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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.

 

14 Comments

  1. I actually knew someone who owned one of these (in a later model I think). It seemed to be an ok system for what it was. I never opened it so never saw the riser card arrangement, that’s quite an unusual design. Usually you see riser cards in the desktop style chassis that are not tall enough for full sized cards. Perhaps they did it just so they could offer more upgrade slots? I agree more PCI slots would have been better.

    – Sparcie

    • Yhea, overall it’s not a bad PC. The lack of PCI slots really puzzled me though. I mean, even 486 boards and socket 5 boards had three PCI slots.

  2. Ugh…Mwave! Otherwise, decent machines. I recall fighting to get one of those to work in an IBM computer back in the day after re-installing the OS for a customer.

    I would imagine the riser card arrangement allowed them to use the same motherboard in a slimline desktop with several slots to the side(s).

    I would also date it to later 90’s (guessing 98-ish) rather than mid 90’s based on the USB jack, DIMM slot, and non-ceramic CPU. The first board I ever saw with a USB header (not even a jack yet) was on a Tyan Tomcat dual pentium board, back before most anyone had even heard of USB. Just dug it up out of curiosity, the manual (for the S1563D) has an interesting paragraph:

    Notice
    This board uses the Intel 430HX chipset. According to Intel , the USB function in this chipset is not guaranteed. Compatibility tests cannot be conducted for USB at this time due to no availability of such devices and drives. Please log on to the Tyan web page for the latest information.

    • The correct year is ’96. I had a model 2176-C67 from 1996 which was identical to this case. It came with a Pentium 166 and 16MB ram (which up-graded later to a 200pro and 128MB which maxed this system out). It had the same MB-PC riser card and MWave hybrid sound card / 28.8 data-fax modem. You’re correct, the dolphin was software up-gradable to 33.6.
      The USB is version 1.0 which wasn’t initially supported until later when Windows 95 “version C” was released which included USB drivers.
      The greatest thing about these Aptiva systems from the consumer’s purchasing point was the massive software suite that came along with it.
      Great review and Subbed…brings back some memories!

  3. I love those sliding panels on AT cases, they really bring an asthetic smoothness.
    that 430HX chipset was a more “business” oriented take on the popular VX chips found on most early socket7 boards. the USB should be functional under win95B given that the seperate USB drivers are installed after the OS and probably work “out of the box” under 98se.

  4. Hi There!
    Sorry for the random request…
    I am only hunt for the demonstration / introduction music of the SmartSound software that was included in Windows 95 for the IBM Aptiva (model unknown but it looks like this one https://imgur.com/a/87dxt6E and it was purchased in Australia in 1997).
    The music has fast cuts to several different genres of music. There was one particular piece of music in that sequence that is unbelievably nostalgic to me and I cannot find it no matter how much I look.
    I have reached out to SmartSound and they informed me that any music from catalogues that long ago are gone. I believe my only hope is to locate the right model and hope it comes with the SmartSound software I’m after. I noticed that you have a video on your YouTube channel that might be the right model, which caused me to contact you.
    If you could assist me in any way in finding this music I would be forever grateful. I know it’s a left field request but it’s my last hope I think! Thanks you!
    Any information at all would be appreciated.
    Warmest regards,
    Mark
    mark85@gmail.com

    • Unfortunately I do not have this PC anymore. Also If I remember correctly the HDD was reformatted anyways. I will keep an eye out though if I come across this in the future.

    • I have such an Aptiva (2161-C9E), and I found a directory called “SMARTSND.” The SmartSound demo product also shipped with the 2159-S90 model (the machine that was black with the separate CD-ROM and FDD housing). The 4 demo tracks are called “Demo Music,” “Sparkle,” “Traveling” and “Underwater.” Quite nostalgic and very retro! Is this what you were looking for? The 2161 and 2159 machine types were both from early-to-mid 1997, at the dawn of the Pentium II era.

  5. Hey there Ancient Electronics, I just got my hands on this model and just like yours it lacks a compatible 128MB ram stick. Mine is also missing the cache module and has a Pentium 133 in it.

    I was wondering which models of Pentium 166 MMX are compatible with this board and also if I’ll need to change out the VRM delivery module when I upgrade the CPU because the one in there now is quite different to yours.

    Now I’m wondering what my search terms need to be on eBay to find the correct parts to upgrade this machine~

    Mine came with a Sound Blaster AWE 32 (ISA) which was pretty cool and I have a bunch of old PCI graphics cards to try out.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer if you do. ^_^

    • Hi Icy. what specific model is yours? I’m honestly not sure about the VRM, I know the MMX Pentiums use duel voltage which is different from your standard Pentium.

      • Mine is a 2176-F33. From the photos you posted, yours already has a 2.8v VRM based on it being tall with a heatsink. Mine has a very flat pass-through looking VRM that provides that standard 3.6v IIRC for 133~200Mhz non-MMX Pentiums.

        I actually managed to find a 2.8v VRM recently: A Semtech MP55C-5-2.8.
        – This one takes in 5v and provides 2.8v to VCORE and also 3.3v from the 5v.
        The other possible part is: A Semtech MP55C-3.3-2.8 which I cannot find anywhere.
        – This one passes 3.3v through and then also provides 2.8v.

        From everything I can find to read, they both work, providing the same output just with different inputs.

        I then have a Pentium 200Mhz and a Pentium MMX 233Mhz both on the way. Also have a Pentium MMX 200Mhz that I got earlier and was sold locally for cheap.

        The plan is, pop in the Semtech, and the MMX 200. Flip the necessary jumpers for 66Mhz and the other thing… and strap on the heatsink with a fan to try it out. If it works, upgrade to the MMX 233Mhz when it arrives. If it doesn’t, downgrade to the Pentium 200 and put back the original VRM. Then cry at my wasted money on all these things XD.

        Aside from the CPU situation I’ve only had three main issues with the system:
        1. It doesn’t restart the PCI bus when you soft reboot and some PCI cards screw up because of it. (Looking at you 3com NIC).
        2. The Voodoo3 3000 PCI (I know, overkill on this machine, but maybe OK with the MMX 233 *crosses everything*) occasionally fails to boot into Windows 98SE and upon restarting the drivers are effectively uninstalled. The PCI shenanigans above might be causing this.
        3. The BIOS can only see up to 8GB of space on the HDD. I have a 120GB SSD attached via SATA2IDE adapter and can’t be arsed to reformat with a DDO (Dynamic Drive Overlay) to get the rest of the space available to Win98… (I’ll probably try it on a spare drive I have laying around.)

        It’s been a lot of fun so far though. Legit playing Commander Keen with my Gravis Gamepad Pro and Sound Blaster AWE32, man that juicy Adlib~ it’s good shit!

        Anyways, thanks for the reply, hope you enjoyed this spiel!

  6. Yes, thanks for the write up, nice to see some love for these old things. It lives fondly in my heart as the first computer I learned hardware on and still a very complex unit.

    I have a 2176-C(xx) unsure, with the stealth case. It has the same riser card. Unfortunately, it died in storage for some reason, I would hit the power and the button would turn green on the external CD drive and nothing would happen. I used to run the thing with a K6-III at 200MHz and it worked good with XP (no service pack, SP2 was too slow) I would like to add a Solid State drive (Nice to see and some sort of Graphics card, although anything with a lot of memory (newer than 8mb rage xl) would prevent the 440dx intel chip from booting since it had too much memory. This thing won’t run at 233 MHz, it won’t even run at the K6-III speed of 450 MHz, but it’s okay, L3 cache COAST chip xD.

    I see someone said they put a SSD in it, I am so excited to do that. I’d rather just put Windows 95 on it like it was designed for now that I am older. I saw someone said the SSD wouldn’t read over 8 GB? I swear I used to run a random 30 GB hard drive I had in this thing, so I am not sure if maybe I am misremembering. The PATA 66 and SSD would be a funny combo, but a welcome one for sure.

    Anyway I bought a new motherboard on eBay just recently, hoping that gets me back and working. Has anyone else experienced a similar issue with it not turning on?

    Much love.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure about the 8GB limit on the SSD but off the top of my head I would say thats incorrect. I think the biggest issue with Win 9x on an SSD is that because these old OS’s do not have the proper tools to utilize an SSD efficiently whey will wear one out very quickly with write cycles. I have no idea how significant this would be, how long it would take to wear out the drive or if its would even been an issue with infrequent use. best bet for speed would be to buy a PCI SATA adapter card and connect the SSD through that.

      • Actually the 2176 BIOS is unable to see drives larger than 8GB, so any drive that’s 8GB or larger will appear as just 8GB. Without a modified BIOS, there is no way to get over this limitation.


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