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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bsrmouse

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

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

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

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

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

386SX-16  = 3234

286-20      = 3683

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

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

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*UPDATE*

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

ramnew

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

bsrswitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benchmarks

Checkit 3.0 – CPU 3234, NPU – 917.6

Topbench – 27

Wolf3d – 7.7

3dBench 1.0 – 4.4

PCP Bench – 1.1

Speedsys – 1.88

 

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386pic2

In this article we will be looking at what I consider the ideal setup for a 386 based PC. The 386 is the predecessor of the 486 CPU that we looked at in my Anatomy of a 486 DOS PC article. The CPU was produced from 1985 to 2007 but I think the heyday of this CPU and PC’s based around it is roughly from the late 80’s to early 90’s. The 386 is really the first CPU that was powerful enough to take full advantage of things like VGA and acceptably run games like Wolfenstein 3d. The golden age of DOS gaming lies with the 486 but it really started with the 386.

So why would you want to build a 386 based machine? Well that answer depends on you. Some people just consider it a cut down 486 and a somewhat uninteresting CPU. To a degree This is somewhat accurate and I myself would usually suggest a 486 or Pentium 1 over a 386 machine if you could only have one. So other then building an era correct machine for fun is there any practical reasons?

I would say yes though in all honestly like the Windows 3.1 based machine I covered earlier Putting a 386 together is more of a hobbiest pursuit then a mandatory build for classic PC gaming but I can provide two reasons.

1) sound options. This really only applies if you already have a 486. If you do you probably already have a sound blaster 16, maybe a midi card as well? multiple sound cards can be a pain to configure in DOS and some older sound blasters have been reported to have some mild speed issues with fast 486 machines and Pentiums. with a slower 386 you can experiment with different lesser known sound cards or if you went with the old stand by sound blaster 16 in your 486 you can mix it up and throw a older sound blaster or sound blaster pro in a 386 machine. Many games sound better on a SB or SB pro and the later SB pro cards tend to be less “noisy” cards then the later SB 16’s.

2) earlier games with speed issues. Probably the best reason to build a 386 machine. There is a limited era where games were coming out for 386 based PC’s and some of these games are rather CPU speed sensitive. The best known example of this is Wing Commander, a rather well known and beloved game that is terribly speed sensitive. Even a faster 386 or a slow 486 feels “off” with this game and a slower 386 around the 25mhz mark seems to be the sweet spot. Bubble Ghost and Test Drive III (as demonstrated via the 386 and 486 videos by LGR) are other games that come to mind that are very speed sensitive to faster 486 systems. With a faster 386 and a decent video card you can run games like Wolf3d extremely well and late EGA games just “feel right” on this machine.

Then again if your reading this page your probably a classic PC enthusiast and don’t really need much reasoning to put a classic build together. I know for a lot of people the 386 was their first real gaming PC so nostalgia can play an important roll in PC building. With that out of the way I’m going to commence detailing what I think is the ideal 386 machine and what I put together myself.

386alt

Here’s my 386 PC in a tower case. I try to use a case that captures the look of whatever era I’m going after and I think this tower suits the time. The 386 era seems to be when tower cases really started to come in vogue as opposed to desktop cases. I’m personally partial to desktops and that’s the form I used with my 486 build but I rather like the styling of the 386 era cases. There IS a style difference in my opinion though it may be subtle. In my opinion towers of the earlier era seemed to have more “flair” if that makes sense. With this case you can see it at the bottom with the large reset and turbo buttons (turbo button slows down the CPU BTW for compatibility with older games) and the extra big power button and then the grooved base. I think later cases starting around the 486 felt more utilitarian, boxy and plain with small buttons. It was still pretty common to find big power switches on the cases as opposed to press buttons as well.

So if we look at the case starting from the top we have my SCSI CD ROM drive. I believe mine is 12x speed. The CD drive is a bit of an extravagance for the era but definitely not unheard of. Having a CD drive installed makes things much more convenient especially for playing CD rereleases of games that came out at the time of the 386. Below that is a  standard 5 1/4 inch 1.2 MB floppy drive. Essential if you want to get the right look of the time for the 386. Also many games and applications were still being released on this format in the late 80’s early 90’s. in the smaller bays we have a standard 1.44MB floppy drive that gets a lot of use in this machine and below that is my SCSI Zip drive. I like to try to include a Zip drive in all my classic machines for convenience and definitely recommend adding one. Mine like in my 486 is the rarer SCSI variety since I went SCSI for this setup, which I’ll get into later. If your wondering why it looks so odd its because the only drive I had was a horribly ugly purple. Why Iomega decided to put out drives with purple face plates is beyond me and unfortunately I couldn’t just swap it with a white plate from a common IDE type drive thus I was forced to paint the face white. Trust me it still looks better then the original purple.

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Other then being very shiny the back is not to interesting. Were stuck with the AT keyboard and serial mouse again like on the 486 but that’s not a big deal. we have the standard parallel and serial ports along with the AT keyboard port and the multitude of expansion slots to the bottom.

Note in some of the images below the board is in an earlier case. I found the case above early on and transferred over to it but some images were already taken in the older case.

Operating System – For this machine I wanted to be a little different and more period correct so I have DOS 5.0 installed. I would suggest DOS 6.22 since its just a better OS but if you want to be more “correct” 5.0 is the one. There’s not to much difference except 6.22 is just a lot more user friendly but all games that run on 5 should run on 6 and vise versa. Besides it “installs in minutes” and of course “no PC should be without it!”

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Now to get into the guts of the machine, I’ll start with the motherboard and its components before we get into the expansion cards I recommend.

Motherboard – For the motherboard I went with a late era 386 board in order to get the best options for expandability. The board I used is a Chaintech 340SCD which uses the SIS “Rabbit” chipset which from my research and the prior owner of this board is one of the faster 386 chipsets.

386mb001

CHAINTECH-COMPUTER-COMPANY-LTD-386-325SCD-333SCD-3-1

Its a later board so it offers some feature not common on earlier 386 boards that I highly recommend having such as L2 cache and higher Ram limits which I’ll touch on in a moment. When dealing with 386 and earlier were limited to ISA expansion slots. My board has quite a few slots with two 8 bit and five 16 bit ISA slots. Luckily 16 bit slots were common place with the 386 so our expansion possibilities are wide and fairly cheap. Actually putting together a good 386 can be substantially cheaper then a 486 when you consider top of the line sound/video cards. Though keep in mind ISA is slower then VLB found on some 486 machines and of course later PCI slots. My board also has a pin for an external battery which is always desired to leaking barrel batteries.

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1) CPU – When talking about picking a CPU for a 386 board there is really only one CPU you should look at, the AMD DX-40, the greatest 386 and considered by many to be one of the greatest processors of all time. The DX-40 is a rock solid CPU that is both powerful and reliable. The DX-40 is very common so its not very expensive to acquire and it easily outperforms early 486 CPU’s. After all that praise I guess its odd to say that it is NOT the CPU I originally wanted for my 386. The answer to that is very simple though. Its simply to fast for what I was going for and If your running a DX-40 you may as well just run a 66mhz 486 which I already had. Fortunately at least on my board the CPU is speed adjustable via swapping the DIP-14 oscillator next to the CPU socket. By this method the CPU speed can be set to its rated 40mhz, 33mhz or my choice 25mhz. (speed of the CPU is half that of the oscillator so mine is 50mhz, originally 80mhz). Now if you don’t have a 486 and dont care so much about earlier DOS games then I would defiantly say keep the speed at 40mhz to allow you to play a multitude of games that stretch into the 486 era but if your like me and already have a 486 (or several in my case) then I think a slower 386 at 25mhz opens up a new earlier period of games and makes those earlier speed sensitive games playable with no fuss. After the fact I’ll say I do prefer the reliability and option to kick my speed back up to 33mhz or 40mhz with the DX-40 that I wouldn’t get with a standard 25mhz chip. I should also point out that CPU’s being soldered directly onto the motherboard was pretty common in this era as mine is. look for a socketed CPU motherboard if possible.

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Also of interest if you look slightly to the right of my CPU on the motherboard you will notice an empty socket. This for a Cyrix 486DLC chip. Basically it was a “upgrade” option as a 386 with 486 instructions and a very small amount of L1 cache on the chip. Its advantage over the on board DX-40 is debatable and its said to create stability issues on occasion. Best avoided and for my build purposes useless.

2) FPU math coprocessor – Unlike my 486 DX2-66mhz the AMD DX-40 (and as far as i recall) all 386 CPU’s have no built in math coprocessors to help with complex math calculations. This board though has a socket for the optional 387 math coprocessor. Mine came with a Cyrix x87DLC coprocessor installed. In reality though only a very small amount of applications and games take advantage of the 387. SimCity and Falcon come to mind, probably CAD programs if for some reason you feel the need to to do computer aided drafting on a 386.

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3) L2 cache – These are the sockets for the optional L2 cache or very fast memory the CPU can access for common tasks. Adding L2 cache like on a 486 board can dramatically help speed up your system. This is a feature to look out for even if your going for slower 25mhz or 33mhz machines. Many 386 boards seem to lack on board L2 cache. My board supports 256kb of cache which seems to be the max found on 386 boards. Since this image was taken I have fully upgraded my machine to 256kb of cache.

4) RAM – Again, since my board is a later model board it can support up to 32MB of RAM on 30-pin SIMMs which is massively overkill. I currently have my RAM at 16 MB which is still more then enough RAM and is more in line with the period. I do not know if there are any stability issues or game incompatibilities that may come up with large unexpected amounts of RAM such as 32MB on a 386. I would say its probably very unlikely and instances are few and far between but for stability and period correctness sake 16MB is enough. It lets me feel like I have a lot of wiggle room RAM wise while not being to ridiculous overkill. One could easily get by with 4MB for the intended games of the time. If though your going for a maxed out build or don’t have a 486 machine by all means 32MBs.

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5) Hard Drive – This is a 50 pin SCSI hard drive 2GB. I went with SCSI completely for this machine with the CD drive, Hard drive and Zip drive all being SCSI. using SCSI for my hard drive let me set up larger partitions easier and I think is a little faster then if I went IDE. The downside being 50 pin SCSI hard drives are nowhere near as common as the IDE variety.

6) Since most 386 boards, even my late model have very little built in your most likely going to require a 16 bit ISA I/O card for various things like serial and parallel ports. I’m just using a pretty generic controller here. It also had pins for IDE devices but since I went SCSI they are currently disabled. No drivers needed or anything. Its all set up by the jumpers. just plug it in and it should work.

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7) Video card – Like the 486 the Tseng Labs based cards are regarded as the DOS king in the 386 era as well. Unlike the 486 with its VLB slots we are limited again to 16 bit ISA. The card I’m using is the Tseng ET4000AX with 1MB of RAM. Widely regarded as one of the better if not best ISA DOS VGA card. Mine is a Cardex card but the manufacturer doesn’t make much difference. The ET4000AX offers vibrant colors and is fast as far as 16 bit ISA goes. Best of all they are relatively cheap and common, at least compared to their later VLB versions.

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8) SCSI card – This is my SCSI controller card I use to well, control my SCSI devices like my CD-ROM drive, Hard drive and Zip drive. I went with SCSI because I had the parts already and its a generally recommended option over IDE for a classic system. It supports more devices over IDE and is considered a little faster and more reliable with the downside being more expensive. I’m using an Adaptec AHA-1522A which is a little bit of an older card but unlike some SCSI cards it gave me no trouble to set up and also sports a floppy controller which I’m using to run my 5 1/4 and 3 1/3 floppy drives.

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9) Sound card – For sound card my recommendation once again goes to old sound stand by Creative. In this case in particular the Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 and its FM OPL3 chip. It will basically work with all games from the era that use FM synth and earlier and is of course adlib compatible. The card is noticeably better sounding then many of the early  Sound Baster 16’s is more period correct and many games of the 386 vintage sound better on it. No drivers are needed, simply add

SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T4

to your Autoexec.bat via the EDIT command

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10) Midi card – I would say if you care about sound at all you want to add either a Roland or a 100% Roland compatible midi card. The 486 may of been a golden age for general midi but it got its start in the 386 era and many, many games can take advantage of the Roland MT-32 sound module for vastly better music. You could replace the above Sound Blaster Pro with a SB 16 for a crippled midi interface and noisier FM or you can use something like software emulation which I believe will allow you to use the SB pro’s game port as a midi interface at a cost of system performance but the absolute best route is to just get your hands on a midi card. I’m using a Music Quest MPU-401 Roland compatible card I grabbed off Ebay for a decent price. This is a known 100% compatible card but make sure you get one with firmware version 10 as earlier firmware versions are definitely known to have compatibility issues, especially with games from Origin such as Wing Commander. Also try to get one with a midi interface attached with it. Mine did not come with one so I’m using a hand made interface graciously made for me by a member at the Vogons forum whom I will leave unnamed since I’m unsure if he would want random people messaging him for cables in the future.

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In the end my 386 build was really fun to put together. It lacks the WOW factor of my 486 as far as cramming it with every possibly option but its a machine for a slightly simpler, yet not to archaic PC gaming era with less options but still a lot of power as well as character. You’ll notice like in just about all my builds I left out a network card of any sort. There is certainly a wide range of 16 bit ISA network cards you can find if you so choose but for me they just take space as I would never have a use for them. So is a 386 worth building? Its was certainly cheaper at least when compared to my monster high end 66mhz 486 with all the perks and trimmings. If you already have a reliable 486 I may say pass on a 386. On the other hard if your into retro PC building or want to experience games like Wing Commander on actual hardware I say put one together. A high or low end 386 shouldn’t break the bank.

*UPDATE*

I recently came across a old PC at a thrift store that has the exact “look” of the era I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Sure enough it sported a 386 inside but unfortunately the board was damaged beyond repair due to a battery leak. I did manage to eventually secure a smaller and possibly superior board that I replaced my old one with

I did replace the mother board with another smaller late era 386 board, the MS-3124 or Contaq-386.

COMPUTREND-SYSTEMS-INC-486-CONTAQ-386-MS-3124-1

This board has all the same abilities and features of the previous board that I want in a 386 plus is smaller and has a socketable 386 in case the CPU dies I can now actually replace it.

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386pic2 cpuHere is the original board that came in the case that was damaged beyond repair due to battery acid though its a little hard to tell from the Image. The board I replaced it with is identical in every way to this board with the exception of the chipset. My new one is SIS as opposed to the UMC chipset present on this board.

Benchmarks (AMD DX40 @ 25 mhz 386, 256 L2 Cache, 16MB FPM RAM, Tseng labs ET4000AX)

3DBENCH – 10.0

PCPBENCH – 2.5

DOOM -4.43

Quake – N/A

Speedsys – 4.19

The Wang Alliance 750CD is the unfortunate victim of a somewhat silly name and at least to the immature of us it easily evokes a snicker or a grin. Beneath the somewhat silly name implication the 750CD is a very capable 386 era PC. Wang Laboratories was actually a fairly successful American company that existed from the 70’s up until they were bought in 1999 and besides manufacturing a few IBM compatible PC’s, among other things also developed the PC RAM SIMM which basically is putting RAM on sticks rather than having a bunch of RAM memory chips socketed to a motherboard.

I’m seriously a sucker for the desktop case design. Towers are nice and all and really the better overall design but the desktop case just gives me a nice retro feel and the Alliance 750CD is a very nice and low profile case. Nothing overly complicated about it or non standard. The only odd feature is the placement of the reset button far off to the upper center area of the case but its only a cosmetic oddity. One limiting factor of this PC is the limited drive bays with only one 3.5 and one 5.25 inch bays. The 750CD came standard with a 1.44MB floppy drive and a CR-ROM drive. Its a tough call sometimes with a 386 based CPU computer on whether to go with a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive or a CD drive. I would say have both but really if only given the choice between one or the other it gets a little harder. the 1.2MB 5 1/4 floppy drive was standard for the 386 era and a lot of games came in that format also a lot of CD based games were a little too much for a 386 CPU but at the same time a CD drive is very convenient  and easy to replace. also a lot of old games were re-released in CD format and a CD drive makes it a lot easier to transfer files if you want to play with CD burning. For the 750CD being a late era 386 I think having a CD drive as opposed to a 1.2 MB floppy was the right decision since at the time the CD was clearly becoming the future of games as well as the fact the 25mhz CPU in the 750CD was not a bottom of the barrel 386.

This would be a rear view of the PC and as you can see its actually a fairly forward thinking design. The only expansion cards I have installed (I’ll get to them in slightly more detail in a minute) are a sound blaster for sound, an ethernet card and those RCA stereo jacks you see are for a CD-ROM IDE interface card so any sound from those jacks would be from a CD playing in the drive. besides the expansion cards the ports are pretty standard which is very nice for a 386 PC. we have built in VGA as well as ps/2 ports for both mouse and keyboard in a time when a lot of PC’s were still offering serial mouse and AT keyboard ports as standard and ps/2 as optional. also a pair of DB9 ports and a printer port.

Here is a shot of the inside (minus the CD-ROM IDE expansion card). As you can see the Motherboard is actually quite small and the 5 16 bit ISA expansion slots are supplied via a riser card in the middle of the board. The setup actually works pretty well except it can be hard to install cards sometimes as the metal tabs press each other if you have cards installed on both sides. It also uses an AT style power connector coming off the side of the board. The motherboard only has 1 IDE connector onboard as well as 1 floppy connector. this would still allow a cd-drive/hard drive combo on one IDE cable plus your 1.44MB floppy drive OR you could pull the CD drive and put the hard drive on the IDE and a 1.44 and 1.2 MB floppy drives on the floppy connector. I have my CD drive and 200MB hard drive (I think, it may be 500MB) on separate IDE ports because mine came with a IDE card pre-installed by the previous owner.

This is the ISA IDE expansion card I have installed, an IDE-16003 V2. this card appears to be primarily focused for giving a PC user an extra IDE connection for a separate CD-Rom drive/drives improving performance rather than have both the CD drive and hard drive on the same cable. This card as well as the other 2 expansion cards I have on the 750CD were added later and did not come factory.

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This is the CPU and a co-processor.  The CPU in the 750CD is an AMD 25mhz 386SX, in the above photo you can see it at the top partially obscured by the floppy drive power cable. This CPU is soldered to the motherboard and is non upgradable unless possibly by a rare and most likely expensive upgrade kit that uses the expansion slots. The 25mhz 386 is a somewhat speedy CPU but I would place it kind of middle of the road, no match for any 486 and outclassed by faster 386 CPU’s like the famous AMD 40mhz 386. It will though in most cases get the job done for games and applications of the era or at least faster than a 16mhz 386 or a 286 CPU. SX in the CPU title means that it has a 16-bit external data bus and a 24-bit external address bus. As no 386’s had built in math co processors a co processor expansion socket was added. Later on 486 class CPU’s DX was used to designate that the coprocessor was built into the CPU and no co processor was needed as opposed to referring to data bus width.. we currently take this for granted though since starting with the Pentium era these abilities were always built into the CPU. This particular 750CD has a Cyrix fastmath 387 co processor installed in its expansion slot. This was an upgrade and not factory installed or standard with this PC.

Here we have the opposite side of the inner case with the expansion cards removed. The Alliance 750CD uses 4 32 pin RAM slots and came factory with 2MB installed, mine is upgraded to the full 16MB the PC is capable of handling. For the era this is more than enough RAM as I’ve said before even many 486 era games will run on 8MB RAM with no issues. The on board video of the 750CD uses the Western Digital Paradise WD90C11 chip which was considered a very capable video chip for its time. A faster 16 bit ISA video card could always be added but for the type and era of games this PC plays I think the Paradise chipset is just fine.

For sound this PC only came equipped with the standard PC internal speaker but the previous owner had a sound card installed which I decided to leave. This is a sound Blaster Pro 2.0 which is an 8 bit sound blaster (and thus fully adlib compatible) card. It’s not really my favorite SB card. It uses the Yamaha OPL3 chip like the SB16 but If your going to use an 8 bit sound blaster better to go with a Sound Blaster 1.0, 1.5 or 2.0 which use the OPL2 chip that is more old game compatible and can offer some Creative Music system sound (with optional expansion chips) you could also go with the Sound Blaster pro 1.0 which has duel OPL2 FM chips for stereo sound. There are a few games that only support this or that sound odd when played on a later OPL3 FM chip. It is less “noisy” and offers better sound clarity then most of the SB16 cards that precede it though, except for maybe the Vibra models. Sound Blaster 16 cards are also not 100% backwards sound blaster compatible so it does have use there for older Sound Blaster games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad card and is fine for the era but not my first choice. Since this is an as is review and not looking at what I would consider an “optimal” setup like in my “anatomy of” series will let it slide.

Overall I like the Wang Alliance 750CD despite its mildly offsetting moniker. It offers good expansion and a sleek low profile case. The CPU although a little underpowered performs adequately and you have the option of a nice amount of RAM and a co processor. The built in VGA, dual ps/2 ports for the mouse/keyboard as well as the factory CD drive make this a very forward thinking PC for its class.

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