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I was doing my usual rounds at my usual thrift when a PC caught my eye. I knew from the stickers it was a mid 90’s machine and sported a Pentium II. Unfortunately I’m already up to my eyeballs in mid 90’s P1 and II machines and I had no reason whatsoever to buy this machine. Whats more it was priced at $24.99 which is a deal more then I normally would be willing to pay for a machine like this. Despite this it called to me. that case, the normal off white color of the era yet also sporting aggressive frontal styling and slimness. I knew of the Dell Dimension series, a mid-high end line from Dell and despite not owning one in their hey-day I have a sort of soft spot for the series and regularly preferred using them previously for Win 9x machines. After attempting to open the case and gaze on the goodies inside, and failing, I gave up and left. I know I didn’t need this machine yet I felt regret for not picking it up. A few days later I returned to the thrift and to my mild surprise the Dell was still there and the case was open. I took a peek inside and saw it sported an AWE64 which I could defiantly use in other machines as well as an Nvidia RIVA 128, A card I never really played around with. There was no hard drive and it was still overpriced at $24.99 but I gave in and despite my better judgment I bought it. At the very least it would make good material for a blog article I thought. That said, without further adue, the Dell Dimension XPS D300.

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The Dell Dimension line was the name Dell gave to their line of PC’s for homes and small offices and they were usually of decent quality. The XPS line was at least at first reserved for there high end cutting edge machines with XPS standing for Xtreme Performance System, because as we know everything in the 90’s was EXTREME! sometimes even omitting the E for extra XTREMNESS!. The XPS D300 here came out in late 1997 from what I can figure and indeed uses very high end parts for the time. This machine would be one of the last and faster machines “designed for windows 95” before win 98 came out the following year. The D300 here was one of the highest spec PC’s of the D series of XPS computers. I’m not 100% sure whats stock on this machine but I’m pretty sure the second CD drive with the blue highlighting was added by the previous owner but it does match the upper blue case label and goes well with everything. I’m also not 100% sure about that Zip 100 drive below it either but from the pictures I’ve seen online of the D300 most have one installed in the same place so I’m betting the Zip drive is stock. The power button is easily accessible mid case and the smaller reset button a little below it. I don’t know what it is about these machines but I’ve always loved the case styling of the Dell XPS and Dimensions series. The case itself is also thinner then an average PC case.

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We can see here that the case is tool-less to get into and only requires unscrewing one screw that can be done by hand. Under the PSU we have a really nice and large case fan to assist with cooling. Built in ports are a little sparse with two ps/2 ports (that are interestingly none color coded for the time). Two USB ports most likely 1.1, as well as a printer and serial port. Absent is the built in video and to a lesser extent built in audio. This is actually a mark of quality though as usually built in video/audio is of the low quality sort and is easily blown away by most add on video/audio cards. As I don’t think its likely at all that Dell sold their machines without any video or audio cards I can only assume the cards I found installed in mine were stock from the factory. This would make sense as the cards are period correct for 1997 and of higher quality which would also go along with the rest of the D300. Usually I go into the cards near the end but It feels right to go over them now since were on the subject. Keep in mind I don’t know for sure if these are stock cards.

First we will talk about the video card.

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This is the video card I found inside. An AGP Nvidia RIVA 128 from 1997. Since in depth spec information on this model seems to be scarce I can only assume this is the card that came stock with the D300. It does make sense this being a high end machine as the date of the card matches the computer and the RIVA 128 would of been a higher end card to use in 1997 when it was pretty hot stuff competing with the 3DFX Voodoo. It was one of the earlier cards to use the then new AGP bus slot and was one of the earlier cards to integrate 2d and 3d into one card. The Riva 128 makes a decent card for DOS as well as early Windows 3d stuff. Its a great all around card and I’d suggest keeping it installed if you want to keep the machine 1997 stock correct. If not, toss in something more powerful, perhaps from the next generation Nvidia TNT or TNT2 line.

for audio we have…

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A AWE64 CT4500. This would make it the AWE64 Value with only 512kb of RAM. Overall its still a decent card and as I suspected with the video card I also suspect this was the card that came stock with this machine though I was hoping it was a non value edition. Its doesn’t have true OPL FM or a waveblaster daughter board header but its not a half bad card. In DOS it will mostly act like a AWE32 with clearer output and If you hook up an external midi module the AWE64 is free of the “hanging midi note” bug found on just about all Sound Blaster cards from the SB16 to the AWE32. Its a good all around card for DOS compatibility and Windows 9x. Stick with this card or upgrade to the AWE64 gold if you want to stay period correct or plan on using the D300 for DOS heavy gaming. If not, A PCI sound blaster live! or something using the Vortex chip from Aureal. You’ll lose some ease of use and compatibility in DOS as is the case with all PCI sound cards but they will make better overall Windows sound cards in my opinion. (I actually replaced the AWE64 in my machine with a PCI Monster MX300 with a Aureal chip)

Now for the motherboard itself.

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One of the first things to catch the eye is the CPU and the massive copper heatsink. The motherboard itself is a slot 1 motherboard and features the Intel 440LX chipset and the at the time new AGP slot for video cards as well as PCI and ISA slots giving a lot of nice expansion options for building a DOS or Windows machine. The PC speaker is a “beeper” type so it doesn’t produce as great a sound as a true PC speaker. You can also notice in the image above the vertical bay to the left where normally a PC speaker or case fan would go. That bay is for a hard drive but on my system I simply mounted my drive in a more traditional manner In a bay under the Zip drive. I don’t know the type or size of the hard drive that came with this model as it was removed when I received it but my guess is that it was a 2GB+ model hard drive. I installed a simple 1GB model IDE drive to replace the missing drive.

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There is no L2 cache on the motherboard  since slot 1 CPU’s have L2 cache on the CPU package itself.

1) CPU – The CPU in the D300 as the name may suggest is a 300mhz “Klamath” Pentium II. This CPU was pretty hot stuff in late 1997 and would of been a good choice for a higher end PC. The heatsink on this CPU is huge.

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As you can see there is no fan directly on the CPU and my guess is the design here called for the oversized heatsink to be cooled by the case fan behind it.

2) – CMOS battery

3) RAM – 3 sockets for up to 384MB of PC66 SDRAM as I have here.

4) two IDE connectors and above them a floppy drive connector

5) this cable connects the reset/power buttons on the front of the machine to the motherboard.

Even with the praise I’ve given it the machine does have its faults. First of which is the case. Just let me say again I love the case. I love the look and the ease of taking the side panel off with one hand screw BUT I still have not figured out how to take the other side panel off. This prevents me from removing any dead drives and the ones currently installed are screwed in on both sides. I know it sounds silly and there’s probably a manual online…wait, let me Google that real fast…..no, nothing I could find in 5 minutes anyways. just dead ends. its unacceptable when you have to hunt down a manual to take a case apart or maybe I’m just missing something here.

Second issue I had is the password which is set to be there by default. Usually the user sets a password and then if the CMOS battery dies the password dies with it but in the case of the D300 and I suspect most Dells of the time the opposite is true. I received this PC with an obvious dead CMOS battery so after POST I was presented with a road block in the form of a password. What you have to do is find this jumper on the motherboard.

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Jumper pins 2-3 to set the machine to “config mode”. reboot and then go into BIOS and set things to no password. make sure you have also replaced the CMOS battery with a working one or else you will need to do this again after you power down. Power down and replace the jumper to pin 1-2 for “normal mode” Its not a huge deal but it was kinda annoying.

Lastly we have the proprietary Dell power connector.

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This is the bane of most all Dell PC’s from 1996 until about 2000 and you can actually fry your system if you decide to try and use a standard ATX power connector. Basically if your PSU dies its not as easy as grabbing a spare ATX PSU you may have lying around or can find at goodwill for $5 the same day. There are a few adapters I found on eBay that let you hook up a regular ATX power supply for about $6 so that may be an option though I cant comment on there reliability.

The machine performs adequately and truth be told makes a pretty cool Windows 9x machine or even a good DOS PC  depending on what video/audio cards you decide to go with though even the stock cards are well up to either task. The biggest real downside is the Dell PSU but that’s only really an issue if it decides to die on you. As far as OEM machines I would recommend it though I currently definitely prefer using generic cases and building your own machines from scratch this would of been a pretty nice PC for 1997.

Benchmarks for DOS

300mhz Pentium II MMX, 384MB SDRAM, Nvidia RIVA 128

3DBENCH – 179.2

PCPBENCH – 78.5

DOOM – 70.07

Quake – 58.3

20150518_200805This is the Dell Dimension XPS R450 which is at the highest end of the Dimension Pentium II line. Its uses the exact same motherboard as the D300 with the only difference being the CPU is a 450mhz Pentium II. It even still has the oversized heatsink with no fan. Obviously the front of the case is redesigned but offers the same number of expansion options though the lowest slot now needs to be a floppy drive or ZIP drive. I think this machine was altered by the former owner but the Video card was an Nvidia TNT card

Before we had Ipads and notebooks and even laptop computers we had “luggables”. Luggables were an early type of portable computer. Closer in many respects to a desktop then to what we know as a laptop this was the best early designers could do to make a PC portable and in many cases had to implement bulky technology of the time like large 5 1/4 disk drives and CRT monitor screens. The name comes from the fact that often they were more like luggage that needed to be lugged around then like a laptop that was easily portable and light. In many cases a luggables exceeded 15+ pounds. Another general trait is the need for a power cord and a wall outlet and no battery power severely restricting use while “on the go”. We will be going over two such luggable machines from two ends of the spectrum. The Kaypro 10 a more traditional luggable from earlier days and a later Toshiba T3100 that uses technology like a early gas-plasma screen to reduce weight and size and almost enter the era of the laptop.

Kaypro 10

First up is the Kaypro 10 from 1983.

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First off I have to say I had two of these systems and both had the same issues of not being able to detect the hard drive as well as freezing up after a few minutes after booting from a floppy. That said I don’t have a lot of experience in using these machines. Also I sold off my two units and forgot to take that many images so :(. The kaypro 10 was part of the successful Kaypro line. From what I’ve read it was one of the first computers  to come with a hard drive. In this case a 10 MB MFM drive. The K10 came with a 5 1/4  double sided double density 390k floppy drive, a 4mhz Z80 CPU, 64kb of RAM and ran CP/M. As you can see the K10 came with a 9′ green screen CRT monitor built in. In the rear there is a printer, serial and modem port as well as the reset and power switch. The keyboard latches on and covers the screen and there is a handle on the back of the machine so you can lug it around like a bulky 15+ pound briefcase. I really wished I could get either of mine working but even if I did these are CP/M machines and CP/M is not known for its gaming.

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The metal box to the far right is the floppy drive and directly to its left is the hard drive enclosure. Under that motherboard is the CRT tube.

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Here is the motherboard. not to much to say. That chip directly above the cable labeled MOBO J9 is the Z80 CPU and I think those little chips under the cable are the RAM chips.

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This is the controller board. It is located on the right side of the machine screwed onto the side of the floppy drive enclosure. This board controls the HDD and FDD. Other then that I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Kaypro 10. I didn’t get to use it much due to the fact both my machines had issues and also I’m not very experienced with the CP/M OS which is primarily a business OS. It is though, a very good example of an early portable PC. The large built in CRT was typical and in the K10s favor the screen is actually big enough to be usable and having a actual hard drive is a huge plus. The thing is not easy to carry around. You don’t need to be the hulk to carry it but its certainly not without effort. I would hate to be the businessman that had to lug this thing to the office and up a flight a stairs on a hot day while in a business suit. Two Kaypro 10’s were apparently used by the medical team in the 1984 Paris-Dakar race and powered by the car battery which I guess at the time was very hi-tech.

Now lets look at the other end of the spectrum at a machine that acts as sort of a missing link between luggables and laptop the

Toshiba T3100

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This machine came out in 1986 and in many ways is far more closely related to the laptop. The main difference is that the T3100 still relies solely on wall outlets for power and has no battery ability like a laptop does. This machine is also in general heavier and more bulky then many early laptops. I found this machine at a local thrift chain and as you can see the screen is a little messed up with vertical lines through it and barely readable. Other then a broken screen the machine boots up with no issues and luckily there is a way around the screen issues I’ll get to in a bit.

The T3100 uses a amber gas-plasma display greatly reducing size and weight from the large CRT in systems such as the Kaypro 10. This machine is powered by a Intel 7.16mhz 286 and sports 640kb of RAM upgradable to 2.6MB. Unlike the K10 this machine is a DOS machine opening up many possibilities. Mine came with DOS  3.2 on its 10MB hard drive. The manual states the CPU can be down clocked to a compatibility mode of 4.77mhz to help run older software but to do this the manual states ” [this] can be done by depressing some keys of the keyboard”. What those keys actually are though is anyone’s guess.

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My T3100 has a standard configuration of a hard drive and a 3 1/3 inch 720kb floppy drive, another technological leap from the K10.

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There is also a port on the rear to add and external 5 1/4 drive and a switch on the left side of the machine to configure A: and B: drives. Now will take a look at the rear of the machine.

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Other then the Power switch and starting from the left we have an expansion port that has a proprietary connector for adding things like a modem or I think memory expansion cards as well. There was also an external base that housed up to five ISA cards that could be used to expand the T3100 abilities. This though would obviously come at the price of the portability. Next to that we have a serial port and then a printer port that also acts as a port for an optional external 5 1/4 drive. Next to that are some DIP switches to set things such as memory and display. I’ll post a chart on that here.

t3100dipAnd lastly we have a very convenient RGB port for hooking the T3100 up to an external CGA monitor.

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This is very nice for situations such as my own where the built in gas-plasma screen is damaged. The CGA chip is fully CGA compatible and has a hi-res 640×400 mode which is very much like the mode in the AT&T 6300 PC which is well, unusual, but in a good way. Lastly I’ll include a layout of the internal motherboard.

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I’m not really a laptop or portable PC guy and prefer the expansion and sturdiness of desktop systems but the T3100 is a decent DOS game machine for what it is, if you can get past the amber monochrome screen. You could add an expansion bay and a CGA monitor but when you do that you defeat the purpose of portability and may as well use a desktop. I think the Kaypro 10 and the T3100 make a good  and interesting example of how luggable PC’s evolved in just a short period of time.

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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.

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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.

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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.

386alt3

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

I know, for a guy that’s “not a Mac guy” and doesn’t really care that much for them I sure have a lot of them to talk about. Well that’s just been my luck lately and what I’ve come across in my thrift store/Craigslist scouring. Today were going to look at the classic black and white Macintosh SE or more specifically the FDHD version which is basically the exact same machine with support for high density 1.44mb floppy disk drives.

macse1

Here we have the front view of the machine as its running some early version of system 7. No, I do not know who “Peg Johnson” is or how to change the hard drive name from what I’m guessing is the previous owner’s name. This machine is sporting the hard drive in the upper section and a 1.44mb floppy drive or “superdrive” as Apple liked to call them in the lower section.

macse2

Usually you can tell if an SE is upgraded for high density floppy use by the badge on the front though there’s nothing stopping anyone from simply doing the upgrade to a SE and not worrying about swapping the front of the case. Originally the Macintosh SE that came out in 1987 were only capable of reading and writing 400kb and 800kb floppies but in 1989 the FDHD version was released that allowed the use of high density 1.44mb disks making things way more convenient.

macse3

Here we have the rear of the machine. Pretty standard as we have two ADB ports for a mouse and keyboard. This is a little different from most later Macs like the Macintosh Classic which only had one ADB port in the rear. My guess is that later keyboards have ADB ports on them so you would plug your keyboard into the Mac then your mouse into the keyboard and at the time of the SE that wasn’t an option on the keyboard. I currently don’t have an old Mac keyboard so I don’t know. Next is a floppy port for an external floppy drive, a db-25 SCSI port, printer port, modem port and finally a audio out jack for headphones or speakers outputting four voice sound with 8-bit analog conversion using 22khz sampling rate. Which from what I can tell is pretty much the same as later compact black and white Macs.

I’ve outlined how to get into one of these in my Mac classic article that I linked to above so I won’t go into that again but once inside it looks pretty much as you would expect, cramped.

macse4

Here we see the cramped innards of a compact Mac once again. The 1.44mb drive is in the lower bay and in the upper is from what I can tell by the label as well as what was standard issue on these things a 20mb Apple SCSI hard drive yet mine comes up as 10mb in the OS. Also the fan is mounted in the upper section to the back. You can see the grating for it in the rear picture and in the one above in the upper right. This is different from the later versions that have a downward bottom mounted fan.

macse5

Here is the motherboard. If you compare it to the Macintosh Classic and Macintosh Classic II you will notice its about twice as big.

1) These are the two floppy drive connectors. I’m only utilizing one but you can always have a duel floppy configuration and no hard drive if desired.

2) SCSI connection for the hard drive

3) 3.6V PRAM battery for keeping time/settings

4) power connector to the PSU

5) ROM chips and Floppy controller – these three chips are your ROM  and floppy controller chips. the original chips should be labeled

342-0352-A  HI ROM
342-0353-A  LO ROM 
344-0043-A  IWM

these are the original chips for the 800kb SE units. mine have the newer chips labeled

342-0701 HI ROM 
342-0702 LO ROM 
344-0062-01 SWM

If you have the newer chips your good to use 1.44mb floppy drives and disks. older SE’s can be converted just by replacing these chips and then adding a drive. *there may be slight number variations to the chips*

6) the Motorola 68000k CPU running at 8mhz. This CPU is in a long rectangle form factor of the time where the later 68000k CPU’s on the Classic I, II are smaller square CPU’s.

7) SE PDS expansion slot for things like CPU accelerators and such.

8) RAM – the SE can take up to 4MB of 30 pin RAM. mine originally came with 1MB but I have upgraded it here with a full 4MB.

I rather like the boxer case style of the SE as opposed to the later more curved Classic compact Macs. The SE is surly an improvement over earlier models like the Plus and 512k Mac but its still a very limited machine. the FDHD version with support for the 1.44mb floppy is a great boon but I stick with my earlier assessment. The only compact B/W Mac really worth using seriously is the SE/30.

macse6


 

mtg35

As I write this article the G3 that is the topic of concern is sitting several feet from me in a large box waiting to be shipped across the country to a new waiting owner. This is not because its a bad machine but because I can basically do everything I personally need to do as far as Mac gaming on the older more portable 7600 that coupled with the fact the Power Mac 9600 still has my eye for eventually being my go to high end classic Mac. So before this machine leaves my life lets take a look at it and let me give you my impressions.

mtg31

The G3 minitower uses a case like the 8600 and 9600 but according to Wikipedia it is slightly shorter. First off let me say this thing has a fair bit of weight to it. On top we have a 1.22 floppy followed by a CD-ROM drive and under that is a 100mb Zip drive. The Zip was optional but I see them on a large number of G3’s I come across. The Zip and CD-Rom drives are both IDE. As you can see my machine has a Sonnet badge on it since it received a G4 CPU upgrade at some point. Middle bottom you can see the speaker  and on the right is the little power button.

mtg32

Now we have the back of the machine with its various ports. On the very top left is the external SCSI port followed by the ADB port for your Macintosh keyboard/mouse. Below that is the Ethernet port, your printer/modem port and finally the VGA port. The G3 still does not use a standard VGA port so if your using a PC VGA monitor your going to need one of those adapters.

macvgaA few MAC to VGA adapters

Below that you have the A/V ports. There were three levels of a “personality card” that would go here. The lowest version known as “Whisper” was just the sound card for the system and offered no A/V capability. The card installed here is the mid level card known as “Wings” and offered sound as well as some A/V capture and output abilities. The highest level card known as “Bordeaux” featured improved sound capabilities for the system as well as better A/V capture quality and DVD movie playback ability. Finally there are 3 expansion slots for three PCI devices, somewhat of a step down from the six PCI slots in the Power Mac 9600.

The machine is very simple to open. The side comes off by depressing the aquamarine colored “button” on top and pulling out.

mtg33

From here you just flip up those two colored plastic tabs near the bottom and both sides easily just pull up and out of the way.

mtg34

Here is the motherboard exposed.

1) First off the CPU is a little more traditional looking at this point compared with some older MAC models from the mid/late 1990’s that used PDS slots for CPU cards. The G3 tower came with a G3 CPU anywhere from 233 to 33mhz. The G3 is roughly equivalent to the Pentium II of similar speed though most tests place is as slightly faster. My machine came with a 500mhz G4 upgrade, something I didn’t especially want or need. This upgrade placed this machine on par with a Pentium III PC.

2) Here is the personality card as I mentioned before. It is installed in a special PERCH slot. The one installed here is the mid level “Wings” card that acted as the machines sound card as well as a video capture and A/V out card offering composite and S-video connections.

3) This is the built in video and video SGRAM. Early motherboards had an ATI Rage II+ chip used for graphics but mine was a later revision and had the updated ATI Rage Pro Turbo onboard graphics chip. The slot below the graphics chip is for the SG video RAM. Mine here has been fully expanded to 6MB of video RAM. The ATI chip, especially the later Rage Pro Turbo is a decent video chip and can handle most games of the time competently.

4) Here is the ROM slot with said ROM inserted which are common on most older MAC’s.

5) Three slots for RAM. Officially the G3 tower model supported up to 128MB of PC66 SDRAM but can easily support up to 768MB via three 256MB sticks. 768MB is the amount currently installed in this machine.

6) These are the the IDE ports and above that one 50 pin SCSI slot. Early ROM A G3’s only support one device per IDE cable but this was corrected in later revisions of the ROM.

7) Floppy cable for the 1.44 MB floppy drive

mtg36

So final impressions on this machine. The G3 Mac is really the last and fastest of the old world Macintosh computers and as such The G3 minitower makes a excellent “tweener” Mac, meaning that its really good at transferring files between newer macs and older macs where a direct process may have format incompatibility issues. It can run early versions of OS X as well as OS 8 and 9 without issue. The built in ability to use SCSI and IDE is also very convenient as you can enable and format and enable SCSI hard drives on it for use in older Mac’s if you wanted. For me though it seemed just a bit to fast for the era of Mac games I was looking to play as well as not offering the enhanced expandability I was looking for in more PCI slots. It gave me a lot of audio and video stuttering issues with games like Sim Isle and Full Throttle and I never could figure out why. Its possible to much Ram was at fault but I never bothered to check. Games like Quake though ran beautifully on this machine and the option to add USB or a Mac Voodoo card via the PCI is a great bonus. I would definitely recommend picking one of these up if you see them locally for a good sub $50 price. If you have one shipped though they are heavy so be prepared to pay a hefty shipping cost.

At first I was just going to roll this article in with my Tandy 1000A article I did awhile back but after more research I found out there wasn’t a whole lot of specifics out there on the 1000 HD so in the end I think it deserved its own post, even if it is a rather short one.

t1000hd1

The Tandy 1000 HD looks pretty much identical to the standard Tandy 1000 and 1000A. The HD doesn’t stand for “high definition” but “hard drive” and as a matter of fact before I got this unit I just assumed it was a Tandy 1000  with a hard drive and controller card slapped inside by the factory….and it is but at least they went through the effort of badging it differently as well as add a ram and DMA card (at least I think the ram/DMA card are stock from the factory.

t1000hd2Simplest way to tell its a 1000 HD, check the badge on the front

t1000hd3

As we can see from the back the 1000 HD uses the same wattage power supply as a 1000A and I assume 1000. If you look on the right at the expansion slots you can see the cards are sticker labeled. The middle card is a modem which I don’t know if it was added later or came standard from the factory but the memory PLUS card does specifically say Tandy 1000 HD so I suspect it came stock with the hard drive controller card which would make sense as The extra memory and DMA controller would be very helpful with an added hard drive. All the other ports are same as on a stock Tandy 1000.

t1000hd4

Here is the machine after being opened with all three expansion slots filled. Notice the massive hard drive circa early 1980’s. Its so large that they had to install it parallel with the case rather then a more traditional bay setup. These drives installed factory were in the 10 to 20MB range. I don’t have a Tandy keyboard at the moment (you need one, its a proprietary keyboard port) so I couldn’t do much checking. On powering mine up it gives a boot screen and a memory check of 640kb but then nothing so I assume my floppy drive and hard drive are dead. My motherboard and power supply seem in fine shape though.

t1000hd7

Here we have the motherboard with the expansion cards removed. Comparing images It seems to use the exact same motherboard as the standard Tandy 1000 and you can see no slot for a 8087 next to the CPU. Mine seems to have a rather low serial number so I’m not sure if later models of the 1000 HD used the improved 1000A motherboard but from what I could find they do not. I could not fully remove the hard drive and floppy drive cover and holder because one screw is particularly hard to get if not impossible with standard tools unless I wanted to go through a lot of trouble or damage the brackets securing the hard drive so I left it alone. I assume Tandy expected you to ship the unit back to them if you ever decided to replace the hard drive.

Now for the two important expansion cards that I believe must of came stock with this PC to facilitate the added hard drive.

t000hd6

Here we have the 8-bit hard drive controller card. A Western Digital wd10025-wx2 controller card. the Bios “G” version of this card can handle 10 and 20mb hard drives as seem stock on the Tandy 1000 HD but cards with a “H” Bios can handle drives up to 62MB in size. Its not a proprietary controller card so you could potentially pull and use this controller in any old PC you have that requires an 8-bit hard drive controller for MFM drives.

t1000hd5

Lastly is the Tandy memory PLUS expansion card. This card bumps the RAM up to 640kb and adds a DMA controller or “Direct memory access” controller to greatly help speed up hard drive and various other operations. I believe the pins in the lower right hand of the card are for an optional RS-232 serial port expansion.

t1000hd8

Finally we have the Tandy 300 baud modem. I don’t really mess with old networking and what not so not much to say about it.

I would say if you can find one of these machines for a reasonable price or free the 8-bit hard drive controller alone is worth the effort not to mention the nice Tandy memory expansion PLUS card. A fully working system would also make a nice vintage gaming machine for the early era of PC gaming plus you get a hard drive and that great Tandy graphics and sound.

The PB 500 is as far as I can discover the Packard Bell companies first attempt at a IBM compatible machine and I believe was released around 1988 but possibly earlier. The PB 500 has a fairly standard design unlike there later Pentium era cases and seems to run fairly reliably as opposed to the massive reliability issues the company would face later with its products. The PB 500 is basically an IBM XT class clone running on the 8088 CPU but being capable of far greater speed and expandability compared the earlier original PC specs of the IBM 5150.

pb5006

Here we have the front view of the machine. It is a little lighter and more compact then an IBM XT computer. Nothing to fancy on the front. On the lower left is the keyboard port for an XT keyboard. As you can see on the right I have a 20MB hard drive installed in the lower bay and in the upper bay is a 720k floppy drive. This machine originally came stock with a 5.25 inch 360k floppy drive but is capable of being upgraded to the 3 1/2 inch 720k floppy as they previous owner has done here. Generally this is an advised upgrade and I find the 720K drive much more convenient. Since 720k drives are a little scarce if you install a standard and plentiful 1.44mb drive it will function flawlessly in these machines as a 720k drive. I’m running DOS 3.3 on this machine which I believe is the operating system that this machine came standard with.

pb5007

here we have the rear of the machine. there are 5 slots available for expansion cards as well as two built in ports. The port on the right is a parallel port and to the left of it is a serial port. To the left of these ports we have a small dip switch that can be used for setting the ports.

pb5001

Here we have the motherboard in the case with all the drives and expansion cards removed. You can see the five 8 bit ISA expansion slots for add on cards.

1) This is the onboard beeper. This generates all your PC speaker sounds.

pb500cpu

2) Here we have the CPU of the PB 500. This machine comes stock with a 4.77mhz Intel 8088 which was standard for the IBM PC. The PB 500 though is a “turbo” XT board so by pressing [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[ + ] on the keyboard the CPU kicks into 10mhz or more precisely 9.54mhz mode. Pressing [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[ – ] returns the CPU to standard 4.77mhz. The change in CPU speed is accompanied by a change in the power LED light from orange to green which is a nice touch. When I received this machine as you may be able to tell from the motherboard image it had a NEC V20 installed which is pin compatible with the 8088. The V20 is very compatible with 8088 software but due to improved efficiency boosts the speed of this particular machine to the equivalent of 8mhz when running in 4.77mhz mode and 15mhz when in 10mhz mode. Although the NEC upgrade is generally an advised upgrade for these machines I decided to use this PC as a sort of base line machine and for complete 8088 compatibility I replaced the V20 with an AMD 8088 CPU. Also to note a very minor side effect of the V20 upgrade is that the LED will not color change when turbo mode is selected.

3) This is the slot for the optional math coprocessor the 8087-1. As you can see this machine is without one.

4) The connection for the XT keyboard port.

5) The chips to the left of the # 5 are the RAM chips. This machine is expanded to its max of 640k of ram. To the right of the #5 is the wire that connects the LED to the motherboard.

6) This is the onboard interface for the floppy controller. The PB 500 supports 360k and 720k floppy drives. Unfortunately this cannot be deactivated so you can’t upgrade to a high density disk controller via an expansion slot.

7) This is the standard AT power connector for the board. Below that you can also make out the blue barrel nickel cadmium battery. These need replaced every few years else they can leak and corrode your motherboard.

pb5005

Here is a shot of the internals with all the drives and expansion cards in place. As I said before the hard drive that came installed with this machine is a MFM half height 20MB hard drive that you can barely see below the floppy drive and cables. Since this machine was found at a thrift neither I nor the buyer I received this from knows if the video card and HDD controller came stock with this machine.

1) The PB 500 lacks any onboard video so in order to have the machine display a video card is required. In a way this is nice since you get the option to choose your video card and not have to worry about disabling any onboard video chip. The PB 500 can accept any 8 bit video card. I decided to go with CGA over VGA or EGA since most VGA games run far to slow on this machine and I have much better machines for EGA. The card that came with this PC was the ATI small wonder CGA card which is a very nice CGA card in my opinion. The ATI small wonder can do CGA as well as Hercules/MDA, Plantronics, and ATI’s own 16-color 320×200 and 640×200 graphics modes. It also has a header for a composite jack. This card has a home made composite connection routed through the gap where the cards dip switch is. It looks a bit crude but I like it since it means I do not need to take up another expansion slot for the composite jack bracket.

aticga

I really like this card and it seems to work really well.

pb500cga

Here’s a shot of Leisure Suit Larry in the Hercules mono mode and next to it is F-15 Eagle in CGA mode. This is taken on my Tandy CM-4 CGA monitor.

2) This is the 8 bit MFM hard drive controller. Since the motherboard doesn’t have a built in controller an expansion card controller is required. This particular card is from Western Digital and supports 10 or 20 MB MFM drives.

mfmcn

Overall the PB 500 is a pretty nice compact XT class machine for playing older CGA games that require that slower 4.77mhz CPU. Couple that with the turbo mode and the option to replace the 8088 with a NEC V20 if you desire and you have a pretty capable early to mid 80’s machine. You also have the option to add an 8 bit VGA card or EGA card if you wanted to play some later games though in my opinion even in turbo with the V20 most VGA games are just going to be to taxing. One of my issues first off is the fact you cant disable the onboard floppy controller and cant add a controller for high density 1.2MB and 1.44MB drives. Also from what I’ve read this machine is very picky about what 360k drives it will work with. Finally by this time many XT class machines like the IBM 5160 came with eight 8 bit ISA expansion slots so the mere 5 found on the PB 500 is a very minor disadvantage overall. Despite that it’s still a nice 8088 machine and doesn’t take up a lot of desk space.

pb5002

Update 7/19/16

I recently picked up another PB 500 that appears to me more or less stock so I just wanted to post a few images of what it looks like and the expansion cards I found inside.\

pb500c

pb500b

The CPU I found installed was a Siemens produced chip.

pb500a

 

Some of the all time classic Macintosh computers are the all-in-one compact Macs from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Praised for their beautiful industrial design and portability they are iconic, they are also in my eyes, kind of useless. Keep in mind this is coming from a gamer and someone who has not been enthralled to apple. There’s plenty of good things I can say about the old macs and in particular the Macintosh Classic (not to be confused with classic Macintosh’s in general). They are portable, have a sleek design, are user friendly and helped launch desktop publishing among other things, they have there place but as a game machine or even just everyday computing or web browsing well, not so much. I can just say if I had a compact mac and my friends had a 386 PC with even a crappy sound card and VGA card I would be terribly jealous. The Macintosh classic is a later iteration of the early compact macs which include the Macintosh Plus, Macintosh SE and others. It is in almost all ways a step backwards from the Macintosh SE/30 which preceded it but it still brings some nice improvements over some of the earlier Macs. It should be noted though that this model was intended as a low-end Macintosh and for first time users so efforts were made to keep costs low. Like most classic Macs you’ll see these going for stupid high prices on Craigslist or eBay a lot of the time. Be patient, I picked this one off of Craigslist with mouse and keyboard for $25. the gentleman I bought it off of recovered it from a school years ago and didn’t want to see it go to waste.

classm1

The Mac Classic uses a fairly simple design. As can be seen the monitor came with the unit and was built in. The monitor is a 9 inch monochrome black and white CRT display. The image from these monitors is actually pretty good. The one here is bright and sharp. In one way the monitor being built in makes setup very simple as well as helps portability but being stuck with black and white can be a major drawback. This comes from someone who loves black and white movies and I’m certainly not a graphics centric person but for games its just limiting. It does lend a certain style though to games meant to be played on this system. Under the monitor you can also see the standard Mac SuperDrive a 1.44MB floppy drive able to read mac and ms-dos floppies. Screen brightness is now software controlled so no brightness dials are on the case.

classm2

Here is the back of the unit. I always liked the little handle on the top of the older compact Mac cases, its a nice touch. From left to right we have a ADB port for your apple mouse or keyboard (or both since they were made to be daisy chained), a DB 19 port for an external floppy, a DB 25 SCSI port for SCSI stuff, and two mini din ports for printer and modem. Lastly is a convenient little headphone jack for the Monaural four-voice sound with 8-bit digital/analog conversion using 22-kHz sampling rate. (thank you Vwestlife at the vintage computer forums for that info).

If you remove the cover located above the power switch you reveal knobs to adjust screen properties.

cmt16

Unfortunately Apple decided not to label these knobs but I did that for you in the image above.

classm3

this is the left side of the Mac. these are the interrupt and restart buttons. I know in the older compact macs you had to get a little plastic switch thing that you would install onto the case to access these buttons. It looks like these buttons finally became official on the Mac classic.

Now on to getting inside these. Like all the early all in one Macs these were not meant to be tinkered with by the average Joe and to help ensure that the case was screwed closed by 4 TORX screws, 2 of which at the top are extremely recessed and hard to get to without a special rare “mac cracker” tool or a long handled T15 TORX screwdriver. Originally I could not find a T15 screwdriver that was long enough so I had to make my own. I stripped a hard plastic pen and jammed a T15 screwdriver head into it from one of those interchangeable screwdrivers and that worked pretty well. eventually i did find a long enough T15 screwdriver at an ACE hardware store for a few bucks. here’s a picture of it.

cmt15

Yeah, just looks like a screwdriver but I was seriously happy when I found one. Once the screws are out the case is very easy to open, just pull back the rear of the case and expose the innards.

classm4

Here we have the very crowded inside of the Mac Classic. As an added bonus we have an exposed monitor and capacitors so you get the thrilling opportunity to severely shock and or kill yourself if you touch the wrong part. really just completely stay away from the monitor and the stuff on the right of the case.

1) the monitor, just leave it alone and don’t touch it.

2) This is the RAM card, which is a real improvement from the earlier compact Macs.

classm5

The max RAM that the Mac Classic can detect is 4MB. 1MB of RAM is on the motherboard and 3MB more are accessible via the special RAM daughter board pictured above. The RAM daughter board has 1MB of RAM soldered on and 2 30 pin slots for an additional 2MB of 30 pin RAM. Avoid buying a Mac Classic with only 1MB of RAM since it is missing the proprietary RAM expansion card. This easily accessible board is a great improvement over earlier compact Macs where in order to expand RAM you needed to remove the entire motherboard and on certain models and motherboard revisions actually cut capacitors in order to get the max RAM amount.

3) this is the tray for the hard drive. the Classic uses SCSI drives and mine is a 40MB drive which came shipped with this Mac. Remember to use Apple brand SCSI hard drives for the least amount of trouble. Under the hard drive tray is the floppy drive. the hard drive tray slides off with the removal of a screw.

4) this is the circuitry for the monitor and also the power supply, leave it alone. you can also notice now the exposed pots to adjust the monitor.

classm6

Once the power cord, floppy drive and hard drive cables are disconnected the board should slid out with very little trouble. The motherboard is very small compared to the earlier compact Macs and is roughly half their size.

1) special connector for the Mac Classic RAM expansion card. this is used for nothing but the RAM card. I believe that the line of 8 chips to the right of the connector is the 1MB of on board RAM.

2) floppy drive connector

3) SCSI hard drive connector

4) CPU, this is the Motorola 68000 processor running at 8Mhz

5) 3.6V lithium barrel battery for keeping time and settings saved.

6) These are the interrupt and reset buttons.

7) The Power supply connector.

classm7

Here is an underside shot of the Mac. As you can see the Motherboard leaves lots of space so there is room now for the fan to blow downward under the mac. make sure your Mac has its little legs lifting it above the surface else I can imagine overheating issues may arise.

classm8

The Mac classic came with the Apple keyboard II as standard as well as the one button apple mouse. The power button on the keyboard is not necessary to turn the Mac on as the rear power switch will work fine and will boot the Mac on power up. System 6.0.3 is in ROM and can be accessed by holding command + option + X + O keys during boot. I have system 6.0.7 installed on hard drive. Its very suited for this computer and boots up very quickly. You can put system 7.5.5 on this Mac but it kinda bogs things down a bit as the 68k CPU on this Mac isn’t very fast.

bottom line on this Mac is that I do like the improvements to the design such as the easy RAM expansion compared to earlier models but there really isn’t much room for any other type of expansion and there are no expansion slots on the motherboard. The CPU is a bit underpowered for the time and I really struggle to find any use for this Mac except as a system 6 novelty platform. If you want a classic compact Mac find an SE/30. The cases make good aquarium mods though.

Here we have another Packard Bell in the form of the Legend 2440. I found this particular PC on Craigslist for $10 in a lot with two other computers. At first it was completely nonfunctional but with a little work I’ve managed to get it up and running as well as adding a few minor upgrades. Its a nice little desktop style PC that with a little work makes a good Pentium based DOS machine.

pb24401

Here you can see the 2440 uses a pretty standard desktop look but still uses that Packard Bell lower case styling. You have your two standard power and reset switches as well as three bays. if I ever run across a spare 5 1/4 floppy drive (which this machine as factory did not come with) I may decide to drop it into this unit but a CD ROM drive and 1.44MB 3 1/2 drive is sufficient for the game time frame of this machine.

pb24402

Here we have a shot of the rear of the unit which is also pretty standard. you have a serial and a printer port as well as two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse and finally a VGA port for the built in video.

pb24404

Here is a shot of the the riser card with its expansion ports after the case is removed. two PCI and 3 16 bit ISA slots though one PCI/ISA slot is shared. As for RAM the unit has 8MB built into the board and has 4 kind of oddly spaced slots for 72 pin RAM. My PC came with 16MB total (8 on board and 8 more via two 4MB SIMMS). I later upgraded the RAM to 72MB total (8MB on board and 4 16MB DIMMS). The motherboard is capable of handling up to 136MB of RAM max. The CPU in this PC is a 75mhz Pentium. considered a little slow this was one of the first true Pentiums and when paired with the right motherboard can be quite speedy. Some of the highest end 486 CPU’s can like the AMD 133mhz 486 can match and at times slightly exceed the P75 in speed but the Pentium can do floating point calculations faster then any 486. Overall the P75 is a good DOS and win 3.1 CPU, its fast but not to fast and is reliable. The CPU on this machine did not come with a cpu fan and I don’t believe it came standard with one, the case fan to the right of the CPU acts as a cooler for the CPU. On the lower left hand is the chip for the on board video. The chip is a Cirrus Logic GD5430 which should play many DOS and windows 95 games and applications just fine. Its not a speed demon of a video chip but its reasonably fast. There is no jumper is disable on board video. On board video should disable when you add a video card to one of the expansion slot but I’ve had some issues doing such.

Like most Packard Bell systems and cheap OEM PC’s of the time there is NO L2 cache on this system though there is a space where it would go and I assume you could solder on your own chips if you have them. Its a shame though this model doesn’t even have sockets for them to make things easy though I have read reports of versions of this model indeed being sold with the L2 cache on the motherboard.

pb24405

Here is a shot of the board with all obstructions out of the way. You can also see the RAM I have replaced and filled the four slots. Over in the upper right corner next to the AT power connector are a floppy drive connector and two IDE connections built into the motherboard.

Now a little about the repairs I made and some things I learned about this computer while doing them. As far as I can tell I bought this computer pretty much in its original factory condition. This included a 1 gig hard drive, a network card and a aztech sound card. Windows 95 was preloaded on the hard drive. On receiving this computer I could not get it to boot at all. I replaced the AT power supply and still no power. I discovered that the network card was the source of my troubles. For some reason if the network card was installed the PC would not boot. I’m guessing the card was bad or was drawing to much power and shutting the PSU down. Since I really have no need for a network card my solution was just to remove the card. Getting into the unit to replace the switch on the power supply is somewhat tricky and requires removing the front faceplate which of course has fragile plastic tabs pron to snapping off if your not gentile. I also had some issues getting the power switch in as the screw holes on my switch were not lined up with the case. In this case I trimmed down the switch and used a hot glue gun to hold the switch in place. Usually I would not suggest this method but I only plan to lightly use this PC for testing so I doubt the switch will get heavy use. The case fan was also completely dead but the housing for it easily pops off via 4 plastic tabs and I was able to replace the fan.

On removing the expansion cards, reformatting the hard drive and installing a sound blaster 32 and a S3 Virge video card I ran across several errors. First off here is the sound card that came factory as far as I know with this system.

pb24406

Its an okay Aztech Sound Blaster 16 clone with a real Yamaha opl3 chip really meant for a windows environment. If your installing a different sound card like I was make sure you erase all the drivers for this card first or you will get a slew of errors. Of course reformatting the hard drive will get rid of those drivers.

After reformatting I installed DOS 6.22, Windows 3.1 and finally IBM OS/2 just so I could play around a bit with that operating system.

The second issue I came across was the video card. Unfortunately OS/2 refused to load with the Virge card installed. This most likely an issue with OS/2 that could be resolved with some effort but I decided to just go with the on board video. For my purposes the on board video really isn’t much of an issue so I simply decided to abandon the Virge and stick with the on board Cirrus Logic chip. (UPDATE) The Virge card I had was actually bad so no fault of the PC or OS/2.

Finally I had an issue with the factory CD-ROM drive from PB. Apparently this drive is somewhat picky about what drivers it uses and since I didn’t have the original drivers that came with this machine I had to use the generic ATAPI IDE CD-ROM drivers that I always use. Unfortunately the Packard bell drive does not work well with most generic drivers like mine and could not detect the drive upon booting DOS. A very easy and actually desired fix for this is to just find a cheap newer CD ROM drive to replace the most likely dying original drive.

The Packard Bell Legend 2440 is a decent DOS computer or even windows 95 machine though it will run a little slow on windows depending on what your doing and the amount of RAM. though it can be a bit of a pain to take apart and get running.

*after some searching the motherboard layout is available here

The Tandy 1000 line of computers was a pretty important and well known computer line of the 80’s. Based off of IBM’s failed PCjr It had superior sound (Tandy 3 channel) and video (Tandy graphics which was a improved version of CGA looking very similar to EGA) when compared to other IBM PC’s of the time that used a PC speaker and CGA or Monochrome graphics. If you want to learn more about the details or Tandy graphics there are tons of informative pages on the net and I would suggest starting at Wikipedia or here. I recently acquired a Tandy 1000A for about $10 with an accompanying Tandy  CM-4 RGB color monitor (just an older version of the CM-5 but basically identical). So what is the Tandy 1000A and how is it different from the original? Cosmetically and functionally they are pretty much identical except that according to Wikipedia the 1000A “fixed bugs, scanned expansion cards for bootable ROMs, and added a socket for a math coprocessor”. Since there is already so much information on this particular computer and not a whole lot for me to add I’m just going to briefly go over it here and point out the differences between the original Tandy 1000 and the slightly later 1000A revision so you know which one you have.

unfortunately the Tandy 1000A I bought did not come with a keyboard and I suspect both 360K 5 1/4 floppy drives no longer function. To speak for the Tandy’s build quality I purchased 2 other computers at the same time both mid 90’s Pentium 1 rigs. They both failed to boot (most likely a power supply issue) while the Tandy booted right up. The front is identical to a stock Tandy 1000 even down to the name plate. you have the two disk drives, big red self destruct button…errr reset button. a keyboard port proprietary to the Tandy so you cant use a standard IBM keyboard and finally two joystick ports. The power switch is on the right hand side at the rear.

The back is also identical for the most part to a standard 1000. from left to right we have the parallel printer port, light pen port (not a serial port and pretty much useless) and RGB monitor port (for CGA monitors), composite a/v out in case you don’t have a monitor you can use a TV set and finally a mono audio a/v out.

also on the back we have the first and easiest way to see if you have a 1000A.

Take a look at the model number written above the boxed serial number. If it says 25-1000A then you have a 1000A….most likely. It is possible that someone at some point damaged the case and swapped motherboards putting a 1000 MB into a 1000A case. If you want to be completely sure we need to open it up and look inside. Fortunately this is incredibly easy and requires removing 5 screws, 2 in the front and 3 in the back.

(click to enlarge)

Here we have the motherboard, usually the entire right side is obscured by the power supply, floppy drives and aluminum casing which I have temporarily removed.

1) This is the empty slot for an optional 8087 math co-processor. This slot will not be present on a standard Tandy 1000 and was the biggest obvious addition to the 1000A. The addition of a math coprocessor would speed up the computer when running some programs and math intensive applications.

2) This is the 8088 CPU of the 1000A, the same CPU as in the 1000. The CPU runs at 4.77MHZ (or 4.6 by some independent benchmark tests) and can be upgraded to a NEC V-20 chip to improve performance (only works in about 70% of Tandy 1000, 1000A’s). I plan to go into more details at a later time, perhaps if a do an “Anatomy of” feature on the Tandy but as of now I’m just going to quickly go over the basics.

3) connection for the power supply. it looks like AT but i believe it is proprietary.

4) this is the floppy connector for the two 5 1/4 floppy drives.

The Tandy 1000A like the 1000 comes with 3 8-bit ISA slots.

This a single slot 8 bit ISA memory card for the Tandy.  It has 512k of RAM on board bringing the total system RAM to its max of 640k. This card also has a DMA chip or (Direct Memory Access) on board increasing IBM compatibility. Later versions of the 1000 like the SX had the DMA chip as well as the potential 640k of RAM on the motherboard itself.

The Tandy 1000A is a slight upgrade from the stock 1000 and is not difficult to differentiate once you know what to look for. In the end though it pales in comparison to the later SX, TX and even the compact EX/HX Tandy 1000’s which offer much more expandability and features while maintaining the same compatibility for the early Tandy era games and applications.

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