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Category Archives: classic computers

The IBM PC 350 was released in the mid 1990’s as an office / home desktop PC. It came in several sub models that used completely different motherboards and CPU’s from a socket 3 486 class up to socket 7 Pentiums all using the same case. In this article were going to look at the sub model 6587 which is the last sub model in the PC 350 class.

The case for the PC 350 is both sturdy but at the same time not extremely heavy. On the front there are LED lights for HDD activity and a power LED next to the large white power button. There is no reset button.

One pretty cool feature is the sliding front cover that slides to the left revealing your various drive bays. There is room for two 5 1/4 inch drives as well as a 3 1/2 bay and two internal 3 1/2 bays for hard drives. In the upper left corner is a cut out for an optional PCMCIA interface which I’ve never seen on a desktop before. Unfortunately mine did not come with this option installed.

My PC 350 did come with an 850MB hard hard drive installed which sounds about right for the time. A CD-ROM drive was an option but mine did not come with one installed. Installing a 5 1/4 drive can be a little taxing and removing the bay bezels can require a lot of force or completely removing the metal drive holders inside which also is not easy due to the assembly being held in by a hard plastic screw.

On the back we have from left to right, a infrared port for connecting an infrared receiver for wireless inferred communication with compatible devices. Next we have two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse followed by a serial port, two USB 1 ports and a parallel port. Lastly there is a VGA port for the built in video.

There are no screws holding the upper case on and accessing the motherboard is achieved by depressing the plastic tab in the upper left corner of the case and pulling back and then up on the upper case. Thankfully this tab is made from pretty rugged and thick plastic and feels fairly resistant to breaking off.

On the underside of the case is a simple chart explaining the memory configurations as well as a basic motherboard layout and the various switch settings. I always like when PC’s do this as it helps greatly when making basic changes like CPU upgrades.

Here is a view of the drive bay assembly removed from the case as well as the hard plastic screw that needs to be removed to get the metal assembly out.

Now lets take a look at the motherboard and relevant parts.

The PC 350 motherboard does use a standard lithium battery to store CMOS settings. In the image below is is obscured by the IDE cable.

 

1) CPU – My model 6587 came with a Pentium 133 but is easily upgradable. The chart found on the case underside gives settings for installing up to a Pentium 166 but online sources indicate a Pentium 200 or 233MHz can be successfully installed though you may need to experiment with motherboard switch settings. The CPU’s on all of these machines are fanless and only come equipped with a passive cooling heatsink, though a rather tall one.

The instructions and all paperwork only refer to 3.3 volt Intel Pentiums CPU’s being compatible with some sources claiming Cyrix and AMD chips to be incompatible though I was able to upgrade my board with an IBM branded Cyrix 6×86 PR 166+ CPU without issue. I just made sure my CPU was labeled as requiring 3.3 volts (most Cyrix 6×86 CPU’s seem to require only 2.9 volts).

2) RAM – The PC 350 has one 168 pin RAM socket as well as four 72 pin RAM sockets for memory expansion. You can expand the memory up to a total of 192MB and the convenient chart found on the underside of the case lid has a graph showing the advised memory configuration for the desired memory amount.

My PC 350 came with 32MB of memory installed via one 16MB 168 pin stick and two 8MB 72 pin sticks. I originally thought I would try using a single 32MB or 64MB stick of 168 pin memory and forgo the 72 pin sticks but none of my 168MB sticks would physically fit the 168 pin slot. I tried several sticks and they all were physically very slightly off and would not install. I’m led to believe the IBM PC 350 may use slightly physically different 168 pin memory then standard.

3) L2 cache slot – L2 cache on the model 6587 is via a COASt module fount next to the CPU and can accept either 256KB or 512KB of L2 cache. Mine came with a 256KB stick though I needed to remove it and clean the contacts before it was recognized.

4) Video – The PC 350 comes with a S3 Trio64V+ chip on the board along with the ability to expand the memory from 1MB up to 2MB. The Trio chipset is an extremely DOS compatible chip proving excellent 2D support and compatibility for DOS and Windows 9x.

5) Riser card – The PC 350 uses a riser card in order to provide both PCI and 16-bit ISA expansion slots. In total the riser provides three PCI and five ISA slots though three slots are shared PCI/ISA slots and two are dedicated ISA slots. The opposite side of the riser provides for one of the stand alone ISA slots as well as a connection for power.

6) Floppy/IDE -The 350 motherboard provides for standard floppy connection as well as two built in ATA-2 IDE connectors for a total of four IDE compatible devices.

7) Switch – This is the switch used mainly for selecting your processor speed. Thankfully the chart on the underside of the case provides the settings and switch configurations should you decide to change CPU’s. The chart provided does come off as a little confusing though as It does not list actual FSB settings or provide a setting for 200/233mhz CPU’s. The Wikipedia entry on the PC 350 advises setting the switches to the “75 MHz setting” for a 233MHz Pentium.

8) PSU – The 350 motherboard requires three PSU connections to the board. Besides the standard AT connection the 350 also requires an additional AUX connection as seen below.

The IBM PC 350 makes a fair retro computer. It excels at DOS retro gaming and needs very little besides an ISA sound card to have a very compatible machine. As a Windows PC it is quite acceptable and a PCI 3D accelerator card such as a Voodoo would do wonders. The BIOS tends to be fussy though and when I made ANY changes including simply unplugging the mouse the machine demanded I enter the setup feature upon restarting and change/save the new settings. There are other annoyances such as the extra connection needed on the power supply as well as the slightly picky 168 pin RAM slot.

The case itself is quite nice offering a sturdy design, decent bay expansion as well as being easy to get into. I also like the sliding piece on the front so you can cover up your ugly discolored drives when not in use. Adding drives though requires some disassembly and is a hassle.

For a DOS PC the IBM PC 350 will serve you well though for Windows it’s passable but there are much better options. As a side note I could not get Windows 95 or 98 to install on my machine. This was due to some sort of driver conflict at the Windows splash screen I was never able to resolve. The machine IS Windows capable however and this problem boiled down to my particular machine.

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Well we’ve finally reached the end of the road going into the past for our x86 “anatomy of series“. So far we started this series with the end of the DOS era and our Anatomy of a Pentium based DOS PC article and thus far we have covered every x86 era in between with our last article covering the ultimate 286 based build. Today we are going to take a look back at the earliest x86 and look at the best parts that balance power, compatibility and esthetics to create the best build for the 8088 era of PC retro gaming. Keep in mind this build is based around the 8088 but you can just as easily make the same build around the faster 8086 CPU (though you may encounter issues with speed sensitive games). Also for the sake of this article we also aren’t considering the Tandy 1000 line of PC’s such as the Tandy 1000SX, 1000 HD or 1000RL HD which due to their superior Tandy graphics, sound and high compatibility would possibly make them the superior choice to building your own early 80’s IBM compatible 8088 PC.

The 8088 is an 8-bit variant of the 16-bit 8086 developed in 1979. The 8088 would go on to be the dominant CPU in the early days of personnel home computing and was the CPU IBM chose to base their legendary IBM 5150 on. For anyone that’s a computer enthusiast that’s building a PC to relive the earliest days of home computing this can be a very fun project. Before we get into the details of what I feel comes close to a “ultimate 8088” build lets look at some of the reasons you may or may not want to build a PC focusing on this early era.

This machine will primarily be geared to playing early CGA PC classics from the early 1980’s up until the mid 80’s though it is capable of playing games from later on. We will try to use as close to period correct cards as we can when we can but will use later parts where it makes sense. With this said before we go over the build it’s very important to note that early on in the realm of IBM x86 compatibles there wasn’t a such thing as a “gaming PC” and early IBM compatible machines were largely intended for office and business use with gaming being a novelty and an afterthought. Most computer gaming was taking place on home micro computers such as the Commodore 64 and most of the earliest games for the IBM arena were rather simple “arcade like” or text based affairs. There were exceptions of course like complex early RPG games such as Wizardry and Ultima but by and large early games were rather simple compared to later offerings. Because of this hardware for the PC compatibles weren’t very game oriented until the later half of the 1980’s.

Why you may want to build a 8088 era PC?

besides building such an old PC simply for the pleasure of restoring a piece of computing history there are more practical gamer oriented reasons. Many early PC games demand an 8088 CPU running at 4.77mhz and a true CGA card to display properly. Games such as Striker, Demon Attack and early Ultima titles among many others really need a 8088 CPU running at a stock 4.77mhz to run at a correct speed. With some titles even a small speed bump of a few megahertz can drastically throw off game play or create glitches in sound effects. It may of been rather difficult to comprehend the speed at which computer CPU’s would advance at the time and thus poor programing and a lack of thinking ahead crippled many games when run on later, faster CPU’s. Another issue is that many of the earliest PC games were meant for a CGA card running at an appropriate speed. Later EGA and VGA cards are NOT 100% compatible with CGA and errors can occur to various degrees depending on the VGA card used. Games from Windmill software are one example of games that have issues running on a non CGA card. You can place a CGA card in a later PC such as a 286 and up but then you still have to deal with the various speed problems associated with a faster CPU. Unlike later games from the early 90’s that may of been speed sensitive these early games never received patches or work arounds to the degree later games did due to a seeming lack of interest in the earliest games of the PC era.

Before moving on it’s probably also wise to make a quick distinction between PC and XT class computers. The computer we are looking at in this article is an XT class computer. XT stands for eXtended Technology and is basically a slightly refined PC class computer. The biggest distinction is that XT class motherboards had more ISA slots (eight vs five) then a PC class machine but otherwise had most things in common such as the keyboard scan codes that we will discuss later.

Now that we’ve had a basic overview of the machine we are striving for and a few reasons you may want to build one lets take a look at the machine in question and talk about what you want to look for when putting together such an early build and what you can probably leave out.

If you want to go era correct the overwhelming majority of PC cases in the early 80’s were desktop style with only a few bays for 5 1/4 drives. The case I’m using here as you can tell from the image is heavily yellowed but this can usually be fixed by using the retrobright technique.

On the front panel we have some fairly typical buttons and LED lights. At this time in PC history Turbo buttons actually did what they stated and engaged a “turbo” mode. Mine kicks the CPU from 4.77mhz to a blazing fast 10mhz. This is a pretty substantial boost and can help with some games that maybe need a little more power to get running smoothing such as flight simulators or more intensive CGA titles. I really like the feel of the buttons on this case and when depressed the entire turbo button on my case lights green.

There is no power button on front of this case. Like many PC cases and designs from the early 80’s the power button is a rather large, in this case red, switch located on the right side near the rear of the case.

Before flipping the case around we need to take note of the floppy drives. Floppy drives of the era were low density 360 KB and later on 720 KB drives as opposed to the later high density 1.2 MB and 1.44 MB drives.

Thankfully 1.2 MB 5 1/4 and 1.44 MB 3 1/2 high density drives will work on a low density controller as 360 KB and 720 KB drives. Do take into consideration though that floppies formatted and written to on a 1.2 MB drive acting as  360 KB floppy may not read properly on an actual 360 KB drive. There are high density 8-bit floppy controller cards but they tend to be pretty rare and expensive. There are also programs such as “2M” which when used with an 8-bit compatible 16-bit floppy controller and a small TSR program loaded into memory should allow the use of high density drives and disks. Ive never used this method personally as I’ve felt its unnecessary but I’ve read others have used it with good results. perhaps the best option though would be a parallel port high density drive. These arn’t as rare as an actual 8-bit high density controller card but they can be quite slow.

Though I admit the convenience of a high density drive in such a PC would be nice I’m generally okay with running low density drives on such machines as the vast majority of software meant for this class of PC will easily fit on a 720 KB floppy disk. I don’t recommend adding a CD-ROM drive for this era either. CD drives did not become common until the 1990’s on PC’s and games meant for a 8088 will easily fit on a floppy disk. unlike later games most of the games from this era did not get CD re-releases.

Mounting a CD-Drive in an XT can also be quite difficult as they were not a consideration at the time and screw holes may not match up. If you do want to add a CD drive I would recommend an external drive controlled by either a 8-bit SCSI card or a parallel port drive.

I would also urge anyone building an era correct XT class machine to set their 360 KB floppy drive as drive A. This is because a number of games were released as “auto booters” which means they do not require an operating system such as DOS and will load up and play on booting the PC if the disk is inserted. All of these games that I am aware of came on 360 KB disks and a number of these “auto booter” games default to looking for the A: drive. Therefor if your 360 KB drive is set as drive B: there is simply no way of telling the PC to boot from there instead.

Nothing to exciting about the back of the case. It is worth noting that the majority of these early 80’s cases are not designed to accept a standard AT power supply. Though the connector is generally the same as later AT PSU’s the form factor is different and they are generally larger and have a large switch on the side that is used to power on/off. They generally also come in lower wattage’s of 65-200 watts.

While we are looking at the back of this machine We do need to also point out the keyboard type. As mentioned earlier the earliest IBM PC and XT compatible computers used a keyboard interface that looked like the later AT interfaced used up until the PS/2 standard but is not compatible. Many keyboards from the mid 80’s have a DIP switch on the underside to switch the keyboard into PC/XT or AT mode.

If you have such a keyboard make sure it is in PC/XT mode in order to function properly with your PC or XT class PC. There were also some auto sensing keyboards as well as XT to AT adapters allowing the use of later keyboards but these can be harder to find then an actual XT kyboard or have questionable functionality.

Before we take a look at the expansion cards lets take a look at the motherboard itself and the various components.

The motherboard I’m using is a DTK PIM-TBIO-Z Rev-9. This board is a “10mhz turbo board” meaning that it can turbo the CPU from a stock 4.77mhz to 10mhz either via the turbo button on the front of the case of via a keyboard command of < ctl > <alt > <-> provided your board has a 10mhz capable 8088 installed. This is a little different as many 8088 PC’s only offered a speed boost up to 7.16mhz although machines like the Commodore Colt offered all three options. There isn’t anything to necessarily look for when choosing an XT class motherboard as they all were fairly similar. I would make sure though that your board runs stock at 4.77mhz or can down clock to 4.77mhz since the point of this build is running software at this original speed. There are some 8088 boards that run default at higher speeds such as 7.16mhz. The manual to my particular board can be found here.

A) CPU – The 8088 running at 4.77mhz was IBMs choice for their first personnel computer and a CPU that stayed relevant for many years. As we’ve already established a great deal of early games demand a CPU running at this lower speed. If you acquired your motherboard with the CPU already installed it is likely already capable of running at the boards turbo speed but be sure to double check if you can. A -1 after the 8088 designation marks the CPU as 10mhz capable. My CPU is a Fujitsu but your just as likely to come across Intel, AMD, Siemens or other variants. These are all functionally identical to one another and who your particular CPU is from is largely irrelevant.

There are various CPU accelerators available for the 8088 socket and usually add a 286 class CPU for significantly increased speed. These cards tend to be rather rare and expensive and I wouldn’t recommend one unless you find one for a great deal or are just trying to push the XT PC to its limit. Generally it would be more worth it to simply build a true 286 or even 386 PC then to use an accelerator. If you do want to add an accelerator to your PC/XT computer try to acquire one that can fallback to the original 8088 and its 4.77mhz speed as a 286 at any speed will break many games meant to run on an 8088.

The blog Nerdly Pleasures has a good article listing a few games that have issues with faster CPU’s in his article “4.77mhz 8088 You’re needed!” but for convenience I will list some of them here along with my own findings on games that require an 8088 to run properly. For more details on the games in question and how speed effects them check out his site.

  • Striker
  • Defender
  • Ultima I-IV
  • Dunzhin: Warrior of RAS
  • Lode Runner & Championship Lode Runner
  • Touchdown Football
  • Demon Attack
  • Super Boulder Dash

 

To NEC V20 or not to NEC V20?

The NEC V20 was a pin compatible clone of the 8088 designed to run faster and more efficiently at the same clock speed. The NEC V20 is sort of a “magic bullet” drop in replacement for the 8088 increasing speeds by as much as 10 to 15 percent. Compatibility is also extremely high and is estimated to be around 99% with the only program I could find that refused to work with a V20 being Lode Runner Championship edition. The V20 also incorporates some new code that allows programs to work which otherwise won’t on a 8088. One example is the Iomega ZIP drivers which will not function on an 8088 but will if a V20 is installed.

The V20 was a fairly common upgrade for 8088 systems and is generally recommended as it has high compatibility and offers a decent performance increase. Whether to install one or not is up to you. I have chosen not to as the performance boost is enough to throw off timing in a small number of games but if absolute compatibility is not your goal I feel the V20 is a great upgrade which adds some performance (but usually not to much) as well as some added functionality.

B) FPU – As with later PC’s adding a math co-processor is completely optional and very few games (Sim City) actually support it. It’s more useful for things like CAD programs rather then games. If you do choose to add one like I did make sure it’s rated speed matches that of your CPU

C) Most motherboards of the early 80’s will have one or two DIP switch blocks with switches in ON/OFF positions. Unlike later boards that can auto detect or work on simple jumpers for things like video output many older 8088 based boards require the setting of DIP switchs for various functions. It is very important to learn what these switches control and how to properly set them as they can control things like your floppy drives, what type of video card is enabled and the amount of RAM recognized. This information is commonly found in your motherboards manual or online.

D) RAM

The 8088 is only capable of addressing up to 1 MB of RAM with the upper 360 KB being restricted and reserved meaning at most your left with 640 KB of memory to work with. This is known as conventional memory and it’s something we have had to consider in all of our DOS builds.

Here is a simple chart displaying how the 1 MB of RAM is split up into segments. This is true for later X86 DOS builds as well except in those cases we have the benefit of CPU’s able to address over 1 MB of memory as well as programs such as EMM386 which allowed TSRs to be placed in upper memory.

(Page from Hicard AMS manual)

Look for a board that supports a full 640 KB of RAM. thankfully most boards except for the earliest such as early IBM 5150 PC class computers do. My board here came with a full 640 KB and in my own experience coming across these era PC’s most do. If yours doesn’t but is capable of adding RAM do so. Generally this RAM will come in DIP form and installs into sockets on the motherboard as seen above.

Sticking to early 80’s games the small amount of memory available should not be a problem as these restrictions were taken into consideration at the time. memory limitations may become a problem though if you decide to add peripherals outside of the era of this PC such as a CD-ROM drive and the memory eating drivers that go with it. 640 KB should be enough for a simple build though. I will go into more detail on expanding memory when we get to the expansion cards though.

Expansion cards, what you need and what you can ignore.

Here is an overview shot of my 8088 PC with all expansion cards installed. Right off the bat your going to see something amiss….allow me to explain.

What you need.

1) Hard drive & Hard drive controller – Even though you don’t necessarily need a hard drive for a PC from this era one does make life a heck of a lot easier and also makes a much better all around experience, especially if your playing multi disk RPG games. Many early 8088 based PC’s did not come with a hard drive option and some like the IBM 5150 only came with single or dual floppy options. With programs being so small it wasn’t out of the question to play the entirety of your game from a floppy disk as well as load your version of DOS from a floppy on every boot.

That said I definitely recommend adding a hard drive and its relevant controller card if only to cut down the wear and tear on the floppy drives. For an operating system I went with DOS 3.3. DOS 3.3 was released in 1987 at the tail end of the 8088’s useful life and allows us to use hard drive partitions of a whopping 32 MB in size. the 286 had been out for some time at this point and the 386 was two years old but 8088 machines were still in use in office settings and budget builds. IBM had just discontinued its 8088 based XT PC in 87 but companies like Commodore were just launching the 8088 based PC10-III the same year so I feel this is the best OS as it still falls into the twilight years of the 8088 and gives the most functionality and options. You could use later versions of DOS and I doubt the 8088 would really care as increased overhead between DOS versions seems minimal to nil but many of the advanced features would be unusable or wasted such as EMM386.

Now onto the topic of the hard drive itself. If you wanted to be completely period correct then you would have to choose between a MFM/RLL drive such as the one below or and early IDE or SCSI mechanical drive.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I don’t recommend a MFM or RLL drive as they are all going on over thirty years old now and tend to be very small in capacity, hard to find, possibly overpriced on eBay and have questionable reliability. If your just going for a fun project build and want to be period correct then by all means but if you plan on running your 8088 PC a lot I wouldn’t trust 20+ hours of Wizardry saves to it.

SCSI is a good choice but 8-bit SCSI controllers are hard to find and 50 pin SCSI drives as well. IDE was released in 1986 and would make a good compromise choice between period correctness and reliability. You could use a more modern IDE drive but with 32 MB partition limits there’s going to be a lot of wasted space. Even though my case had a bay for a full height MFM drive internally I opted to go a bit of a different route and went with a modern compact flash drive with a CF to IDE converter. They are silent, fast, power efficient and come in a 32 MB size so I don’t feel like I’m wasting a ton of space.

If you do go the compact flash route I recommend buying a brand name drive. I also recommend using an industrial grade card which were built to be more reliable and durable then consumer grade cards.

For a controller card I am using my Silicon Valley ADP-50L 8-bit IDE card from 1991. This card has always worked great for me though oddly enough I have read it can cause palette switching issues with the game Jungle Hunt for unknown reasons. Another more modern option would be a XT-IDE card which are usually available as a kit or pre-made on sites such as eBay and usually sell for $60 to $100 depending.

2) I/O controller – seeing as the vast majority of 8088 motherboards had no built in controllers for things like Floppy drives and various serial and parallel ports an I/O card is an absolute must.

Thankfully most of the super common 16-bit ISA I/O cards will work just fine in an 8-bit ISA slot minus use of things such as IDE. I’m using a fairly generic Winbond card to add a serial, and parallel port as well as to control both of my floppy drives. The addition of a serial port does allow the use of a serial mouse though Ive found very few times any need to use it or any early games that even take advantage of a mouse.

3) CGA video card – Since we are building this machine expressly for the purpose of playing the earliest games that require both an 8088 and a CGA card it makes sense that we want to use a CGA card for our video.

I am using my ATI small wonder card which formally resided in my Epson Equity PC. I really like this card as it’s small and supports a wide variety of standards such as CGA, Plantronics Colorplus CGA & Hercules Graphics.

CGA was introduced in 1981 and was the first color display standard for IBM PC’s. It was most commonly used in a 320×200 resolution with 4 colors from a 16 color hardware palette. It also had several other less used modes but this article isn’t about CGA itself. If you want to learn more about CGA I suggest watching The 8-bit Guy’s YouTube video on how CGA graphics worked or for a more simple explanation check out my short article on an overview of PC video standards. The color palettes CGA uses can be pretty ugly but it’s the only color graphics mode many of the earliest DOS games support.

Example of the CGA game Alley Cat using the standard cyan/magenta/white/black palette

Here are three examples of the same game, Burger Time, two are in different modes the ATI Small Wonder provides. These images are for demonstration, the three preceding images I found online.

btr

CGA mode on a CGA RGB monitor

CGA mode on a VGA card

Composite mode

Notice how CGA looks completely different when run via a CGA card on a CGA monitor as opposed to being run on a VGA card. The VGA card defaults to cyan/magenta/black/white though in this case I find it more appealing then the blue background and color scheme on a true CGA monitor. Composite mode looks by far the best but not all games supported a composite mode and although colors are much better sharpness and especially text suffer. It’s not so much an issue with a game like Burger Time but on something like a flight simulator with dials and text menus it can be an issue.

What makes a true CGA card essential to our 8088 build though is compatibility. EGA as well as VGA cards are backwards compatible with CGA and many 16-bit VGA cards will work in a 8-bit ISA slot either by auto sensing or with a quick jumper selection from 16 to 8 bit. The problem though is VGA isn’t 100% compatible with CGA due to the way CGA is handled and even the higher speed of VGA cards may cause issues. The levels of compatibility can even be different depending on the VGA card you choose. It has also been said CGA on a true CGA card also looks more vibrant then CGA emulation on a VGA card and colors seem more correct, I would agree with this statement. Another issue with using a VGA card for CGA is that many CGA games will play but be stuck in the default cyan/magenta/white/black palette while a true CGA card may display a more appropriate choice. Wizardy is an example that comes to mind and when played on a CGA card the palette choice is much more appealing. Other games like StarQuake switch up the CGA color palette as you progress through the various screens but many VGA cards will stick with the same default palette for the entire game. Composite out compatibility for games that support it is another feature lacking on most VGA cards. For this reason only a true CGA card connected to a CGA monitor will give you 100% compatibility with the earliest of PC games. If we’re going through the trouble of building a PC based around an 8088 processor for compatibility it only makes since we also run a true CGA card for compatibilities sake since pretty much all of those 8088 speed sensitive games also were designed to display in CGA.

The ATI Small Wonder is a great card since it supports all CGA modes fully as well as a few additional modes such as Plantronics Colorplus CGA & Hercules Graphics. Plantronics mode is similar to Tandy video but I don’t know of any games that support it. Hercules Graphics mode allows for graphics on a monochrome monitor as well as CGA emulation in monochrome on a monochrome monitor. The card is also fully IBM MDA compatible if you just want to do text on a monochrome monitor. The ATI Small Wonder also has a composite out (usually) which is a must have feature when looking for a CGA adapter. On my card I am using a break out cable connected to pins at the top of the card but most cards have a composite jack directly on the card. Composite allowed connection to a standard TV set or high quality monitor with a composite in jack and use of a standard composite cable (the usually yellow color coded RCA jack cable). Over one hundred early games have special color composite modes that use the dithering effect of composite video to actually display more then the four colors of CGA on screen and the effect can create an image that looks very close to 16 color EGA at times. Basically CGA mode is sharper and much, much better for text but is limited to four colors that usually look pretty hideous where composite mode is a bit more blurry and text can look pretty poor but depending on the game you can get a image with many more colors looking substantially better then CGA mode.

Also keep in mind CGA mode is a digital format unlike VGA which is analog as well as using a different connector. CGA uses a DE-9 connector (also the typical connector for EGA and Monochrome standards) outputting a digital signal while VGA uses a DE-HD15 connector and an analog signal. Here is an image of my ATI VGA Wonder XL 24 card which has connectors on the bracket for connection with both a VGA and a EGA/CGA/Monochrome monitors.

most VGA monitors will not be compatible with a CGA signal coming from a CGA card even with a pin adapter though very early VGA models may be, check your monitor model and specs before trying. For the best results with a CGA card use a CGA monitor like the Tandy CM line. I am using a Tandy CM-4 but there are others from Tandy like the CM-4 and CM-10. The CM-11 is a very highly regarded CGA monitor as well as a multitude of monitors from other makers such as IBM themselves.

Here are a list of some games that may encounter issues when running on a VGA or EGA card emulating CGA mode.

  • Digger (high score screen)
  • Possibly all Windmill Software games (like Digger mentioned above)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator II (“double screen effect”)
  • Starquake (has positioning and palette switching problems when used with some VGA cards, ex ATI Mach32)
  • Freddy’s Rescue Roundup
  • Pac Man (incorrect title screen colors)

 

With all this said I understand that not all of us are 100% hardware purists and even I take some liberties at times incorporating newer tech outside of a given era into a build for the sake of convenience. So considering the increasing scarcity of 8-bit CGA cards and especially CGA monitors if you must go with a VGA card here are some tips. Stay away from cards using the ET3000 and ET4000 core as even though these are great VGA cards they have shown to especially lack compatibility in CGA. For a cheaper card with decent CGA compatibility go for the Trident 8900 series as they can operate in an 8-bit slot and offer decent compatibility. For the best compatibility look for cards that are “CGA Register compatible” and I recommend the ATI VGA Wonder XL 24 or the Cirrus Logic Eagle II chipset both of which have CGA DE-9 connectors for connecting to real CGA monitors and standard VGA DE-HD15 connectors on the card. Also check your cards software as some cards can be switched into a “CGA mode” via software for better compatibility. My ATI VGA wonder cards have this feature. Unfortunately both of these cards can be hard to acquire these days, especially cards using the Eagle II chipset which I’ve read has the highest CGA compatibility of any VGA card but is pretty slow for VGA.

If your curious about the compatibility of your own card there is a program called the CGA compatibility tester available for download here.

Some of the issues are relatively minor but others can be quite distracting and take away from the experience.

What you can probably do without.

The last three cards in this setup are cards that may add a little functionality to your setup but you could probably do without them.

4) EMS memory card – Remember earlier when we talked about how the 8088 could only address up to 1 MB of memory? Well using an EMS memory expansion card is a way around such a limitation.

The card I’m using is from Intel and it is an 8 Above board capable of providing 8 MB of additional EMS (Expanded Memory Specification) memory to a PC or XT (or AT) class computer. EMS should also not be confused with the later introduced XMS (eXtended Memory). The 8 Above card uses a 16-bit ISA connector but will happily work in an 8-bit slot as will many EMS cards. My card only has 2 MB installed but filling the DIP sockets up with the appropriate RAM will allow for a total of 8 MB. There were several makers and variations of this card type and some such as the Orchard RamQuest card will allow adding up to 16 MB via 30 pin SIMMS.

This card as well as many other EMS RAM cards will allow you to use its RAM as a temporary RAM disk hard drive or for back filling conventional memory if your board does not have a full 640 KB installed. Using the card as conventional memory is mostly a waste as filling your 640 KB via the motherboard is generally a better idea and grants faster performance.

The main attraction of this card however is the ability to add LIM 4.0 compliant EMS memory. LIM is a standard put together by Lotus, Intel and Microsoft (hence LIM) to grant a way for users of PC and XT class computers to access more then 1 MB of memory. Lotus 123 was a very popular program for business spreadsheets at the time and 1 MB just wasn’t doing it. They managed find a way to add memory by using a section of the upper reserved memory that wasn’t being used as a sort of “window” to the EMS memory on the card as illustrated below.

(Page from Intel 8 Above card manual)

So when accessing the EMS memory the computer would have to “look” at the designated memory segment in the upper memory and then through that access the EMS memory on the card. This was obviously pretty inefficient and slow compared to using regular conventional memory on the motherboard but it did allow the 1 MB barrier to be circumvented. Setting one of these cards up isn’t plug and play either as you must use special drivers and have a basic understanding of your computers setup so you can configure the card to an unused memory segment. The Intel 8 Above card I’m using also needs a dummy plug inserted into a socket near the bracket in order to function in 8-bit mode.

So why wouldn’t I recommend adding one of these cards to your 8088 setup when having up to an additional MB of RAM seems like a great idea? Well basically it’s because you will never use it in a standard 8088 gaming setup. Unless your creating giant spreadsheets or word documents in Lotus 123 or pushing your machine to play software well out of its era you’ll likely never encounter a situation where you actually need EMS memory. Sure some games require EMS memory but those games are generally later VGA games that would run poorly on an 8088 anyways and would be better off played on something like a 386 PC. Add in that these cards can be hard to find and typically cost over $100 and it’s just not worth the price. Sure it’s fun to see that extra RAM counting up on POST but it’s sad to know your rarely if ever going to need it.

5) HIcard AMS – This card is very similar to the Intel 8 Above board but rather then add EMS memory it manipulates the RAM you already have installed.

The HIcard can do several things. Like the EMS card the HImem can be configured to use its RAM as a temporary RAM disk. The more interesting features of the card are the ability to extend your conventional memory as well as create up to 192 KB of HIpage memory. HIpage memory allows you to load programs such as RAM resident programs and utilities, ect, into memory which basically acts just as as loading programs into upper memory with EMM386 would.

The first feature this card performs is expanding your conventional memory from 640 KB to a total of 704 KB. Since the first 64 KB of memory over 640 KB is reserved for use of an EGA video card if no EGA card is installed this memory is not used and the HImem card can be configured to take advantage of this and expand conventional memory into this segment creating a total of 704 KB of usable conventional memory. If you do have an EGA card installed obviously this feature will not work. Since my goal here was to build an 8088 with a CGA card this memory segment was available and I was able to successfully expand my conventional memory to a full 704 KB.

the second function of this card is to map unused areas of the upper memory to the cards HIpage memory. Since I have various things installed in my 8088 such as a hard drive and an EMS card I was only able to find one unused segment of 64 KB to configure as HIpage memory.

Like the EMS card the HImem AMS card requires a basic knowledge of your PC’s configuration and memory setup and requires special drivers and the correct configuring of DIP switches on the card. Thankfully like the EMS card the manual and software is fairly detailed and the process isn’t to difficult.

The truth is I didn’t even know cards like this existed and if I didn’t randomly come across one in a forum for sale at a great price I never would of searched one out. Admittedly the features of this card are super cool. Expanding your conventional memory and being able to free up the conventional memory you already have sounds extremely useful but like the with the EMS card if your just playing CGA games your never going to use this cards features. This again is another card meant for computers running memory hungry productivity software and things like Lotus 123. For a system geared to games of the early 80’s conventional requirements were never super high and since my system lacks things like a CD-ROM drive, ZIP drive, network card or even a sound card driver I have no resident memory programs to even load into the available HIpage memory. Now if you do decide to add things like a CD drive or network card to your 8088 setup I could see this card being much more useful but as it stands its a neat card but not to useful for our PC’s purposes.

Here is an image of my computers screen after the memory count and the loading of DOS. here you can see the EMS and HImem AMS cards initializing for DOS.

6) Sound card – For a sound card the earlier are the most period correct such as an adlib or a Game blaster card but I went with a card from a little later and chose the Sound Blaster 1.5 w/CMS chips from 1990 since it mostly supports both standards plus has digital sound effects.

The sound Blaster 1.5 supports Adlib sound as well as most games that support Game Blaster/CMS (Creative Music System) sound and has an improved DSP over the earlier Sound Blaster 1.0. If you come across a Sound Blaster 1.5 with two empty sockets that card is missing CMS support but restoring support is easy with installing two readily and cheaply available Phillips SAA1099P chips off eBay. most games that use CMS will work once the chips are installed but a few games do require a true Game Blaster card.

Adding the line

SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T1

To the Autoexec.bat file is all you need to do to allow the card to function and requires no conventional memory although a small number of games do require you install the driver to receive sound.

Even though adding a sound card may seem like a no brainier, remember that even the earliest sound card, the Adlib wasn’t released until 1987. Up until this point in time all games used the built in PC speaker for sound. By the time games started supporting sound cards and music they also largely supported EGA and were starting to support the new VGA standard and most don’t run all that well on a 8088 even in turbo mode. Sure many games still had a option for CGA mode and some do play well on an 8088 and support sound blaster sound like Prince of Persia but the question remains why wouldn’t you just play any of these games on a faster machine in their EGA or VGA mode.

Is it worth building an 8088 PC?

As always the answer is highly dependent on your individual needs and wants. For the casual retro PC gamer whom views the golden age as consisting of classics like, Doom, Duke Nukem, Decent or even Wolfenstein 3d and Secret of Monkey island an 8088 build probably isn’t for you and I would suggest thinking hard about if your passionate about playing the early games an 8088 does excel at which with exceptions are generally much simpler and more arcade like experiences. On the other hand if your interested in an earlier era of PC games and are looking for full compatibility of all eras on real hardware then building a 8088 is pretty essential to your collection. where as you could probably skip a 286 since a 386 will do just about anything a 286 will do but better an 8088 build by nature of its slow speed can play a number of games that just won’t feel or sound right on any faster system. Sure you can throw a CGA card in a faster 286 or 386 and fix most of the issues associated with not using a true CGA card but your not going to be able to downclock that CPU to a 8088 4.77mhz speed equivalent. Even a 286 or 8086 running at 4.77mhz is faster then a true 8088 at the same speed.

If you want to completely abandon period correctness I found a great example of pushing an early XT class machine and based several of my hardware choices off his article. If you want to push your own machine to its limits I suggest checking out Anonymous Cowards “V’ger XT” -10MHz V30.

https://youtu.be/m2t0XsbLcng

In this article were going to take a brief look at the Dell Optiplex GX110 which is a Pentium III based small form factor computer from the year 2000. The Optiplex series was generally focused toward small business as well as education markets so we’re not looking at a gaming rig though it may make a fast and stable late DOS or Windows 9x machine. The closest similar machine I can think of from the same time is the Compaq EN small form factor which I wrote about here.

As you can see above the GX110 is a small form desktop PC but it also came in a desktop and mini tower form factor. They also came in slot 1 and socket 370 form, this machine being the later socket 370 form. I would say the GX110 small form case is not as tall as the Compaq EN was but it’s not smaller by much. Unfortunately I no longer have the EN to directly compare. On the front we have a single button for power as well as a floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive though notice the CD drive is looking a bit odd with the eject button on the face plate but we will get to that.

On the back starting from left to right we have a parallel port with a serial port below it followed by two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, two USB 1.1 ports another serial port followed by the built in video port, Ethernet and finally three audio jacks for mic, line in and line out. Having a line in jack is nice as many of the small form factor PC’s I’ve looked at only have the mic and line out jacks.

Opening the case is very simple and you just pinch in two plastic side tabs on the sides near the rear of the case and lift the upper part of the case up and off.

Here is the inside with the riser card still attached. I currently have a Geforce 2 MX400 installed.

Here is the riser card removed though there isn’t much of interest revealed below it except that 3com chip which presumably controls the Ethernet.

The riser card here supports two PCI expansion cards but from what I’ve read Dell may of also offered an optional riser card with one PCI and one 16-bit ISA slot. If this is true those risers would of been optimal for a fast DOS build.

Now lets take a look at that CD drive.

So this machine does something I don’t see very often in desktop IBM PC’s and that’s use a laptop style CD drive. Now the obvious benefit of using a laptop style drive is you can have a smaller case and it also is lighter. You also can use a smaller floppy style power connector if you like that kind of thing. I find this a bit of a negative though since I find laptop style CD drives to be a bit less robust and more prone to damage. I also find them to be harder to replace as they aren’t uncommon by any means but desktop style drives are so much more abundant and can be found on any given day at a retail PC shop or used at a thrift where a laptop style drive may take a little more hunting to track down.

The hard drive bay is located under the floppy drive. Originally these models came with a variety of size options for hard drives but mine has a 40gb drive installed, it is likely this drive was added later.

Here we have a good view of the board. The board is based on the Intel 810e chipset which allows us to run a 133mhz FSB for our CPU but our memory is limited to 100mhz PC100.

1) CPU – The PGA 370 GX110 came with a few CPU options. I’m not sure what this one originally came stock with but it has been upgraded to a 1ghz Coppermine-EB Pentium III running on the 133mhz FSB. Just about any 100/133mhz FSB socket 370 Pentium III or Celeron should work just fine in this machine and any choice should be fine for a Win 9x or DOS setup though if you want to run things in higher resolutions or do some XP gaming a faster P III is recommended. There is an option is the BIOS to disable cache to lower speeds for earlier games.

2) RAM – The Optiplex GX110 can take up to 512mb of PC100 SDRAM via two slots. My machine currently has the max of 512mb using two PC133 256mb sticks. The PC133 clocks down to PC100 though depending on the RAM brand and specifications I have read of incompatibilities when using PC133.

3) Riser slot – This is the riser slot for the riser card we looked at earlier. It installs like just about any other expansion card though it has a little green plastic lever you want to raise before removing the card.

4) Floppy connector

5) IDE – Two ATA-66 EIDE connectors supporting up to four EIDE devices. Of course you only have room for three total drives unless you get creative with dual SSDs for hard drives.

6) CMOS battery

7) CD audio in connector for the on-board audio.

8) PSU connector

Sound – Built in sound is sound blaster compatible Analog Devices AD1881 soundMAX. It’s similar if not the same sound chip that was in my Compaq EN and although it’s okay for basic Windows sound its pretty terrible for DOS. A PCI Sound Blaster Live! or Vortex 2 based card would be a smart upgrade for one of the available slots.

Video – Video is Intel Dynamic Video Memory which seems to pull memory from the system memory. It’s passable for desktop use but if you actually want to use this system to run games a video card should be your first upgrade. A PCI Voodoo 3 would work great in this machine for Windows and DOS gaming but other later PCI cards would compliment the Pentium III CPU as well.

And that’s about it for the Optiplex GX110. As usual these Pentium III machines make great Windows 9x or late DOS gaming PC’s with a few tweaks and additions such as appropriate sound and video cards. As for the GX110 though I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it just because there are better options out there. Unless you really really need the small form factor or are in an area starved for Pentium III PCs and earlier era stuff. It’s just not that much smaller then other options like the Compaq EN which gave three expansion slots as opposed to two which can make a big difference when upgrading. In a pinch it works but keep an eye out for something nicer if you can.

The Gateway GP7 computers were a series of late 90’s and early 2000’s Pentium III based computers from the Gateway corporation. It appears the GP series were meant for small businesses from what I could find on Gateways old website but it’s hard to tell since information is spotty via the Wayback Machine. I believe the PCs in the series had the same case but used different motherboards as the series progressed. This is why I’m writing this article specifically on the GP7-500 and not the entire GP7 series as the GP7-500 does not seem to represent later computers in the series. The GP7 series ran though models ranging from the GP7-450 to a GP7-850 where the number after the hyphen designates the speed of the installed Pentium III. The series may have sported models with higher CPU clocks but I could not find any first hand. The specific model we’re going to take a look at here is the GP7-500 with a 500mhz Pentium III installed manufactured in 2000.

I have to say I’m not totally in love with the style of this case but it does have some features that make it a little different. Aesthetic wise it’s more rounded then similar cases of the period and it does have a nice sort of grilled indent at the bottom to add some visual flair. Something I found odd was the 3 1/2 drive bay located under the first 5 1/4 bay. This very unusual as usually the bays are grouped together by size with however many 5 1/4 bays on top followed by one or two 3 1/2 bays under them. Functionally it makes no difference but it is a change from standard bay placement. My GP7 appears to of came with the original drives which were a Pioneer DVD drive in the top most bay and a standard 1.44mb floppy drive located underneath with lots of room for two more 5 1/4 drives and another 3 1/2 drive so adding a tape drive, a second CD drive or a ZIP drive is easy.

Another thing I noticed is a strange omission of a reset button. You get two LED’s for hard drive activity and power but no reset button so resetting must be done through the keyboard. CTRL + ALT + DEL.

The rear is fairly standard. My GP7 has a “property of Amiga Inc.” sticker that I did not add but seems otherwise to be stock. The GP7-500 and presumably others of the line came with video and sound cards preinstalled and not integrated to the motherboard which is a real bonus and usually a good sign as integrated graphics and sound in the 90’s and early 2000’s was usually sub par. As for integrated components we have the pretty standard two PS/2 ports, two USB 1.0 ports as well as two serial and one parallel port.

The case is pretty easy to open up via two thumb screws. Everything is fairly easy to access on the inside with a removable caddy below the drive bays which is meant to house up to three hard drives. The PC came with what I believe is a stock 16.5 Ultra IDE hard drive. For the year 2000 this most certainly wasn’t the fastest or the largest drive available at the time and feels pretty budget minded. It’s pretty easy to remove being held on by three screws as well as the metal support bar you can see just above the expansion slots. The PSU appears to be proprietary as it’s a little slimmer then a standard ATX PSU and has a removable plastic shroud used to direct airflow over the CPU from a fan located on the bottom of the PSU. Thankfully unlike DELL, Gateway does not require an additional AUX like power connector found on some Dell models of the time.

The motherboard is a Gateway specific Tabor3 ws440bx motherboard made by Intel. This motherboard also only supports a 100mhz front side bus with BIOS options for tweaking being pretty sparse.

1) CPU – The CPU in the GP7-500 corresponds with the final number being a 500mhz slot 1 Pentium III. This should be consistent along the entire GP7 line though I believe the highest GP7 PC I’ve seen was a 850mhz model and this is in fact the highest clocked CPU this board “officially” can take. The 500mhz model makes a good fast DOS machine or a good general Windows 9x CPU though for those late Windows games, Windows XP or running higher resolutions you may want to think about upgrading.

Unfortunately Gateway didn’t make upgrading super simple. To upgrade your going to need to remove the power supply which isn’t hard but it is an extra step and requires removing five screws (don’t forget the one inside close to the drive bays). The CPU itself also can have a death grip on the little plastic guide stands so be careful in removal. You may also encounter a situation where your case on your replacement slot 1 CPU isn’t compatible with the plastic stands that help keep the CPU from jostling on the slot 1 connector. You can either modify your CPU or remove the posts with a screwdriver and pliers. Doing this will allow your CPU to wiggle a little more freely in the slot but it should be okay and Ive never had an issue. You may also need to remove the plastic shroud on the PSU if your CPU is to tall but this shouldn’t effect things much especially if you upgrade to a CPU with a fan of its own on the heatsink. You should be able to drop in any 100mhz FSB slot 1 CPU up to a 1ghz which is the highest speed Intel went with its 100mhz FSB slot 1 processors.  I have managed to upgrade the GP7-500 up to a 1.3ghz Tualatin Celeron processor by means of a slot 1 powerleap converter. The BIOS reports a 1000mhz CPU on POST but windows 98SE was able to utilize the full 1.3ghz and reported its presence without issue. A 1.4ghz upgrade should also be possible

2) RAM – The GP7-500 came with 128mb of SDRAM installed but could be expanded to 384MB via 3 RAM slots. Speed was limited to PC-100 but you can use PC-133 which will downclock to PC-100 speeds. Installing more then 384MB of RAM with simply result in sticks over 128mb not being utilized at all. This is interesting since on other boards I’ve used when installing larger amounts of RAM the PC would usually use that RAM up to its hard limit. For example if I installed a 128mb stick as well as a 512mb stick in a PC with a limit of 384mb many times I would get my 384mb with 256mb simply being unused and wasted but with my GP7-500 if I attempted this The machine would boot but only give me the 128mb completely ignoring the 512mb stick. If I go into the BIOS the 512mb stick is seen and correctly reported as being 512mb but on POST and in Windows it is completely ignored. This I found was the same when using 256mb sticks so to get your full 384mb three 128mb sticks are required.

Searching various message boards I have found some reports that the chipset will support at least 256mb sticks of SDRAM and some users have even reported achieving 512mb using 256mb sticks but apparently the board is very picky about RAM with your best bet using 8×16 internal org, 16 memory chips (8 per side) DIMMs. I haven’t tested this myself though.

As far as games go This should be more then enough for just about all Windows 9x stuff and even at 128mb complete overkill for general DOS usage.

3) IDE – information on the specifics of the motherboards onboard IDE was a little iffy with specs and manuals being surprisingly difficult to find in any amount of detail. Looking though various sources online as well as Intel’s spec sheet for the reference motherboard it seems the IDE controller is ATA-33. This would be completely usable for a year 2000 machine but definitely on the budget side as ATA-66 and ATA-100 was available in 2000. This can be easily remedied though with a PCI IDE 100 or 133 controller or even a PCI SATA controller.

4) Expansion – The GP7-500 sports one AGP x2/x4 slot as well as five PCI slots (one being shared) and one all important 16-bit ISA slot for enhanced DOS compatibility as far as sound cards go.

5) Piezo speaker

6) CMOS battery

Expansion cards

The GP7-500 did not have video or audio built into the motherboard and thus all units came with a video as well as a sound card. These are the cards that came installed with my machine. I have no way to tell if they are 100% stock cards but from the period of the cards and what I could find out about the GP7-500’s specifications I strongly believe these were the stock cards. Seeing as this machine also seemed to of been marketed as a small business PC the cards also make sense as networking would of been very important as well as a video card that could display a sharp image while sound would of taken a back seat.

Video – The video card that came pre installed was a Nvidia TNT2 Pro with 16mb of memory as well as a DVI output. The TNT2 Pro offers excellent DOS compatibility as well as making an excellent Win 9x card. Except for the Voodoo 3 and TNT2 Ultra it’s possibly the best choice for an all around Windows 9x card. The interesting aspect of this card is its DVI port acting as the only source of video out. Of course a DVI to VGA converter can be used for connection with a standard VGA cable but this is one of the earliest cards I can recall seeing with DVI. This would make a great card for compatibility when hooking up to a more modern LCD display for running DOS and Windows software via a pure DVI or HDMI with a DVI to HDMI adapter. Running the card through the digital DVI connection may also give a slightly better image quality over an analog VGA connection as well.

Sound – The sound is nothing to write home about and is a fairly generic looking Creative Audio PCI. These cards are known to have fairly decent DOS compatibility for a PCI card but the question is why bother with a PCI sound card for DOS if you have an ISA slot available. I’ve never had much luck with these types of cards and even though they get the job done more or less I wouldn’t really recommend them for a retro gaming PC, either DOS or Windows. Much better options exist that won’t break the bank.

Other – The GP7-500 also contained an Ethernet and modem card, both from 3com. I usually don’t give these cards much use or thought but I’m including them here for the sake of posterity.

So what do I think of the GP7-500? Well The closest OEM machine I have on hand to compare it to is my Dell 4100 which is from only one year later but is significantly more advanced out of the box. The 4100 sports a faster FSB, newer CPU types, Faster built in IDE controller, faster RAM and universal AGP slot. The GP7 does have one big advantage though if your thinking about DOS games and that’s a 16-bit ISA slot. It’s hard to state how much this improves the DOS gaming experience and the options it opens up. That said though if you are primarily looking to play Windows 9x games at the highest settings or XP era games you may want to consider passing the Gateway GP7-500 up due to its rather outdated motherboard for the time period. If your looking for a machine to play DOS games as well as Win 9x titles I wholeheartedly endorse the GP7-500 if you can get one cheap.

Of course things can be done to upgrade the GP7. I’ve added a slotket CPU adapter and a 1.3ghz Tualatin Celeron CPU as well as a faster video card and faster PCI IDE controller. With these upgrades you should comfortably be able to play any Windows 9x game and most early XP era games just fine while retaining that old school slot 1 cool factor. The 384mb limit though may be an issue though when thinking of using this PC as a Windows XP machine unless you can achieve 512mb as some users have been reported able to do. The question is, is it worth the effort when more capable machines from that era can be found?

 

 

lc3mp

In previous articles we covered both the nearly identical LC and the LC II, both of which were early attempts to bring an affordable color Macintosh to the market. Both machines more or less accomplish what they set out to do but also both were heavily compromised in functionality to achieve this end.  The main compromises of the original LC and following LC II were

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU socket on the motherboard.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with monitors outside of the fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple or early VGA monitors.

The LC II added the ability to use virtual memory via the CPU’s built in MMU and tweaked the video a bit but was otherwise identical. Thankfully the LC III finally addressed all the above issues while maintaining the same small form case. Finally we have a full 32-bit data bus so as not to strangle the 32-bit CPU. There is now a MMU as there was built into the LC II but also much more expandability for RAM as well as a socket for a FPU chip and the video memory supports 640 x 480 resolution without any kind of fiddling or upgrade.

Other then the LC III badge the case is identical to the LC I and II. bear in mind there are two versions of the LC III case and one features a manual eject floppy drive that looks a little different with an indentation to grasp the disk. These cases also have the case badge as more of a label then etched onto the case. Otherwise these machines are identical.

The rear of the case though is identical to the LC I & II. from left to right you have the power connector and switch, Mac video port, modem and printer ports, external SCSI port, ADB port and finally an audio jack for speakers and mic. The Ethernet card installed on the right is the same one that used to be installed in my LC II.

The LC III like the LC I & II does not support power on via the keyboard and use of the rear switch is required. Opening the LC II is exactly the same as the other LC’s with just two fairly sturdy tabs securing the top.

Now with the top removed.

The general layout is basically the same as it was in the LC II with a single floppy drive and space for a SCSI hard drive. Mine came with a standard 80mb SCSI hard drive but I upgraded mine to a 500mb model by transferring the upgraded hard drive from my LC II.

Now lets take a look at the motherboard.

1) Enhanced LC PDS slot – The PDS slot on the LC has a slight extension to it compared to the PDS slot in the LC and LC II. The “enhanced LC PDS slot” in the LC III supports both 16-bit PDS cards of the type that would be used in the older LC machines but also 25mhz 32-bit PDS cards. Unfortunately these 32-bit cards are quite uncommon.

2) CPU – The LC III unlike the LC I & II now uses a full 32-bit data bus as opposed to a 16-bit but so the CPU can be taken full advantage of. The CPU in the LC III is a Motorola 68030 running at 25mhz, also a bump up from the 16mhz of the previous LC’s.   Some benchmarks of the time placed the LC III twice as fast as the LC II in overall performance. There is also a version of the LC III known as the LC III+ which is identical save for the CPU which got a speed bump up to 33mhz. There is no way to tell the two models apart as there was no indication given on the outer case. Only opening the case and checking the CPU or powering the machine up and checking in software would reveal the difference. There are guides available on modding the LC III into an LC III+ but perform at your own risk. Also Later LC III’s with the manual floppy drive eject are more likely to be the plus models though be aware this isn’t a sure thing.

3) FPU – Finally we have a socket to add an optional 68882 math coprocessor to assist in complicated math calculations. This doesn’t seem to of been a popular upgrade though as I’ve never come across an LC III with this upgrade though the chips are fairly cheap (as of 2018).  Like on the x86 PC though I don’t think the FPU was heavily utilized in any number of games on the Mac so the FPU upgrade was not seen as a priority.

Empty FPU socket to the right of the CPU

68882 coprocessor installed

4) RAM – The LC III has 4mb of RAM on the motherboard but also unlike the previous LC’s the LC III has a single 72 pin SIMM socket with the ability to add up to 32 additional MB or RAM for a potential max of 36mb. This is the configuration of my LC III featured here. The LC III was also the first Macintosh to use 72 pin SIMMs. This was a welcome feature as the previous 10mb was serviceable for the time but the ability to add up to 36MB total went a long way to extending the usefulness of the LC III in the future.

5) Video – The LC III features built in video and 512kb of VRAM standard. This allows 640 x 480 resolution on a 640 x 480 capable monitor out of the box and I had a much easier time hooking this LC up to my various monitors via a Mac to PC VGA adapter and getting a image without any hassle or “out of range” errors. The VRAM is upgradeable to 768kb via a VRAM slot and 256 KB 100ns VRAM SIMM. This will allow a maximum resolution of 832 x 624 at 16-bit

6) PRAM – this is the ever present PRAM battery for saving settings. It is always recommended to swap this battery out when you get a new Mac or if you start encountering strange instabilities.

The Mac LC III was a great evolution of the LC line finally fixing all of the shortcomings of the line while maintaining a lower price point. For all intents and purposes the LC III was a Macintosh IIci in a smaller form factor case with slightly lower performance and much less expansion capabilities. If all you wanted to do was some light work and gaming and didn’t need the expansion slots of the Macintosh II line the LC III was an excellent option that saved money and took up a little space in the house.

For the retro Mac gamer I would easily recommend this machine over the LC I and II. They don’t take up much space, are light and relatively cheap and easy to fine. They also offer enough power to run early color Macintosh games or black and white titles well and can work with most monitors hassle free.

Mention of the Pentium 4 is commonly met with disgust from a certain portion of techies, the Pentium III was a far superior CPU they will tell you. Tech reviews from the time seem to affirm this and the early Pentium 4’s looked to be outperformed by both AMD’s Athlon XP chips and the older Intel Pentium 3 but how bad really was the early Pentium 4?

Its actually not that uncommon for a new CPU architecture to be outdone by the last models of the previous generation. There are several examples of this in the history of CPU development. For instance the AMD 386DX-40 was faster then the early 486’s and late 486 chips like the AMD 133mhz 5×86 (a 486 in all but name) easily outshines the original Pentiums. Why then is there such distaste for the first generation of “Willamette” core Pentium 4 CPUs? When Intel developed the Pentium 4 they used a new architecture called NetBurst which differed from the P6 architecture of the Pentium II and III before it. Many felt Intel would of done better to continue to evolve the P6 architecture and that NetBurst was good for gaining higher mhz numbers (which consumers paid attention to) but not giving better performance relative to those numbers. Once the Northwood cores hit the market in 2ghz+ speeds performance of the Pentium 4 became quite good but I believe most of the hate for the Pentium 4 is centered around those early Socket 423 Willamette core P4’s and these are what I wanted to test. Were the Willamette Pentiums 4s as bad as they say?

Before we start the article proper though I want to make a point very clear. This article is ONLY focusing on the Willamette based Pentium 4 as it operated with high end era correct parts within the end of 2000 and into 2001. It is not meant to represent the overall Pentium 4 line such as later Northwood, Prescott ect… chip revisions. It is also not meant to represent the full potential of the 1.5ghz Willamette CPU, as in using overpowered GPU’s and drivers from much later time periods as not to bottleneck the CPU. One example of this would be taking the machine below and installing a Geforce 6 or 7, a GPU released far after the 1.5ghz Willamette and then seeing how it performs. Also please keep in mind software optimized for the Pentium 4 and thus taking advantage of SSE2 instructions was not widely available in 2000/2001 which is the time period we are looking at for this build.

I frequently read about how the Pentium III easily stomped the Willamette based Pentium 4 CPUs in performance and I wanted to test this myself. To this end I decided to build the ultimate year 2000 Pentium 4 machine. The Pentium 4 did come out in late 2000 but probably wasn’t readily available to consumers until 2001 but I thought it would be fun create a year 2000 specific machine using the best parts that money could buy at the time. I’d like to think maybe it could of been a very expensive high end Christmas present assembled in December of 2000.

p4w1

For a case I just went with a beige white case that I felt was very representative of the time. I kept things pretty simple with bay drives and limited my build to a pretty standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a DVD drive manufactured in 1999. At this point CD-ROM drives would of still been very common but I went with DVD since that would of been the high end and they were widely available in 2000. I believe this drive is a x12 speed but x16 speed drives were available. For a hard drive I’m using a ATA-100 40gb Quantum Fireball AS drive from early 2000.

Motherboard – Obviously the star of this build is going to be the socket 423 motherboard. Socket 423 was the original socket for the Pentium 4 and was a very short lived socket type only being in production a very short time before the Pentium 4 moved on to socket 478. Because of this, socket 423 boards tend to be pretty hard to find these days and can command a high price on the internet. Socket 423 supported the 1.3ghz to 2.0ghz Willamette based Pentium 4s. Intel quickly realized this socket was not adequate for higher clocked CPU’s so it was ditched fairly quickly for socket 478.

The motherboard I choose was the Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board largely on the bases of its availability to me to purchase and its unconventional look with RAM placement. The QDI Plantinix motherboard features RIMM slots for RDRAM (will get to that shortly) as well as an AGP x4 slot and an Intel 850 chipset.

1 ) Usually I mark the PSU connector as an afterthought but socket 423 is actually a bit picky about its power supplies. Socket 423 boards along with a standard 20 pin and 4 pin ATX +12 volt connector requires a supply with a 6 pin AUX power connector. It kind of looks like one half of an old AT power connector and plugs in next to the 20 pin connector.

This connector is necessary to properly power the socket 423 board and CPU. It’s not a very common connector to find on power supplies but I had the most luck searching under “Pentium 4 PSU” in eBay searches. These power supplies will all be fairly old at this point like mine and I had to go through 2 supplies to get a working unit. I failed to find an adapter to add an AUX connection to a more modern supply but they may exist.

2 ) CPU – Socket 423 supported all the Willamette CPUs which were produced in speeds of 1.3ghz to 2ghz. In 2000 only two Pentium 4s were available, the 1.4ghz and 1.5ghz version. The slowest 1.3ghz CPU interestingly was not released until very early January 2001. Originally I used a 1.3ghz CPU as seen in the image below just to see how slow the slowest P4 actually was but later decided to upgrade to the 1.5ghz model after discovering the performance difference in games was only 1-3 FPS in most cases and to make a truer year 2000 machine.

Except for the 200mhz speed difference and indication of clock speed on the chip the 1.3ghz CPU shown above and the 1.5ghz CPU installed on my motherboard look exactly the same. All Willamette P4s have 256kb of full speed  L2 cache on die which is the same as most of the Pentium III CPUs (exceptions being some of the Tualatin models and the early slot 1 Pentium III’s which had 512kb of half speed L2 cache). Later the L2 cache would be bumped up to 512kb on the Northwoods and even higher on later model P4 chips.

Socket 423 CPUs are rather large coming in a little bigger then a Coppermine Pentium III and much bigger then the later Northwood P4 as seen below

(CPU’s from left to right, Coppermine Pentium III, Willamette Pentium 4, Northwood Pentium 4)

3 ) RAM – Most socket 423 boards also used an unusual and (in the realm of consumer PC motherboards) short lived RAM type known as RDRAM or Rambus DRAM. RDRAM was expected to be the next PC memory standard replacing SDRAM  but was eventually beaten by DDR memory. In the days of the early Pentium 4 though Intel had licensed the use of RDRAM with its chipsets so RIMM slots (Rambus in-line Memory Module) showed up on many socket 423 boards. Also to note is that even though RDRAM is primarily associated with early Pentium 4 motherboards it can also be found on a few Pentium III PC’s such as the Dell Dimension XPS B733r.

RDRAM was both very expensive and ran quite hot. It was so pricey that Intel had to subsidies it and include it with certain motherboards. It also required a heat spreader be attached due to the heat it produced. It was found that the relatively small performance increase in some areas did not justify the cost and RDRAM was quickly replaced in the coming years by DDR which in general was faster, cheaper and ran cooler.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board supports up to 2GB of RDRAM but since I’m going to be running Windows 98se I’m only going to a max of 512mb via four PC800 128mb sticks.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x has one of the most unusual RAM slot orientations I’ve seen in a post 1980’s motherboard with two slots being in a typical close side by side configuration close to the CPU and another slot spaced further away with a fourth slot being completely perpendicular to the other three. I’m not sure why they went with this setup other then maybe as a space saving feature. This board is also very picky about RAM as well as placement and sizes. RDRAM requires it be installed in sets of two and any unused slots require a “CRIMM” or dummy RAM be inserted as a terminator.

4 ) CNR Slot – CNR or Communications and Networking Riser was another Pentium 4 era slot that was quickly phased out of personnel computers. It was primarily intended for networking and audio cards.

5) IDE – Two ATA-100 IDE connectors for connecting IDE devices (two devices each) like hard drives and CD/DVD ROM drives.

6) Floppy – standard floppy drive connector.

Now for my sound and video card selections for the top of the line in 2000.

Sound – For a sound card I went with the Creative Sound Blaster Live! which was sort of the default sound card of the time.

The card I have installed in the Value version manufactured in 2000 but other then lacking an extended I/O connector and having color coded ports as opposed to gold is identical to the regular version. The Live! cards also supported EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions) 1.0 and 2.0 which many games of the time supported. An Aureal based card would of been another sound option but I feel the Live! cards are a little more compatible feature wise and more representative of 2000.

Video – Finally we have the graphics card. This was actually a very easy decision as the top dog of 2000 was easily the Geforce 2 Ultra.

The AGP x4 Geforce 2 Ultra was pretty much unanimously sighted as the most powerful graphics card of 2000 and in some circumstances even proved faster then the initial Geforce 3 card that preceded it. The Ultra came with 32mb of video memory and was clocked higher then the base model GF2 GTS and GF2 Pro beating out both of the competing Voodoo 5500 and Radeon DDR cards.

One thing to note is that finding a Geforce 2 Ultra can sometimes be a challenge since they can be sought after but also because certain other Geforce cards can almost look identical.

So with that out of the way lets look at some benchmarks to see if the Willamette Pentium 4 really does drag this beast of a year 2000 machine down. To compare I wanted to use a fairly contemporary machine so I choose my Dell Dimension 4100 from 2001 as the competition. This PC will be running the exact same video and sound card as the Pentium 4 PC. The CPU I have installed is a 1ghz Coppermine Pentium III released in 2000 and also using the old P6 CPU architecture.

Both machines are also using the same video drivers (version 45.23) as well as Power Strip 2.78 in order to disable Vsync. Driver version 45.23 are later drivers from around 2003 but unfortunately drivers from 2000 were giving me direct x errors and to be honest I didn’t feel like dealing with it. differences should be minor. Both machines are also running Windows 98se and using 512MB of RAM. I am also using “Optimal default” BIOS settings on both machines and have double checked to make sure L1 and L2 cache is enabled.

*UPDATE 2/7/18*

As I discovered my previous tests skewed the results in the Pentium 3’s favor I have redone all tests. Previous tests were done WITHOUT updated Chipset drivers (from 2000/2001) which greatly effected performance of the Pentium 4 therefore I have decided to rewrite the majority of the following section with the updated data. Chipset drivers ver. 3.20.1008 were installed on both the Pentium 4 and 3 boards for all of the following tests.

First test is with SisSoft 99 to benchmark both the SDRAM in the Pentium 3 machine and the RDRAM in the Pentium 4 PC.

Pentium 3 SDRAM – CPU = 296, FPU = 328

Pentium 4 RDRAM – CPU = 993, FPU = 219

Now SisSoft 99 is a little confusing on how it benchmarks the memory and it seperates it into a CPU and FPU score but the RDRAM clearly has a bandwidth advantage here as its “CPU” score is about triple that of the SDRAM in the P3

The next test I wanted to run was just a few synthetic benchmarks just to get a feel of the two systems. The benchmarks I ran were 3DMark 2000 and 20001se. All tests were run at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. This was a high but reasonable resolution for the time.

p4vsp3

Initial Benchmarks put the Pentium 4 ahead with a slight lead in 3D Mark 2000 and with a slightly larger lead in 3D Mark 2001se. Not looking good for the Pentium 3 so far.

Lastly I wanted to run some gaming benchmarks as I feel they give a better idea of performance so I ran seven different game benchmarks multiple times on each machine to get a average. I ran all these at 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. I also used 3d acceleration where I could since these tests were of the systems as a whole and not just the CPU. With this in mind I also performed all benchmarks with sound enabled where the option existed. All results were rounded to the nearest whole number.

p4vsp32

In three of the seven games the Pentium 4 beats the Pentium 3 if only just barely in some cases. In the more demanding Comanche 4 and Serious Sam: First Encounter we basically have a tie due to margin of error. Both of the older Quake games also results in a dead even tie.

When run at a lower resolution of 640 x 480 the Pentium 4 did pull ahead more so in several of the tests.

Keep in mind results may vary depending on the motherboard used. Now in truth the Willamette based Pentium 4’s may not deserve the hate they tend to get. In my experience the chips have been fairly stable and do run basic tasks just fine. They also when paired with a powerful graphics card of the time like the Geforce 2 tend to run games of the early 2000’s just fine on moderate settings or even high settings and resolutions depending on the game. The Pentium III on the other hand just tends to do tasks a little worse. Though results may be quite improved with Tualatin based Pentium III’s with double the L2 cache and 400mhz more clock speed then my 1ghz Coppermine CPU.

One important thing that is worth noting about the early Pentium 4’s is that software in the early 2000’s had yet to take advantage of the P4’s SSE2 instructions and thus in the early days of the 2000’s software was not optimized for the Pentium 4 CPU. There is also the matter of controversy of the time around Intel fudging the benchmark results to favor the Pentium 4 over the Athlon and Pentium III which eventually led to a class action lawsuit though these admittedly underhanded doings did not seem to involve game benchmarks. In the end though there is a reason Intel quickly abandoned socket 423.

Other games tested were GTA III, Halo and Far Cry. GTA III ran at a pretty consistent 30+ FPS when resolution was brought down to 800 x 600 x 32. Far Cry ran more or less fine at 1024 x 768 on medium settings at around 30 FPS with dips in the mid to low 20’s when several enemies were on screen or there was a large explosion. Turning the Resolution down to 800 x 600 x 32 gave better results with FPS hitting as high as the 90’s at points and rarely dipping into the mid 20’s when a lot was going on. Halo seemed to be playable at 1024 x 768 with medium settings but suffered lower FPS rates but at 800 x 600 with textures and particle effects set on high it was perfectly playable. Quake III even at 1024 x 768 x 32 pulled a consistent 90+ FPS. A more powerful graphics card will obviously improve results but is out of the scope of a “year 2000 build”.

Despite the results favoring the Pentium 4 you were likely better off either sticking to your Pentium III or going the AMD route with the Athlon XP especially considering the high price of the early P4s. I also would of felt pretty burned when Intel dropped socket 423 for socket 478 after only a year give or take leaving socket 423 owners with not much of an upgrade path. I don’t feel the Pentium 4 really became competitive until the later Northwood cores started clocking over 2ghz and especially with the 2.5ghz hyperthreading models. There IS a noticeable performance boost over the 1ghz P3 but it’s not quite as much as I would expect from 500mhz more clock speed and a brand new CPU architecture and I think this is what let most people down. It’s not that the Pentium 4 was slower overall then a similarly equipped Pentium 3 build (if your PC was properly optimized) but that it wasn’t that much faster, at least not enough to justify the costs. I’d certainly be interested in how much difference a 2ghz Willamette makes against the Pentium III or even an early Northwood against a 1ghz Pentium III but that’s a matter for another article.

Previously we talked about Apples attempt to create a low cost color Macintosh for the home and educational market. That machine was known as the Macintosh LC. In this article we’re going to look at Apple’s 1992 second attempt at a low cost color Mac, the aptly named Macintosh LC II. Unfortunately as we will see the LC II solved virtually none of the issues that plagued the original LC to the point that it almost makes you wonder why Apple even bothered to release the LC II.

First lets take a look at the front of the machine and the case.

The LC II uses the exact same slim form factor “Pizza Box” style case as the LC. It looks identical on the front except for two differences. Fist off is obviously the printed model name on the front be LC II as opposed to LC. The second change is the lack of a cut out slot for adding a second floppy drive. The dual floppy version of the original LC was so uncommon that Apple decided to do away with the option all together for the LC II.

The rear of the case though is identical to the LC. from left to right you have the power connector and switch, Mac video port, modem and printer ports, external SCSI port, ADB port and finally an audio jack for speakers and mic. This machine had a Ethernet card installed when I bought it which you can see all the way on the right in the expansion slot.

The LC II like the LC does not support power on via the keyboard and use of the rear switch is required. Opening the LC II is exactly the same as the LC with just two fairly sturdy tabs securing the top.

Lets take a look with the top removed.

Internally the LC II looks very similar to the LC as far as where things are placed both on and off the motherboard. The right side of the board is obscured in this image by the Ethernet card I have installed. On the upper left we have the 1.44MB floppy drive and to the left we have a SCSI hard drive installed, usually 30 – 80mb in size though this one has been upgraded to a 100+mb hard drive by the previous owner. In between them we have a speaker and fan for cooling.

My LC II suffers from leaking capacitors like almost all Macs from the 80’s and early 90’s yet still functions.

1) CPU – Possibly the biggest difference in the LC II is the upgraded CPU from a 68020 @ 16mhz to a 68030 running @ 16mhz. Unfortunately the 32-bit CPU is still running on a 16-bit data bus so we see virtually no increase in performance. Interestingly enough some sources claim the LC II actually runs slower then the original LC in some instances. The one big advantage though of the new 68030 is that this CPU had built in memory management capabilities finally allowing the use of virtual memory on the LC II.

2) LC PDS Slot – expandability was the same as the on the LC allowing for expansion only via one LC PDS (Processor Direct Slot) though on my motherboard the slot is a snazzy white as opposed to black on the LC.

The previous owner whom I believe was a teacher had a Ethernet card installed presumably this was an educational model connected to a network

3) RAM – Just like the LC the LC II had a limit of 10mb of RAM. Also like the LC the RAM was expanded by two 30 pin slots. The difference in the LC II was that opposed to having 2mb soldered onto the motherboard the LC II had 4mb on board. This was good news to first time users That didn’t have the money to upgrade RAM or did not have any sticks laying around but for users that already had 4mb sticks on hand it was a bit of a waste. This is because as I mentioned the LC II had the same 10mb memory limit as the LC but on the LC if you added two 4mb sticks you would get 10mb with the 2mb on board. With the LC II doing this same upgrade you still ended up with 10mb or memory but 2mb were completely wasted (4mb on board + 4 = 4 =12mb but with a 10mb limit). It was still worth the upgrade to have the 10mb max but it just feels a bit wasteful.

4) Video – Built in video on the LC II is almost exactly the same as the LC with 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. The stock configuration of the LC II supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit just like the LC. The LC II was also still meant to run at a 512×386 resolution with the 12″ Apple RGB monitor. This still gave problems with many Macintosh games and programs expecting a standard 640×480 res. The video on the LC II was supposedly tweaked though to allow it to work with a wider range of external monitors but in my testing I couldn’t find any that failed to work with the LC but worked with the LC II.

Eventually I did find an adapter that did work. This adapter had DIP switches and I found setting it to “auto sync” and 640 x 480 @ 67hz (the lowest setting) produced a off center but usable image.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connector – The LC II supports 1.44mb floppy drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use auto eject mechanisms. The LC II lacks a second floppy connector due to the complete removal of a dual floppy option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

So looking at the overall specs and design of the LC II we quickly realize that the changes from the LC are very minimal indeed. so to understand this better lets take a quick second look at the shortcomings of the original LC.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with monitors outside of the fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple or early SVGA monitors.

Of these four shortcomings the LC II really only addressed part of problem 3 which is incorporating a CPU with a built in MMU to allow for virtual memory. It is true the machine came stock with more RAM but the total limit was still an anemic 10mb and even with the tweaks to the video I still had a hard time finding  a monitor outside of the Apple 12″ RGB or a professional NEC multisync CRT that would display with the LC II. I tried several adapters as well as several monitors such as my Sony G240 and Mitsubishi Diamondtron CRT’s but all gave a “out of range” error. I finally found and adapter with switches that allowed me to set it to 800 x 600 resolution manually and that seemed to work okay. You may have much more luck with an earlier SVGA monitor. Also one has to take into consideration that as stated earlier in some instances the LC II may even be slightly slower then the original LC.

Overall the improvements to the LC II don’t really seem significant enough to justify its existence though I’m sure a number of people did appreciate the inclusion of virtual memory and even the increased stock RAM. If your a retro gamer I would still suggest holding out for an LC III or Macintosh II though for the price these things go for its worth grabbing if your a collector.

LC II running with a screensaver. This monitor has severe vertical folding issues that are not to apparent in this image.

 

The Macintosh LC, if not Apples most crippled computer must be up in their top 5. The machine is purposefully held back in so many ways that performance is severely impacted yet it was still successful and is still an enduring member of the Macintosh family.

The LC in Apples 1990 Macintosh LC stands for “Low Cost” or “Low Cost Color” so one wouldn’t be shocked to to find that the machine is hindered performance wise. This was Apples stab at making a low cost color Macintosh for the family and the educational market.

The first thing one notices about the LC is its extremely thin and light case. This case became known as the “Pizza Box” case due to its similarity to the shape of a Pizza Box. The case is remarkably small and light and despite being all plastic it holds up as there are only two fairly sturdy plastic tabs on the rear that secure the top of the case down. The LC sports one or rarely two 1.44mb floppy drives. The two drive versions were not very popular but you can see on the left where another floppy drive could be placed. Usually as with this model that space was occupied by a 30 to 80GB 50 pin SCSI hard drive.

Looking at the rear of the LC was have a standard connector for a power cable as well as a switch. The LC does not support soft power on from the keyboard so powering on and off is done via the rear switch. Next to that we have a 15 pin video port for the built in video, an apple printer, modem port an external SCSI port a ADB port for keyboard and mouse and finally two audio jacks for speakers and mic.

Here is the inside with the top cover removed and we can see the motherboard is very small and compact. This machine when I got it had the hard drive removed but you can see where it would be mounted. between the two drive bays we have a speaker and a small fan. The LC also uses a proprietary small form factor power supply which if yours dies can be an issue to replace.

1) CPU – The Macintosh LC is controlled by a Motorola 68020 CPU running at 16mhz. The crippling factor here though is that we have a 32-bit CPU running on a motherboard with a 16-bit data bus thus severally hindering the performance of the CPU. One example of the bottleneck this created is the Macintosh II which used the same CPU yet ran on a 32-bit motherboard. This computer is almost twice as fast or up to 40% faster then the LC despite having the same clocked CPU. This performance gap is due mainly to the restrictive data bus of the LC. The LC also lacked a MMU (Memory Management Unit) for virtual memory or ability to add one thus limiting the memory.

2) RAM – RAM is another area that the LC is a bit limited. The LC comes with 2MB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard with the option to add another 8MB via two 30 pin SIMM slots for a total of 10MB of memory. This limit is placed by the memory chipset so even placing larger RAM sticks into the sockets still results in a limit of 10MB. This amount of memory, though usable, was fairly small even by the standards of 1990.

3) Video – The LC came with video built into the motherboard as well as 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. At stock configuration the LC supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit. The problem was the LC was mainly meant to display at the 512×386 resolution and even had a special 12″ RGB monitor which had its resolution fixed to 512×386. This monitor fits perfectly on top of the case of the LC, LC II and LC III. Many programs at the time expected 640×480 so when displayed on the 12″ RGB monitor at 512×386 a number of programs displayed incorrectly.

The LC is also notoriously picky about what monitors it will work with. neither my Sony G420, Gateway T17LC-8 CRT monitor nor my Samsung Syncmaster 171n LCD monitor would work with the LC when using a mac to PC adapter. This incompatibility continued when attempting to use a VGA to S-video converter as it produced a rolling and unstable image on my Sony KV-32FV310. usually the error was an “Out of Sync” error as the LC seems to output at a 25khz frequency many monitors just will not accept. I finally had to use a NEC PG-2740 professional monitor to get an image from this machine or the LCII I also have.

It is supposedly possible to modify the Apple 12″ RGB monitor to run at 640×480 but it likely takes some experience with soldering and working with CRT monitors and not for the novice.

4) LC PDS slot – Expandability on the LC was pretty meager and it only sported one specialized LC PDS (processor direct slot). This slot was mostly intended for the Apple IIe compatibility card which granted high compatibility with the huge Apple IIe backlog of games and programs but other cards such as accelerators and video cards were produced as well.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connectors – The original LC had two floppy connectors for connecting one or two 1.44mb floppy drives. Note that these are special drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use a auto eject mechanism. The dual floppy versions of the LC are pretty rare as this was not a popular option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

8) PSU connector

So lets go over and list the issues that crippled this machine.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with any monitor outside of the 12″ RGB  fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple monitors.

Considering that Apple was trying to create a low cost machine at an affordable price one wouldn’t be to surprised at the cost cutting done to the LC and the limitations thus created. One plus I could give the LC is that it is extremely lite and the Mac itself is easy to transport and setup. The case is also pretty durable for being all plastic and the tabs seem to hold up fairly well. That said for the modern retro gamer looking for an early 90’s Macintosh I would stay away from the LC for anything other then pure collecting. They are fairly cheap even on eBay as well as easy to find but there are far better options such as the various models of the Macintosh II or the LC III (which we will get to). I should note that the LC in this article currently is none functional due to leaking capacitors which is a common issue on old PC’s and especially these 80’s and early 90’s Macs. Apple did in fact attempt to correct the issues that limited the LC though it wouldn’t be until the third iteration that they more or less got it right.

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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.

sawtoothug3

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.

 

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.

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