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It is time for an update and some upgrades.

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Today was the day for a big upgrade and returning the computer to the state it was in when I got it. First, lets remove the 386 with a proper tool.

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Old and new CPU. I had lots of luck when I bought this computer and it had a Cyrix CX486DXR2 33/66GP installed. Not completely free from problems but a cool upgrade for a 386DX.

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After some installation problems I was greeted with this message at startup 😀

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Landmark shows a healthy number 😀

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But I still have some issues with not all memory being cached... or could it be an error in cachechk? I got the same results with only 4mb installed and performance is unchanged.

The next big step now is to put a sound card in it and install some software. I'm still looking for a FPU since it would be fun have.

There are also some issues with the SCSI-card that doesnt want to cooperate with the second harddrive but thats something for another day. 1gb is enough for now.

Reply 6 of 12, by pentiumspeed

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Ooh, oh no, I'm very PAL IC-shy about my personal opinion. Loaded with PAL ICs indicates this is very early 386 board design, not using any reliable chipsets at all from reliability viewpoint. I had bad experiences few times on boards and cards that used PAL ICs and was not interested. Due to lack of resources and forums like these was nearly non-existent back then.

My history: Had ATi Wonder burnt out eventually due to 6 PALs slowly cooking to death, since PCB went brown under them, longer I used video card eventually died. Rest of computer boards were fine, that was in 1990 to 1991 or so.
There was one time tried to revive a interesting AT size EISA 486 boards from a mortar and window store electronics surplus 2 hours away by rail while I was on other errand when done, I went to that store and browse, but they had missing PALs and bios firmware missing. I have not seen these boards again.

One time I wanted to upgrade a original Mac 128K to 512K and support 800K floppy, but needed the PAL sets and the guy who have the tool to copy them from another 512K mac, hee-hawed for long time not doing anything. While in meantime I reverse-engineered the little daughter-board that enabled it to work with 512K. Mind you, that was in 1990-1991 days and had the book about upgrading Macs. All the details is unfortunately lost and Macs were not mine at that time. I was rocking a junky cacheless 386DX 25 combined with C&T (CHIPS) chipset computer at that time.

Reason for this my janky 386 was this:
Thanks to the magazines back in the day, seems to praise the C&T but turned out the C&T were garbage, both speed rated and reliability issues, yes chips had that rubber stamped MHz rated, like mine saying "25MHz" and bios if I tried to tweak to get bit more performance locks tight instantly. Even all the 286 boards with C&T and POACH had reliability issues. When I went on and used SiS chipset and other chipsets, things went well and I can now tweak performance. There was a nice 386DX 25 with cache using SiS or VLSI chipset didn't recall, but board was made by American Megatrends, the 82C206 that drives the ISA bus is C&T and was dead. Replaced that with different make but still 206 chipset restored back to life and was wicked fast.

Quality chipsets are usually not MHz rated marked and that should be what I should had listened to my mind. 😀

Learn and live. Now I have collection of cool computers and many boards now.

Cheers,

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 7 of 12, by OSkar000

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I dont have to much hope that this is going to be a super reliable 386, but who knows?

It has been both a fun and frustrating experience get it to the state it is in now.

I'm planning to install some software and try out a few games soon 😀

Reply 8 of 12, by pentiumspeed

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What PAL ICs does is to trunk down 32 bits between ram and CPU with their 387 co processor and interface as a glue logic with the 16 bit path for the AT chips to work with ISA bus.

When proper chipsets designed for 386DX came along, things get better with reliability.

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 9 of 12, by OSkar000

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pentiumspeed wrote on 2023-07-27, 01:00:

What PAL ICs does is to trunk down 32 bits between ram and CPU with their 387 co processor and interface as a glue logic with the 16 bit path for the AT chips to work with ISA bus.

When proper chipsets designed for 386DX came along, things get better with reliability.

This motherboard is more or less a PAL nightmare... I tried to identify it here earlier but it was not easy to find any information.
Another 386-motherboard to identify

I spent some time with it yesterday and installed DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11. It seems to run fine and with some luck I can test some games tomorrow.

Reply 10 of 12, by OSkar000

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A very rare sight was seen today, a retro system standing up with the case properly and still working!

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I can't say that this system is finished but many things seems to be working now.

CPU: Cyrix CX486DXR2 33/66GP
FPU: No (still looking for one)
Memory: 8 x 1MB FPM
VGA: Tseng Labs ET4000, 1mb
Soundcard: Creative SB32, CT3670, with 2mb memory
Harddrive: Fujitsu 1gb SCSI, Compaq/Seagate Barracuda 4,3gb SCSI.
SCSI controller: Adaptec 1542B, bios 3.20
FDD: Teac 1,44MB 3,5" and Teac 1,2MB 5,25", both working fine
Other: a few dents and scratches, not bad for a computer from late 1990.
OS: DOS 6.22 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Software: Office 4.2, more to be installed later

Putting a Cyrix overdrive CPU in your computer is not always something that goes without problems. One of the weirdest things is that with the Cyrix CPU I can no longer access the bios settings... but as long as I don't mess things up I think it will not be a problem. However, the performance boost is pretty substantial. Doom went from 23 to 40 fps in low and 5,4 to 10 fps in high. Not to bad for something that started as a 386.

The hard drive problems I had earlier was solved by upgrading the bios on the SCSI-card to version 3.20. That supports drives up to 8gb. With some help from my father that can burn e-proms it was easy to get it fixed.

There are some things left to do before I can say that this system is finished, mostly software related. But it is ready enough to go to a LAN-party and to play some classic early 90s games for a day or two 😀

Reply 11 of 12, by Robin4

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OSkar000 wrote on 2023-05-07, 19:03:
kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 15:04:

Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

More pics and updates will come on this project. There are a bit to many projects at home at the moment so it will take a while before I can put the Cyrix cpu back into this machine.

I still have some doubts about how much memory I should put in this machine... It has 8mb now but can be upgraded to 32mb.

for 386 machine 8 MB should be enough.

~ At least it can do black and white~

Reply 12 of 12, by OSkar000

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Robin4 wrote on 2023-08-14, 00:13:
OSkar000 wrote on 2023-05-07, 19:03:
kaputnik wrote on 2023-05-07, 15:04:

Oh, cool, didn't see this thread before now 😀

As I've probably told you already, I have a special place in my heart for Facit too. Together with Hasselblad's ditto, the company story is a school book example of what happens when you grow too big, become overconfident in your current products, and ignore paradigm shifts. The mechanical calculator giant became a shadow of its former self when the world switched over to electronics, and never managed to recover. A sad, but quite intriguing story.

You should post some pics of its exterior too, iirc those old Facit cases really are lookers 😀

More pics and updates will come on this project. There are a bit to many projects at home at the moment so it will take a while before I can put the Cyrix cpu back into this machine.

I still have some doubts about how much memory I should put in this machine... It has 8mb now but can be upgraded to 32mb.

for 386 machine 8 MB should be enough.

For now it will stay at 8mb but I can always upgrade later if its needed. Its main purpose is to run DOS-games and I can't name a single game that works on a 386 that needs more memory.

Next step now is to actually play some games 😀 Transport Tycoon Deluxe started fine and all sound and music sounded exactly how I remembered it on a 386 with the very same soundcard in 1997 when I first played it.