Skip navigation

Tag Archives: packard bell computers

20151118_142425

Say what you want about the quality of Packard Bell but you have to admit they did use some pretty interesting and unique cases for their computers. The example I have today is the Packard Bell Axcel 39CDT. From what information Ive gathered this is a rather uncommon model and I’ve been told is somewhat sought after by Packard Bell enthusiasts so I’m guessing it didn’t sell very well.

pb39cd1

This machine is a 486 PC as you may be able to guess by the turbo button on the front that is accompanying the reset button. On the to is a keyboard lockout keyhole. setting this to lockout mode will prevent the machine from registering key presses from the keyboard pretty much making it useless. If you don’t have a key and its set to lock don’t worry. They weren’t built to keep out anybody with anything but the most rudimentary picking skills and I was able to change the position on mine with a Xacto knife. The power button is located on the bottom of this case but what is interesting is the panel that opens up to your drives.

pb39cd2

The door is actually kind of slick looking but personally I don’t see much need. There is one 3 1/2 bay as well as two 5 1/4 drive bays. This machine did come with a double speed CD-ROM drive according to advertisements I’ve seen but this drive mine came with is a CDR drive added by the previous owner. There is actually two internal bays under the 1.2MB floppy drive you see here that you could fit a hard drive or two into with a 5 1/4 adapter. Specs and adds claim the 39CDT came with a 420MB IDE hard drive but when I picked mine up the hard drive had been removed but more on that later.

pb39cd3

You can tell right off front looking at the rear of this PC that the power supply is located at the bottom of the case, a somewhat uncommon location of the time. There are five expansion slots and along the right side we have  our various ports. Two PS2 ports for keyboard and mouse followed by a built in VGA port. below those we have a common parallel port and a serial port.

After unscrewing the four rear screws the case on this machine slides forward taking the front face along with it as one piece. It took me a minute to figure this out as I kept trying to remove the case cover in a more traditional manner by pulling to back and toward myself.

pb39cd4

There is also a spot as you can see above the power supply for a 3 1/2 hard drive. The power supply is mostly standard except instead of a mounted switch there is an internal button that is pressed in by that long plastic arm that lines up with the power button on the front of the case. This may force some inventive solutions should the power supply fail.

My machine thankfully had the motherboard and jumper configuration chart on the inside of my case. Here it is for any of you that may be missing and need it.

pb39cdmbdia

pb39cdjc

Ok, now lets take a look at the motherboard.

pb39cd5

First thing I need to point out is that is NOT the original stock CPU but is what the previous owner upgraded this machine to.

1) CPU – This model originally came stock with an Intel 50mhz SX2 chip. This isn’t to surprising from Packard Bell as this was a cheaper part. The SX designates no built in math coprocessor. Being a DX2 that means the chip ran on a 25mhz front side bus. Overall the 50mhz SX2 running on a 25mhz FSB wasn’t all that much faster then a 33mhz DX chip. I downgraded this machine to a 50mhz DX2 to bring it closer to stock while giving it a math copro and freeing the Intel Overdrive CPU for other projects of mine.

pb39cd6

pb39cd7

2) RAM – The 39CDT has 4MB of RAM built into the motherboard so if you don’t have any spare 72 pin sticks of RAM lying around it will still run. Mine came with 24MB total RAM but according to advertisements as well as the specs sticker on the bay door RAM is upgradeable to a full 64MB

pb39cd13

3) Video – The video is a Cirrus Logic GD-CL-GD5424 running on the VLB or Local Bus. It comes with 512kb of VRAM stock but is able to be upgraded to a full 1MB. Unfortunately from looking at the motherboard it appears that upgrading requires a 512kn VRAM ZIP socket chip. I’m not sure those are to common. As for the CL chip, there isn’t much to say and not much turned up but it appears to be a decent mid range chip and one of CL’s earlier VLB offerings being a VLB version of their ISA GD5422 chip. Overall not bad and likely decent speed/compatibility wise.

pb39cd8

4) L2 cache – My SRAM sockets are currently empty but according to the jumper chart the motherboard supports 32, 128 and 512kb of L2 cache via 16 pin and 14 pin chips. This is very similar to my Packard Bell Legend 115. I don’t care that there is no option to use the more common 256kb l2 cache amount though as this seems to be the L2 “sweet spot” for the era.

pb39cd9

5) ISA riser card – This is the slot for the ISA riser card that allows for up to five ISA expansion cards.

pb39cd14

My machine came with a pretty generic modem and extra parallel port card but it did also come with a Crystal based sound card. Likely a Sound Blaster 16 clone but I do believe it is original to this machine with the PB stickers on the chips.

pb39cdsc

6) Modem – This appears to be a built in internal fax/modem but for whatever reason the port in the rear is covered up. My guess is the former user added the ISA modem card and covered the rear port to avoid confusion.

pb39cd10

pb39cd11

7) I/0 connectors – This is the connections for the built in floppy and IDE controller. The floppy controller seems to work just fine but for all my efforts I could not get the built in IDE controller to “see” any hard drive I tried. For that matter I also couldn’t get either of the discrete ISA I/0 controller cards I tried to work either. I tried several hard drives, new and from the era but I could not get this machine to see any of them. My best guess would be it’s an issue caused by not having a CMOS battery present. The original barrel battery was long dead and beginning to leak so I removed it. There is a connector for an external battery but I haven’t tried it yet.

*update* I finally did get the built in IDE controller to work but I was forced to use a old 300mb hard drive. all my efforts to get a ISA controller running failed.

So…the Axcel 39CDT. Again this machine like all but one of the Packard Bells I’ve come across booted and posted just fine. not bad for a twenty some year old machine coming from a very poorly regarded company. The case design is pretty interesting and doesn’t really compromise anything because of it. Three external bays isn’t a lot for a tower but is pretty standard for the era and OEM machines. I don’t like the lack of a 256kb L2 cache option and I would prefer a more conventional sockets for expanding VRAM but still, not a terrible machine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Packard Bell 486 PC. probably with an almost identical layout to other PB machines of the same era but with a different name. This particular machine was picked up by a friend of mine for $8. You may also be seeing it in a later review significantly reconfigured for a particular purpose but as of now were going to be looking at its (mostly) stock configuration.

pbl1151

Stock this PC is actually rather light and small making it a decent 486 for a non power user that just may want a compact 486 for dos gaming and doesn’t care about having a massive dos monster machine. The downside is the lack of expansion bays. As for external bays we just have one 3 1/2 inch and one 5 1/4 inch bays. Mine came with a standard 1.44mb floppy drive but the upper bay can be used for a CD-Rom drive or a 5 1/4 floppy drive. I like how the cover for the upper bay kind of looks like a disk drive. Besides the power button on the right of the floppy drive we have two lights labeled HDD for hard drive activity and a turbo light but no turbo button. Like the earlier PB 500 I reviewed the Legend 115 actives the turbo by the keyboard and pressing [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[ – ] to slow the PC down and [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[ + ] to restore normal speed. The light should change color to indicate if turbo is activated or not but if it is you should defiantly notice. Like many 486 machines of the time “turbo” buttons now slow the PC down as opposed to speed it up. This is to help with compatibility with older games that require slower CPU speeds. With my turbo activated my machine acted more like a 286 class PC.

As opposed to having screws in the rear to secure the case cover There are two hidden latches in the front that cover the screw placement. I kind of like this. its convenient and looks nice.

pbl1156

Turning the PC around we see.

pbl1152

Slots for three expansion cards, again a bit limiting but not horrible. From the right we have a I/O serial port and then a printer port. This followed by a game port for a controller or joystick which is kind of nice to have built into an old system. Next to that is a VGA port and then two PS/2 ports for your mouse and keyboard, again nice to not have to deal with an AT keyboard keyboard and serial mouse.

pbl1153

Opening up the system is a simple as taking out the two front screws and sliding the top case off. You can see the hard drive in the upper part of the image. It mounts on a slide in a side position. For a better view of the board you have to remove the middle cross bar. Its easy just two screws and then remove the ISA riser. This model is limited to three 16 bit ISA cards which is going to limit what you can add especially if you wanted to go for a fast VLB video card. It gets even more cramped if you want to add modem or network cards though I believe there are models very similar to this with built in modems. The covered port and connectors are on this model on the other side of the riser.

pbl1154

This machine uses the 410/42/420t m motherboard. Specs can be found here

1) These are the connectors for the single IDE channel and behind it in the picture is the connector for the floppy drive cable. There just pins with no plastic guide guard around them so you need to be a little careful. I also should say the BIOS for the IDE is VERY picky about what hard drives will boot and work. Mine came with a completely dead 140mb Conner IDE drive. Unfortunately the BIOS has no auto IDE detect and even if you know your drives parameters I could not get it to work correctly with any newer IDE drives I owned. The only drive I got to work was on old 420mb Conner IDE drive that had the drive parameters printed out on the side of it.

2) The CPU that came with this machine that you see here is an Intel 486 25mhz SX. Its a slightly unusual part. The SX designated that there is NO math co-processor on board. Luckily this motherboard supports a wide array of CPU’s selectable via jumpers on the board. there should be a label on the underside of the removed case cover with a jumper guide. The 486-25SX is pretty slow as far as 486 CPU’s go but its reliable and does not require any kind of heat sink or fan. Apparently a lot of these chips were actually 33mhz parts down clocked with the math co disabled. You have to love Intel. This being said there usually pretty overclockable but in these days its just easier to actually buy a higher clocked chip.

pbl1155

If the blue socket didn’t tip you off you can take the chip out of the socket and can see this is actually a Intel overdrive socket and so compatible with a Pentium overdrive CPU which would in theory bring this machine up to early Pentium CPU speeds of 63 to 83mhz.

3) Here we have the soldered on 4mb of RAM and a 72 pin RAM socket. This machine did not come with the RAM slot populated, I had added the RAM stick. As I said the machine does come with 4mb of RAM on the motherboard which is nice. The motherboard can take a 32MB stick for a total of 36MB of RAM.

4) The onboard Video is run by a Headland Technology video chip with 512kb of video RAM. I cant seem to find much information on this company or the quality of there video chips but from the information, or rather lack of information I don’t imagine they were a major player or well known for high quality. The chip is apparently running on an integrated VLB bus though and benched slightly higher then a et4000ax and diamond speedster pro I had installed via the ISA slot in tests. upgrading to 1MB of video RAM looks possible via a proprietary looking socket.

*I was recently informed that the Headland chip in the Packard Bell does have a timing error that causes graphical errors such as dot trails and graphics corruption in some games, Sim City 2000 being one of them and Ultima VII being another as yet I have not confirmed this in Sim City but Ultima VII definitely has graphical issues with the on board video.

5) These are the sockets for the L2 cache. Cache is basically very fast RAM that the CPU accesses first before going to the comparatively slower system RAM. The L1 cache ram is generally located on the CPU itself in small amounts but in the 486 era the L2 cache RAM was added and placed on the motherboard usually close to the CPU socket. L2 cache is slower then l1 cache but much faster then the standard RAM, also it was pretty damn expensive. sometimes less reputable PC motherboards either came with completely fake L2 chips, empty and none functioning sockets or lucky in this case simply empty sockets. Even though this PC comes with no L2 cache if you can find the chips 32, 128 or 512k of L2 cache RAM can be added for a nice performance boost. 512k is kind of a lot so I’m a tad impressed with that.

pbcache

On the left is a cache chip of the size if you want 64 or 128kb of L2 cache. The chip on the right is the larger size that you will need if you want 512kb of cache. these larger chips seem harder to find and even when I did find a number of them when I tried them they failed to work.

For a lowly Packard Bell this PC isn’t to bad. I do have some issues with the video, the small number of drive bays and lack of anything other then 3 ISA slots is limiting and the BIOS is very picky about hard drives. That said the CPU upgradability is decent the 72 pin RAM is pretty expandable and the option to add a good amount of L2 cache is a boon. All in all I think it makes a decent 486 for the casual user that’s not concerned with having the most powerful 486 and has little space to spare. I myself am planning a future article using this machine in a configuration for a  special purpose.

Benchmarks (Intel SX 25mhz 486, 128kb L2 Cache, 20MB FPM RAM, Built in Headland 512kb video)

3DBENCH – 19.9

PCPBENCH – 3.9

DOOM -10.71

Quake – N/A

SPEEDSYS – 9.20

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

 

Packard Bell computers or “Packard Hell” as some refer to them may not have attained a very high reputation for value during their heyday in the USA during the 90’s. perhaps its a well deserved bad reputation. I never owned one as a child so I can’t personally attest to them. (though I did have a horrible AST PC). despite this they were a significant PC manufacturer for the time and turned out quite a few models in the early Pentium era and prior. This is more of a short review or overlook since I’ve noticed there isn’t alot of specific information on a lot of these models online. I picked up this Packard Bell S605 Multimedia PC at a thrift shop for under $20. On hooking it  up the machine fired right up and besides perhaps a dying original CD-ROM drive and some issues with the original sound card the machine has worked fine after all these years.

It uses the typical weird case design that Packard Bell was fond of in the 90’s with the weird grey bordering at the base. I suppose this did help it stand out a little from an aesthetic point of view and defiantly gives the machine some personality. This particular model still has all the retail stickers attached proclaiming its vast technological features for the time. This is a 233mhz Pentium 1 model on a socket 7 MB. the Intel 233mhz MMX is the last of the Pentium 1 line of CPU’s and its actually a great CPU I use in most of my Windows 95 PC’s which is also the operating system this machine had preloaded. nothing else very special, it originally came with 24MB of RAM, mine was upgraded to 64MB but the max that can be installed is 128. I suspect you need to use 2 PC66 64MB RAM DIMMS to achieve the 128 though since when I tried installing a single 128MB stick the PC booted up but gave me odd memory errors and upon booting Win95 was extremely slow and only registered 32MB RAM in the system properties. The built in video is the S3 Trio64V2 chipset which is really the standard for DOS gaming and is a great video device for compatibility. It is a little lacking for Windows95 though so I tossed in a spare S3 Virge PCI video card I had to at least give the machine some 3D ability while keeping the excellent 2D since the Virge uses basically the same 2d core as the Trio64V2. It also came loaded with a little 3.2GB hard drive that booted right up

Here’s the case opened. Again its an odd case as usual for PB. instead of the top and sides coming off as one piece or a simple side panel coming off the side and bottom come off, though the reasons for this become quickly apparent.

This is the case on its side laying down. notice it? Well it doesn’t really effect anything but the slots for any expansion cards ( 3 16 bit ISA and 2 PCI ) are on a riser card inserted into the motherboard so to insert a new expansion card you have to flip the PC upside down and stall them. so as you can see they are installed upside down comparatively to the PC tower. this effects nothing but I just find it weird like a lot of these old computers. The pre installed sound card does not take up a slot, its just kind of screwed into a bracket but has no connection to any expansion slot. it is connected to the motherboard by what appears to be a IDE cable. It appears to be a standard SB compatible crystal semiconductor sound card common on Windows 95 systems but no matter how many times I reinstall the drivers I just cant get sound. the card is being detected by windows but has a conflict so its possibly defective. I do plan to install some older spare sound card when I come across one since I just cant seem to get this onboard sound to work.  also the fan on the CPU is loud, very very loud.

100_5085

Conclusion: its not a bad computer despite being a infamous Packard Bell. with RAM maxed and a decent sound/video card for the era it would make a pretty good Windows 95 machine. The CPU is excellent and what I use in my Win95 setups and you get both mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports plus a USB port built in. I seriously considered making this machine my main Win95 PC but it has its drawbacks. Win95 can support up to 480MB of RAM and even though for almost all programs 128MB is more then enough I like the option of being able to throw in a little more if needed. Also being limited to only 2 PCI slots can be an issue especially if you want to add a Voodoo 1 or 2 3d card or a PCI audio card like the DOS compatible Ensoniq PCIaudio.

FDISKformat

A place for the pc collector

I ❤ Old Games!

Probabilmente il miglior blog bilingue al mondo*

Waltorious Writes About Games

Game-related ramblings.

NekoJonez's Gaming Blog

My Gaming Timeline

Evelynn Star

Lynn talks about video games, records and books ...

Retro Megabit

Sharing My Retro Video Game Collection.

133MHz's Junk Box

Random electronics and gaming crap

SNES A Day

Chronogaming project featuring reviews, screenshots, and videos of the entire Super Nintendo library in release order.

Retrocosm's Vintage Computing, Tech & Scale RC Blog

Random mutterings on retro computing, old technology, some new, plus radio controlled scale modelling.

The PewPew Diaries.

Work(s) in Progress!

1001Up

1001 video games and beyond

retro computing and gaming plus a little more

sparcie

retro computers and stuff

jispylicious

Stay Jispy!

%d bloggers like this: