Hi all, my name's Dave, and I thought I'd do a 2 in 1 post, to firstly introduce myself as a new Vogon's member, although I've been a guest user for some time, experience of getting my first PC, and why I'm now the proud owner of a Packard Bell. Sorry, it's therefore quite a long , but hopefully interesting post, especially for Packard Bell fans.
OK, so I'm a computer & gaming collector, have been for over 30 years, mostly 8 bit machines, including my first computer, a Vic20, and handheld electronic games, consoles etc. I've been involved with arcade emulation, and even built some PC based arcade cabinets back in the day. I used to mess around with synths, so up until my first PC, my main computer was a 1MB Atari STe.
My wife bought my first PC back in Christmas 96 from Crown Computers, a VTech Platinum Windows 95 multimedia desktop, with Tatung 14" monitor (I've used it in my Avatar). A custom built PC Partner system, with a Pentium 120mhz, 1MB Trio 64+, ESS1868, 8x CDROM, 1.2GB HDD and 8MB, but chose the option to upgrade to 16MB, costing an extra £99! All those PC magazines I'd bought to research what I needed had paid off, now I'd got it all setup, it was a great! ...until literally a few weeks later when the Intel ads started showing a new, better, faster MMX CPU. OMG, my £1299 PC, the most expensive computer I'd ever owned was already outdated! I remember being totally shocked, and then soon realised this was the pace of PC technology, and so the upgrades started, as did more stuff, software, scanners, printers, modems, and once commited, I kept up by building my own PCs. Eventually this upgrading stopped with the birth of my Son, and then around 2005 I realised I didn't play games on a PC anymore, and technology had evolved so much now, that most PCs had the power to do almost everything I wanted, newer ones could just do it better.
In recent years, and now older, I've become quite nostalgic for old laptops, and PCs, mainly because I miss the excitement of my first 90s multimedia PC, the often frustrating experience of using it, and appreciating the technology, which changed so quickly during that time. Back then, just owning a PC was a luxury, and it took skill just to setup the memory & sound in your DOS Star Wars game, not too mention installing all the new hardware upgrades. You learnt a lot, spent a lot, but felt like a computer expert, all very satisfying and rewarding. I miss those times, so sure I could build an old PC, but I'd done that, so started thinking about the popular high street PC's, systems which I'd totally missed out on then from the likes of Comet, Dixons, PC World, Tiny, Time, and many more. I soon realised there was one brand which was massively popular then, I'd never owned, and didn't actually know much about, Packard Bell. I then discovered a chap in the US on YouTube, who is absolutely passionate about them, leaving me to question if they were so popular, why most people now seem to think they were so bad and unreliable. What was the Packard Bell PC experience really like?
Whether you think I'm bonkers, or Packard Bell's are good or bad, I've now decided to go on a nostalgia adventure and find out for myself, and in the process, hopefully I'll recapture the fun and excitement of restoring and using an old desktop PC again.
Starting off, I wasn't looking for any particular model, I just wanted something from around the same era, Socket 7, Win 95/98, undamaged, and not too expensive. Most were too expensive, or too far away, but eventually found a Packard Bell Club 40, it ticked all my boxes, so I bought it, and my retro PC journey begins. It didn't come with any documentation or software, so firstly, I wanted to find out more about the system I'd bought. It still has it's original case sticker which highlights it's main features and software bundle, but found numerous sites such as this, UKT, Passion-PB etc, which have been invaluable in my research. So, based on all this, I have:
UK Packard Bell Club 40
GVC FR500 Socket 7 motherboard with SiS chipset (PB850) Rev E01
Integrated SiS5598 VGA (up to 4mb shared system memory, default)
Integrated Sound, ESS Audio drive 1869
Aztech PCi 56k Modem
32MB (2x16MB) Memory - 72pin EDO 60ns matched SIMMs
Cyrix MII 300 CPU (Actual 233 MHz?)
Goldstar (LG) 32x CDROM - Original
3.5" Floppy Drive - Original
Seagate 3.2GB IDE HDD - Original
OS/Software: Windows 98 + Packard Bell software bundle as per sticker (MISSING)
I'm not sure when it was released, but it would've had Win 98, not SE. It seems to be what was then a basic model in the range, and exactly the same as the UK Club 30, except this Club 40 includes a modem. The bundle included therefore also mentions additional internet related software, but otherwise the same. Specs seem to be the same as the international/US models, such as Club 300xi, Multimedia 820, and maybe others. The case is a facelift version of the older 4x4 ribbed box designs, as although the front panel is more modern & stylish, with soft curves, the rear and sides have the same ribbed trims.
Obviously, this is just the desktop PC unit, and I want a complete system, so have recently been pleased to find and add the following, hopefully era correct items so far:
Packard Bell 1015 14" CRT Monitor complete with side speakers (missing PSU)
Packard Bell 5132 PS2 Keyboard
Microsoft 2 button PS2 Mouse.
It had a standard Win98 install, rather than the PB original, so I reformatted, in preparation for hopefully finding and installing the original full software package. Unfortunately, I then discovered that to do this, Packard Bell used a PC specific Tattoo system, which was in a hidden sector on the hard drive, and contains information relating to that specific PC and it's hardware. As I understand it, this Tattoo determines what software is installed, but can only work by having the correct machine/range specific Boot Disk & Master CD combination.
Since New Year, I've been cleaning, checking, and testing everything, and it all seems to be fully working. A lot of effort, but worth it for the results, cosmetically it now looks great, just need to retrobrite some of the keys, and maybe the speakers which still have some slight yellowing, but nothing bad.
What's next? Well, disheartened by all this Tattoo/Master CD stuff, I'm hoping some of you guys can help out with the software side of things. I managed to figure out thanks to some great work by others, how to restore the tattoo information to the HDD/BIOS, but unfortunately have been unsuccessful in finding the correct Boot Disk/Master CDs to work for this system. Currently I have managed to get one to install somehow from archive.org but it's designed for newer, different hardware, and also uses EXTHS so the software versions are '99 versions, not '98, and it's missing the correct drivers, so stuck with 16 colour VGA. I could just install Win 98, and probably find the drivers, but it'd still be incomplete. I really hope I can locate the correct Master CDs / ISO for this system to install, so I can eventually have a complete, and original setup, just as it would've been, and fully appreciate and enjoy the experience of using a 90's Packard Bell PC.