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Packard Bell computers or “Packard Hell” as some refer to them may not have attained a very high reputation for value during their heyday in the USA during the 90’s. perhaps its a well deserved bad reputation. I never owned one as a child so I can’t personally attest to them. (though I did have a horrible AST PC). despite this they were a significant PC manufacturer for the time and turned out quite a few models in the early Pentium era and prior. This is more of a short review or overlook since I’ve noticed there isn’t alot of specific information on a lot of these models online. I picked up this Packard Bell S605 Multimedia PC at a thrift shop for under $20. On hooking it  up the machine fired right up and besides perhaps a dying original CD-ROM drive and some issues with the original sound card the machine has worked fine after all these years.

It uses the typical weird case design that Packard Bell was fond of in the 90’s with the weird grey bordering at the base. I suppose this did help it stand out a little from an aesthetic point of view and defiantly gives the machine some personality. This particular model still has all the retail stickers attached proclaiming its vast technological features for the time. This is a 233mhz Pentium 1 model on a socket 7 MB. the Intel 233mhz MMX is the last of the Pentium 1 line of CPU’s and its actually a great CPU I use in most of my Windows 95 PC’s which is also the operating system this machine had preloaded. nothing else very special, it originally came with 24MB of RAM, mine was upgraded to 64MB but the max that can be installed is 128. I suspect you need to use 2 PC66 64MB RAM DIMMS to achieve the 128 though since when I tried installing a single 128MB stick the PC booted up but gave me odd memory errors and upon booting Win95 was extremely slow and only registered 32MB RAM in the system properties. The built in video is the S3 Trio64V2 chipset which is really the standard for DOS gaming and is a great video device for compatibility. It is a little lacking for Windows95 though so I tossed in a spare S3 Virge PCI video card I had to at least give the machine some 3D ability while keeping the excellent 2D since the Virge uses basically the same 2d core as the Trio64V2. It also came loaded with a little 3.2GB hard drive that booted right up

Here’s the case opened. Again its an odd case as usual for PB. instead of the top and sides coming off as one piece or a simple side panel coming off the side and bottom come off, though the reasons for this become quickly apparent.

This is the case on its side laying down. notice it? Well it doesn’t really effect anything but the slots for any expansion cards ( 3 16 bit ISA and 2 PCI ) are on a riser card inserted into the motherboard so to insert a new expansion card you have to flip the PC upside down and stall them. so as you can see they are installed upside down comparatively to the PC tower. this effects nothing but I just find it weird like a lot of these old computers. The pre installed sound card does not take up a slot, its just kind of screwed into a bracket but has no connection to any expansion slot. it is connected to the motherboard by what appears to be a IDE cable. It appears to be a standard SB compatible crystal semiconductor sound card common on Windows 95 systems but no matter how many times I reinstall the drivers I just cant get sound. the card is being detected by windows but has a conflict so its possibly defective. I do plan to install some older spare sound card when I come across one since I just cant seem to get this onboard sound to work.  also the fan on the CPU is loud, very very loud.

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Conclusion: its not a bad computer despite being a infamous Packard Bell. with RAM maxed and a decent sound/video card for the era it would make a pretty good Windows 95 machine. The CPU is excellent and what I use in my Win95 setups and you get both mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports plus a USB port built in. I seriously considered making this machine my main Win95 PC but it has its drawbacks. Win95 can support up to 480MB of RAM and even though for almost all programs 128MB is more then enough I like the option of being able to throw in a little more if needed. Also being limited to only 2 PCI slots can be an issue especially if you want to add a Voodoo 1 or 2 3d card or a PCI audio card like the DOS compatible Ensoniq PCIaudio.

2 Comments

  1. Lorin had a desktop version of one of these when I first met her in college. Even the desktop one had the grey stripe on the bottom of the case and I remember it having a matching monitor with detachable speakers on the sides. It had Windows 95 on it and she only used it for word processing, elf bowling and AIM.

  2. Neat to see this PC talked about :). I’ve had one since 1998 and still use it occasionally for old games and tinkering. By the time I got a hold of it, the front labels had already been removed, so it’s cool to see what it looked like out of the box. Mine needs to have the label residue removed, and a round or two of Retrobright.

    Regarding the RAM, here’s what I’ve found out about it. The PC has two 168-pin DIMM slots, but comes with EDO DRAM, not SDRAM. The chipset does run with either type, although it will only see a quarter of the installed RAM if SDRAM is used. Unfortunately I don’t have any written record/evidence of it, but I remember running Sandra benchmarks on it a long time ago and it had roughly 50% more memory bandwidth with SDRAM compared with EDO – part of that may have been 24 MB of EDO making things thrash a little bit. More recent testing with Sandra and AIDA64 show that performance is the same or slightly improved going from 64 MB SDRAM to 128 MB, which is good as I was worried about the whole cacheable RAM issue. Get a pair of cheap low-density 256 MB PC66/100/133 sticks and max it out!

    Windows 95, 98SE, and XP all run fine on it. I haven’t tried any Linux distros on it yet. The onboard IDE controller maxes out at (I think) multi-word DMA 2 for transfer rate and 8.5 GB for usable space, so you will want to add a card if going beyond that. A 3Dfx Voodoo pairs nicely with the onboard graphics and a short male/female VGA cable.


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