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I recently picked up a few computers from a Craigslist ad, one being an unknown 486, and the other a “Compaq Pentium 1 120mhz” machine. My main focus was on the 486, with the Compaq P1 being just an afterthought. I was assuming it would just be another Compaq Deskpro 5120, a machine I’ve covered previously. To my surprise, when I arrived to get the machines, the case styling was completely different, and indeed this was a completely different Compaq machine based around the same 120mhz Pentium as the earlier mentioned Deskpro 5120.

The machine I found was the Compaq Prolina 5120e. This model I think may have been released slightly earlier than the Deskpro 5120. It seems to be either a more budget minded model, or perhaps oriented at the business market as opposed to home use.

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One immediate comparison to the Deskpro 5120 is that the expansion bays are a little more limited. The Deskpro 5120 has two 5 1/4″ bays, and a spot for a 3 1/2″ floppy drive (or a ZIP drive if you wanted to go that way). There are only two 5 1/4″ bays on this machine. You may notice the CD drive is from a Dell Dimension that I reviewed earlier, and you may also notice it’s not seated properly in the bay. When I picked up this machine, there was nothing in the bottom bay, just a gaping hole, not even a bezel plate. The top 3 1/2″ 1.44 MB floppy drive was present, and I believe it is original to this model. As you can probably tell, it is not what one would expect. The drive is of a form factor more common to some laptops. It’s long as to fit in a 5 1/4″ bay, but it’s not the full height of the bay, so a plastic half bezel is installed directly under it so there is no gap. I don’t think this machine came standard with either a 5 1/4″ 1.2 MB floppy drive or a CD-ROM drive, as most of the images I found on the net have a dummy bezel on the bottom with no drives installed.

So that leads back to something I mentioned earlier. Why is the CD drive not seated correctly? That’s because this machine uses rails to hold drives in place. Usually, these end up being more convenient and allow for quick drive replacement. Unfortunately, if the machine does not come with the rails, as mine did, you have no real way of properly installing extra drives. Rails aren’t standard across different models either so it’s not a matter of just buying some on eBay. Sometimes you can rig something up to hold a drive in place or use one rail from an already installed drive and just hope one rail can support things on both drives. For this machine, I didn’t care enough to try anything. The drive is only held in place by the IDE and power cables, and it still doesn’t sit right. I just felt it looked slightly better than having a gaping hole to the innards of the PC. Also, I needed a CD drive installed for some testing at the time the images were taken. A plastic dummy bezel would look much better, though without a CD drive your severely limiting the functionality of this PC.

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The rear of the machine is fairly spartan with four card expansion slots in a horizontal fashion so you know right away it’s a PC using a riser card. Under the slots, we have a parallel printer port, and then all the way to the bottom right, we have two PS/2 ports for keyboard/mouse, a serial port, and a VGA port for the built-in video. In comparison to the Deskpro 5120, this machine has fewer card expansion slots, as well as a less organized standard for the rear port placement. On the Deskpro 5120, the ports were color-coded as well as labeled, making setup on this machine a bit less user-friendly to the computer illiterates of the time.

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This is an image of the bottom of this PC. I’m showing it here because when I purchased it, the four rubber feet on this machine were melted globs. That’s what happens when you store things like this for long periods of time in hot climates like Arizona. I had to scrape off the melted goo and then clean it with Goo-Gone.

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Upon opening the case, you notice the riser card is all the way on the edge of the motherboard, as opposed to in the center. Also, there is a nice guide on the frame detailing jumper settings. These are always a welcome sight. The installed hard drive is a 605MB Quantum Fireball, which I assume is the original drive. Looking closer at the motherboard we see….

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1) CPU – This model, as the name suggests, came with a 120mhz Pentium 1 with a heatsink. As I’ve said before, the Pentium 120mhz is a capable CPU, and seemed to be pretty popular for its time, as I’ve come across many computers of the era sporting it.

2) RAM – The Prolinea 5120e supports 136 MB of 72 pin RAM. I’m using FPM, but the documentation I’ve read claims it supports EDO as well.

3) RAM – Here we have 8MB of RAM built into the board, so the board will operate with no RAM installed in the slots. This can be nice if you don’t have any spare 72 pin sticks around.

4) L2 cache – this is the CoaST module for an L2 cache stick. Mine did not come with a stick installed, and all the spare sticks I had on hand failed to work. I tried a 256kb stick from HP, as well as the module from the Deskpro 5120, and with either installed, the machine would not even power up. I’m unsure if my slot is defective, or if this board is super picky about what module it will accept. I read some documentation that the Prolinea 5120e accepts 1 or 2 MB sticks, and this may be the issue, but I’ve also read that it accepts 256kb, which would be what was common of the time.

5) Video – Here is the built-in video chip. The chip used is a Cirrus Logic CL-GD5434 with 1MB of memory upgradable to 2MB. The video is adequate, but hardly exciting.

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6) Connection for serial port

7) CMOS battery

8) Beeper speaker

You may notice the connectors for the IDE and floppy drives seem to be absent, as well as the power connector. Interestingly, all of these connections are found on the riser board, as opposed to the motherboard proper.

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As you can see, the riser card features four ISA slots and one shared PCI slot. You would most likely want to use the sole PCI slot for video. The IDE and floppy drive connectors are to the right of the expansion slots, on the riser with the primary and secondary IDE connections above, and the floppy connector at the bottom.

On the opposite side of the riser, we have a proprietary AT style power connector.

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So, do I have an opinion of the Prolinea 5120e? Well, it’s nothing special for the time. It’s not a terrible PC, and can run DOS and Windows 3.1/95 competently for games, but I would prefer the Deskpro 5120 if I had a choice between the two. The motherboard also struck me as a little weird because there is a lot of space on it with nothing there. There’s a lot of spaces where it looks like chips and caps are supposed to go, but all that’s there is solder points. This doesn’t hurt the board, but I just find it aesthetically displeasing for some reason… not that it matters because it’s all under a case. BTW, the case is tool-less, which is a point in its favor.

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Benchmarks (Pentium 120mhz, No L2 Cache, 24MB FPM RAM, Built in Cirrus Logic CL-GD5434)

3DBENCH – 61.7

PCPBENCH – 21.2

DOOM -31.36

Quake – 19.0

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5 Comments

  1. I remember using a very similar machine when doing work experience for my degree. It was a bit older running at 75Mhz instead. It was around 2003 so it was super out of date, but with linux on it I managed to get some good work out of it. Compaq machines like these seemed to be quite common around where I grew up for a time.

  2. I was actually very surprised how slow this machine was stock. without any L2 cache and using the built in video it was barely faster then my supped up AMD 5×86 133mhz machine. of course the Pentium crushed it in FPU intensive games like quake but in some video modes and in DOOM the AMD won out and its only rated as a Pentium 75mhz equivalent. running a Cyrix 5×86 chip in that same machine at 120mhz also overall beat this machine except of course in Quake. I’m sure I could really boost its speed if I managed to get a L2 cache module that worked and tossed in a nice PCI video card but yeah, stock its a real slug.

  3. Hi, wow nice job.
    Can ask you 1 info and 1 favor?

    1) Do you sell the Prolinea 5120?
    2) In any case, even if you don’t sell it (I’m extremely curious about this, since my Deskpro EN 6500 is driving me crazy): I would be super grateful if you could enter the setup of the machine and check if it allows you to MANUALLY define the hard drive parameters (cyl, heads, sectors), or if it’s only automatic, like the damn deskpro is.

    I even disabled the IDE TRANSLATION in the setup of the Deskpro, but nothing. Now, the IDE Translation is what makes the computer automatically detect the drive parameters. And there’s the option: enable/disable.
    So if you enable it, it automatically detects the parameters, as expected.
    You disable it, and it still detects them automatically.

    It only shows you the IDE info, no way to modify anything. There’s just the “press any key” to continue.
    Incredible.

    So, no way to install a non-standard drive and get it to work!!!! Incredible.

    So how about the Prolinea 5120?

    Thanks a lot!

    • I don’t have the 5120e anymore. If I remember correctly I donated it to help make room here. I don’t remember having any issues setting up the hard drive though. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

  4. It’s okay, thank you so much for your reply 🙂 (sorry, I’m kind of late LOL… I must have had a quick look that day, thinking to thank you later, and then forgot)


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