Skip navigation

Some time ago we took a look at another Commodore branded PC, the Commodore Colt. Today we will be looking at its more powerful brother, the Commodore Select Edition 286 also sometimes known as the PC40-III.

As you can see from the image above my Select Edition 286 is in pretty terrible condition and is covered by a residue that seems to be from some kind of adhesive tape that was once all over this PC. On the front we can see that things are pretty basic with two small power and HDD activity LEDs as well as the Commodore badging. I have seen several variations of the case with the “Commodore Select Edition 286” badging online though, so the look of your PC may vary from this one. There are only two 5 1/2 bays both being occupied by floppy drives. The top drive is a 1.2MB 5 1/4 floppy drive while the bottom is a very mangled and non-functioning 1.44MB 3 1/2 floppy drive.

When I picked this machine up it also came with an official Commodore branded keyboard which although a bit dirty is in much better shape then the PC itself.

Like other Commodore PC compatibles of the era the keyboard port is located on the side of the PC next to the reset button. This can be annoying when opening the case as the reset button does get in the way when removing the cover so you have to take care to press the button down and then slide the case cover over it and off.

The back of the Select Edition 286 is fairly bare as well. The power button is located above the power jack. To the right of these we have a label which interestingly marks the model as a PC30-III. Starting on the far lower left we have what looks to be a serial port for a mouse though my suspicions are that like the Commodore Colt this port is actually for an Amiga style mouse. As I could not get this particular machine to get past POST I was not able to test this. Next to this we have a single RCA jack labeled “Audio”. On the Commodore Colt this port was a composite video out port. I would assume on the Select Edition 286 this port has been rewired to output the speaker sound via an RCA output but again, I was unable to test. The area next to the RCA jack has been patched closed. On earlier machines this is where the video out and switches for video mode selection would have been. Next we have a serial port followed by a parallel port. Finally we have four expansion ports, one of which is currently taken up by a video card.

Here we have the Select Edition with the top case cover removed. We can see to the right of the floppy drives a mounted hard drive and on the motherboard we can see our four expansion slots, one 8-bit and three 16-bit ISA.

The installed hard drive is a Western Digital although I never pulled it to check the model number. It’s likely a 30-40MB hard drive give or take.

Here we have the motherboard exposed with all the bays out of the way. The yellow sticker at the center of the board marks it as a PC30-III though the silk screening on the board itself, between the ISA slots, marks the board as a PC40-III.

1 ) CPU – As one would expect from a PC labeled as a “Select Edition 286” the CPU is a Siemens 286 running at 12MHz. The CPU itself in this machine looks very worn and I was barely able to make out the speed. 12MHz is a pretty healthy speed for a 286. While not as beefy as a 16 or even 20MHz 286 the 12MHz is speedy enough to allow one to play a large variety of EGA and even VGA games at acceptable speeds.

2 ) FPU socket – This would be where you would add a 287 math co-processor. In terms of gaming adding a 287 is mostly pointless as very few games that would run well on a 286 support it (Sim City), though it would be useful for running things like CAD.

3) RAM – The Select Edition 286 comes with a full 1MB of memory on-board, at least if your to trust the setup screen. Having any chips soldered directly to the board is usually a disadvantage to the user since it makes replacing failed chips more difficult. 1MB is a healthy amount for the time but to play some later games your probably going to want to add a few more MB via an ISA expansion card.

4 ) floppy / IDE connectors – Controllers for both IDE and the floppy are built into the motherboard. This is something that wasn’t even a given all the way into the 486 era so it’s a nice feature to have built in. This is extra nice since we only have four ISA slots to work with and not having to take one up with an I/O controller card is certainly a plus.

5 ) Dallas RTC – Unfortunately the Select Edition 286 uses a soldered Dallas RTC battery to save its CMOS settings. The battery is long dead preventing the PC from progressing past the POST screen. It is possible to desolder the battery and solder in a socket or solder into the battery and connect a coin battery.

6 ) Video switch – The video switch is leftover from the earlier machines which share the same motherboard. On the Select Edition 286 Commodore decided to ditch the built in video and go with a discrete EGA card in an expansion slot. I attempted to install a VGA card and was unable to get video though adjusting this switch may of solved the issue I did not attempt it.

7 ) Pizo speaker & Power connector – Commodore went with a cheaper pizo speaker as opposed to a cone speaker for this PC. The power connector like the Colt and probably other Commodore IBM compatibles uses the Amiga style power connector making things inconvenient if your original PSU should die.

The card that came with my PC was a 8-bit ATI EGA Wonder 800+. The 800+ is an interesting card as it is more or less a VGA Wonder card cut down to work as an EGA card. The card has 256K of video memory and supports various video modes including SVGA 800×600 in 16 colors. The card is also jumper free and switchless and is configurable via software.

Overall the Commodore Select Edition 286 is a completely usable 286 machine with decent speed and nice built in features. There are a few annoying things that make it a bit less useful then a more generic 286 board though, such as the lower ISA slot count as well as the Amiga style mouse port and power connector. Unfortunately I was unable to get my machine up in running for this article due to the Dallas RTC and the POST loop it locked me in which is a shame. Of course this can be fixed with a mod but I decided to use my time and resources elsewhere.

Advertisements

In the year this article is being written (2019) what company comes to mind when you think of “Personal Computer”? Dell? HP? Gateway? possibly a maker of computer components like Asus? Well in the ’80s the answer would very likely be IBM.  IBM set the standard for the early personal computer with the model 5150 and continued to be a force in the home computer market for some time. By the late ’90s though IBM had started to withdraw from the home PC market and the average home computer buyer was more likely to think of companies like the aforementioned Dell or Gateway 2000 (as they were known at the time) when shopping for a PC. Today we are going to take a look at the IBM Aptiva model 2176 from the mid 90s and see what IBM had to offer to the home market in those later days.

The Aptiva 2176 is actually a pretty nice looking tower and for the day stood out with a unique looking design. At the top we have a large square power button with two LEDs for power and HDD activity located to the left. Lower down we have the classic IBM badge and of course that large sturdy handle on top that pretty much every tower of the day lacked giving the case its own look.

Pressing the large blue button on the upper left releases the upper cover which slowly and oddly satisfyingly slides down to reveal the drive bays.

There is room for two 5 1/4 drives as well as two of the 3 1/2 inch variety. I still have the original configuration of one 1.44MB floppy drive and the original 8x speed CD drive.

Turning the PC around and taking a look at the back.

On the back we have a curious indent near the top of the case and it took me a little while to realize that this was actually a grip for your other hand when using the handle at the front of the case to transport the Aptiva.

Under the power supply we have an odd jack with a sticker next to it showing a speaker and 12V. This is actually a pretty handy jack for powering certain external speakers, thus freeing up a socket on your wall or power strip. I’m surprised I’ve never seen this handy addition on any other PC case.

Below this we have a hefty eight expansion slots with various connectors lined up to the left of these. First of these connectors are two standard PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse. This followed by a serial port and a single USB 1.0 port. The Aptiva 2176 is one of the earliest OEM machines I know of to feature a USB port. Lastly we have a standard printer port and a VGA port for the built-in video.

The case can be opened by unscrewing two screws at the top of the case near the handle to the front and then pulling back on the cover.

My Aptiva appears to of been mostly left stock upon taking a look inside. The first thing you notice is the odd riser board obscuring a majority of the motherboard which IBM used for this Aptiva. We will take a look at this after a quick look at the hard drive.

My machine came with the original 3.2GB hard drive installed. The hard drive on this model is installed in a small 3 1/2 inch bay directly above the power supply, thus leaving the frontal drive bays free. The built-in EIDE controller supports up to mode 4.

Let’s go back now and take a closer look at the riser board.

The riser board has one AUX style power connector connected to it and is pretty unique in its design having two PCI slots between two separate sets of 16-bit ISA slots, two ISA above and four below for a total of six ISA.

I find the choice of only including two PCI slots on a socket 7 Pentium class motherboard intended for a Windows OS especially odd. At the point the Aptiva was released PCI was certainly seen as the primary expansion style slot of the future and limiting the board to only two slots seems a tad short-sighted, especially when we consider that even 486 class motherboards that had PCI had at least three of the slots. The lack of PCI isn’t much of an issue if you intend to use the Aptiva as a DOS machine but could be limiting if you wanted a more capable Win9x PC. Thankfully having integrated graphics does alleviate the issue a small amount.

Here we have the motherboard with the riser board removed.

1) CPU – The motherboard is a socket 7 board and from what I could tell the model 2176 came with either a 166MHz or a 200MHz non-MMX Pentium CPU. My Aptiva came with the 166MHz Pentium non-MMX installed along with a fanless heatsink (though a case fan was nearby).

Officially the model 2176 only supports up to a 200MHz non-MMX but I’ve read from other sources that some individuals have had success with installing a 233MHz MMX CPU as well as later 333MHz K6-II CPU’s though you may encounter issues with the BIOS not reporting the correct CPU on POST. Installing a later K6 CPU may also require a voltage regulator that can support lower voltages. The regulator can be seen in the image below located above the CPU socket. I haven’t experimented with later CPU’s myself so I take no responsibility if you try later CPU’s though I would guess getting a 233MHz Pentium running by setting the multiplier to 1.5x to get 3.5x 66 = 233 along with a decent heatsink/fan wouldn’t be much trouble.

2) RAM – The model 2176 can accept a maximum of 128MB of memory via either a single 168-pin socket or four 72-pin sockets. I currently have 64MB of memory installed via a pair of 32MB 72-pin SIMMs.

3) L2 cache COAsT slot – The 2176 motherboard uses a COAst module or Cache On A SticK for L2 cache. The board can accept either 256KB or 512KB modules though mine has the seemingly more common 256KB module installed.

4) Video – The on-board video chip for the Aptiva 2176 is the ATI 3D Rage  chip with 2MB of memory. The 3D rage was more or less ATi’s Mach64 2D core with some 3D capabilities and MPEG-1 acceleration tacked on. As a 2D chip it does a decent job with Windows acceleration and has decent DOS compatibility. As a 3D accelerator through the first Rage is pretty lacking which is understandable seeing as this is a pretty early 3D chip. I tested a few games on this machine and found Tomb Raider playable but the sequel was missing textures. I wouldn’t expect great compatibility with 3D games past the 1997 or so mark even if you max the RAM in this system and beef up the CPU. I’d definitely recommend using one of those PCI slots for a video card upgrade.

Before moving on though I will say I found the Aptiva 2176 a bit picky when it came to video card upgrades. Some of the more “quirky” accelerator cards such as the Rendition Verite that may require some BIOS tweaking simply would not work with my Aptiva despite upgrading to the latest BIOS. A Matrox Millenium card however installed without issue.

5) Riser card connector – This is the slot for connecting the riser card. The slot uses edge connector pieces to make the connection. These edge connectors are not secured to either the slot on the motherboard or the riser card so if you do remove the riser card you may get a piece or two that stays stuck to either the card or the board. as you see below.

6) VRM – This is the voltage regulator module. I mostly see these on socket 5 and Pentium Pro and early socket 7 boards and are used to control the voltage to the CPU. If you want to use a CPU that requires a lower voltage make sure your installed VRM is capable of supplying that lower voltage.

7) This is the voltage regulator for the external 12v speaker jack

8) AT power connector

9) piezo speaker

Even though sound was not built into the motherboard IBM supplied every Aptiva 2176 with the infamous Mwave sound/modem combo card also known as the “Dolphin”.

The card is a 16-bit ISA combination sound card/modem. The card features IBM’s Mwave digital signal processor and a chip from Crystal. The Mwave is sound blaster compatible and has midi capabilities. The modem part of the card is quite interesting since it is a 28.8k modem software upgradable to 33.6k. Unfortunately the card had many issues and was infamously buggy, especially when using both the sound and modem functions. This was so bad a class action lawsuit was filed against IBM and the card was quickly dropped on later models.

I wanted to experience the sound capabilities of the Mwave myself so I installed the sound card drivers and left the modem drivers uninstalled. Doing this I had a pretty stable experience with the card overall.

There is a later plug and play version of the Mwave called the Stingray but for my non-plug and play Dolphin version Windows did not detect the card on install. The 2176 originally came with Windows 95 though I had upgraded my Aptivas OS to Windows 98SE and the drivers for the Mwave needed to be manually installed off of the Windows 98 installation.

Control Panel > Add New Hardware > No, I want to select hardware from a list > scroll down to “Other Devices” > in Manufactures select IBM and in Models select “IBM Dolphin Mwave DSP adaptor”

Doing this will give you basic sound functionality in Windows. Sound in DOS may take some extra steps to set up but this will give basic Windows sound support. The midi capabilities at this point are pretty bad and require an extra step.

For full midi support you’re going to need to find and download the Mwave midi samples on the internet and install them to C:\Mwave\Samples\Midimed

You can simply drag and drop the files to the specified folder and I found the midi capabilities of the card to be quite adequate after installing the samples.

The IBM Aptiva model 2176 isn’t a bad computer overall once you deal with its quirks. These things were quite expensive in their time and I wouldn’t have found them a great value when new but as a retro PC you can do a lot worse. The case is actually quite nice and stands out a bit from the other beige towers with its handle and sliding drive panel. There are some odd choices such as the riser board and the severe lack of PCI slots. The lack of PCI slots can hamper any thoughts of adding a new video card and a pair of Voodoo 2’s in SLI along with a USB 2.0 card and an ATA-133 controller (all at once) but I’d strongly suggest at least ditching the Mwave for another PCI or ISA sound card (depending if your leaning more DOS or Windows gaming) and bypassing the 3D Rage chip for a more capable PCI video card.

 

There is surprisingly little information floating on the net about the Kaypro PC as it’s generically called. This can be pretty surprising since if you’re into retro computers Kaypro was a pretty major player in the 80’s and is best known for their line of luggable CP/M machines like the Kaypro 10 which I glanced over in an earlier article. As the 80’s moved on CP/M was becoming less and less relevant as the world was being conquered by the might of the MS-DOS IBM compatibles. Kaypro, late in the game, finally decided to release a DOS IBM clone of their own around 1985 and thus we received the Kaypro PC or as my PC is badged, the Kaypro EXP.

The dual floppy drives on the right are dual 5 1/4 inch 360k drives.

On the left side of the case is the case badge along with a recessed section with a power and HDD activity LED.

The Kaypro PC, like many early PC’s, has a large power switch on the side and at the rear of the case.

The power supply itself is a 135w PSU from Phihong Enterprises, whom I’ve never heard of before but that should be enough juice to safely add a hard drive without issue.

Now let’s take a look on the back of the Kaypro EXP.

The Kaypro PC sports a power plug for a monitor to save some space on your wall outlet or power strip. There are eight slots for expansion cards as well as a PC keyboard connector. This is a PC keyboard connector and not AT so make sure if you don’t have the official keyboard that your keyboard is PC compatible or has the ability to switch between PC/AT compatibility.

Looking carefully you may notice the card all the way to the right is a little unusual. Originally I thought the card on the far right may have been an accelerator card but for the Kaypro PC, this isn’t the case. We will take a much closer look at this card when we get inside the case.

With the case open we can see various cards as well as the bays for the two floppy drives and an adjacent bay for a hard drive. My Kaypro EXP did not come with a hard drive installed but other models did have a 20MB and then 40MB option.

Attached to the side of the case is a real PC speaker as opposed to a piezo type speaker.

Now let’s remove the various expansion cards and take a better look at the motherboard itself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Unlike the overwhelming majority of IBM compatibles of the time the bulk of the major PC components on the Kaypro PC come on a single interface card as opposed to the motherboard itself. This card contains the CPU as well as the chipset. The idea was that this layout was more convenient to the end user and when it came time to upgrade rather than buying a whole new motherboard and case and then transferring all previous cards you had over you could simply replace one card in the case and be done with it. It seems like a pretty good idea at first but the concept didn’t really catch on as PC technology moved faster then Kaypro probably anticipated which required changes more significant than a simple card swap. You can see this thinking in the image above as the “motherboard” has two 16 bit ISA slots even though as we will see the CPU on the main card is only 8-bit. Kaypro did make a 16-bit 286 CPU card as well as a 386 card.

It looks like the board has provisions to easily add more 16-bit slots in future productions. My guess is that the 286 Kaypro PCs likely came stock with a “motherboard” that contained more 16-bit slots.

Other then the ISA slots the board is extremely sparse and only has a few capacitors as well as the unidentified gray block you can see at the top in the image above. There is also a standard AT PSU connector and two other four pin auxiliary power connectors. I have no idea what these extra power connectors are for but maybe they were a way to add more power if needed on future revisions of the board.

My Kaypro EXP did not come with a hard drive or for that matter a hard drive controller card but it did come with a separate floppy drive controller card for the dual 5 1/4 inch 360kb drives.

My EXP also came with a rather large serial and parallel port controller card as seen below.

The video card in my Kaypro EXP was an ATI EGA Wonder 800 with 256kb of DRAM. The EGA Wonder 800 card also supports extended EGA text and graphics modes as well as 16 color VGA modes. For convenience I replaced my EGA Wonder card with an 8-bit VGA card.

None of the RAM for the Kaypro PC is installed on the main board but comes on its own RAM card.

Unfortunately, my Kaypro PC only came with 256kb of memory through the card itself can be expanded to a total of 768kb. Most 8088 based PC’s of the time were limited to 640kb of RAM within the first megabyte but the Kaypro PC could address an additional 128kb. I’m unsure if this extra memory could be fully utilized the same as the other 640kb or if it was only able to be used as a RAM drive.

Finally, we have the full length “CPU card” which hosts the CPU itself as well as the other vital chips for operation.

near the front of the card is the CPU as well as a socket to add a math co processor. My card came with an NEC V20 chip installed. The V20 was a common upgrade for 8088 based PC’s of the day and was a faster pin-compatible replacement for the 8088. I am unsure if the NEC V20 is factory stock or if someone replaced the original 8088 CPU though I’m inclined to believe the V20 came stock as most sources I’ve read claim the 8088 Kaypro PC was faster then most competitors of the time.

Rear of card

 

Front of card

 

Back of card

On the external plate the card has a small red button as well as a switch. The button is used to quickly reset the system while the switch sets the CPU speed and acts as a turbo switch. I couldn’t run any diagnostic programs to determine CPU speed due to the lack of RAM in my machine but after playing a few speed sensitive games on it I believe the speeds are likely 4.77Mhz and 7.16Mhz.

The Kaypro PC was late to the IBM compatibles market but when it did arrive it had a very interesting concept. It’s worth noting Kaypro wasn’t the only company to experiment with the “computer on a card” idea at this time but it is one of the most notable examples. When you think about it it’s an interesting idea and would allow a really easy and in theory cheaper upgrade path but computer technology was just moving too fast and motherboards just evolved to quickly for the concept in those days.

Today I’m going to be looking at a pretty rare classic PC in North America and that is the FM Towns II SE20. The FM Towns series of PC’s sold in Japan starting in 1989 and spanning until 1997. Initially the FM Towns series computers used mostly proprietary hardware though later machines like mine eased up on that somewhat and offered more standard hardware. The FM Towns PC’s were one of the earlier PC’s to really focus on the CD format and build a machine around the CD-ROM drive which as we will see in the article is both awsome and horrible for retro PC gamers. Like the Amiga or Atari ST, there are a number of exclusive FM Towns games and unique ports for the PC to take advantage of the proprietary hardware.

The machine we will be looking at in this article is a 90’s FM Towns II SE20. There is virtually no good and specific information on this model in the west so please keep in mind this article will be less specific and more of an overview from my limited experience with this machine. Also, keep in mind I acquired this PC in the USA in a trade and I was unable to get it fully functional thus limiting what I can present here even more. I’ve attempted to take more pictures than usual to help document this PC in the west so expect a more image heavy article then my usual offerings. Also, keep in mind individual images as always, can be clicked on to get a larger image. One final note, The information I could obtain on this machine is kind of sketchy and even having the actual PC in my position has not always provided answers for specifications. That said I will continuously update this article as I get more detailed information and specifics.

The FM Towns most people in the west are familiar with are the consolized FM Towns Marty and the dark grey FM Towns model 2F that features a frontal vertical loading CD drive on the lower front of the tower. The SE20 as we can see above is a desktop form factor PC and mine is quite yellowed. From what I could gleam from the stickers on the back of the case this model was released in 1994.

The left side of the front features a reset button as well as a door that opens downward to reveal an IC card slot. A quick google search reveals IC cards are cards used in Japan as mainly prepaid cards for using transportation but on the FM towns I think this slot accepts cards that operate more like either SRAM backed memory cards and operates as a Type I PCMCIA slot. It is possible that printer or modem cards are also compatible with this slot. I found some good information on explaining the slot and its possible use with memory cards HERE.

Above this is the CD-ROM drive. In my model is a single speed Matsushita EBP504 with interfaces via a proprietary connection. The Towns was heavily built around the CD drive and one of the first home computers to widely adopt the CD drive. Many games boot directly from the CD drive since there is a “hidden” C: ROM drive on the motherboard containing a minimal version of DOS with CD drivers.

On the right front side of the case we have several device inputs as well as a number of LEDs. On the bottom left below the CD drive open/close button is the keyboard port. this is NOT PS/2 so if you are acquiring an FM Towns try to get one with a keyboard and mouse included. To the right of the keyboard port are two 1/8 audio jacks. One for a microphone and next to that one intended for headphones with a volume adjust above. To the right of these audio jacks are two mouse/gamepad jacks. These are very convenient since the FM Towns had a reputation as a gaming PC. Above these ports are a series of activity LEDs and a small rectangular power button.

Finally we have two floppy drives labeled as drive 0 and drive 1. The cover door on my upper drive is bent a little inward but otherwise functions normally. These are both standard 3 1/2 inch Teac FD-235HG 1.44MB floppy drives.

Since we recently mentioned the keyboard.

Mine came with the keyboard above. It is not from the same model, which is immediately apparent from the color difference and is also missing a keycap but is fully functional with my Towns. several special function keys are Japanese labeled so google translate on a phone is your friend.

Now for the back of the case. There are three rather rusted on my case, slots for additional expansion cards though as we will see when we look inside they are not standard connectors.

below these and starting on the far left, we first have the video jack.

Video – Wikipedia states “video modes ranging from 320×200 to 720×512 resolutions, with 16 to 32,768 simultaneous colors out of a possible 4096 to 16 million (depending on the video mode) with the ability to overlay different video modes” and is likely sporting 512KB of VRAM with an additional 128KB of sprite RAM. I’m unsure if the video chip and capabilities changed between models over the years but the above specs are what Wikipedia writes in a sort of blanket statement. The video jack on the SE20 is a DB-15 jack labeled as “Analog RGB”. I’ve read a few different things concerning the video output on the FM Towns. Some sources claimed that the Towns outputs 15KHz RGB when booting up and displaying the POST screen while games displayed either at 24KHz or 31KHz depending.

Since I didn’t have the right adaptor available I found someone on eBay that hand made FM Towns DB-15 to standard VGA adaptors.

To my pleasant surprise the adaptor worked perfectly fine with my Sony Trinitron CRT. Keep in mind I never did get a game to run on this Towns but it did display the startup POST and run DOS 6.2 just fine with this adaptor. I did read some sources on various forums that claimed the adaptor did not work with LCD screens or would eventually damage LCD monitors but I could not confirm this.

Next to the video port we have a printer port followed by an RS-232C serial port. To the right of the serial we have a SCSI-1 port for connecting external SCSI devices like CD or hard drives. Lastly we have two pairs of RCA audio stereo jacks. One pair is output and the other input.

Above these is the power supply as well as some stickers giving model number mfg date and other information.

The plug is a standard 2-prong and is hard wired to the proprietary form factor power supply. All this together makes for a bad situation should the power supply die on you.

Removing the top cover of the case on the SE20 is not difficult at all but getting to the motherboard itself is a challenge.

Removing the case cover reveals that almost the entirety of the motherboard is covered by a metal shielding as well as the power supply and the drives. One of the few areas of the motherboard that is accessible is the dual 72 pin RAM slots for expanding the memory. specific details about memory for this model is basically nonexistent so my SE20 either has 1-2MB of RAM soldered directly onto the motherboard expandable to 10MB OR 6MB expandable to 64MB according to online sources. The 1994 manufacturing date on this model would suggest it’s probably a 6MB machine.

Below is the faceplate of the Towns SE20 which also holds the built-in speaker.

The floppy drives are connected to the motherboard via two separate floppy connectors located on the motherboard. Interestingly there are also two power connectors next to the floppy connectors. These power connectors act just like floppy Molex connectors but rather then coming off the PSU they connect via a small cable from the board to the floppy drive.

Behind the floppy drives lies the metal cage that supports any added expansion cards as well as the expansion card daughterboard.

With the Floppy drives removed we can also see a slot for installing a CPU accelerator but we’ll talk about that shortly. First let’s take a look at the daughterboard located behind the floppy drives.

Here is the opposite side of the daughterboard. There are three proprietary looking connectors of types unknown to me. The bottom most looks like an Apple NuBus connector but I can’t confirm anything. Information on the FM Towns computers in the west is fairly scant when it comes to the fine details and the best I could find pertaining to these expansion slots was just a reference to the machine having three “bus slots”.

Now we move onto the what is both one of the FM Towns greatest strengths and definitely its greatest weakness, the CD-ROM drive.

The FM Towns line of computers was way ahead of other computers when it came to adopting the CD drive and had many exclusive CD enhanced versions of games when other PC systems were still using only Floppy drives. The operation of the FM Towns is more or less built around the CD drive, which leads us to the problem.

The drive itself is a Matsushita EBP504  x1 or x2 drive (information is sketchy). The CD drive interface and laser pick up are proprietary. This is understandable seeing as this was a very early attempt to add CD drives as standard to computes. The problem is two-fold. Firstly is that there was no third party alternatives or replacement drives made for the Towns proprietary interface which means if your CD drive dies and you can’t repair it then your pretty much out of luck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The second big issue is that the majority of games expect to be run from this primary CD drive. You can add a hard drive or even an external SCSI CD drive as seen below via the rear SCSI connector but many games will still fail to load when attempting to boot via these alternative methods.

In short, if your primary CD drive dies in your FM Towns you have a severely compromised system which few options to fix the situation.

The CD drive connects via a daughterboard located in front of the power supply.

The lower connector is for the CD drive and although it looks like IDE it is NOT. As stated before the connection is a proprietary interface that as far as my research has found no one has made an adaptor to allow more common drives to work with nor were any other CD drives manufactured that used this interface. The CD drive is powered through this proprietary interface. The upper connector is a 50 pin SCSI connector intended for a hard drive although hard drives were not standard for the Towns as most programs were still meant to run from the CD drive. The interesting thing is that even though there is a spot to add a SCSI hard drive there is no molex connector coming off the power supply to power one.

The power supply is located behind the HDD/CD interface daughtercard and uses a connector with the motherboard I’ve never seen before. The form factor also seems to be proprietary.

With the various drives, bays and the power supply removed we get to the metal shield directly above the motherboard.

Removing the metal shield is a pretty straight forward process and just requires the removal of a few screws.

1) CPU – The CPU for the FM Towns SE20 is an Intel 486SX at 25MHz. This is a step up from earlier Towns computers that generally had 386 processors installed. The CPU is directly soldered to the motherboard but upgrading is possible via a CPU upgrade slot located next to the processor.

2) RAM – We already talked about memory but to go over it again. The Towns SE20 has two 72 pin slots for expanding the memory. My SE20 either has 1-2MB of RAM soldered directly onto the motherboard expandable to 10MB OR 6MB expandable to 64MB. The 1994 manufacturing date on this models would suggest it’s probably a 6MB machine though I only spot four memory chips suggesting it could be 2MB (512KB each, or 4MB (1MB each). Googling NEC 424800-70l seemed to indicate these are 512kx8 chips.

loading up MS-DOS 6.2 JPN version and running the mem command gives these details.

fmtextra1

After this I tried a variety of RAM modules and finally installed this 16MB module which on boot up created a RAM counter in the lower left hand corner of the screen which counted up to 18MB which would seem to confirm (16MB added + 2MB on-board).

fmymem2

I attempted to add a matching 16MB stick and recived an error on boot. counting up to 18MB would suggest online sources were wrong about 2MB motherboards being limited to 10MB maximum RAM.

3) CMOS battery – The battery thankfully is not the barrel type so it is not prone to leaking though it is not a standard CR2032 lithium coin battery and is a little bigger.

4) Power connector – The power supply connects to the motherboard by what I believe is another proprietary connection. You can see it in the image above for the RAM and the connection is obviously not AT or ATX. This can be an issue if you’re trying to replace the PSU.

5) Floppy connectors – As we saw earlier both of the floppy drives are connected via two separate floppy connectors on the motherboard itself along with two separate power jacks that will require two power cables.

6) CPU upgrade interface – This slot is for adding a “CPU upgrade card” which in effect disables the soldered on 25MHz 486SX and takes over control. The most popular card I’ve seen on sites like eBay replaces the on-board CPU with a 66MHz 486DX though other cards may exist.

Below is an image of my 66MHz 486DX2 upgrade card.

The CPU is unfortunately soldered directly to the upgrade card though in theory you could simply desolder the current CPU and solder in a new one. One would have to be mindful of the voltage difference if you wanted to attempt a DX4 upgrade though since the DX2 operates at 5v while the DX4 is 3.3v so perhaps a 486 Overdrive chip with a voltage regulator would make a good upgrade candidate.

7) expansion card daughterboard interface – This is where the daughterboard that any expansion cards fit into interfaces with the motherboard.

8) CD and HDD interface – This is where the daughterboard for the CD drive and Hard drive interface with the motherboard.

A few final notes.

Games for the FMTowns are in general very expensive and almost all of them come exclusively on CDs. The primary CD drive should be able to read CD-R’s but as mine does not work at all I cannot confirm. Many games released for other PC’s but ported to the Towns line of computers are considered to be definitive versions usually since they were specifically enhanced for the Towns and the CD format. This along with a number of Towns exclusives make the Towns a desirable retro gaming PC. As I said most FM Towns games easily go for over $100 US dollar on sites like eBay though every once in awhile you may find a less desirable or incomplete game for cheaper. The sole FM Towns game I own is the port of Sim City seen below. Also keep in mind most Towns games require at least 2MBs of memory to be installed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Towns use its own OS called Towns OS and the upgraded Towns OS 2.1. Since a hard drive is not necessary for the FM Towns PC’s the OS is loaded via the CD drive. Windows 3,3.1 and 95 as well as DOS can be run on the FM Towns and Towns II. In order to boot from the CD drive there is a hidden C: drive contained in ROM with CD drivers. I was able to boot from the A: drive via a floppy before the machine eventually failed on me and I could not get the floppy drives to seek again.

The image above is a screen of a special version of DOS with SCSI drivers loaded in order to attempt to boot from the external SCSI drive though my efforts proved useless.

Audio – Besides being able to read and play Redbook CD audio @ 44.1KHz the towns is also capable of 6-channel stereo FM synthesis via a Yamaha chip as well as PCM sound via a sound chip from Ricoh. below is an image I took of the Yamaha chips as well as a chip from Ricoh that I believe is the PCM chip. The Ricoh chip is labeled RF5C190A while the Yamaha chips are labeled YMF276-M and YM3433B-F

Below are a number of photos I took of the motherboard. I can’t claim to understand what all these chips do but I assume these photos may prove helpful to those better versed on the technical side of things.

The FM Towns II SE20, as well as the rest of the FM Towns line of computers and including the consolized “Marty” to a lesser extent, are exotic and awesome retro computers. Unfortunately owning and collecting for one is a very frustrating and expensive pursuit. The computers themselves use so many proprietary components that if any one part fails it becomes extremely difficult to repair and/or replace. This is especially true for the CD drive which the entire computer is basically based around. Add in the further difficulties of having almost all the available information on the PC line is in Japanese and hardware and games are very expensive and you’re looking at a significant investment of money and time to maintain an FM Towns setup.

About two months ago I wrote an article on the Sun Ultra 10, a workstation from the late 1990s. This time we’re going to take a look at the first machine in the Sun Ultra line, the Sun Ultra 1 which launched in 1995.

Before we get into the article though I wanted to point out that I could not get this particular example to display and thus could not acquire some of the finer details or system specs. Also, as I’ve stated prior, I have very little experience with workstation type PC’s and thus will not be able to go into as much detail or specifics on various components. Please consider this article more of a simple overview and look into the internals of a Sun Ultra 1 case.

The Sun Ultra 1 uses a fairly compact desktop style case. Looking at the front you may be a little confused as to why there are no drives or maybe presume they are located under the holed grate which perhaps acts as a cover. Next to the Ultra 1 logo there is a green LED power light.

Turning the case to the side reveals that the drive bays are actually on the side of the computer. There is a floppy disk slot carved into the case of the computer intended for a standard 1.44MB floppy drive and a standard 5 1/4 drive bay on top generally occupied by a CD-ROM drive or a tape drive.

The keyboard for this PC is very similar to the one I have for the Sun Ultra 10 with a few differences, namely there is no individual LED lights on the top. Like the many Apple keyboards the Sun keyboard also has a connector on it for attaching a mouse. This keyboard is a little beat up with a cap missing but it feels like a fairly solid and heavy keyboard.

Here is the rear of the Ultra 1. Starting on the left we have two standard 3-pin power connectors, female and male, as well as a power switch that can be used to turn the Ulta 1 on and off. Moving to the right and ignoring the connector on top for now, the first port we come across is a parallel port and next to it is the keyboard/mouse port. The port above these built-in connectors is an expansion slot currently occupied by the video card.

To the right of the Keyboard/Mouse port is the AUI port or (Attachment Unit Interface), which according to the internet is apparently an interface between the network interface card and the ethernet cable. To the right of the AUI is the TPE (Twisted Pair Ethernet) Ethernet port. Above these ports are two serial ports labeled A and B.

Lastly to the right of the AUI and TPE ports is an external SCSI connector and four audio jacks. The four jacks from left to right are Headphones, Line Out, Line In and Microphone. Above these are two more slots for optional expansion cards.

Opening the case is a pretty easy process through the screws are interesting and have little springs on them. I’ve seen this before but not often on simple case screws.

Here is the Ultra 1 with the top of the case removed.

The upper right hand of the case has room for two hard drives. This example has two Seagate ST32155WC SCSI hard drives. These are server grade 2.1GB drives.

Now to look at the board itself and see if we can identify some parts.

1 ) CPU – The CPU area is covered by a plastic shield which I suppose acts as a sort of dust shield. Under the plastic is the CPU itself which is configured in a pretty common configuration for the time with a small black heatsink and small fan screwed on top. The CPU is a 64-bit Sun UltraSPARC processor, though since I haven’t removed the heatsink, boot to an OS or find a model tag I have no idea of the speed. Ultra 1’s came stock with CPU speeds of 143MHz, 167MHz and 200MHz, I suspect this example is the 143MHz model since the service ID tag has “140” within the ID which I’m guessing corresponds to the 143MHz model number.

The four screws that hold on the plastic shroud also hold the CPU fan to the heatsink. Also under the shroud are a number of tall back chip heatsinks that seem to be working to cool a number of chips located around the CPU. I’m guessing these chips are the 512KB of L2 cache for the CPU but I am unsure. On my Ultra 1, three of these heatsinks were extremely loose, one falling completely off the chip, and required some new thermal adhesive.

2 ) RAM – The Ultra 1 can accept up to a whopping 1GB of 60ns ECC RAM via eight slots. From my understanding the RAM is somewhat non-standard and is about the tallest I’ve ever seen RAM be. The RAM must be installed in pairs and the memory slots do use a special lever on the sides to secure and release the individual RAM modules.

3 ) The Ultra 1 has three SBus slots. These are Suns high-speed bus slots for connecting things like the video card. This model has three SBus connectors but some “E” models only had two SBus slots with an additional UPA slot (Ultra Port Architecture) for high bandwidth video cards.

The Ultra 1 unlike the later Ultra 10 does not have built-in video capabilities. The most common video card that seems to of come installed with the Ultra 1 is this card below from LSI. This card, like most Sun workstation video cards, uses a DB13W3 video connector so you will need a Sun DB13W3 to standard VGA connector adaptor. Make sure the adaptor is wired for Sun computers since Silicon Graphics workstations use the same style connector but are wired different.

This video card interfaces via one of the three SBus connectors on the motherboard.

I do not know the specifics of this card but it is a little odd as I’ve never seen a video card with LSI chips before this one. Also on the card are the names of various individuals, presumably the designers, but two of these names are crossed out. Was there some kind of falling out on the design team?

4 ) The board itself is covered in various proprietary chips that I couldn’t begin to tell you what they do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5 ) SCSI cable & connector.

6 ) Battery – Much like the Dallas RTC the battery on the Ultra 1 is enclosed in a hard plastic shell. Thankfully the battery is socketed and can be removed and replaced or even modified like a Dallas RTC to use a Lithium coin battery.

7 ) Sound – Sound on the Ultra 1 is provided by a Crystal CS4231A-KQ chip.

And that’s about the extent of my journey with the Sun Ultra 1. I could not get the machine to display on any monitor. I’m unsure if my issue was my DB13W3 to standard VGA adaptor for the video output or a more serious issue with the video card or board itself. Doing a bootup diagnostic test via holding the STOP key and the D key I did not get any kind of error codes so I’m at a loss. The Ultra 1 was said to be one of the workstations used to produce the hit movie Toy Story so it is quite a capable 90s workstation and graphic design PC but for gaming, obviously, look elsewhere.

Way back in Jan of 2016 I wrote an article on the slot loading iMac G3. This time we’re going to take a look at the original Bondi blue “tray loading” iMac G3 and see how this iconic computer that is often times referred to as “the Mac that saved Apple” compares to its later “slot loading” revision. In this article we will be looking at a more or less bone stock very first revision or revision A model originally released in August of 1998.

As I stated in my original post on the slot loading variant of the iMac I was not the greatest fan of the Mac and was firmly in the Wintel PC camp during that time. My disdain for the iMac though was at the height of my displeasure with all things Apple and I honestly did not know why anyone would want one of those computers. Time and experience though has softened my stance and I now can appreciate these computers for what they are and the use they were intended for. The all in one iMac G3 was not a new idea but it was an idea that Apple as a company had moved away from during the latter half of the ’90s to make more generic “PC” type machines and hence lost a lot of what made Apple unique and stand out in the market. The iMac G3 was an all-in-one machine and was extremely simple to set up and played with Apple’s strength of focusing on industrial design with a colorful and inviting Bondi blue colored shell as opposed to the standardized beige of almost all other PC cases. The iMac was intended to be extremely user-friendly and be simple to set up like a microwave or a toaster. This computer was aimed at the average user just wanting to “surf the net” or write school assignments rather than power users or gamers (even though the iMac certainly could be gamed on).

The original model seen here only came in Bondi blue as opposed to later models that were offered in a variety of colored shells. A handle was provided at the top to help move the Mac around but to be honest it always feels a little awkward to use and I always feel like it’s going to snap off despite the handle being very sturdy.

The bulk of the iMac is taken up by the built-in 15-inch shadow mask CRT monitor capable of resolutions up to 1024 x 768. The iMac G3’s kept this same spec monitor throughout all models though later slot loading iMac’s supplied an external VGA port to connect to an external monitor. These early tray loaders did not which makes it quite unfortunate if your monitor dies. The rear of the Mac hides only a small handle, which is used when removing the motherboard, and a standard 3-prong power connector.

They also came with a matching Bondi blue iMac keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is a simple Apple USB keyboard and is not so dissimilar from others besides the color but the mouse, a USB ball type mouse, is the infamous “puck mouse” so called because of its hockey puck like shape.

Unfortunately the rumors of the poor ergonomics of the of the puck mouse are completely true and the mouse can be very awkward and uncomfortable to use over any extended period of time. This isn’t a major problem since the mouse can be swapped out with any Apple USB mouse including later Apple Pro mice which use a standard shape and sports a laser as opposed to the older ball for tracking. The puck mouse also uses the traditional one-button Apple style mouse so no scroll wheel. The mouse has held up well though I’m not sure if this is from rugged construction or lack of use.

The iMac was famously the first Mac to drop the floppy drive although one was easily added via a USB port. In its place a 24x CD-ROM drive was standard and is located below the monitor. The early runs of the iMac used a tray loading CD drive, hence the “tray loader” title where as the later models used a self-loading slot mechanism. Next to the CD drive we have a power button that emits a soft green light when on and on the right and left sides we have two built-in stereo speakers. These speakers do have a habit of rotting a bit but it is a repairable issue and fortunately this particular iMac does not suffer from the foam around the speakers deteriorating.

The speaker on the left has a wireless 4Mbits/s IrDA inferred sensor which was removed starting with the revision C tray loaders. The right speaker has dual 1/8 stereo jacks for hooking up headphones that two users can use at once which is quite nice. Underneath the Mac is a fold-out stand of the same Bondi blue as the case.

On the left side of the iMac we have a small compartment housing some various ports. The is a plastic cover which can either be removed entirely or replaced after your various peripherals are plugged in and the wires snaked out through the several openings provided.

Once the plastic cover is removed we are greeted by a variety of ports.

On the left we have two more audio jacks, one for a microphone and a second for optional external speakers, handy if the built-in speakers fail or are not powerful enough for your liking. Next to that is a scant two USB 1.1 ports. The iMac is also known for going all in on USB and ditching the traditional Apple ADB ports in favor of USB though I wish more USB ports were made available. The mouse is generally expected to plug into the USB port on the keyboard (this why the cord is generally so short) and this does help free things up. A USB hub can also be used without issue in case you have multiple USB devices you want to use. Next we have a 10/100 Ethernet jack and lastly a 56k Modem jack.

Under these ports we have a mysterious little covered cutout held in by two screws. Behind this cover is what is commonly called a “mezzanine slot”. This is a sort of expansion slot that originally was only supposed to be for Apple’s internal use but you can use it for other things and third parties did make expansion devices that took advantage of the presence of this slot though from my research they seem to be extremely rare. I even know of at least one third party adaptor that uses the slot to add a 3DFX Voodoo II upgrade and according to Wikipedia SCSI and TV tuner cards were also available though I’ve never seen any of these cards in person. This port was removed along with the previously mentioned inferred sensor with the tray loading revision C model.

Opening the iMac is much easier then it is on later revisions and there is no “mesh” layer present that requires removal. You just need to remove a few screws on the underside and then use the handle to pull off the plastic case section. Once the outer case is removed as well as a few more screws and cables the motherboard assembly will slide out though be careful as with most older Macintosh computers the plastic casing can be delicate and things tend to snap off.

Here is the underside of the case with the motherboard assembly removed. The early tray loaders sport a fan for cooling as seen here while the later slot loaders used a fanless convection process to cool internals.

Here we have the tray that holds the motherboard and most of the iMac’s components completely removed from the case. The hard drive is located under the CD-ROM drive as seen in the image below. Mine came with the original 4GB 5400 RPM drive.

imactlx1

Originally the iMac came preloaded with Mac OS 8.1 or 8.5 with the ability to officially upgrade to OS X 10.3.9 though mine has been upgraded to OS 9.2.2.

1 ) CPU/RAM – The CPU and RAM on the tray loaders were both located on daughterboards that connected directly to the main motherboard. The metal cage enclosing the daughterboard easily wiggles off with some light force. Revision A as seen in this article and revision B iMacs only shipped with a 233MHz PowerPC 750 G3 processor w/ 512kb of L2 cache but later revision C and D tray loader iMacs had 266MHz and 333MHz CPUs installed.

tlmac12

imactlx3

imactlx4

CPU module top

imactlx5

CPU module bottom

Standard RAM amount was 32MB of PC100 SDRAM in a smaller laptop style form factor. The revision A iMac was expandable officially to 128MB and unofficially to 384MB. Revision B, C and D were officially expandable to 256MB and unofficially to 512MB. My machine came with the oddly numbered 288MB of RAM installed. It seems the previous owner did make the sole upgrade of adding a 256MB stick of memory in addition to the 32MB of RAM already installed.

I had no problem up upgrading my RAM to a full 512MB by installing two 256MB RAM modules despite being a Rev. A motherboard and sources online indicating 384MB being the limit.

2) Video – Original revision A iMacs shipped with a built-in Rage IIc chip and 2MB of SGRAM as seen on my iMac but this was quickly changed in revision B and up tray loaders to the much more powerful Rage Pro chipset with 6MB of SGRAM standard. The original revision A boards can be upgraded to a full 6MB of SGRAM.

The ATI chip isn’t a surprise as Apple has a history of using ATI chips for graphics in this era. As far as I can tell the revision A iMac G3 is the sole computer to use this specific version of the Rage chip built in. Overall the Rage IIc is an adequate chip, though by 1998 it was getting quite outdated and was seen as a entry level 3D video chip. 2D applications should run just fine as well as less intensive 3D titles as long as resolutions and features are kept in check.

imactlx2

with 4MB extra video RAM module

3) Sound – Sound has always seemed like a bit of an afterthought in Apple machines and finding specifics has always been a bit of a chore as sound chips aren’t commonly noted on spec sheets. The iMac would appear to use Crystal CS4211-KM chip which supports simulated surround sound via the two built-in speakers.

4) Battery – Lastly we have the PRAM battery which acts just like the CMOS battery in a standard motherboard. Be sure to replace this on any newly acquired Macintosh computer.

The iMac does what it set out to achieve and I can see now what I couldn’t see as my high school self, why the iMac succeeded. It wasn’t meant for people like me. It was meant less for hardcore PC gamers and those that liked to expand and tinker with their computers and more for the everyday user, the soccer mom, the person that just wanted to do homework and surf the internet and it made a pretty easy to setup and usable computer to sit in the corner of the family room and have for general family usage.

As a collectors piece the Bondi blue iMac is certainly worth adding to the collection and holds a significant place in computer history and especially Apple’s history. They are still relatively inexpensive as of 2019 though an original revision A may take some work track down and identify. If your purely looking for a Macintosh for late 90’s gaming though there are much better options. Personally, I think your better off acquiring a Power Macintosh G3 tower or desktop simply for the vastly greater options you get in upgrading (such as PCI slots) and higher ease of repair. Failing finding one of these a later slot loading iMac or even a G4 could make a good choice as they seem to be easier to source and are more powerful out of the box.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

If Cadillac made PC cases I feel like the Dell XPS 420 case would be in their lineup. The case is elegant, functional and looks like a million bucks. I honestly love this case. The high-end Dell XPS line which stands for Xtreme Performance System dates back to the 1990s and were sold alongside the Dell Dimension series. The PC we will be looking at in this article is the model 420 from the XPS 400 line and dates from around 2005-2006. The 420 was intended to be a media-based home PC but please keep in mind the XPS 420 we will be looking at here has been significantly upgraded in some areas from its factory stock configuration.

One of the first things you may notice is the shiny piano black face plate giving the 420 an elegant look. Originally these PC’s shipped with Windows Vista but I have upgraded the OS to Windows 7 and replaced the OS badge.

Starting from the top and going down we have two 5 1/4 bays with covers that fold down of which one currently houses a DVD drive. Below these we have two 3 1/2 inch “flexbays” which allow for the addition of a hard drive, floppy drive or various audio/video input/output interfaces. Also on the front we have a mic and 1/8 audio jack as well as two USB 2.0 ports and one IEEE 1394 port. Lastly, we have a power button below these ports followed by the model and Dell badge.

The back of the XPS 420 at first looks very stark to the eyes of a retro gamer but that is mostly because the 420 lacks almost any legacy I/O ports. No serial, parallel or even PS/2 ports grace the back panel but you do have everything you need for a more modern machine. I’ll admit, I would have liked the 420 to at least have a parallel port to make it more useful if used as a more retro XP machine but the less cluttered I/O shield does have a sort of minimalistic charm.

At the top we have audio jacks including an optical audio out. Below this is an Ethernet jack and six USB 2.0 ports. It is recommended you connect more permanent devices such as keyboard and mouse via these rear USB ports. Further down in a second smaller cluster we have a coaxial digital audio out as well as an IEEE 1394 port and an eSATA port.

One of the more unique features of the XPS 420 case is the mini LCD screen on the top front as well as the diagnostic lights to the left. The diagnostics lights essentially serve the same purpose as post “beeps” from an internal speaker or piezo speaker only instead of using a combination of timed beeps it displays a number code using 1 through 4. The diagnostic lights have been used on earlier PC’s and I find this method a little more subtle and quicker to understand than the beeping method but it’s nothing groundbreaking. Next to the diagnostic lights we have two more lights, the top light being a network activity indicator and the lower light being a hard drive activity light. All lights on this top display use a very pleasing blue

Occupying the majority of the panel is the LCD and controls powered by Windows Slideshow. To the right of the LCD screen we have a menu button and below that a navigational and selection buttons.

The LCD itself acts as a sort of mini built-in monitor and according to the manual it allows you to perform tasks such as browse web pictures, view photos stored on your system, play or browse audio and video files, set reminders and alarms, monitor PC settings, and set a real-time count down clock. You can expand the functionality of the LCD via add on programs called “Gadgets”. According to the manual you can access the viewscreen and use these gadgets even if the PC itself is off or in sleep mode.

The screen will also work along side the diagnostic lights to help you troubleshoot problems when booting up.

dellxps420lcd

Unfortunately the Hard drive on this machine required a full reformat and Windows 7 was installed instead of the original Windows Vista for better usefulness as a semi-modern PC. Because of this the miniview seemed to have limited functionality within Windows 7 and I was not able to do much more with it other than play a game of solitaire though I do plan to do more research on this in the future or a possible install of Vista to see the full functionality.

The case itself is very easy to open and only requires pulling a latch on the top rear of the case which releases a side panel.

Removing the side panel reveals the inside of the XPS 420.

If you are familiar with this machine you’ll see right away that a few upgrades have already been performed. First off the power supply has been swapped out from the original to an Evga 750W supply and the video card has been replaced.

I primarily replaced the power supply because of the power hungry nature of the video card I decided to install. Note that the power supply bay on the XPS 420 isn’t entirely ATX compatible and I had a little trouble fitting a standard ATX PSU in the space. with a little adjusting though one will fit, though I was only able to line the PSU up with two screw holes in the rear at the top right and lower left. This left a small space gap below the PSU but still provided a secure placement and the power supply should be fine especially considering your probably not going to be moving a PC like this very frequently. We will talk about the video upgrade at the end of the article.

There are two slots at the bottom of the case for hard drives though you can fit two more in the flexbays if you so choose. My machine came with a 7200RPM 320GB hard drive which I’m fairly certain is the original drive

The motherboard uses the Intel X38 Express chipset and features five SATA 3 ports, 3 PCI, 1 PCIe x16, 1 PCIe x8 (x4 electrically) and 1 PCIe x1. There are more than enough expansion slots for a decent Windows XP or later PC though the lack of a second PCIe x16 connector does more or less rule out a traditional SLI setup. It’s a shame the PCIe x1 slot wasn’t an x16 slot as you can see the solder points on the board for it. The motherboard does lack an IDE connector which isn’t a big deal but it does have a floppy drive connector so if your planning to add a good old floppy drive your good to go.

The built-in sound does a pretty good job but Dell did offer an option for an Audigy 2 card though mine did not come with one.

CPU – Removing the heatsink on the XPS 420 is actually super easy and way more convenient than a standard Intel LGA 775 heatsink and fan. The first step is removing the two screws on the left and right side of the heatsink. and then lift the heatsink up and off.

The heatsink itself is alright and does have a copper base and heatpipes. chances are you won’t really be doing any overclocking on an OEM PC like this anyways.

My XPS 420 came with the stock Intel Core2Quad Q6600 @ 2.4GHz. This seems to be the CPU that shipped with most of the 420s. The Q6600 was an early quad-core CPU that works great with most XP era games but if your planning on doing any gaming on this machine post-2008 or so or want to more easily max out the settings on some of the more intensive titles you may want to consider upgrading.

The first step is to make sure you upgrade the BIOS to the latest version which is ver. A07. I found the latest BIOS on Dell’s website and the upgrade can be done easily with a USB flash drive. Once this is done you should be able to use most of the Core2 family of CPU’s. I upgraded mine to a 2.83GHz Core2Quad Q9500 which is a bit faster then the old Q6600 but also runs on a 1333Mhz bus as opposed to a 1066MHz bus. With the latest BIOS update you should be able to upgrade all the way up to a 3GHz Q9650 if desired.

RAM – My XPS 420 came with 3GB of DDR2 SDRAM and then upgraded to 4GB via 4x1GB sticks as seen in the image below.

I finally upgraded my RAM to 8GB via four 2GB sticks of the type in the image below.

dellxps420ram

The RAM I used were all matching sticks of PC-6400U DDR2 rated at 800mhz. I have read of people that have had trouble running 8GB of DDR2 on the XPS 420 at 800MHz and I also had issues with mismatched RAM combinations where the speed would drop to 667MHz even if all RAM was 800MHz capable. The speed drop is not noticable in most applications and games but if you want 800MHz with 8GB installed I highly recommend using the newest BIOS version as well as four matching sticks of RAM with the same CAS of 5 or higher.

dellxps420rambios

Video – Unfortunately I neglected to take note of whatever video card was originally installed but if memory serves me correct it was something like a Nvidia 8400. punching in the service ID number on Dell’s website brings up nothing. for a video card upgrade I went with the GTX 295.

Sure there are better choices and the 295 is a massive power hog but being released in early 2009 it felt like something that would have been a real possible upgrade to this machine from someone that bought an XPS 420 in 2006 and had been using it as a main gaming/media PC. The GTX 295 was a powerhouse when it was released in 2009 and still makes a usable card years later. As a Windows XP card it delivers more than enough power for almost any XP era game with maybe the exception of Crysis on the highest settings. as a Windows Vista and up card it still is serviceable and many later games are still playable on this card at low settings.

The GTX 295 is a 1792MB dual GPU card that’s perfect for situations like the XPS 420 where there is only one PCIe x16 slot on the motherboard. The 295 power wise is on average a little faster than two GTX 260s in SLI configuration.

The XPS 420 is a beautiful computer with a few possible upgrade paths. Being an OEM machine overclocking options are pretty limited with the biggest roadblock being the RAM. The miniview LCD on the case is interesting but it feels under utilized and a bit of a gimmick. I mean why would you scroll through your photos on a small LCD when your computer and most likely, your monitor are right there. It would have been cool of games took advantage of the LCD though, maybe in the same ways games took advantage of the VMU on the Dreamcast. The XPS 420 with some upgrades is still a usable machine in 2018 for lighter use like web surfing and office/productivity type work and with the right video card even some gaming though don’t expect smooth 60 FPS on ultra settings with new games. As a Windows XP retro machine the 420 potentially makes an elegant and powerful choice.

 

 

 

In the 1980’s and 90’s it seemed like everyone was making IBM PC compatible computers from Canon and AT&T to bigger names like HP and Dell. Of all these OEMs Gateway 2000 perhaps made one of the greatest of all these IBM compatibles. Enter the iconic 486 based Gateway 2000 4DX2-66V (Desktop) released around 1993 and retailing for a whopping $2995.

Not to say the other OEM companies didn’t make some impressive PC’s back in the day but the 4DX2-66V from Gateway 2000 really stood out as a massive and powerful PC of the time. This thing meant serious business and if the specs didn’t impress you the large case and relatively high build quality should have.

The model we’re looking at in this article is the desktop version although an even more impressive to look at tower version was also available for purchase.

The 4DX-66V (4DX standing for 486DX CPU and 66V standing for 66MHz with Vesa Local Bus slots) is a rather large desktop case and is fairly heavy with a mostly all metal case. To the left, we have a key lock with a green power LED located underneath followed by a reset button an HDD activity light and finally a turbo button. On the far right side of the case, we have three 5 1/4 external bays. One thing I do dislike about this case is the complete lack of any external 3 1/2 bays forcing you to use a 5 1/4 bay adaptor for the obligatory 1.44MB floppy drive.

I attempted to replicate the look as closely as possible to a stock 4DX-66V and placed my drives according to some older advertisement photos I found. On the top is a 1.2MB 5 1/4 drive with a 1.44MB 3 1/2 floppy drive taking up the middle bay and finally a CD-ROM drive at the bottom.

I want to note here that there seems to be some difficulty in determining the stock CD-ROM drive type. Although IDE would be the standard for an OEM PC like this I’ve read some sources claiming the original CD drive was actually a SCSI x1 or x2 drive. The machine in question here did, in fact, come to me with an SCSI card installed and no CD drive and I had a very hard time getting an IDE CD drive to install and work correctly. In the end I did opt to install an SCSI CD drive though the drive itself is a newer and faster Sony drive.

The front of the case also lacks any power button. There is a power switch located on the right back side. This is a design more in common with earlier 80’s machines like the 5150.

This design also makes it difficult to find and fit a replacement PSU should yours die since standard AT or ATX power supplies with AT adaptors lack this side switch and are of a smaller size.

Taking a look at the back.

There is nothing too special about the rear of this PC and we have a pretty standard layout with parallel and serial connectors as well as an AT keyboard port and eight expansion slots.

Before we open the case I wanted to take a look at the keyboard Gateway sold with this machine.

This PC came with a massive 124 key Gateway 2000 “Anykey” keyboard. This keyboard featured extra function keys on the far left as well as 8 directional keys and has macro keys for programming your own macro commands.

Opening the case is fairly easy and requires unscrewing screws at the rear of the case and sliding the top section of the case forward and then up and off.

To the left of the three 5 1/4 external bays we do have two internal 5 1/4 bays. As I stated earlier the design of this case certainly feels a little out modded for the 486 era and internal 3 1/2 bays would have been a much more useful option seeing as your going to need some adapters to properly install and secure a standard 3 1/2 hard drive.

The case also features a real cone speaker nestled in the front of the case as well as guide/support ridges for extra long expansion cards.

Lastly, as far as the case goes we do unfortunately have the “rail system” in effect on this case. Rather than using simple screws to hold drives in place you must first attach rails to your drives before installing and securing them. My PC came with several drives missing as well as missing rails so extra rails of roughly the same fit had to be salvaged from other builds.

Early magazine advertising listed a 340MB 13ms IDE hard drive as standard but the closest I had was a Western Digital 853MB Caviar 2850 manufactured in 1996 which installed with the help of a bay adapter into one of the internal bays.

Despite the case itself having some by even the early 90’s standards a relatively outdated design the motherboard itself featured some very advanced and useful features such as dual built-in IDE controllers and even a CPU upgrade socket.

The motherboard used in the 4DX-66V is a Micronics board and sports eight 16-bit ISA slots two of which double as VLB slots.

1) CPU – The standard CPU in the 4DX-66V was, obviously, an Intel 486DX running at 66MHz. This CPU was more or less the gold standard during the 486 era and offered excellent performance in a wide range of games while not being too slow or too fast as well as offering stable reliability. The DX2 CPU in the 4DX-66V came stock with a small heatsink but did not feature a fan for extra cooling.

Next to the CPU socket there is also a CPU upgrade socket to allow for easy upgrading of the CPU via chips such as the Intel Overdrive which greatly increased CPU power.

2) RAM – The 4DX-66V is capable of supporting a maximum of 64MB of FPM memory via four 72 pin memory sockets. Mine currently has 16MB installed which is still a rather healthy amount of memory for the early 90’s. The stock amount seems to of been 8MB.

3) L2 cache – Unlike most 486 era motherboards which used DIPP chips installed in several sockets on the motherboard the 4DX-66V employed a single socket which accepted a CoaST (Cache on a STick) module. This is the same method used by the infamous M919 socket 3 motherboard as well as many early Pentium motherboards. The 4DX-66V seems to of been sold standard with a 256K cache stick but mine only has a 64K module for some reason. I’m not sure why someone would have downgraded the L2 cache on my machine but perhaps at some point in the past the original L2 stick was damaged or lost and the former owner only had a 64K module as a replacement.

4) Switch – Behind the L2 cache module is a small switch block. Unfortunately, I did not have the manual for this PC nor could I find a guide to this switch block online. I did find a Video by Silicon Classics which did briefly display a page from the manual with some functions of the switch block which I was able to screen capture. switches 5-8 appear to set the CPU type.

(Click to enlarge)

5) Battery – One thing I did find fairly odd for this motherboard is the seemingly complete lack of any kind of on-board CMOS battery to save BIOS settings. The only apparent method of installing a battery is an external battery connector located next to the Keyboard port. The 4DX-66V seems to of come standard with an external Rayovac 844 battery. Thankfully the battery is easy to replace and modern equivalents using three AAA batteries can be found cheaply on eBay. It is HIGHLY recommended to change the battery before tinkering with the 4DX-66V as it seems very finicky and you’re likely to run into many random problems when operating with a dead CMOS battery

6) IDE – The 4DX-66V motherboard came with two IDE controllers built-in for a total of four usable IDE devices. This was rather uncommon to see built into a socket 3 motherboard and a very welcome addition. On my machine though the IDE was extremely problematic and picky about both the hard drive and the CD-ROM drive. In the end I decided to forgo the built-in IDE altogether and opt for an ISA EIDE card.

Above the IDE connectors we have a standard floppy connector.

7) Finally to the left of the IDE and floppy we have I/O connectors for the serial and parallel as well as the AT power connector.

Expansion cards

For the various expansion cards I attempted to get this Gateway as close to stock as I could though I did take a few liberties in the name of power, convenience and necessity.

IDE – After getting fed up with the fickle nature of the built-in IDE I did finally give in and installed a SIIG SC-JE4012 16-bit ISA IDE controller card. This card offered faster access speeds then the built-in controller as well as made life much easier when choosing hard drives. I may be wrong but I believe the built-in IDE controller hits a 512MB limit when looking at hard drives and most of the time regardless of the size the built-in controller was just not seeing the drive or only sporadically seeing the drive. It’s quite possible the controller is failing with age but regardless, a more reliable IDE card like this SIIG card is certainly recommended.

SCSI – Even though my machine did come with a VLB SCSI controller card installed and I read sources that indicated that the stock CD drive was SCSI, my original plan was to remove the SCSI card and run both the hard drive and CD-ROM drive off the IDE controller. Unfortunately this was another element during the restoration of this PC that almost drove me insane as even with the separate IDE card installed my particular 4DX-66V was incredibly picky about what drives worked and what master/slave configuration they were in. The form factor and length of the IDE cables did not help this situation in the slightest. Eventually I decided to give up and run the CD drive off the VLB SCSI controller, which after being set up properly gave me no issues whatsoever.

The SCSI controller used was a Buslogic BT-440C/445C VLB card. I’ve used this card before in my main 486 PC and I’ve found them to be reliable and mostly trouble free cards. I did briefly consider going all out with SCSI and replacing my IDE hard drive with an SCSI drive but in the end decided to stay with the IDE drive since not only was it more “stock correct” but was already setup at this point.

Sound – The sound card is another area where I took a little bit of a liberty in choosing the card. Finding out what card came installed factory from Gateway proved to be a challenge and I never did find a concrete answer. Some sources cited the Sound Blaster Pro CT1330A as being sold along with the PC while other sources claimed early Sound Blaster 16 cards like the CT1770 would of been the stock card.

I also stumbled upon the Gateway 2000 branded 16MVCARD based on the JAZZ 16 chipset from Media Vision.

The seller of the card claimed it was pulled directly from a 4DX-66V though it’s completely possible it was a later replacement for the original card or it came from a similar but not exact Gateway model. I did decide to install the JAZZ 16 based card but unfortunately the card was non-working with audio being barely audible over extreme and constant audio “noise” and squealing.

The card I did finally settle on though was the Creative Sound Blaster AWE32 CT3910. Even though this by all accounts was not the stock sound card in the 4DX-66V I feel it does make a very good fit. The CT3910 is an earlier non-plug & play card with a real Yamaha OPL chip for authentic FM sound. It lacks a wavetable header but it does have a standard IDE connector (though again, I had no luck with mine when trying to setup an IDE CD-ROM drive on this machine). It’s more or less a cleaner sounding SB16 with built-in MIDI capabilities which is nice for playing games like DOOM and Duke3D on this PC.

Video – Lastly we have the video card and unlike the sound card it was actually extremely easy to find out what card came stock in the 4DX-66V. That card was a special cut down OEM version of the Mach32 card from ATI possibly known as the Mach32 XLR or CLX. This was a VLB card and differed from the retail version of the VLB Mach32 card by having a slower RAMDAC and only 1MB of video ram standard.

The card I have installed is the more capable retail version of the Mach32 for the VLB slot.

If you look to the right side of the card you’ll notice a large square socketed chip labeled ATI68875, this is the improved RAMDAC. On the OEM card this socket would be empty and instead the lower rectangular socket which is empty on this card would be populated with the slower RAMDAC chip. These cards support a full 2MB of RAM which mine is currently outfitted with.

Like any high-end VLB video card these days the Mach32 goes for a pretty penny on eBay. The card is fast, It came in right behind my ET4000 based VLB card in most benchmarks I performed and it also makes an excellent Windows 2D accelerator but unfortunately it does fall a little short when it comes to compatibility. For instance I had some pretty bad scrolling issues in Commander Keen 4 even with the option to fix scrolling issues checked in the options menu. To be fair my ET4000 also had some odd graphical issues as well but these went away completely by checking off the SVGA box under options and scrolling was silky smooth.

Despite the somewhat outdated case design and relatively minor issues like the use of rails and an awkward to replace power supply the 4DX-66V is an impressive PC for 1993 even with the stock configuration. The board is pretty easily upgradable and the CPU upgrade socket makes adding something like an Intel Overdrive CPU a cinch. I would of prefered at least one external 3 1/2 drive but the case does look very stylish. The Mach32, even the gimped stock version isn’t half bad though it’s worth considering replacing it in the name of better overall compatibility. Collectors seem to really love the 4DX-66V (especially in the tower form factor) and I expect prices to rise, so if you see one, even if it’s just a shell, snag it.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Sun Microsystems was an American computer company founded in 1982. They seem to be most widely known for their Sun workstation computers based on their own 64-bit RISC-based SPARC processors. In this article we will be taking a look at a later offering from the late 90’s, the Sun Ultra 10, a tower form factor workstation PC that utilized an UltraSPARC IIi CPU but also a number of less proprietary PC parts.

This article will be my first ever experience with a Sun computer so it should prove to be a learning experience for myself. I generally stay away from workstations as my interests primarily lay with PC gaming and workstations with their proprietary parts, non x86 architectures and very often non-game friendly OS’s severely limit gaming. The Sun workstations are no exception to this. I have been told that there may have been ports of games such as Sim City to the Ultra 10 and its Solaris operating system but I have yet to find any evidence these ports actually exist.

With that introduction out of the way, let’s take a look at the Sun Ultra 10.

The Ultra 10 along with its little brother the desktop form factor Sun Ultra 5 were launched in 1998 and shipped into the early 2000’s. These workstations would have been contemporary with the late Pentium IIs as well as the Pentium III and early Pentium 4s. The form factor of the Ultra 10 tower is fairly standard though it does show some artistic flair to its design. The case is not quite as wide as a standard PC case of the time and reminds me of the slightly smaller width of the Dell Dimension cases. My machine came with a standard 1.44MB floppy drive as well as a CD-ROM drive which is obviously a later replacement. There is also a second bay for a 5 1/4 device as well as a second 3 1/2 inch bay above the floppy drive with a lift up cover. I would at first assume the second 3 1/2 bay would be for a tape drive but referencing the service manual indicates the bay is intended for a PCMCIA interface. There is no reset button or HDD activity LED that I could spot and simply a power button on the right side of the case and a power LED above it.

The rear of the case doesn’t appear too odd but first, let’s take a look at the lower section of the case. On the left lower side of the case we have a db-25 serial port and under that, we have a VGA monitor port for the built in video and under that an Ethernet port. To the right of these ports we have a db-9 serial port and under that a parallel port.

There are four PCI expansion slots of which my system has PCI slot 3 occupied by a multi Ethernet card sporting a number of Sun chips.

Above all these expansion slots and I/O ports is a lone horizontal expansion punch out with a monitor symbol under it. This is for an optional Sun high-resolution UPA graphics card.

Moving back up, let’s take a look at those audio jacks and the keyboard port.

For the four audio jacks, we have what I believe is labeled line in and out on the right. On the left, the jack with the headphone symbol I assume would be the speaker/headphone jack and above that, I’m going to assume is the microphone jack, though the symbol doesn’t make this very apparent as it just looks like a ring in a purple background to me.

Under this, we have the proprietary keyboard port that somewhat resembles a PS/2 port or Apples ADB port. Without a keyboard connected the Ultra 10 actually defaults as a console and you will not even get a video out signal.

The keyboard looks pretty standard at a glance but if you look closer there are key differences to a standard PC keyboard. This Sun keyboard actually reminds more of an Apple keyboard. In the upper right corner, there are buttons for volume control as well as a power button. Some of the buttons are labeled as “Compose” and “Alt-Graph” which I’m not sure what they do. There is even a button that is completely blank in the upper left hand of the board. On the left, there is also a dual vertical row of function keys with labels such as “Again”, “Stop”, “Copy” and “Paste”.

Just like most Apple keyboards the mouse attaches to a port on the keyboard as opposed to having its own port on the tower itself.

One of the things I do find pretty weird about the Ultra 10 is the manner in which the case opens. The case comes open by removing four screws on the back and taking off one big piece that comprises both sides of the case. Even though by the late 90’s most cases would allow you to remove the sides individually having a case that removed the entire casing consisting of both sides, as well as the top of the case, was not very uncommon. The thing I find weird about the Ultra 10 is that instead of the side and the top the case comes apart with the sides and the bottom. Okay, maybe that rambling seemed a bit confusing so let me use an image instead.

It’s basically the opposite of every other case design like this that I have ever seen. There’s nothing wrong or worse with doing things this way, I just find it unusual.

With the case removed we can now see the motherboard itself. This case does also have a proper PC speaker which you can see peeking out right above that middle divider at the front of the case. Like a Macintosh the speaker is connected to the sound chip so if no external speakers are present you can at least get some sound via this speaker.

Being a sort of none standard workstation PC the Ultra 10 on the inside isn’t all that strange and shares a lot in common with late 90’s Macintosh machines.

The Ultra 10 does not have expansion slots directly on the motherboard but uses a riser card which has four standard PCI expansion slots.

1) CPU – The CPU for this system is a 440MHz RISC based UltraSPARC IIi but models also came with the same CPU clocked as low as 300MHz and several speeds in between. This CPU came in a sort of CPU package that reminds me of a G4 PowerPC CPU. L2 cache varied by CPU but I believe the 440MHz variant of the CPU came with 2MB of L2 cache.

 

I’ve even read that the SUN UltraSPARC CPUs are “PowerPC processors done right.” Unfortunately, I can’t really comment on them more than that As I could find no games to benchmark to compare to an X86 system. As far as speed there are the same difficulties as with a PowerPC in trying to equate them to an Intel x86 CPU equivalent. Despite the lower clock speed, I would assume these CPUs at 440MHz are roughly equivalent to the later Pentium IIIs.

I did not remove the CPU but it appears they connect to the motherboard via two pin connectors.

2) Video – In another similarity to late 90’s PowerPC Macs the Ultra 10 comes with on-board video in the form of the Rage Pro Turbo on the PCI bus. This chip is perfectly serviceable for late 90’s gaming though I have no idea how well it performs for workstation tasks. As a general VGA chip though it’s pretty good but since I couldn’t find a single game for the Ultra 10 or the Solaris OS it’s all rather moot as far as games go.

3) NVRAM – Unfortunately the Ultra 10 uses a battery method not unlike the old Dallas RTC batteries where the battery is encased in a hard plastic shell. Thankfully on the Ultra 10 the NVRAM is not soldered onto the motherboard but is instead socketed which makes life much easier when the battery does die. Like the Dallas RTCs there is also a method to connect a coin battery holder to the NVRAM and use coin batteries. That mod is detailed in this video (not mine) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lP4rXua1Lo

On the other side of the riser board we have some more familiar components to anyone that’s opened a PC and taken a look inside.

4) RAM – The Ultra 10 supports up to 1GB of Buffered EDO ECC RAM via four 168-pin DIMM slots. My machine came with the maximum 1GB of RAM installed via four 256MB sticks.

5) Sound – Sound is provided by a Crystal CS4231A-KQ chip.

Disconnecting the IDE cables we can see some more of this side of the motherboard.

6) UPA slot – This is the UPA or “Ultra Port Architecture” slot. This was a 100MHz bus developed by SUN for the use of higher bandwidth high-resolution graphics cards. I believe this was a proprietary slot only found in SUN workstation PCs. Several UPA graphics cards were produced such as the Creator, Creator3D, Elite3D and XVR-1000. If you do not have a UPA graphics card installed it does not appear having the AUX power connector is necessary and the machine powers up fine without.

7) The Ultra 10 uses standard floppy and IDE controllers for its interface so finding a replacement hard drive, CD drive or floppy drive is very cheap and simple.

The Ultra 10 uses a CMD646U chip to control the IDE. I believe this gives speeds of ATA-33.

The Ultra 10 also has room for several hard drives including the ability to mount one under the power supply as can be seen above with the Seagate Barracuda IV hard drive being mounted under the PSU.

8) Power Connector – The power supply for the Ultra 10 is 250w and the board does have a AUX connector though I’m unsure if the wiring for the AUX connector is the same as a standard AUX connector. The ATX connector appears to be standard though so as long as your not using a UPA graphics card it appears you can use a standard ATX power supply.

Unfortunately, I was not able to access my SUN Ultra 10 due to a password so as far as I could get was the Password prompt for the Solaris 9 OS. On booting up my Ultra 10 I was greeted with a white screen and eventually a power-on test error and an “OK” prompt. tying in “boot disk” at this point led to several minutes of the OS loading from the HDD and finally the password screen.

I wasn’t really able to delve much into the Ultra 10 running due to the password roadblock but in retrospect there wouldn’t be much I would want to do with it anyways. This machine is a workstation and as my interest primarily lies with games the Ultra 10 leaves very little for me. For those of you that do enjoy working with, restoring and using older workstations The Ultra 10 appears to be a fairly user-friendly model seeing as it has many things like sound and video built in and seems to have very few proprietary hardware components. Just be sure if you do pick up an Ultra 10 (or 5) to grab the keyboard and mouse along with it.

Ever since the early days of computers when the 286 supplanted the 8088 companies have been coming up with various adaptors that would allow one to install newer processors into older sockets. Usually, these adaptors did not meet with great success as it generally made more sense to just buy a newer machine than to buy the usually expensive upgrade adaptors with gimped performance.

In the late 1990’s Intel released the Celeron, Pentium II and then the Pentium III in the slot 1 form factor. Processors designed for Slot 1 motherboards came in various cartridge like form factors which used an edge connector to interface with the Slot 1 connector on the main board. In 1999 Intel went back to a more conventional socket with socket 370 AKA PGA370 for the later Pentium III and Celeron CPU’s.

Comparison of a Slot 1 CPU (on right) and PGA370 (on left)

Slot 1 motherboards only officially supported front side bus speeds of 66MHz and 100MHz and finding the 100MHz FSB versions of the later slot 1 P3’s could be difficult and expensive. 100MHz FSB versions of the Pentium III in socket 370 form factor, as well as the 100MHz FSB Celerons, were much more abundant and in time much cheaper. This is where the “slocket” came into play which was a fairly cheap and simple adaptor that allowed you to use a cheap and abundant PGA370 Pentium III / Celeron on a Slot 1 motherboard.

In the early 2000’s though Intel released their Tualatin Pentium III and Tualatin based Celeron CPU’s which were designed on a smaller 0.13 processes and were released in speeds exceeding the 1GHz and 1.1GHz of the earlier Pentium III and Celeron processors.  These new Tualatin processors though required a modified socket 370 known as FCPGA 2 socket 370 and were not usable on older socket 370 motherboards or Slot 1 boards by use of a slocket adaptor.

This is where the Powerleap PL-iP3/T, the T standing for Tualatin, Slot 1 to socket 370 Slocket Adapter came into play and allowed users of older Slot 1 motherboards who were perhaps still sporting sub 450MHz Pentium IIs to upgrade to the latest and fastest Tualatin Celerons.

Although I can not find concrete information on the original selling price the initial PL-iP3/T adaptors with 1.2GHz Tualatin based Celerons I have seen some sources indicated that they retailed for $169 which was cheaper than the P3 1GHz chips at the time. Later versions of the PL-iP3/T came with the option of the 1.3GHz and 1.4GHz Celeron CPU. Even though these Celeron processors ran on a lower 100MHz FSB then their big brother Tualatin Pentium CPUs they sported a full 256 KB of L2 cache just like the Coppermine Pentium III processors.  Tualatin Celerons were also known to overclock fairly easily to 133MHz FSB if your motherboard allowed it. I have read of individuals having issues getting the Powerleap to operate at 133mhz on most motherboards and I can attest mine would not POST when set to 133MHz FSB even though my board supports it via switch settings. My PL-iP3/T is version 2.0 with a 1.3GHz Celeron installed.

On the left side of the adaptor is the header for the fan as well as jumpers to set FSB speeds. The Powerleap can be set for 66, 100 and 133MHz FSB as well as Autodetect which mine is currently set to.

On the right side of the heatsink is the power connector as well as the jumpers for setting the voltage. The Powerleap supports several CPU core voltages.

The connector at the top right is for extra power and mine uses a 3 prong connector though I have read earlier versions of the adaptor used a floppy power connector. Unfortunately, my Powerleap did not come with an adaptor for the power connector so I was forced to make my own rather haphazard adaptor from a molex power extension.

Be sure to connect the cables from left (closest to the heatsink) to right as yellow, black, red.

I used some electrical tape on the ends to help prevent any shorting but if you want to put some more effort into it you can buy the correct 3 prong plastic end piece here. Note that the Powerleap does require this power to be supplied to it as all my attempts to run the Powerleap from the CPU slot with the fan plugged into the motherboard resulted in no POST screen.

For convenience here is a chart with all the jumper settings for both FSB and voltage.

 

The PL-iP3/T also came with different heatsink fans depending on the version. Mine has the Intel fan and I have to admit I’ve been very reluctant to remove it to replace the CPU with a 1.4GHz Celeron or even a 512KB L2 cache version of the Tualatin due to the slightly awkward mechanism it uses to attach to the board and the tight grip.

For a host motherboard I decided to use the Asus P3B-F Ver 1.3 slot 1 motherboard. I have found this motherboard to be rock solid as far as stability goes and it also supports overclocking the FSB via a switch all the way up to 150MHz through the manual warns against any speeds over 100MHz as “unofficial” slot 1 speeds may result in decreased stability. I want to note that initially, I could not get the motherboard to POST with the PL-iP3/T installed. After flashing the board to the latest BIOS however I had no issues and the board POSTed and detected the Powerleap (although incorrectly as a Pentium II 1200MHz) without issue.

As for the other specs of this machine

512MB of PC100 RAM

Geforce 2 Ultra AGP

AWE 64 value ISA

Matrox ATA100 card PCI

USB 2.0 card PCI

below are some comparisons of this setup running first a Pentium II 350MHz and then with the PL-iP3/T Celeron 1.3GHz. Remember this chart isn’t to prove the 1.3GHz Celeron can beat a 350MHz Pentium II, that is very obvious, but it is to show how much a typical slot 1 build from the late 90’s like this could have improved with this upgrade.

I performed all of these tests minus 3DMark 99 at 800x600x32 with high detail settings (3DMark 99 used 16bit color depth) but the Powerleap showed significant performance and left plenty of room to play with higher resolutions.

I also managed to overclock the CPU and FSB to 112MHz via the motherboard switch giving me a speed of 1.45GHz. I had no issues with stability at this speed and my Asus P3B-F ran happily along without issue. As mentioned earlier though bumping the FSB to 133MHz resulted in the PC refusing to POST.

The Powerleap PL-iP3/T does what it claims and if your intent is to drag your slot 1 motherboard into the early 2000’s and early Windows XP era it will do the trick. Unless you can find one for a good price though these adaptors are pretty hard to find these days (2018) as well as pricy.  A slocket adaptor with a 1GHz chip should do almost as well for upgrading your slot 1 board unless you simply demand the fastest, though in that case your likely better off just tracking down a Tualatin compatible motherboard or a Pentium 4 board for early 2000’s gaming.

FDISKformat

A place for the pc collector

I ❤ Old Games!

Retrogaming & other stuff

Waltorious Writes About Games

Game-related ramblings.

NekoJonez's Gaming Blog

A Journey Through A Gamer's Life

Evelynn Star

Lynn talks about video games, records and books ...

Retro Megabit

Sharing My Retro Video Game Collection.

133MHz's Junk Box

Random electronics and gaming crap

SNES A Day

Chronogaming project featuring reviews, screenshots, and videos of the entire Super Nintendo library in release order.

Retrocosm's Vintage Computing, Tech & Scale RC Blog

Random mutterings on retro computing, old technology, some new, plus radio controlled scale modelling.

The PewPew Diaries.

Work(s) in Progress!

The Martian Oddity

Video Games and other weird stuff!

1001Up

1001 video games and beyond

retro computing and gaming plus a little more

sparcie

retro computers and stuff

jispylicious

Stay Jispy!

lazygamereviews

MS-DOS game reviews, retro ramblings and more...

%d bloggers like this: