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Category Archives: classic computers

On this blog we have already taken a look at two models of the Apple G4 Macintosh line. In this article we are going to take a brief look at another of this line. The Macintosh G4 “Sawtooth” also referred to as the AGP G4 due to its addition of an AGP slot for video.

The Sawtooth as we will refer to it uses the same style case and color scheme as the Digital Audio G4 that I covered earlier as well as the entire early G4 line. Released in 1999 the Sawtooth was a modest improvement over the earlier “Yikes” G4 with an AGP slot for video as well as faster ATA controller for IDE devices and the option of some faster video cards as well as faster CPU speeds.

The front is identical to the earlier models with the center speaker and power button as well as the smaller reset and debug buttons on the lower section. There are two bays, one 5 1/4  and the lower bay being 3 1/2. Mine has a DVD drive installed as well as an optional ZIP drive.

Turning the Macintosh around we see the PSU connector as well as four expansion slots on the lower portion of the case.

On the upper half we have our various connectivity jacks and ports.Closest to the top we have two Firewire 400 ports with a 10/100 Ethernet jack below that and then below that we have two USB 1.1 ports and finally two audio jacks for speaker and / or microphone. We also have a jack for a modem to the right.

Like the other G4 Macs the case opens very easily by pulling on a handle on the side. Here I have all the expansion cards removed as to give a better view. Up top we see the power supply as well as the two drive bays. The bays are actually one single piece that slides out by removing the front panel and undoing two screws. The lower bay appears to be 5 1/4 at a glance but it’s really a 3 1/2 bay. Mine originally had a hard drive installed in it for some reason.

The G4 Macintosh actually has ample room for hard drives and mine came with six hard drives installed. Possibly the previous owner was running a RAID array. I took out most of them but left in two. One is a 400GB and the other is 250GB. I left the OS that was installed though which was OS X 10.2 though I believe the original OS shipped was 8.6.

Now lets take a better look at the motherboard.

Compared to a PC motherboards I always found Macintosh motherboards from this time to look rather sparse and boring though this may be attributed to having components on the underside of the board. This motherboard like the Yikes model before it and the Gigabit Ethernet model after run on a 100mhz front side bus.

1) CPU – All of the original model G4 Macs run on the Power PC G4 (7400) CPU.  The CPU in this machine is a 450mhz version with 1mb of L2 cache but they also came in speeds of 350mhz to 500mhz. The 450mhz would be the middle range option and is probably comparable to an earlier Pentium III in performance.

2) RAM – There are four slots present designed to handle up to 2GB of PC100 SDRAM. stock though the most the machine usually came with was 256mb. Also earlier OS’s which originally came loaded onto the Sawtooth can only detect up to 1.5gb

3) Internal Firewire. The Sawtooth G4 has an interesting internal connector not present on the earlier Yikes models nor the later Gigabit Ethernet version. This is a Firewire 400 jack on the lower right corner of the motherboard presumably to power an internal Firewire hard drive.

4) Wireless airport card connector for attaching a wireless card. This was a feature not present on the earlier model.

5) ATA connectors – Two ATA66 connectors for attaching up to four IDE devices such as CD drives and hard drives.

6) CMOS battery – Is the standard 3.6 V lithium battery to save settings. Like all Macs the death of these batteries tend to cause more issues then what I see happen in PC’s. If your having odd instabilities replace these things first.

7) ATX power connector

Finally lets take a look at the expansion slots and cards I have installed.

The Sawtooth comes with three 66mhz PCI slots which will accept your standard PCI cards as well as special cards meant for the faster 66mhz PCI slot. Also new to this model over the Yikes Macintosh is the x2 AGP slot for a dedicated video card.

Video – The video card I have installed is an AGP ATI Rage 128 Pro card. This would of been the stock video card to come with this G4 though some models also came with non Pro versions. These cards came with 16mb of video memory onboard. I think the Rage 128 Pro is a decent card for the time and these were found in virtually all Apple Macintosh machines at the time. They have decent performance compared to something like the TNT2 as well as good compatibility with older titles. The video out options on this particular card are also nice offering standard VGA as well as DVI and S-video. This card does seem to run out of steam fairly quickly when you start running games post 2001 or so. Id recommend it for late 90’s Mac games but if you looking to upgrade this card maybe should be close to top on the your list for replacement.

SCSI was also an option on these Macs and many long time Macintosh users were still quite accustomed to the SCSI hard and CD drives. My machine came with a PCI Adaptec SCSI controller which I suspect was installed stock. I was able to use this card to replace the hard drive in the ZIP drive bay with an actual purple face plate SCSI ZIP drive although stock these machines used IDE ZIP drives with a face plates matching the translucent blue plastic.

CPU UPGRADE

I did also happen to acquire a Sonnet Encore ST/G4 upgrade CPU that I wanted to test out on this machine. Mine is a whopping 1.7ghz upgrade but they also made a 1.8Ghz upgrade chip and possibly faster. Installation was fairly easy and saw a massive speed boost over the 450mhz G4

I did notice that OS 10.2 did identify the CPU as a G3 though this didn’t seem to really affect anything.

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Another upgrade I tried out as adding a PCI ATA133 card to match with the installed Maxtor ATA133 hard drive. This created noticeable faster booting times.

All an all another solid G4 machine from Apple. The Sawtooth does a modest job of improving on the Yikes G4 (a machine I hope to one day cover) but doesn’t offer anything to dramatic. Again, this is machine would certainly make a nice 90’s Mac gaming rig with a CPU that falls into the area of being capable but not to fast. The case is also rather nice being built quite solidly compared to earlier “brittletosh” cases and is also super easy to access and work on. I’ve never had any issues with the G4 processor and its always a treat to work with. These machines can also be found very cheaply so don’t hesitate to pick one up.

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Some time ago I wrote an article on the Power Macintosh G3 minitower. In This article we are going to take a look at the desktop version of the same G3 and also look at a few minor upgrades I have performed.

Here is my rather yellowed but otherwise in good shape G3 desktop also known as an “Outrigger” case.  The G3 desktop was apples last traditional desktop Macintosh and more or less uses the exact same case as the 7500 and 7600 series I’ve covered in the past. Same speaker on the left and same available drive bays. Mine came with a 1.44mb floppy drive in the obvious floppy drive spot as well as a 24x speed CD-ROM drive below that and a 100mb ZIP drive which were not to uncommon on these machines. The floppy drives on these machines though are powered via a propietary floppy cable and do not have a molex connector on them. I’m unsure if you can use a regular floppy drive.

Here we see the back of the case which is similar but a little different then the 7500 or 7600 due to a different motherboard. There are three slots for expansion cards located on the far right.

We have a power connector and a pass through for a monitor top center and starting at the bottom left we have a SCSI connector followed by a lone ADB port followed by a Ethernet jack and then modem and printer jacks. Lastly we have a display jack for the built in graphics. To the right of the display jack we have another modem jack that my model came with as well as jacks for the audio, a audio out and mic input. This section may vary since it can be swapped out with various “personality cards” which I’ll talk about when we get to the motherboard portion.

Taking the top of the case off reveals pretty much the exact same thing we saw with the 7500/7600 machines.

Opening up the plastic folds and lifting the drive bay compartments reveals the motherboard as well as a space for a hard drive which is mounted on a sled much like in the drive bays. Mine came with the original 4GB hard drive and OS 8.6. The motherboard is much smaller then the motherboard of the 7500 or 7600 in the same case.

Here we have the drive and its sled removed.

The motherboard in the desktop model uses the exact same board as was found in the minitower.

Here is a closer shot of the area on the board were going to look at first with the CPU, RAM and ROM.

1 ) CPU – The G3 macs including the desktop models all used the PowerPC G3 750 CPU. The Desktop model came most commonly with a 233 or 266mhz CPU with 512k6 of L2 backside cache. They also came with a 300mhz CPU with 1mb of L2 cache option. My model was originally a 266mhz version but I upgraded mine to a 300mhz CPU with the 1mb of L2 cache.

The CPU modules have the L2 cache on them and install pretty much like you would on a PC  with a ZIF socket. You simply remove the heatsink, lift the lever and remove and replace your CPU. Keep in mind to change the CPU speed you will need to set jumpers on these motherboards which I will detail further down the page. When I replaced my 266mhz CPU with a 300mhz version it was still running at 266mhz until I set the jumpers although it was detecting the full 1mb of L2 cache as opposed to the 512kb on the original CPU.

2 ) RAM – the G3 has 3 RAM slots for PC66 SDRAM. Generally the machine sold with 32 to 64mb of RAM but is expandable up to 768MB. I have mine with the full 768mb of RAM. You can use faster PC100 or 133 RAM but it will operate as PC66.

Also keep in mind your going to want lower profile RAM since if the RAM is even a little taller then the stock CPU heatsink its going to cause issues with the top fitting. you can make it work but its awkward and pressed down on the motherboard.

Also of note for games. If you are experiencing audio stutter in games as in the example below TURN OFF virtual memory in the OS.

 

3 ) ROM – Like a lot of earlier Macs the G3 has its ROM on a module. early A revisions of this ROM did not allow slave devices on the IDE bus thus limiting you to one device per IDE controller. This was fixed with revision B and C. I have a later B revision of the ROM, the $77D.45F1 but if you do have an early revision A it is advisable to track down a B or C revision and swap them out. You can find this information under the Apple system Profiler in the OS.

3b ) Video – The onboard video as well as the SGRAM is located under the modem on my machine and next to the PERCH card slot. Early models had the ATI Rage II+ chip on board and later motherboards like mine have the Rage Pro or Rage Pro Turbo chips. This came with 2mb of SGRAM on the board expandable to 6mb.

4 ) “Personality” card or PERCH card – This card basically is the audio card for the Mac providing a simple audio out and mic input. These cards were known as “personality” cards or PERCH cards and are upgradable. My G3 has the simple audio card known as “Whisper” but can be upgraded to the “Wings” card which includes A/V input for video capture. There is also a very rare “Bordeaux” card which features DVD decoding capabilities.

My machine also has the optional 56k model seen just below the PERCH card.

5) Pram Battery which is you CMOS battery for retaining data.

6) CPU and FSB jumpers – This is the jumper block for setting your front side bus, CPU multiplier and PCI clock speed. The G3 comes from the factory with a preinstalled jumper block set to whatever your machines factory configuration is. as seen below.

This is usually under a warranty void type sticker. If your planning to upgrade your CPU or overclock your going to need to set these jumpers. Keep in mind the G3 motherboard uses the smaller 2.00mm sized jumpers but these can usually be found very cheaply on Ebay.

A guide to setting the jumpers can be found here and here.

Here is the jumpers after the factory set block is removed.

7 ) PCI – the G3 has three PCI slots available for expansion with the appropriate MAC version PCI cards.

I have cards installed in two of my three PCI slots. I will detail these upgrades at the end of the article.

8 ) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting relevant SCSI devices such as hard drives and CD drives.

9) Two ATA-2 IDE connectors for connecting IDE hard drives and CD-Rom drives. If you have an early ROM board then you can only have one device per connection as opposed to two in a slave/master configuration. You are also limited to drives of up to 137gb with the onboard controllers.

10) PSU connector

11) Floppy connector.

My Expansion cards

I have installed two PCI cards in my G3 Macintosh as upgrades

1 ) Sonnet ATA-133 controller card

This is actually the same card I had installed in my G4 MDD Macintosh. I decided to pair this card up with both a 52x speed CDRW drive as well as a 40gb Maxtor ATA-133 hard drive for added speed. This allowed me double my CD speeds and dramatically increase the speed of accessing my hard drive. Using a PCI IDE controller also allows you to overcome the 137gb size barrier of the onboard controller.

2 ) ATI Rage 128 PCI video card w/ DVD decoder.

Not really a huge upgrade over the onboard video but an upgrade that offers a little more power and DVD decoding abilities. The Rage 128 chip is a decent chip that offers good compatibility with games in general and should work fine with late 90’s Mac games. I believe the card pictured above is the 16mb version though there are 32mb cards available. These cards are also fairly cheap and available online. Just be sure to buy the Macintosh versions.

So in the end what do I think of the G3 desktop? I like it. Even though it is basically the same machine as the minitower model I have a soft spot for desktop designs and the desktop just fits into my setup better. The desktop model also seems lighter then the tower model though since it uses the same 7500/7600 series case it comes with the same issues of being made of very brittle plastic. Expect hinges and tabs to bust off when working with this machine. Overall I feel the G3 makes a good rig for playing late 90’s Macintosh games and offers a good range of expansion options. With OS 8 or 9 loaded on your hard drive your good to go.

The Color Classic was a much beloved but underpowered classic compact Macintosh released in February of 1993. Along with the Color Classic II released that same year it was the only “classic” compact Mac to feature a color screen. Unfortunately the Color Classic was very underpowered and was comparable to Apples low cost LC machines. It has a very low RAM limit of 10MB and its 16mhz 68030 CPU was strangled performance wise by its 16-bit data bus. Compare this to its big brother the Color Classic II which featured 36MB of maximum RAM and a 33mhz 68030 on a full 32-bit data bus. Unfortunately the Color Classic II or Colour Classic II as it is also known was never sold in the US and only in Asia, Europe and Canada. Even in places it was officially sold it was not overly common and importing one can command a high price. If you do live in the US though there is a practical solution to turning your Color Classic into the machine it should of been in the first place and that is to replace the motherboard with that of a Macintosh LC 550, essentially transforming it into a Color Classic II. In this article we will be looking at one such machine. Except for the case label on the front and a slightly different motherboard this machine is for all practical purposes a Color Classic II.

The Color Classic and Classic II use the same case and only differ externally by the name plate at the bottom. The case itself is a departure from the earlier styling of the compact Macs and has a much rounder case design. The main attraction to the Color Classics are the built in 10 inch (9 inch viewable) Sony color Trinitron monitor. Former models in the compact Mac lines all used black & white monitors and later macs immediately following the color classics used lesser quality shadow mask monitors.  The monitor in these models is known to give a very crisp image capable of 512 x 384 pixel resolution. The down side of this monitor and its lower resolution is that many games from the time required a 640 X 480 resolution. One popular modification does allow you to increase the Color Classics resolution up to the required 640 x 480 increasing game compatibility also adds stress to components and may result in a shorter overall life span of your Macintosh.

Above the monitor we have a built in Microphone, a new feature for Macintosh computers at the time. Below the monitor we have a standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a power LED and controls for volume level and brightness.

One thing to note about the Color Classic is the the power switch on the back does not actually power up the system. To initiate boot you need to use an Apple keyboard with a soft power on button on the keyboard. The switch on the rear is simply to activate the power supply. To the right of the PSU we have two pots for monitor adjustments and in the center above our ports is a security lock.

From the bottom left to right we have two ADB ports for keyboard and mice followed by a printer port, modem port. external SCSI port, microphone jack, audio out jack and finally a space for an expansion card. My Color Classic came with a Ethernet card installed.

Getting access to the motherboard in a Color Classic is exceptionally easy and all you need to do is gently press down on the two plastic tabs and pull away from the case. The plastic cover should come right off. To remove the motherboard itself just grasp it firmly and pull away from the case.

If you look inside the bay where the motherboard came out you can see the edge connector on the far side where the board interfaces with the rest of the computer.

The floppy drive and hard drive are accessible by removing the outer case via four t15 screws much like the older compact macs. My machine came with a 120mb SCSI 50 pin hard drive. The hard drive can be removed without removing the analog board with a little effort but the floppy drive usually requires its removal to access it. Also of note the speaker is also housed in a plastic shell below the PSU and behind the floppy drive. The speaker also needs to be removed to access the floppy drive.

Before I start talking about the motherboard I need to restate as the title says that this is NOT a stock Color Classic. Stock I feel this machine is pretty underpowered so thankfully when I picked this unit up it had been upgraded by replacing the motherboard with the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 550. The Macintosh LC 550 motherboard is essentially the same motherboard in the fairly uncommon Color Classic II thus by swapping boards with a 550 board you turn your Classic I into a full fledged Classic II with two minor differences. The first difference is the name badge on the front of the case which I suspect can be swapped out if by some random chance you come across a Classic II’s badge. Second, depending on what you read the Color Classic II either has the exact same motherboard as the LC 550 or the LC 550 has slightly more video ram maximums ( 512k maximum in a Color Classic II as opposed to 768kb maximum in an LC 550). The LC 550 having a higher VRAM max makes sense as it was meant to drive a higher res monitor but still many sources on the internet claim they use the same board.

There are other upgrades you can perform on a Color Classic I or II such as the “Mystic” mod which allows a 68040 CPU or even Power PC CPU mods but these require software and/or hardware modifications where as the LC 550 mod is simply a matter of swapping motherboards and that is all. LC 550 boards have gotten harder to find in the US but price wise it’s still a cheaper and easier option then paying a hefty premium to import a Color Classic II.

The board itself is extremely compact. Take note of the metal legs on the underside when removing or reinserting the board back into the case as they can break off and short components as they rattle around inside a powered on machine.

1)  Edge Connector – This is the connector that the board uses to interface with the rest of the computer when inserted into the case.

2) PDS or Processor Direct Slot – A rather limited form of expandability slot. Usually cards using the PDS slot were specific to the CPU used thus a PDS card meant for a 68040 would not work on a 38030 with a PDS slot. My particular Color Classic has an Ethernet card occupying this slot but another popular card was the Apple IIe emulator card which let one play Apple IIe games on the Color Classic I and II.

3) CPU – The LC550/Color Classic II are equipped with a Motorola 68030 running at 33mhz on a 33mhz front side bus utilizing a full 32-bit data bus as seen on this board. This was a pretty speedy CPU at the time and is worlds better then the 16mhz 38030 in the original Color Classic which was strangled performance wise by a 16-bit data bus motherboard.

4) Coprocessor – Here is a socket for an optional 68882 math coprocessor to assist in floating point math. This was an option on both Color Classics and the LC 550. My motherboard thankfully came with one installed. Not terribly useful for games but nice to have none the less.

5) PRAM – standard PRAM battery for holding saved data and date/time.

6) VRAM – Here is the systems video ram for the built in video controller. On the original Color Classic you had 256kb with the slot allowing for expandability up to 512kb of VRAM. On the LC 550 we have 512kb standard with the added RAM via the neighboring slot for a total of 768kb. As I stated earlier there is some mixed information on the internet on if a true Color Classic II board allows up to 768k or is maxed out at 512kb like the original Color Classic.

7) RAM – The original Color Classic was restricted to managable but still low amount of 10mb of RAM but the Color Classic II and LC 550 board we see here comes with 4mb solder onto the board with the ability to expand up to 32 additional megabytes via a 72 pin RAM slot for a full 36mb of RAM as I have on my machine.

In conclusion the Color Classic is a neat little machine. It takes up barley any space which is also part of the reason it has such a cult following in places like Japan where space is at a premium. It also has a very nice and crisp color display unlike previous compact macs which were limited to monochrome displays. While the power and expandability of the original Color Classic is pretty poor the Color Classic II is everything the original should have been and if you happen to come across one pick it up if you like Macs. If your in the US however finding a Classic II may be daunting so if you do have an original model keep an eye out for the LC 550 motherboard, perhaps from an LC with a dead monitor. The motherboard swap is literally just a drop in replacement and you instantly have yourself a Color Classic II with maybe a little extra VRAM.

BSR or Birmingham Sound Reproducers may not be immediately recognizable to many readers and it wasn’t to myself. Based out of the UK, BSR was a fairly major producer of turntables that started up in the 1950’s and lasted until 1998 when they were acquired by Emerson. Like many companies in the 1980’s and 90’s they dabbled in the home computer market. The PC we’re going to look at in today’s article is branded by BSR and is one of the subtly oddest PC’s I’ve yet to come across. It doesn’t do anything “wrong” but some of the design choices are just unexpected and unconventional.

bsr1

The BSR 386SX/16 uses a fairly slim and light desktop case. To the left we have a rectangle power button next to three LED’s for power, turbo and HDD activity with a red reset button near the bottom. The turbo function is not initiated by a button but by keyboard command of CTR + or CTR -. To the right of the reset button we have a front PS/2 port for a keyboard. Having a keyboard port of the front wasn’t super uncommon on older 80’s PC’s but by the early 90’s  It was a much less common design choice. It is nice though to have a PS/2 port rather then the big AT keyboard port on a 386.

External expansion for the 386/16 though is rather weak with only two 5 1/4 external bays to the far right limiting your options for drives. I opted for a traditional 1.2mb and 1.44mb floppy combo which would of been typical for the time time but there is no reason one cannot ditch a floppy drive and add a CD-ROM drive or even find a combo drive.

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Here is a full view of the rear of the PC with the power supply on the left. below is a closer image of the interesting stuff on the right.

bsr3

Although it looks like there are more you really only have four ports for expansion as the two bottom slots are connected to the motherboard as well as the video port on the left. Other then the video lets take a look at the built in ports starting from the left below the VGA port and moving right.

The first port labeled “mouse” is the first of what I would say is a somewhat unusual feature which in this case is a built in bus mouse port. Bus mice along with serial mice were the two common interfaces for mice before the ps/2 interface came along and became standard. The BSR 386sx/16 uses a standard Microsoft InPort interface for the bus mouse. In my experience built in bus mouse ports aren’t terribly common but they also don’t really function any differently then a serial mouse would.

Here is an example of a bus mouse that I use on this machine.

bsrmouse

The connector for bus mice at a glance looks very similar to a later PS/2 mouse and can easily be mistaken for one but the pins are arranged very differently.

bsrmice

After the bus mouse port we have a printer port followed by two serial ports.

The case is easy to open. After unscrewing two screws on each side just slide the top and front bezel forward.

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1) CPU – The CPU in the BSR 386SX/16 is unsurprisingly the Intel 386SX chip running at 16mhz. The 16mhz 386SX is one of the earliest 80386 processors and the SX designated it as a sort of low cost cut down version of the 386 with only a 16-bit data bus as opposed to a 32-bit data bus of a true 386 or a 386DX chip as they were labeled.  What this results in is a snail of a CPU which in many circumstances is slower then even a 286 running at the same clock rate and almost certainly slower then a 20mhz or 25mhz 286 that are only running at slightly higher clock rates. The saving grace of the 386SX chip though is its ability to run programs or games that require 386 code to run even if the chip is slower then its 286 equivalent. Unfortunately in the case of the BSR 386SX/16 the CPU is soldered onto the motherboard leaving few options for upgrade paths.

For a rough comparison I tested the CPU of the BSR and my 20mhz Harris 286 machine in Checkit 3.0 CPU benchmark

386SX-16  = 3234

286-20      = 3683

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2) Co-Processor – Next to the CPU we have an empty socket. This socket is meant to allow the later addition of a 387 math co-processor to assist in mathematical calculations. As I’ve said countless times before this was mostly useful for things like CAD programs at the time though a few games can take advantage of the co-pro. I upgraded my PC here with a Intel 387sx running at 25mhz which works fine with a slower CPU.

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3) RAM – The RAM setup on this machine is a little odd. Soldered directly onto the motherboard is 2MB of RAM. Connecting to the motherboard directly above the soldered on memory is a kind of little RAM daughterboard with six slots for 30 pin RAM. now as I cant find any documentation on the maximum amount of RAM the BSR 386SX/16 can take I cant say but on first guess I would say 16MB max but after finding a manual for a similar machine I now suspect the total max RAM is 8MB. Unfortunately despite my efforts I can not get the machine to recognize more then 4MB total. The two on-board and then two additional via the RAM slots. If I attempt to populate the other slots or use higher density RAM, 4MB for instance, the machine either only “sees” 4MB total or just plane refuses to POST. It could simply be an issue with my particular PC or my RAM as I find a 4MB limit unlikely for a 386 with that many RAM slots available.

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*UPDATE*

After some more experimenting and finding a manual for a similar model I now believe the total RAM this PC can accept is 8MB. Focusing on this I did find a combination that gave me a total RAM of 8MB. This did not require messing with any jumpers or DIP switches.

ramnew

4) Switch – Here is the mysterious switch. most likely this is used in place of jumpers to set things such as disabling on-board floppy controllers and other functions. Unfortunately I can find no documentation on this motherboard so I’m left with no idea what these switches do. Also next to the switch is the Pizo speaker.

bsrswitch

5) Riser board – The riser board on the BSR 386sx/16 features four 16 bit ISA slots. Three are on the left side and one is located on the upper opposite side. The lack of more then one slot on the opposite side has to do with the video card which I’ll get to shortly. There is also a molex power connector on the riser board though I’m not entirely sure what purpose it serves. I would assume this is to supply extra power to the slots but I cant think of an example ISA card that would require the extra power.

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6) Power connector – Despite the PSU connector being a standard AT connector it is arranged in a rather non-standard way. Rather then having both of the connectors lined up next to each other as in just about every AT connector I’ve ever seen the BSR places them above and below each other. It achieves the same thing but its just a little odd.

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7) Floppy connector – On-board standard floppy controller supporting 1.2mb and 1.44mb HD disk drives. Another oddity is that the power to the floppy can come straight off the motherboard via a connector by the PSU connector and external batt. connector.

8) External battery connector – There is no actual CMOS battery on this motherboard, either RTC or nic-cad barrel battery only a connector for an external battery. Note that I have seen one other BSR 386SX/16 online that seemed to have a different revision of this motherboard that did have a RTC battery on the side close to the switch box.

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Video – The video on the BSR 36SX/16 is very interesting. AT first glance from the outside it appears to be a discrete card or maybe built in but like the RAM module the video is connected in a sort of daughterboard fashion.

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Even more interesting is the somewhat rare video chipset this PC uses. The fabled Cirrus Logic “Eagle II” chipset.

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This video chipsets claim to fame is that it’s supposedly the only VGA capable video chipset that is actually 100% CGA backwards compatible. Many VGA video cards claim to be 100% CGA register compatible but in all known instances they aren’t actually 100%. The discrete video card version of this video chipset tends to go for high dollar amounts and is not very common. My own tests with the video card using the CGA tester program have turned out some incompatibilities but that may be due to the fact this version only has a VGA connector where as the discrete video card versions also has a hd-9 pin  connector that when attached to a CGA monitor may very well be 100% compatible.

The hard drive controller card that came with my system is from WDC. Its works fine with the Seagate 107MB HDD that also came with the PC. I have no idea though if the hard drive and controller card are stock but if I had to guess I would say yes.

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To round the system out I did add a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 which I think is about the perfect card for a 386 system of any speed.

There’s not much else I can say about the BSR 386SX/16 except its a very odd system. It doesn’t really do anything innovative or revolutionary but what it does do it just implements in different and odd ways, not better or necessarily worse….just different.

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The CPU is an absolute snail as I said earlier and is soldered directly on but I suppose it does make a good machine for many early titles since it’s so slow but still has the ability to run games that need a 386. The video is also pretty uncommon and offers great compatibility for early games. All and all the BSR 386SX/16 kind of fits a nice little gaming niche between an 8088 and a 486 since your getting roughly  12-16mhz 286 performance but the ability to to run games that require 386 code.

Benchmarks

Checkit 3.0 – CPU 3234, NPU – 917.6

Topbench – 27

Wolf3d – 7.7

3dBench 1.0 – 4.4

PCP Bench – 1.1

Speedsys – 1.88

 

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There’s just something about an IBM machine. After the PS/1 and PS/2 line IBM continued within the consumer PC market with a line simply known as the IBM PC line. This line of PC’s was sold roughly from 1994 to 2000 and consisted of many models from mid range 486 CPU’s to Pentium III’s. There isn’t anything particularly special about the IBM PC line as they don’t do anything necessarily new outside of a few uncommon design choices though I have to say I’ve always loved the look of the desktop cases within the line. In this article we are going to look at the 300PL type 6562…..sounds like a designation for a WWII Japanese tank.

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I’ve just always liked the look of these desktops. Kind of unique look that mixes more modern style (late 90’s and 200’s) with older (80’s early 90’s). The only thing I really don’t care for is the plastic case seems pretty fragile in parts and mine received a fair amount of damage in shipping. We have sort of a “ribbed” beige case with a nice prominent IBM logo. To the left we have a large round power button as well as your led lights for power, HDD and Ethernet. Not to much room for external bays as we have a spot for a 1.44mb floppy mid case and to the right of it two 5 1/4 bays that I currently have a DVD drive installed in one and nothing in the lower bay. Stock this machine would have a CD drive installed rather then a DVD drive.

One feature of the type 6562 that is lacking on most other models of the 300PL line is the convenient front audio options.

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We have a microphone jack and a headphone jack as well as a very convenient volume knob. My research indicates this was removed from later models due to the fact it was difficult to line up the case with the volume knob when putting the case top back in place though personally I have not found this to difficult. The built in audio is powered by a Crystal 4236B chip. It is possible to enhance the audio quality of the sound by replacing some caps but I will leave a link outlining this processed at the end of the article.

Looking at the back.

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You may notice in the image above that the case uses plastic tabs to shut which unfortunately were damaged in shipping so the case doesn’t quite snap back together properly. There are four expansion slots arranged in a vertical manner as well as a key slot for locking the machine if you were the type to do such things. Its inclusion does make sense seeing as these were likely heavily marketed to business. Starting at the lower left we have the usual suspects, audio in and out jacks along with built in Ethernet port, parallel port, two USB ports, two serial ports, ps/2 ports for keyboard and mouse and finally a built in VGA port. Having built in Ethernet and audio out of the box is a nice feature for a Pentium 1 machine.

The IBM 300PL uses a screwless case design which causes it to suffer similarly to others 90’s screwless cases. The plastic has become brittle with age and is easy to accidentally snap off making shipping and even routine case open and closings a risky endeavor.

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Above are the internals along with a view of where the drives are oriented. One interesting thing about this motherboard that you can’t see to well in this image is that floppy, IDE and power connectors are all located on the riser card rather then the motherboard itself.

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With the removal of two screws the 5 1/4 bays can fold up on a hing allowing easy access and revealing a bay on the underside for a hard drive. I like this feature as it makes swapping drives very easy.

The primary IDE connector is actually located on the side of the riser card facing 5 1/4 bays. The primary power connector is also located on this side which can be made out in the background.

ibm300pl7Now to take a look at the riser card itself.

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Here you can see the secondary IDE connector as well as the floppy connector and power connector for the floppy drive, which is somewhat odd seeing as power is not being supplied by a cable straight off the power supply. This riser card has three PCI and two 16-bit ISA slots though one of the PCI/ISA slots is shared. This is more then adequate for a late DOS or early windows rig in my opinion

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1) CPU – The 300PL is an early socket 7 motherboard with the Triton II chipset which seems to have been a high-end offering at the time. My 300PL came with a Intel Pentium 200mhz installed but I upgraded it to a 233mhz MMX CPU which is officially the fastest CPU it can take. Upgrading the CPU is possible though with something like a PowerLeap PL-K6-III. The stock CPU does not come with a fan on the heatsink but the case fan is located directly below the CPU blowing air over the heatsink.

The 300PL has 512kb of on-board L2 cache which I suspect are the two chips located just above the CPU

2) The 300PL is very picky about RAM. According to official documentation it must be EDO nonparity (NP) or EDO error correcting code (ECC) DRAMs of up to 128mb in size. Mine currently has 128MB that came installed when I acquired this machine. The max RAM that is physically possible to install is 384mb since there are only three sockets for RAM and the machine is only capable of using 128MB sticks each. The chipset itself though is capable of supporting 512mb of RAM. I attempted to use various RAM sticks over 128mb and none were accepted.

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3) Video – The built in video chip is actually rather good and is the Matrox Mystique 1064SG-H chip. Not a surprising choice seeing as this machine has business uses in mind but it still makes a fast chip for DOS games and offers excellent 2d image quality as well as providing some early 3D abilities. The Mystique does have some compatibility issues with things like fog layers in some games but overall is a good chip, especially when paired with something like a Voodoo 1 or 2. The chip comes with 2mb of video SGRAM built into the board with the option to increase the amount to 4mb with an add on card. There is also connections for video option cards like the Rainbow Runner.

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That white connector to the right is for an optional IR upgrade.

4) Switch block – Rather then use all jumpers to make settings IBM opted to use a nice switch block to help set things such as CPU speed. Here is a shot of the info sheet on what the switches control located on the underside of my case.

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5) CMOS Battery – Next to the switch block is also located the CMOS battery for saving changes made in the BIOS.

That’s about it for the IBM 300PL type 6562. It’s actually not a bad choice for a DOS machine or early Windows. The amount of options built in is nice and the the built in video is actually very good for the time especially when paired with a Voodoo card. The case, although very estheticly pleasing, at least to me, suffers from aging brittle plastic issues as do most screwless 90’s computers.

A great resource on the 300PL 6562 HERE

Benchmarks (Intel 233mhz MMX, 512kn L2 cache, 128 EDO RAM, Built-in Matrox Mystique 1064SG-H)

3D Bench – 163.6

PCP Bench – 58.1

DOOM – 82.7

Quake – 45.6

Speedsys – 175.43

Anyone that has read my Dell Dimension XPS D and R series post knows that I have a large soft spot for the Dell Dimension series. Here were going to look at the 4100, one of the final PC’s in the Dimension series to sport the classic beige case style before moving on to the black/grey rounded P4 cases that currently litter thrift store electronics sections.

The 4100 seems to of been released sometimes in the very early 2000’s. Although I do not know for sure the exact factory configuration these shipped in mine is a good example of something period correct.

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The 4100 uses the same case as some of the older models in the Dimension line such as the XPS R450 I looked at in the earlier article mentioned above. I do like these case designs and I think they give a unique look. There are two 5 1/4 bays at the top for things like CD drives and two 3 1/2 bays below those plus another 3 1/2 bay for a floppy or zip drive below that. I also like how these Dimension series cases are thinner then average PC towers of the time so they tend to be able to fit into smaller nooks.

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The rear ports from the motherboard are very basic with no built in video or audio which is typical of some of the Dimension series. This was because they generally were sold with higher quality add on video and sound cards rather then built in A/V. Mot serious PC enthusiasts now and then preferred expansion card video and sound as opposed to built in options which you were stuck with and were generally of lower quality to save on costs.

Built in we have the basic two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse as well as one serial and one parallel port and two USB ports. The number of ports is adequate for the times but I feel it gives the back a rather sparse look.

removing the side cover is very simple and only involves removing one thumb screw and pinching the latches with a pull back.

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Here we have a view of the motherboard fully populated with expansion cards from when I first brought it home. Notice the nice space for a vertical hard drive near the front of the case where a typical PC speaker or fan may go.  I like this and it’s a nice use of space allowing for more open bays if you want to add more hard drives, ect… The drive that came with my 4100 is a 40gb drive and I believe this was likely the original drive that came stock with this PC.

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Here we have a view of the motherboard without any expansion cards as well as having that fan shroud removed which diverted air flow from the case fan down over the CPU for cooling. Like the rest of the machine this motherboard looks relatively sparse and is very similar to the motherboard used in the older D and R series just with no ISA, one less RAM slot and a socket 370 CPU rather then the older slot 1 CPU type. The lack of an ISA connector does hurt this machine in terms of using it as a DOS rig as older DOS era games tend to get along much nicer with ISA sound cards. The AGP port supports 2x and x4 AGP cards.

1) CPU – The CPU that originally was installed in this machine was 1.1ghz Pentium III Celeron. The Celeron line was seen as more of a budget friendly entry level CPU and was basically a cut down “Coppermine” Pentium III . The 1.1ghz model ran on a 100mhz front side bus as opposed to 133mhz for many “full” Pentium III’s and also only had half the L2 cache on-chip (128kb vs 256kb). Thankfully the motherboard is capable of supporting all but the later Tualatin Pentium III’s so replacing the Celeron with a standard “Coppermine” Pentium III is a simple CPU swap. I swapped mine out with a slightly slower clock rate but higher performing 1ghz Pentium III. All I had to do was swap CPU’s and the computer knew without having to make any adjustments. Even with the 100mhz slower clock rate on the Pentium III chip I received noticeable performance gains due to the higher 133mhz FSB and double on-chip L2 cache. I also used a later Pentium III 1ghz chip which incorporated an integrated heat spreader. There is no performance difference with these chips but I prefer the heat spreader as it seems to make the CPU’s a little more durable during installation.

Bechmarks

1.1ghz Celeron

3DMark 2000 – 3513

3DMark 2001SE – 1874

1ghz Pentium III

3DMark 2000 – 4321

3DMark 2001SE – 2023

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There is also no fan cooler directly mounted on the heatsink as in this design the case fan is used with a plastic shroud that diverts the air flow down and onto the CPU. Above image is with shroud removed.

2) RAM – Total memory officially supported is 512mb of PC133 SDRAM. I currently have one 512MB PC133 stick of RAM installed in the image below but I had no trouble at all installing a second 512mb PC133 stick and running things completely fine under Windows 2000 Pro.

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3) The 4100 motherboard continues to use the Dell proprietary PSU connector as you can see directly behind the RAM slot. Adapters can be found cheaply on eBay though for well under $10 so you can use any AT  PSU. Also behind the RAM are two IDE connectors and one floppy connector.

Lastly I want to talk about expansion cards. I believe the sound and video cards That I found installed in this PC are the stock cards that this machine was sold at retail though configurations may have varied.

The machine I bought came with several connectivity cards installed such as a modem, ethernet and wireless adapter. Unfortunately I had heavy stability issues initially with this machine until I removed these cards. This was likely caused by driver conflicts but since I didn’t plan on using these cards anyways they were just eating space.

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Video – The video card was a Geforce 2MX.

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This was Nvidia’s entry level budget card for the Geforce 2 line and was cut down feature and performance wise from the standard GF2 cards. That said it is still a capable card and offered good performance for the price point offering hardware T&L as well as dual monitor capability.

Sound – lastly we have the sound card installed.

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This is a Creative CT5807 and is a very basic budget card. It lacks a joystick port which to be honest were phasing out at the time in favor of USB gamepads but is just very sparse in features. for output it simply offers line out/in and mic. it gets the job done but not to exciting.

Its fairly obvious that between the Celeron CPU, Geforce 2MX and budget sound card that whomever built or ordered this PC back in the day was doing it on a budget. Despite this the great thing about the Dimension series is that they were very easy to upgrade. I was able to boost performance very easily with a CPU swap to a full fledged PIII and swapping out the video and sound cards would be a breeze. Even though I’m not a fan of OEM builds from the mid 90’s up the Dimension series has always appealed to me. I love the look of the case and relative ease to get inside. I would certainly recommend the 4100 series as one of the final “beige box” Dimensions for a retro gamer. The lack of ISA slots hurt DOS games but with the right upgrades it still makes a great rig for late DOS, win 98 and early XP gaming.

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Amiga computers hold a place very dear to my heart. Growing up my family did not have an IBM PC or PC compatible until the mid to late 1990’s but what we did have was a Commodore C64 and my dads almighty Amiga 500. Today though we are going to talk about the worlds very first Amiga computer, the Amiga 1000.

The Amiga 1000 was released in 1985 and utilized a Motorola 68000 CPU running at 7.16mhz as well as 256kb of built in RAM (expandable to 8.5MB or possibly more with a CPU accelerator card) and a custom chipset known as the OCS (Original Chip Set) that consisted of special chips known as Agnus (display controller), Denise (graphics), Paula (sound) and Gary (system address decoader) for graphics and sound that blew away anything the IBM PC was capable of doing at the time. The highest Kickstart and workbench version (The name of the Amiga graphical operating system) the A1000 will run without upgrading is ver. 1.3 though the bulk of games were meant to run in this environment so it’s generally not much of an issue.

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The A1000 is a fairly light and low profile desktop machine. It is the only Amiga to use the checkmark logo which you can see on the far upper left of the case. Under the logo and above the power LED my machine has a sticker for the “Insider one meg Ram” expansion which is a third party upgrade the previous owner added. Also on the left side of the case not seen above is a small power switch for turning the A1000 on and off. In the center is a RAM expansion module that can be used to expand the on board RAM but we’ll get to that in a moment. On the far right is a single double density 3 1/2 floppy drive. This is not a standard IBM type drive and uses a special Amiga disk format for 880k disks though a standard PC floppy drive can be modified to run in an Amiga. Also not seen in the image are two 9 pin joystick/mouse ports on the right side near the face of the machine. these are like the ports found on a Atari 2600 and support joysticks such as the Wico commander.

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Also on this side is a plastic panel which can be removed to reveal an 86 pin expansion port. This port can be used with various side cart expansions that add things such as RAM, hard drives and SCSI controllers though these sidecars tend to be hard to find and expansive.

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We should talk about the Amiga 1000 keyboard as well while were looking at the front since that space you see at the bottom of the machine is actually ment to be a keyboard port to park your keyboard under the Amiga when not in use.

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The A1000 keyboard is actually rather fragile and as you may be able to see here mine is not in the best condition. Here’s also a tip, to restart the Amiga without powering on and off hold down the two “Amiga” keys marked “A” and the control button. The A1000 keyboard also uses a phone jack type cable to connect to the main computer.

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Now lets take a look at the rear of the machine.

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On the back we have a variety of ports. Will start with the ports on the far left. First we have the telephone style keyboard connector jack followed by a printer parallel port and then a port for connecting an external floppy drive followed by a RS-232 serial port that is labeled for modem use. Next we have two stereo RCA jacks for audio and an RGB port for connection to a RGB computer monitor.

The nice thing about the A1000 is besides the RGB port for a monitor is it also has an RF modulator port for connections to most TV’s and a composite RCA jack. The jack for the RF modulator is next to the RGB connector and requires a modulator box to be connected to it like this one.

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From this box one could then connect a coaxial cable. The downside is the box does awkwardly stick out of the back on the machine. Finally next to that is a composite RCA jack so you could hook your Amiga up to a TV for a better picture then RF provided the TV had the jack. Note the A1000 can output video simultaneously through RGB and composite and possibly RF. Under the A/V connectors there is a standard three pronged power jack.

While we are talking about video outputs I want to take a quick look at the monitor.

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I’m using a Commodore 2002 monitor from 1987 which is fairly accurate to what would of been used with the A1000 at the time. Commodore had a habit of giving nearly identical models different names. I don’t believe this was the original model monitor that was sold early on with the A1000 but it’s close.

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This monitor is capable of accepting both digital and analog RGB as well as composite and “sep” video which is basically a early form of S-video that uses two RCA jacks. The 2002 model conveniently has a pretty nice mono speaker built in.

Now remember that RAM expansion module I mentioned that inserts into the front of the machine. Lets take a look at that now. The A1000 comes stock with 256kb of RAM but can be fairly easily expanded to 512kb via adding a 256kb RAM module. Those modules were a very common upgrade and most Amiga games require 512kb RAM at minimum to run.

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Here is the A1000 with the front RAM module removed and below is a better look at the module itself.

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a100012Opened module case with RAM board exposed

As I mentioned this upgrade is very recommended and chances are your A1000 quite possibly will already come with this upgrade installed.

Now it’s time to take a peak under the hood. To open the A1000 first remove the several screws on the underside then flip the Amiga back over and remove the top. One cool thing about the North American A1000 that to my knowledge is absent from all but perhaps the very earliest PAL A1000’s is the autographs of the Amiga team on the inside of the case.

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Once open we’re greeted with a large metal shield that has a number of screws to remove.

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Finally once the metal shielding is removed we can see the motherboard inside.

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Most of the board unfortunately is obscured by two daughterboard’s which I have outlined in red and blue in the image above.

1) This is the daughterboard outlined in red and is present in all North American models of the A1000. This is where the built in RAM is located. On later PAL revisions this memory was placed on the main motherboard removing the need for this daughterboard.

2) The second motherboard is a third party add on board that was installed when I purchased this machine. This is the Insider One-Meg RAM upgrade card. This is what the sticker on the front of the case was referring to.

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As far as I know this was a not so common internal RAM upgrade that when paired with the 256kb on board and the 256kb from the front RAM expansion gives this Amiga a nice 1.5MB of RAM which should be more then enough for Amiga games of the time. I really like this upgrade since it is inside the actual case and leaves the side expansion slot available. This is not a simple upgrade and like many A1000 upgrades required some soldering to be done when it was installed. The Insider daughter board also sockets into the CPU socket so the CPU had to be repositioned into a socket located on the Insider daughterboard.

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3) The CPU of the A1000 is a Motorola 68000 running at 7.16mhz on NTSC systems and a slightly slower 7.09mhz on PAL systems.

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In my machine the 68000 has been reseated on the Insider one-meg daughterboard.

I honestly could go on and on about the Amiga but seeing as a wide array of information is already available I only wanted to do an overview. The Amiga 1000 is personally not my favorite model and is perhaps even my most disliked model for the expense and difficulty in performing any significant upgrades as well as the inconvenience of not having Kickstart in ROM. It is though the original model which will appeal to collectors and enthusiasts and it also looks really nice set up on a desk for use. If you need an Amiga and come across a 1000 for a good price don’t let my favoritism of later models dissuade you as in my opinion “Any Amiga is better then no Amiga”. It does have its little annoyances but even a stock model with a common upgrade to 512kb of RAM should be enough to play a large percentage of Amiga games. If your feeling adventurous as well an Amiga floppy emulator either internal or external should ease the burden of using Amiga floppy disks, though in my opinion an internal drive destroys the classic look of this machine and many others.

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Continuing with my “anatomy of” series were going to take another step back today and jump back one more generation from my previous “anatomy of a 386” article and take a look at the often overlooked 286 based PC and examine what I feel is pretty close to the “ultimate 286” setup.

The 286 was first introduced in 1982 and was widely used in the mid to late 1980’s and even into the early 90’s. They came in speeds ranging from 4mhz to 25mhz with 20mhz and 25mhz chips being fairly uncommon. For a CPU that existed in such a transitional time for DOS computers it really doesn’t seem to get a lot of love from retro PC enthusiasts and retro PC gamers. I do have a few ideas of why this may be the case though. The first reason I believe has to do with game compatibility and CPU speed. The 286 simply doesn’t fall into a position where many speed sensitive games demand it. For instance there are a number of very early CGA games that demand a 4.77mhz 8088 CPU to run at the intended speed and even on the slowest 286 will simply run to fast. On the other end there are a few games such as Wing Commander and Bubble Ghost that really need a mid range 386 class CPU and on a standard mid range 286 will run a little to slow. I have run into a few instances where a 286 “felt right” speed wise such as Ultima III with the EGA/MIDI patch but these instances seem few and far between. Many later games also need a 386 to run for non speed related reasons so while a 386 will pretty much play everything one may play on a 286 the reverse is not true. I’m guessing most enthusiasts think “why limit myself” and for the most part their right.

The second reason I believe the 286 is passed over is because finding hardware for a 386 is just so much easier and it will still run most games that run on a 286 plus later VGA games just fine. I wouldn’t call the 286 rare but in all my thrifting and buying old PC’s as far as x86 machines go I probably see the 286 the least. Even less then early CPU setups like the 8088 and 8086. The hardware is also a bit less user friendly then a 386 setup which could also be a contributing factor.

Now that doesn’t mean the 286 doesn’t have its place or is useless for retro PC gaming. It makes a fun project and it’s nice to sort of see the transition going on from the 8088 to more modern style boards such as with the introduction of 30 pin RAM on motherboards as well as the common ability to address more then 640KB on the board and things like 16 bit ISA slots which appeared on 286 boards. The 286 is also perfect for playing most EGA games and demanding CGA games that may chug a little on a bog standard 8088. a more powerful 286 such as the 16mhz and up with 4mb of RAM are also very capable of playing VGA titles from the late 80’s and early 90’s and you may be surprised how well it can play them especially provided there isn’t a lot of movement going on screen, point and click adventure games run well most of the time. the common 286-16 as well as the uncommon and border line rare 20mhz and 25mhz 286 CPU’s generally outperformed early 386SX CPU’s.

and now without further delay here’s my 286.

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To be perfectly honest I didn’t have to do much to this machine when I acquired it besides add some bells and whistles such as a VGA card and sound card. The case is that classic beige tower from the late 80’s with the large power switch as opposed to a button as well as extra large buttons for reset and turbo options and a nice green LED speed display. The turbo button slows the speed down to 10mhz though this is still to fast for some early speed sensitive games. The floppy drives I have installed are both high density drives and are a 1.44mb 3 1/2 floppy and a 1.2mb 5 1/4 inch floppy drive. In the case of a 286 I feel the 1.2mb drive is a little more important then in other machines since many games were released in that disk format during the 286 era. Obviously many of those games were also released on 1.44mb floppy and later CD but if your collecting and playing games from this era you’ll find that many picked up randomly “in the wild” will come on 5 1/4 disk. A CD drive is also very useful for a 286 since as stated earlier many games were rereleased on CD format thus having a CD drive makes things much more convenient. It is not though a necessity and you can certainly get by on a 286 without one. I’m using a slow and early x4 drive but later ones should work just fine.

Those eagled eyed readers may also notice the faux 3 1/2 floppy panel below the real disk drive. These weren’t uncommon back in the day. I’m not sure what the point of them was though except maybe to fool your buddies into thinking you had a slightly more impressive setup.

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Here’s the back of my 286. As you can see it’s pretty much the same as a 386 and 486 would commonly look. A generous number of slots for possible expansions and an AT keyboard port as well as a standard AT power supply.

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Here is a rather jumbled image of the machine with the cover removed and all the expansion cards installed.

A) Hard drive – I went with a 2gb 50 pin SCSI hard drive for this machine. They are a little less common then IDE drives but SCSI lets me make larger partitions, is a little faster in theory and takes a tiny bit of load off of the CPU which helps at these lower speeds.

B) SCSI controller – I went with a 16-bit ISA Adaptec controller for the SCSI. This card is a pretty simple Adaptec AHA-1540. My card lacks a floppy controller but simply sports a 50 pin internal connector and an external connector. I didn’t have any issues with this card and it detected my hard drive first try.

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Operating System – I have MS-DOS 5.0 installed on my system. 6.22 should work just fine but I wanted to use a little earlier of a OS to be a bit more era accurate and I didn’t want to go all the way back to DOS 3 or use the generally disliked DOS 4.

Here we have the motherboard with the expansion cards removed.

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Motherboard – The board I’m using is an Ilon USA, Inc M-209. This is a rather late 286 motherboard so it supports quite a few features and CPU speeds earlier boards in general do not.

1) CPU – The most common of the 286 CPU’s were the mid to mid high range 12mhz and 16mhz 286s. These are the two most commonly used and all and all are not bad performers. I actually wanted a 16mhz 286 when I considered this project but as fate had it I ended up finding a great deal on my 20mhz 286 system that I couldn’t pass up. The CPU I’m currently using is made by Harris who also produced the 25mhz 286 which was the fastest 286 produced. The Harris 20mhz and 25mhz CPU’s were fairly rare and are sought after today by those that do want to forge ahead and build a high end 286. I strongly suspect my 286 board with its 20mhz Harris CPU could outperform as similarly clocked 386SX chip.

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2) FPU – Like the 386 the 286 could utilize a separate 287 math coprocessor to speed up the calculation of more complex math calculations. I was lucky that my motherboard came with a FPU rated for the same speed as my CPU at 20mhz. Like on the 386 the FPU chip isn’t really all that much help for games and besides programs like CAD very few games were programed to utilize the co-pro.

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3) RAM – RAM on many 286 boards can be interesting as there was a bit of a transition going on and it wasn’t uncommon to find several types of RAM being implemented on 286 boards. This is similar to later 486 motherboards where sometimes sockets for both 30 pin and 72 pin RAM could be found. The 286 itself could address up to 16MB or RAM but I’ve never seen a 286 motherboard supporting more then 4MB onboard. Currently I have 4MB installed via four 1MB SIPP RAM sticks.

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My motherboard supports up to 4mb onboard and can accept either DIP or SIPP RAM. DIP RAM are chips just like the ones used on 8088 boards for memory while SIPP RAM was a short lived style of RAM that used legs as seen below.

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4) Nic-cad barrel style CMOS battery and AT power connector.

5) Six 16 bit ISA slots and one 8 bit ISA slot – One of the great things about a 286 motherboard is that 16 bit ISA slots were now standard which opens up a huge variety of options for expansion. Since 16 bit ISA slots continued to be used on motherboards all the way up to the early 2000’s cards are very plentiful and relatively cheap compared to 8 bit ISA cards.

I/O – For my I/O controller I used a simple 16 bit ISA Goldstar controller card. I really like Goldstar cards as they always tend to just work for me. This card supports adding a serial and parallel port as well as two high density floppy drives and two IDE devices such as my CD-ROM drive.

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Video – For my video card I went with an ATI VGA Wonder XL24 card. The VGA wonder cards were well regarded VGA cards throughout the 80’s and very early 90’s. While not as fast overall as cards like the Tseng ET4000 they had a few features which I felt lent themselves more to a 286 class machine. The VGA Wonder XL24 card that I’m using is the last and most powerful Wonder card in the series. Released in 1992 this card is a 8/16 bit VGA card that offers 1MB max of RAM and improvements in speed and bug fixes over earlier cards in the series. The card offers one BUS mouse port which was a type of mouse connector similar but not compatible with the PS/2 standard as well as two monitor ports. The thing I really like about these cards is that they have both a 15 pin monitor port for VGA as well as a 9 pin port for TTL CGA.  The card also could auto detect the type of monitor connected rather then requiring the use of dip switches to tell the card what it’s displaying to. I find this feature very hand for a system like a 286 where you may want to be using a VGA or CGA monitor depending on what your playing. Although the VGA wonder XL24 claims to offer 100% CGA compatibility this may not be completely true. Despite this the compatibility with CGA is quite high and having the ability to use a true CGA monitor is always a great option with a 286 where your likely to be playing a lot of CGA games as well as later EGA and even VGA games. The ability to use both types of monitors and a boast of very high compatibility is definitely a plus.

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Sound – Lastly we come to sound. I chose to use the 8 bit sound blaster 2.0 card with the CMS sound compatibility chips installed. The sound blaster 2.0 is fully adlib compatible and offers superior quality compared to the earlier sound blasters. The main draw of this card though was the option to add chips for CMS compatibility or “Creative Music System”. This was a earlier standard used by Creative in their first “Game Blaster” cards and some earlier games use this. The CMS compatibility on the SB2.0 with the added chips isn’t quite 100% but it is close. At one time finding the third PAL chip needed for CMS compatibility was very hard but thankfully someone figured out how to reverse engineer the chip and made it available for most revisions of the SB 2.0 card such as the 049151 revision I am using. If you do have a card with the CMS chips installed remember to remove jumper jp9 as circled in the image below to enable them.

Add the line

SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

to your Autoexec.bat file to initialize.

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Before I wrap this article up I just wanted to post a few images of another motherboard I have. This one being a later 286-16 board.

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Notice That this board uses standard 30 pin sockets for RAM.

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My 286 when I originally acquired it complete with monochrome amber screen monitor.

So what’s my opinion of the 286 and do you need one as a retro PC gamer/enthusiast? The short answer is no. Personally I enjoy the 286 for its somewhat uniqness but I can understand why it is usually overlooked. As I stated at the beginning of the article it’s just to fast for the earliest CGA games and as for anything later it cant really do anything a 386 cant do better. Also compared to a 386 the 286 is harder to find parts for and being generally less capable. If your short on space Id say pass on building a 286 but if you have space, cash and time to spare they can be fun little machines that bridge the small gap between the somewhat archaic 8088 and the somewhat modern feeling 386.

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In my previous article I talked about the Macintosh G4 and specifically the “Digital Audio” model. This time I’m going to talk about another G4 Mac sometimes referred to as a DRR G4 but more commonly known as the MDD or Mirror Drive Door model. Looking at the images above and below it becomes fairly obvious how these machines got their nicknames.

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The case overall is basically the same as the Digital Audio versions case and in fact all the G4 tower PC’s are similar with exception of the face and back. The case color scheme is more silver this time around as well as the cases area of the two drive bays has a mirror like plating, hence the name. This is actually quite reflective and I guess is useful to see if your being snuck up on while browsing on OS X or as a impromptu weapon against Medusa attacks. Also on this mirror finish section we have the power button at the top which glows a nice white when powered on as well as a welcomed frontal audio jack for headphones. The speaker is now placed at the very top with four decorative vent looking recesses at the bottom. Missing are the reset button and programmers button found on the Digital Audio and earlier G4 tower cases.

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The rear of the MDD is the opposite layout of the earlier Digital Audio case. This time the expansion bays are at the top while the various ports and jacks are near the bottom.

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The available ports are exactly the same but in a different orientation. Two USB 1.1 and two Firewire 400 jacks followed by Ethernet and modem jacks and finally an audio output jack and a jack for those Apple high definition speakers. The only addition is an audio input jack next to the audio out.

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Opening the case is the same as before and super easy with a side handle that pulls up and away.

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Inside it’s basically a reverse layout of what we saw in the Digital Audio machine.

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On the section of the case that does not fold out we have two full 5 1/4 drive bays for optical drives as well as a fan and three spots for hard drive mounting. Two 3 1/2 inch HDD bays under the 5 1/4 inch bays and one vertical oriented 3 1/2 inch HDD bay to the left under the power supply. I have two hard drives currently installed. One 80GB drive that holds Mac OS X 10.5.8 and a second 180GB drive for data.

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Like other G4 motherboards the MDD motherboard has quite a few chips soldered on underneath making the board look slightly bare from the top.

1) CPU – The MDD model G4s came with many CPU options up to dual 1.42ghz G4 PowerPC 7455 chips. Mine was the lowest powered model and came with dual 867mhz chips with a 133mhz front side bus. Note that many models in the MDD line came with dual CPUs on a sort of CPU module. As I said previously in articles its hard to compare the power PC to the far more common Intel X86 CPU’s in speed but this would roughly be equivalent to a Pentium 4 or maybe a 1.4ghz Tualatin PIII but this is only a rough guess.

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2) RAM – four slots supporting up to 2GB of DDR RAM which is also why this model is also sometimes referred as the DDR G4. Unfortunately the Power PC 7455 can only use at most 50% of the DRR RAM bandwidth meaning there is no improvement over the previous models and their PC133 SDRAM as far as memory speed is concerned.

3) Four 64 bit PCI slots (which work fine with regular PCI cards) as well as one x4 AGP slot for video. Keep in mind that if your using a x8 AGP card whether a MAC card or a PC card that has been flashed with a mac BIOS you need to disable pins 3 & 11 to get video. This applies to all G4 Mac’s with the exception of the AGP 2x Sawtooth models. This issue is due to apple using the at the time unassigned pins 3 & 11 for the “ADC” apple monitors connection. When AGP x8 came out those pins were suddenly used for something else so basically they wouldn’t run on a G4 Macintosh. The way around this is to disable the pins completely either by taping over them or cutting the traces making the card AGP x4.

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The card I’m using in this machine is a Geforce4 MX. Not a particularly interesting card but it more or less does the job. The MX was a budget card and less advanced then even the preceding Geforce3. For me it’s enough since I really only use this machine for one game and messing with OS X but the MDD G4 can support up to a Geforce 7800 GS with the earlier mentioned Pin modification.

4) Wireless airport adaptor for wireless internet

5) IDE connectors – There are actually three IDE connectors but one is obscured behind the huge CPU heatsink. The one located behind the heatsink is an ATA-100 connection intended for your primary hard drive.

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The two connectors located at “5” are an ATA-66 connector for two secondary hard drives and a ATA-33 that is intended for the optical drives.

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Regardless I have a separate Sonnet ATA-133 PCI controller card installed in my machine for the optical drive and main hard drive while my secondary hard drive is attached to the ATA-66 labeled connector.

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6) CMOS battery used for saving settings.

Upgrading the CPU

I decided to upgrade the CPU in my MDD Mac since the CPU it came with was barely what I needed to do what I wanted to do with this machine. Third party CPU upgrade kits seemed to be overpriced so in the end I decided to go with a cheap $25 upgrade to a single 1.25ghz CPU. Now the value of this upgrade is somewhat debatable since I was going from a dual CPU configuration to a single CPU and OS X can take advantage of dual CPUs but my main purpose of this rig was to play a few select games which didn’t really take advantage of dual CPU anyways so I figured the 383mhz bump was worth it.

When considering a CPU upgrade for any G4 Macintosh keep in mind the CPU modules are not compatible across models so make sure the CPU your looking at is specifically for your model, for instance for a MDD model or Sawtooth G4.

I also wanted to (and needed to with this CPU upgrade) bump the front side bus speed up from 133mhz to 167mhz which required a small modification to the motherboard.

First disconnect any cables from the motherboard and then remove the currently installed CPU which can be done by unscrewing the various screws holding the heatsink on and then gently disconnecting the CPU module from the motherboard. It will look like this with the module removed.

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next unscrew any screws fastening the motherboard to the case and remove. The modification we need to do to enable 167mhz FSB is the desoldering and removal of a resistor on the underside of the motherboard.

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The piece we need to desolder is labeled as R676 and is located near one of the corners of the large black heatsink.

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Desolder this component and that’s it. You can now install a faster CPU and have a slightly higher FSB.

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The final step is to reassemble and install the new CPU. Here is my 1.25ghz G4 CPU module before installation and reapplying the heatsink.

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And lastly booting the machine and checking the system information to confirm everything.

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I like the MDD G4 Macintosh. It’s super easy to work on and plays the few early 2000 OS X exclusive games I need it to play just fine. It does have its issues though. It’s a shame there was no real improvement with the DDR RAM being used over the older PC133 SDRAM. Also upgrading the CPU if you have an early model like mine can be a small chore requiring a modification not to mention the modification needed to use a more powerful AGP video card. Another problem is the fan. This machine can be pretty loud and I noticed it is significantly louder then my Digital Audio model G4. For me the fan isn’t to loud and doesn’t come anywhere near the noisiness of my dual Tualatin rig but I can see how it can annoy some people and the noise level did seem to be a common complaint when I was doing research on the model. I would still recommend a MDD model though if you just wanted to casually mess around with those few early 2000’s OS X games and you can pick up a rig cheaply.

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The G4 Macintosh was produced between 1999 and 2004 in three main distinctive variations known sometimes as the “original G4’s” or “Sawtooth” models, the “Quicksilver” G4’s and the “Mirror Drive Door” or MDD G4’s. Even among these there were motherboard variations. For instance early models of the “original” line lacked an AGP slot. The G4 I’m going to talk about today is a sub model known as the “Digital Audio” G4 and falls somewhere between the original line and the Quicksilver models. Basically It has the motherboard of an early Quicksilver model in the case of the original line.

To be honest I’ve grown kind of fond of the G4 towers over time. They tend to strike a sort of balance between the good things about apple such as design and the Power PC CPU and a IBM compatible such as expandability and more standard ports and drives.

g4d1

The case design for all the G4’s is more or less the same basic design with most of the variations concerning the color and style of the frontal bays. The digital audio G4 uses the same case as the Sawtooth line and is a pleasant white/bluish color. There are also these handle looking things that are on every corner which in all honestly are nice for assisting lifting and moving the relatively heavy tower. On the front we have two 5 1/4 bays.

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Internal shot of the two bays.

one usually sports a DVD/CD drive as mine does and the other sometimes a 100mb ZIP drive depending on your model. Mine obviously lacks the ZIP drive but one can be added easily enough.

Also on the front we have a grill for the built in speaker as well as a power button that glows a nice white when powered on as well as a programmers button and a reset button beneath that. The programmers button can be used to bring up a console window for debugging and can also be used to update firmware.

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Under the fan slot we have a standard power jack and to the left we have our built in ports. At the top we have a modem jack and two audio ports. The top jack is a standard headphone jack and below that is an apple speaker mini-jack for high fidelity apple speakers. Further down we have a Ethernet port followed by two Firewire 400 ports and a pair of USB 1.1 ports. Below that we have five slots for internal expansion cards. The top one is taken up by my video card since the G4 machintosh’s do not have built in video. further down I added a Firewire/USB card for more connectivity.

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Unlike many of the earlier Mac’s I’ve reviewed here the G4 uses a seemingly higher quality plastic and a lot more metal so the case feels much more sturdy and less prone to “brittletosh” issues. Opening the case is getting inside is ridiculously easy and may be the easiest time I’ve ever had getting into any PC or Mac. All you do is lift the handle on the side of the case and….

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Once open you have almost full and unimpeded access to the board. At first I thought the motherboard seemed very barren and unpopulated but many of the chips and capacitors are actually mounted on the underside of the board. There are also three spots on the bottom of the case for mounting hard drives. Currently I only have one lowly 40GB IDE drive mounted.

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On to the motherboard.

g4dmb

1) CPU – The Digital Audio G4’s came with a variety of CPU speed options starting at 466mhz. Mine is the highest end model sporting a 733mhz PowerPC 7450 processor sometimes refered to as a G4e (enhanced) as it is a redesigned and improved version of the G4 CPU. Its very hard to find CPU comparisons between PPC and Intel x86 CPU’s on the web but I would wager its perhaps equivalent to a faster Pentium III. This motherboard is running on a 133mhz front side bus.

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2) CMOS battery – Is the standard 3.6 V lithium battery to save settings. Like all Macs the death of these batteries tend to cause more issues then what I see happen in PC’s. If your having odd instabilities replace these things first.

3) RAM – Three slots for SDRAM supporting up to 1.5gb of PC133 RAM

4) Expansion slots – four 64 bit 33mhz PCI slots and one AGP x4 slot for a video card.

Video – The Digital Audio G4’s came with one of several video cards. Mine came with an AGP ATI Rage 128 Pro with 16 MB VRAM. Keep in mind that if your using a x8 AGP card whether a MAC card or a PC card that has been flashed with a mac BIOS you need to disable pins 3 & 11 to get video. This applies to all G4 Mac’s with the exception of the AGP 2x Sawtooth models. This issue is due to apple using the at the time unassigned pins for “ADC” apple monitors connection. When AGP x8 came out those pins were suddenly used for something else so basically they wouldn’t run on a G4 Macintosh. The way around this is to disable the pins completely either by taping over them or cutting the traces making the card a AGP x4.

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This card is a Macintosh version so it comes with both a VGA port and an Apple Display Connector port. Its not really the most exciting card but it does well enough for 90’s games and some early 2000’s games. Your going to want to upgrade though for any series turn of the century gaming though. Officially the Digital Audio models were sold with up to Geforce 2 or 3 cards installed (some conflicting information).

5) Wireless airport card connector for well….connecting to wireless devices.

6) IDE connectors – Two ATA-66 connectors for connecting a total of four IDE devices. In my setup I have my DVD drive connected to the onboard ata66 connector but I’m using an ATA100 PCI card to connect to the hard drive.

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7) ATX power connector.

I haven’t really done much to this machine since I got it. I’m currently running OS X 10.4.11 which is the highest officially supported version of the OS.

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I haven’t used this particular Mac much because I have a more powerful MDD G4 that I will eventually cover here that I use for present general early OS X stuff. That said I do like the Digital Audio G4. most of all I like the color scheme and ability to easily add a ZIP drive, even though I currently haven’t and probably will not.

 

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