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Today we are going to take a look at one of my newer PCs which has recently taken its place as my flagship example of a 286 class PC. DTK or Datatech Enterprises is a Taiwanese PC manufacturer that was a fairly large player in the 1980s computer world and even into the 1990s. The DTK tech-1230 we see here is one of their earlier PC compatibles from 1989 and is considered a “mini-desktop”.

The DTK tech-1230 has three frontal 5 1/4 bays for expansion. I currently have installed a pretty standard for the time setup of dual floppy drives, one 1.2MB 5 1/4 drive paired with one 1.44MB 3.5 drive in an adaptor bay. Although not common or particularly era correct a CD-ROM drive can always be installed in the third bay if so desired.

Next to the case badge on the left, there is a keylock and LEDs for power and HDD activity. The dual buttons are a green turbo and a red reset button. The turbo button lights up green when pressed and is used to toggle the speed of the CPU which in the case of this PC is between 8 and 12MHz. One thing I really like about the look of this case is the three blue diagonal stripes at about the center of the case. They aren’t much but they work to differentiate this machine from the sea of beige boxes that existed at the time.

The power switch is on the right side of the case and is in the style of many early PC and XT style PSU switches.

The back is pretty standard for a case of this type. We have a PSU with the additional connector for attaching a monitor directly which is always a nice option. To the right of the PSU are dual 25-pin serial ports. If you’re planning on using a serial mouse I would suggest getting a cheap and easy to find 25-pin to 9-pin serial adaptor.

Next to that, we have a parallel port. Other than these connectors the only other card it appears we have installed is a video card. We will take a look at this card as well as what I added later in the article.

Okay, let’s take off the cover and get a look at the inside.

Pretty simple on the inside with just a video and an I/O expansion card installed as well as what looks like an IDE hard drive installed vertically on the side of the 5 1/4 inch bays.

The hard drive is a 43MB Western Digital WD93044-A IDE drive being controlled by our multi I/O card. The drive did spin up but was not detected by the controller card.

Board with expansion cards removed

The motherboard is fairly well integrated for a 286 board though it does lack ZIP or 30-pin RAM sockets which I tend to find on the later 286 motherboards I tend to come across. Sorry for the dust on the components in some of these images as I took them immediately after getting the machine home and before proper cleaning.

1 ) CPU – The CPU is an Intel 286-12 running at 12Mhz (though the turbo can cut this speed down to 8MHz). The 12MHz 286 could be considered, along with the 16MHz 286 one of the quintessential CPUs of its class. They were fairly common and are fairly capable as well being suitable for playing EGA as well as early VGA titles. The ability to use the turbo button to downclock to 8MHz isn’t incredibly useful as it’s still too fast for speed sensitive CGA titles but if you want something more akin to IBM AT speeds it’s nice to have the option.

MIPS benchmark @ 12MHz

2 ) FPU – The board also has a socket for an optional math co-processor. Usually adding a math co-pro isn’t very helpful but a few games and CAD software can take advantage of one. My PC came to me with this socket empty but I added an ITT 2C87 math co-processor rated for 20MHz. This FPU is a little more powerful than a standard 287 processor but is a bit overkill in this machine. It was formally installed and paired with my 20MHz Harris 286 PC but after I replaced it there with a 287XL it found a new home in my DTK machine.

3 ) RAM – The motherboard comes with a full 1MB of DIP memory on board. This is a capable amount for a 286 and should be more than enough for any game that would play well on this system. For those wishing to push the DTK tech-1230 or wanting a bit more memory overhead you can always add an ISA memory card.

4 ) Expansion slots – This DTK motherboard sports eight total ISA expansion slots, four 8-bit and four 16-bit ISA slots.

5 ) I/O – In the upper left hand corner of the board we have on-board connectors for the dual serial and single parallel connectors. This is also the location of the AT power connector.

Now let’s take a look at the two expansion cards that came with this PC.

The first card is just a pretty standard I/O card from Western Digital. It looks pretty basic and comes with an IDE and floppy controller. I’m not sure if this and the HDD were factory stock but I think there’s a good chance they are.

When it comes to a video card I was pleasantly surprised at what I found when I opened this PC up.

The video card I found installed was a fabled and quite uncommon Cirrus Logic “Eagle II” card. This 8-bit VGA card is one of Cirrus Logics’ earlier cards but is known for its excellent compatibility with CGA games.

After personally testing this card I can confirm it runs several CGA titles that generally have problems when run on a VGA card without issue, this is without the use of any CGA compatibility TSRs or software being run. Games such as Digger which display garbage on my VGA cards ran without issue on the Eagle II. Starquake is a CGA game that shifts CGA palettes as well as color intensities as it switches screens. On most VGA cards it stays the Magenta, Cyan, and White palette we mostly associated with CGA but again, on the Eagle II it displays correctly. In my personnel testing I put this card up against a Trident 8900D, Tseng ET3000AX, ATI VGA wonder 24XL, and ATI Mach 8 video card and the Eagle II was the only card to display these games correctly “out of the box”, that is without any CGA mode software running.

The card comes with both a 9-pin TTL connector for hooking up to older CGA/EGA style TTL monitors as well as a standard 15-pin VGA port. Output mode is determined by a switchbox next to the 9-pin TTL output.

One thing to note is that my testing found the Eagle II VGA card to be a rather slow card, scoring in benchmarks generally lower than the other VGA cards tested. In a 286 class PC though this shouldn’t much of an issue.



Originally I decided to upgrade the IDE with a SCSI card and drive but unfortunately, the SCSI controller card conflicted with my midi card so in the end I decided to upgrade the HDD to a Quantum Fireball 8GB (seen as 2GB by the OS) and this SIIG CI-1050 EIDE controller card which now controlled my hard drive and floppy drives.


The next “upgrade” could probably be seen as a downgrade as I decided to remove the Cirrus Logic VGA card and install a true EGA card. I feel EGA is probably a little more era correct for a 286 though it’s hard to champion era correctness for this build after adding EIDE and a whopping 2GB hard drive. I’ve really wanted to mess around with a real EGA card though so I thought this machine was the perfect opportunity. Whether you go with an EGA, CGA, or VGA card is up to you and your needs. In general the best all around option I would recommend is probably a VGA card since it’s probably the cheapest, most available and most all around compatible card that will also work with just about all VGA monitors.

The EGA card I went with is the 8-bit ATI EGA Wonder 800 with 256KB of memory from 1987. This would be considered a higher end EGA card and is capable of extended EGA graphics mode as well as 16 color VGA modes (provided it’s attached to the correct monitor). One uncommon supposed feature of this card is that one of the RCA feature connectors (the upper one next to the switch box) is supposedly a true composite video out though I have yet to test this. The card does have a switch box for selecting a mode and it does require a TTL monitor to connect to via its 9-pin out. A MultiSync or EGA monitor is required to display higher resolution EGA modes but it will display low-resolution 16 color EGA to a CGA monitor just fine.

There is a higher end EGA wonder 800+ card that is completely jumper free and switchless but this card is supposedly a cut down VGA card that has compatibility issues with 25kHz monitors at 640×400, this is unconfirmed by me though.

I have been displaying this card on a Princeton HX-12e EGA monitor and the results have been excellent. The Princeton HX-12e is an EGA monitor style in a similar fashion to the IBM monitors for the PC, XT and AT lines of computers.

Switch settings for this card can be found Here.


For sound I decided to go with the old reliable Sound Blaster standard for maximum support among games of the era.

The card is a Sound Blaster 1.5 model CT1320C. This is an 8-bit sound card capable of digital sound effects as well as OPL2 FM synth and Adlib sound compatibility. My card has also been upgraded with the optional CMS (Creative Music System) chips for compatibility with most games that support this earlier sound mode. Seeing as Sound Blaster cards were the standard this card should support pretty much every game that will run well on this PC and that supports sound. The gameport is also a nice addition as it allows my PC to support a joystick or controller without adding an additional card.

The second sound card I decided to add was a midi card.

I decided to add a Music Quest MQX-16 8-bit card for any games that happen to support midi sound, most commonly in this era via a Roland MT-32 midi module. The card is also “intelligent mode” compatible so many games that use that mode, for example many Sierra adventure titles from the era, will run without issue when paired with a MT-32.


My last upgrade was an Intel Aboveboard memory expansion just to give me a little more memory overhead.

The Intel Aboveboard I installed is capable of adding a full 8MB of additional memory though I limited mine to 2MB giving my DTK tech-1230 a total of 3MB. This should be more than enough memory for any games I’ll be playing on this setup.

My fully upgraded motherboard. Note this is my original configuration with the SCSI controller and 2GB HDD. I later found this card to conflict with my midi controller and had to replace it with the before mentioned SIIG EIDE card.

The DTK tech-1230 is currently my main 80286 class PC filling a small niche spot in my PC lineup. I really like this PC from the design of the case to the layout and capabilities of the board itself. My only minor complaint is I wish it supported RAM expansion on the board so I wouldn’t have to resort to using a card to expand the memory but this is a minor complaint. I may have also preferred a slightly faster 16MHz 286 to the 12/8 MHz one this machine received but it’s still only a minor complaint concerning my personnel desires for a machine of this class.

You probably don’t need a 286 in your collection as a 386 clocked similarly can do everything a 286 can but better but there’s still something magical about getting one of these beasts up and kicking again. Playing a game like the Colonel’s Bequest on a 286 and on an actual EGA monitor is just something to behold if you’re a retro PC geek like me.


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

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

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

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

and now without further delay here’s my 286.


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Here we have the motherboard with the expansion cards removed.




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

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


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


I eventually replaced this FPU with an Intel 287XL which is a cut down 387 FPU made to work in a 287 socket. After running some benchmarks I found the 287XL had noticeably better performance.

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


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



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

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

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


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


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

Add the line


to your Autoexec.bat file to initialize.


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


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


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

So what’s my opinion of the 286 and do you need one as a retro PC gamer/enthusiast? The short answer is no. Personally, I enjoy the 286 for its somewhat uniqueness but I can understand why it is usually overlooked. As I stated at the beginning of the article it’s just too fast for the earliest CGA games and as for anything later it can’t really do anything a 386 cant do better. Also compared to a 386 the 286 is harder to find parts for and is generally less capable. If your short on space Id say pass on building a 286 but if you have space, cash and time to spare they can be fun little machines that bridge the small gap between the somewhat archaic 8088 and the somewhat modern feeling 386.


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