LOAF Fixes the Computer of Tomorrow

Discussion in 'General Wing Commander Chat' started by Bandit LOAF, May 31, 2012.

  1. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    Excellent point... and certainly the LAPC-I is a full length card. (Just about the most full length card I've ever see... I was lucky to cram it into my current case...)
     
  2. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    VLB takes up this full-length space, so if you devote 2 slots to the I/O controller and the Graphics adapter, you have at least one slot left, since most VLB boards featured three VLB slots.
     
  3. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    [​IMG]

    As promised, my friend John and I spent Saturday afternoon heading down to an amazing used computer store in Woodbridge, Virginia. I was introduced to the store, L & Y Electronics, by Joe Garrity some years ago and it is truly amazing: rooms of old equipment and software stacked floor to ceiling in no particular order. It's run by an older Korean woman with whom you must haggle to make your purchase. Having the patience to dig through it can really pay off: Joe and I have found some true gems over the years.


    ... but not today! With the exception of a TRS-80 in a corner and a PowerMac that may have been the same model as Bertha wedged under some servers, all the systems I could find were Pentium IIIs or better in garish modern cases (what ever happened to austere beige rectangles?!) I finally asked Susie if she had a 486 hiding somewhere. She did! There was one in the back, she just needed to dig around for it. (She also mentioned she had a 386, and mentioned that I might like it more since it would have more gold in it. Which seems sad, but I guess that's who I'm competing with in the search for retro computers.)


    After about twenty minutes she returned with an enormous, terrifically heavy desktop unit. With a turo button! And a cool '486' badge! And a clock speed indicator. This all seemed promising. They dug out an AT keyboard and plugged it in to the test station. And it booted... somewhat. 16 megs of RAM, good. Then: no hard drive. The display revealed that this was an earlier, slower 486: 33 MHz. I also couldn't get a feel for the available slots. Closer inspection revealed that the plastic over the power button was cracked and disgusting... no PS/2 ports... this just wasn't the computer I wanted.


    I felt awful making them go through the trouble of digging it up and testing it. Should I give them the hundred bucks and bring home another computer I wasn't going to use? The old LOAF would probably have done that. So I left emptyhanded. A pair of G4 cubes were tempting, but I decided I wasn't willing to spend $150 I didn't have so I'd have something interesting to talk about here. Stay on mission! (And besides, their plastic was kind of scratched up.)


    Instead what I got was a realization: the purpose of this fourth computer project needs to be to build the perfect 486 from scratch. I haven't done that before: Bertha, Karga and Lazarus were about restoring existing computers (with increasing degrees of difficulty.) So that's what's going to make this one special: I'm going to source the old parts myself and I'm going to learn how you put early 1990s PCs together. And I'm going to do it RIGHT: tracking down the perfect case and the ideal motherboard and exactly the right model of processor and so on. At the risk of further contributing to this series' already unfortunate subtext, I'm not buying any random trash: I only want the 486 of my dreams.


    ... now I just need to figure out exactly what that is.


    (And John bought himself a Nintendo 64, though, so the trip was not wasted!)
     
  4. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    I have seen boards you like on ebay starting at 200 euro's... Better to get a bunch of old junked computers and salvage them, unless you have money to spend because you want to. I also spotted a Hp D530m fulltower casing, but shipping costs to here would be insane because of the weight.
     
  5. Madman

    Madman Vice Admiral

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    I dimly remember back in days of yore spending ages pouring over motherboard specs for a board with AGP, PCI and ISA and eventually finding one, I think the manufacturer began with a T but I can't be sure, this was for a super socket-7 board so (again relying on memory) would support everything from a 486 DX-100 up to a K6-3.
    I can't remember if I ever did get a dx-100 for my cpu collection (just moved so can't check!) but you could try one of the similar vintage VIA or AMD cpus (the amd 586 for instance) for slightly better than 486 DX-66 performance (for WC4 and P2) but which you could slow the multiplier right down on to get a 386 style performance. Sadly they weren't easy to find back in the day, so i suspect they're almost impossible these days.
     
  6. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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  7. Ijuin

    Ijuin Admiral

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    They made those? I thought ISA was phased out before AGP was phased in?
     
  8. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    No, it was pretty common, most Pentium 3 boards even carried 2 ISA slots. However it is limited moslty to AGP 1x and 2x. And for something really extreme, you can get current boards from specific brands.
     
  9. Sheppard

    Sheppard 1st Lieutenant

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    Loaf:

    rooms of old equipment and software stacked floor to ceiling in no particular order.

    could you please define "old software" for us? Are there any games lurking in there, or is it all just LOTUS 1-2-3?

    Is thinking of a trip there to build a Windows 98 computer with Voodoo 2 for M1 Tank Platoon 2 and Longbow 1/2
     
  10. Worf

    Worf Vice Admiral

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    Those machines were common. You usually got 1 AGP and 1 ISA slot, and 3 PCI slots. They weren't hard to find - circa 2001 machines often had all three. The ISA was purely for compatibility (mostly for older SoundBlaster cards as the PCI ones never were that great because of Creative's incompetence). PCI for network and other stuff and AGP for graphics.

    These days, a modern PC is either all PCIe or PCIe with PCI bridge slots. (AGP was really just a special high-speed version of PCI)
     
  11. Ijuin

    Ijuin Admiral

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    How odd. All of my post-1995 computers had no ISA slots at all--only PCI, AGP, and now PCIe
     
  12. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    I used to work as a store technician from 1995-2002. Just about every (fullsized) Pentium 2/3 board, AMD's Slot-A, and the supersocket7 boards have 2 or 3 ISA slots, and possibly and AMR-slot. I am talking fullsize ATX boards though(7 expansion slots), while those who only had two or 3 slots generally traded off the space for an ISA for an extra PCI or an AMR slot, and that was common in off-the-shelf computers.
    ISA only completely disappeared with the introduction of the AthlonXP and Pentium4, something that might contribute to this is the fact that ISA slots on systems with a high bus speed were unstable and actually damaged some ISA cards over time. And like I mentioned, manufactors such as Nixsys and Esis still make new custom motherboards with ISA, and they are very, very expensive, but yes, you could put your legacy card in a corei7 system.
     
  13. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    That's right; Karga's motherboard is an ABIT BX6 which has one AGP, four PCI and three ISA slots.

    That is a good idea, but I was raised an Intel snob. An AMD or a Cyrix would be just as good (and probably better) but it'd just feel wrong. :)

    I'm still waffling between an early Pentium and a 486, but if I go with a 486 then I'm thinking DX4/100. Does that make the most sense? I'm kind of leaning towards a Pentium now just because I remembered Intel's old advertising campaign for the early chips where they showed off Origin games. For example:

    Plenty of old games! I can't find a better picture than this: http://www.wcnews.com/loaf/photos/karga/karga-lyin5.jpg

    But several shelving units floor to ceiling like that. I always THINK we've cleared out all the Origin stuff each time and then something else pops up with a little more digging... there are layers.

    Anyway, the biggest news is that I impulse-bought a new-in-box case from 1995 on eBay the other day and it's really neat. I wrote a blurb and tumblr'd it... which now I can't access from work to post here... but it's a giant full height case with a clock speed display, turbo button, cool PS/2 style on/off switch and WHEELS.
     
  14. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    The intel DX4/100 makes sense(avoid the DX4/75, it performs slower then a DX/33 in some cases). But most Pentium boards feature only 4xPCI, 3xISA, and you are short a slot again 4 your needs. Besides, the high-end 486 chips both from intel and the competitors matched or outperformed the early(60/66/75 Mhz) Pentiums. And still you are looking for the four ISA slots, that most Pentium-class boards lack, so you'll be looking for somethin that was uncommon when it was new...
     
  15. SpaceDrake

    SpaceDrake Rear Admiral

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    As others have said, L&Y has a massive selection of software from nearly all eras of computing; the only thing not really widely represented at this point is the 80s. It's actually a far wider selection of software than hardware, funnily enough. Hell, when I was in there last over this past Christmas (when I went back to Virginia to visit the folks for Christmas) I believe I recall seeing a copy of Strike Commander in stock and seemingly good condition. I was sorely tempted.

    But, yes, I wish I'd seen this thread a bit earlier because I could've warned you, LOAF - Susie's long since cleared out her stock of anything older than a Pentium 4, and she doesn't even really take those anymore. I tried to sell her my old P4 this past Christmas to finally get rid of it, and she basically wouldn't take it. She, herself, pointed out that it's mostly gold-hunters who are looking for pre-millenial computing hardware these days - there are so few legitimate vintage collectors out there (and so many of them already have the machines they desire) that there's no real market for old hardware of this sort anymore.

    I DO remember hearing about a major vintage parts supplier here on the West Coast, though - in LA, I think? The name escapes me at the moment, but if I can remember who it is, I'll post about it (and maybe even see if I can scare up some of the stuff you want!)

    EDIT: Also going to echo Mace in that a 486/100 is probably going to be your best bet on this. Those old Pentium commercials really were classy as hell, though (and man, from an era when Wing Commander was basically a cornerstone of the PC zeitgeist. Memories!)
     
  16. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    I'm seeing some earlier Pentium motherboards on eBay that have four (or even five) ISA slots... the trick seems to be digging up the literature to see if they have a turbo feature (and finding one cheap; $100 seems to be the average, but some people seem to be trying to get $200-300 for them.) I started working through them this morning but then my work actually expected me to work, which is a change.

    (Also: Spacecraft Films is having a 15% off sale, which ate into my computer budget for the week a bit.)



    No worries, it's worth the trip down no matter what you find! I'm pretty sure I bought your Strike Commander the last time I was there (all the games are $5 now, so I finally bought those sealed Origin games that still had their original 1993 prices on them...)

    I'd love to hear about any similar place... my brother lives in LA and I /have/ been meaning to visit...
     
  17. SpaceDrake

    SpaceDrake Rear Admiral

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    Curse you, sir.

    I really wish I could remember the name of the damn place! It had to do with Fry's Electronics... I think? But it's not actually a Fry's? It'll come back to me, hopefully.
     
  18. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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  19. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    Good find! Now check the following items to hunt down:
    A PC-66 32MB SDRAM module, maybe something from an older computer lying around, unless you have a reasonable amount of 72-pin SIMM's lying around. And yes, a Pentium 120/133 work on there, but only the pre-MMX models(also goes for the AMD/Cyrix's).
     
  20. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    Excellent! A couple of questions...

    - Are the serial/parallel/PS2/USB port breakouts for AT motherboards in any way standardized or are they manufacturer-specific? Almost none of the used boards on eBay seem to include them.

    - Does it have to be a pre-MMX model? It looks like there's a P55C jumper setting (that's the MMX version, right?)

    - How much RAM do I want? From that page it looks like I can do up to 128 (two 64MB SIMMS?)
     

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