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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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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…, 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.


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.


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


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


When I think of Pavilions I think of those wooden roofed buildings found at the park. It hardly evokes images of high speed computing or technology. Apparently one definition is also “lower surface of a brilliant-cut gem” so maybe that’s what they were going for with the HP Pavilion line. Anyways this is the HP Pavilion 3100. I received this machine as part of a lot of three PC’s I picked up. Its actually the second time I’ve had this models as strangely enough that last one was also from a lot of three machines I grabbed although that one didn’t work and when I tried booting it up it sparked and caught fire. This machine though worked fine. As you can see there is one 5 1/4 bay for a CD drive as well as a spot for a 3 1/2 floppy underneath. there’s a power button to the left and LED’s for power and HDD activity but no reset button. This is a no frills machine.


Mine still had the sticker attached with what were the factory specs, 166mhz MMX Pentium, 16MB SDRAM, 2GB HDD, 16x CD drive, 1MB video RAM, etc… The machine I acquired was upgraded by the previous owner and I’ll get to that.


On the rear of the computer we have a assortment of the usual suspect ports. Serial and printer ports with an interestingly placed gameport above them for a joystick or gamepad. Next to that we have two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, two audio jacks for microphone and speakers, two USB port and finally the VGA port. Its not a bad assortment of ports for such a small machine and all your basics are covered. The expansion card options are very limited with only two slots available. One slot here being taken by an Ethernet card  (its removable). This computer is very compact and light which is a nice plus.


The case top slides off after removing three rear screws. Still has what I believe is the original WD Caviar 22000 2GB hard drive. It uses a riser card for the two expansion slots with 1 PCI and two ISA so you can have either one of each type or two ISA cards. The most logical setup if you don’t care about networking and are going for pure gaming would be a PCI video card and an ISA sound card for DOS compatibility.


I guess the lack of expansion slots is the tradeoff for the extremely slim case but it is very limiting.


First off there is no l2 cache on this motherboard.

1) CMOS battery

2) Two IDE connectors and one floppy connector

3) S3 Trio64V+ with 1MB of video RAM. A classic stand by for DOS. The nice thing about this chip for on board video is you may not need to bother with adding a video card if your primary concern is DOS since the Trio is pretty much the standard and compatible with just about everything.

4) The on board audio chip from Crystal. there’s no true OPL chip on this machine. It does adequate job but if your serious about sound I would recommend adding an ISA sound blaster or clone.

5) gameport connector

6) Piezo speaker, despite not being a true cone speaker the piezo does a pretty decent job and mine was fairly loud.


On the other side of the riser card you have your AT power connector as well as

7) CPU – the 3100 came stock with a 166mhz Pentium MMX chip but mine has been upgraded to a 200Mhz chip. I *think* this may be the top CPU upgrade for this machine as the jumpers only allow for 3x at 66mhz fsb. I did try installing a 233mhz P1 but it was only detected and running at 200mhz. *EDIT* I have been informed that you indeed can get the machine to post to 233mhz with the correct jumper configuration which should be jumper JBF0 and JBF1 set to 1-2.

8) RAM – This machine came stock with 16MB of SDRAM but mine has been upgraded to the full 64MB

So my thoughts on this machine. On the plus side its a very compact and light machine. If you lack a lot of space or want an old desktop for DOS or early Windows LAN parties or something this one should work. It has all the basics and could be made into a serviceable DOS/Windows machine. adding a voodoo I/II to compliment the S3 trio would help or just placing an all-in-one solution card like a voodoo 3 or a Nvidia or Matrox card would also help. I would say adding an ISA sound blaster 16 or AWE would also be a must for gaming. That said there seems to be better options out there and the expansion possibilities with this machine are just to limited. Windows 95/98 run fine on the machine but later games would seriously choke on it from the CPU bottleneck. no L2 cache always sucks and hinders overall speed. if you want something compact a Compaq EN is a much better option, especially with its speedier CPU options and ability in BIOS to disable all cache to seriously cut speeds and help with old game compatibility. The 3100’s BIOS options are like the rest of this machine, very limited. It does a good job cramming as much as it does into such a light and slim case and as I said DOES play DOS games and early Windows stuff OK but its hard to take seriously as a gaming machine.

Benchmarks for DOS were decent

200mhz Pentium MMX, 64MB SDRAM, NO L2 Cache, S3 Trio64V+

3DBENCH – 152.9


DOOM – 72.44

Quake – 38.9

It actually barely beat my main Pentium DOS PC under 3dbench by .7 FPS but then that could be a fluke since that machine beat it by several FPS in all the other tests. Or 3dBench may rely more on the video card and I’m starting to suspect the 2d core of the Trio may be ever so slightly more efficient then in the Virge even though there supposedly are exactly the same.

It seems that for a time during the early and mid 1990’s PC manufacturers felt they needed to do a lot of experimenting with PC case design. These days when you buy a PC you generally know what the inside will look like. Sure there is some variation here and there but in general it’s fairly standardized, not so much in the early and mid 90’s. Some PC’s case designs were downright odd and some were like figuring out a Chinese puzzle box to open up. One mild example that I covered earlier was the Packard Bell S605 and its somewhat unorthodox case. The Compaq Presario 9546 much like the PB S605 is also a Pentium 1 based PC and coming from the same era it also is an interesting experiment in internal case design.

from the outside it looks pretty standard and yes it could use a good scrubbing. We have the standard 1.44MB floppy drive and that is the CD-ROM drive that was installed when I purchased it and I assume its not the factory drive. I do kind of like the blue rectangle power button on the right. it also sports some legs that spout out at the bottom presumably to help prevent your tower from randomly toppling over. I suppose that’s a little handy and they don’t really interfere with the operation of the computer

and from the back its pretty standard looking. as you can see if you look at the expansion slots I have installed a video and sound card due to the fact I could not get either of the onboard video or sound working after I reformatted the hard drive and installed a different OS but I’ll get to that in a moment. The ports are all labeled nicely and one thing I do really like are the large tabs on each side that easily unscrew and allow access to the left and right sides of the PC. I kinda hate always breaking out a screwdriver and unscrewing a ton of screws to open a PC and the easy tabs are kind of nice. I should also note the top comes off as a separate piece to give access to the upper drives as well as the PSU. The PSU also seems to be a propitiatory design.

and here is where you may notice the non standard internal design. See, rather than the motherboard laying flat against one side of the case there is a metal divider that goes through the center with the motherboard on one side and the expansion slots on the other and to be honest it’s not really a bad design in some respects and at least on this side it feels like you have plenty of room to get to things. The 9546 uses the AT power connector which was standard for the time as well as a 100mhtz Pentium 1 CPU which is an excellent performer for a fast DOS based PC  or for windows 3.1 and 95. Mine came with 57MB of RAM installed but the 9546 can take up to 136MB according to the spec sheet I found online and this should be more than enough to run anything from the period. The expansion card in the lower right corner is a standard modem I believe of the 14.4kb variety. The onboard video is the ubiquitous S3 Trio64V2, the DOS era video standard which has 1MB of video ram expandable to 2MB. The onboard sound is powered by the Ensoniq chip, same as in the Ensoniq AudioPCI card which is a PCI card that actually offers pretty good DOS sound capability and commendable Windows sound. This computer originally came with Windows 95 pre-installed on its 1GB hard drive and also sported a special Compaq BIOS. Throwing caution to the wind I decided to format the hard drive and install DOS 6.22. which has had some odd affects first of which is this on boot up.

After hitting F1 and booting into DOS everything works fine except I cant get the on-board sound or video running. I’m completely aware this is possibly a driver and hardware conflict but it’s not really a huge problem and there is probably a way around this issue if I played with the BIOS but again, not really a priority since it works fine with the other cards I have installed under DOS.

This would be the opposite side of the case where we have our expansion slots (2 PCI, 4 ISA 16 bit) as well as the IDE connections for the various drives.  despite the seeming openness and space on this side it’s actually a lot more restrictive than a regular PC case as far as securing the expansion cards. The problem is that a standard screwdriver is to tall and will not fit to screw in the screws that secure the cards to the case so you have to use a smaller screwdriver like I have in the picture laying next to a regular sized screwdriver.

This is the Video card I had lying around to replace the Trio64V2. It is a 4MB PCI Trident Providia 9685. I don’t really like Trident cards, they tend to be low end and well…low end. This card is kind of so/so and seems a little better than most Trident video card offerings. Other than VGA it also has a composite as well as S-video connection allowing use of  TV in the case you don’t have a VGA monitor around which is actually pretty useful if you don’t mind taking a substantial video quality hit. Also according to the writing on the top center section of this card it is “stuffed for EDO RAM”, nice.

For sound I’m using a Creative Sound Blaster 16? the model is CT4520 which would make it a AWE64 value but DOS detects it as a sound blaster 16 though I would assume it would see it as a AWE32 or even as it is, an AWE64. Not really the optimal card to stick in this machine but again all I want for it is basic sound and this is what I have lying around, I’ll save the good sound cards for machines I’ll be using.

Conclusion: The Compaq Presario isn’t a bad machine. The Pentium 1 100mhz is a solid CPU and the RAM amount is enough for the time. The case design is actually pretty convenient except for the screwdriver length issue. My biggest problem is the Compaq BIOS that gave me issues when I tried to reformat and install pure DOS. As a windows 95 PC it’s quite passable but there are better more powerful choices.

the compaq presario 2200 with max 80mb ram and optional subwoofer installed. i replaced the origional faulty CD drive with a black DVD drive. its running windows 95. supposedly only about 300 of these were sold in the US (according to wikipedia). i do like the built in speakers and form factor but its no wonder these things didn’t sell well since there are virtually no upgrade paths to take with it. even updating from windows 95 to 98 causes the system to go crazy and display gibberish.



Pretty standard ports on the rear. modem jack(s), headphone and microphone jack. joystick/midi port, VGA port. two PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard. printer and serial port. The spot between the VGA port and the PS/2 ports was supposedly going to be for a USB port but that never materialized.


1) speaker/subwoofer

2) 56k modem

3) cryix 6×86 180mhz media cpu (not upgradeable)

4) dvd drive and under it is the HDD

5) 3.5 floppy disk drive

6) power supply

7) 80MB ram (80mb max)

basicly the only thing upgradable on this PC is the modem which can be upgraded to a 56K modem. no ethernet though and no ability to add any sound or video cards.

to replace the cd drive or hard drive you need to unscrew a screw to the left and right of the where the hard drive is located and disconnect the speakers, floppy and the hdd and cd drive then the entire computer splits apart into 2 pieces

here’s an example of what happens if you simply attempt to upgrade the OS to windows 98, oh did i mention it beeps like crazy the entire time. the most common way around this issue is to open the PC and remove the hard drive. install the hard drive into another NON presario 2200 pc and then install windows 98. remove the hard drive and then reinstall it into the 2200 and voila! but really, should that kind of thing be necessary. Now I believe you can upgrade to other later OS’s such as XP or ME but I suppose if you had this computer at the time that didn’t help. I’m guessing those later OS’s would also run painfully slow on this computer.

also apparently some clever (or lucky) people discovered that if you press some strange random keys as the gibberish is displayed you can get to a menu. choose the second from the bottom option and installation should start…i suppose that makes it somewhat better. if you manage to get windows 98se on this computer congratulations!

bottom line: should you have this computer, NO. unless you collect computers and you can snag it for free or a very low price your money can be spent on better more useful things. despite its rarity it’s not a prized piece to have. On a practical level it’s even worse and doesn’t even make a half decent windows 9x machine. For early windows OS’s you MUCH better off with almost any other machine. Even though the built in speakers are kinda nice just don’t bother.


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