PC Retro Networking at its finest

When most people think of old PC networking, they think ethernet, and of course most people I know think of the NE2000.  This card from Novel was cloned, and quite popular as time went on.  Its amazing how many variations of this card there was, and there is even a PCI version of this card, the RTL8029AS!

But that is not what this is about, as most OS stuff from the early 1990’s relies on another card, the 3com Etherlink II.

Notably products like IBM TCP/IP 2.0 for OS/2, Lan Manager for OS/2, Windows NT Pre-releases, Xenix, do not ship with NE2000 drivers, but they all support the Etherlink II card.

Now before you start jumping on fleabay, or scrounging around the Etherlink III card is *NOT* the same as the II, nor is it compatible!

My eight bit Etherlink II

Looking at the card, you can see it has *SOME* jumpers, that configure the IO Base, and where to locate its shared memory (or disable it).  But notice there are no jumpers to select the IRQ, the DMA channel!  I went in circles for a while looking for a softset utility for this card, and spent HOURS basically showing up with nothing.  So I figured at this point I’d just download some drives, and see how long it’d take to magically get it working.

On my first attempt, I used the packet driver, so I could load up some QuakeWorld for MS-DOS.  But something amazing happened, it worked on the default settings!  Experimenting more, as I changed IRQ it always worked unless there was a conflict ..  I then tried a Novel Netware client, but it didn’t work.  Also I loaded the lanman client for OS/2 on OS/2 1.21 and it didn’t work ether.  I was perplexed.  Then I found out two important things from an ancient usenet posting:

  • There is no softset program, because the device driver configures the card, and can change any/all of its hardware characteristics
  • Some drivers don’t detect if they should be using the internal transceiver, or an external one, and have to be told.

So I looked at the protocol.ini for lanman OS/2 and sure enough there was this entry, commented out:


And the Netware client just needed the following statement added:


And now I can happily mount NetBEUI shares, mount my NetWare server, and of course use WatTCP programs from DOS without issue!

Donor time!

I was going to load an early Windows NT Preview onto my Aptiva, but then all it would do was crash with a kernel panic of 0x00000032. Then it hit me, the hard disk I have is 2GB and this early version can only handle disks up to 512MB.  So I was looking around where to get a small enough disk, and then I thought what the heck, and took apart a ‘new’ machine I scored last week, an IBM PS/1!

The IBM PS/1 was kind of a disappointment as it cannot run OS/2!  Can you believe it, IBM made a machine that can’t run their flagship Operating System??  As far as I can tell the heart of the matter is that the IDE controller doesn’t live at the default port/irq that any other PC uses, so OS/2 or any other protected mode OS can’t detect it.  I only have 2MB of ram, so loading OS/2 2.0 is out of the question.  So for the sake of the experiment, I took the disk out of this poor IBM PS/1 2121 and put it ‘on’ the Aptiva.

Pentium 150Mhz, 32MB of ram, and an 80MB disk!

First I really wondered if the 80MB disk would be big enough, but surprisingly after a format, and installation of IBM DOS 4.00 (its what the PS/1 runs in ROM and really really likes!) and using the network to bootstrap the files, it happily fit with the SDK in 40MB! (it adds another 20MB for swap…).

Its amazing just how large OSs have gotten over the years, but yeah at the same time, this version of NT is not ready for prime time that is for sure!

So I load it up, and notice two things… One its insanely slow, and secondarily I can’t figure out how to configure the network card. So for some reason I just tried to start up the server/workstation, and do a net view and…

Early Windows NT preview with networking

It worked!

The best part was loading up the October 1991 Windows NT Preview, and it just magically worked, after starting the server/client services!

12 thoughts on “PC Retro Networking at its finest

  1. Speaking of small hard drives, I wonder if you could use a small CF card (though even these might be hard to find), and a CF->IDE adapter (you can usually buy them off eBay in packets of 3-5 for a few dollars with postage included).

    • I have one on order as a matter of fact! its $10 for 512MB with the IDE interface built directly into it… But thats cheating! 🙂

  2. “Notably products like IBM TCP/IP 2.0 for OS/2, Lan Manager for OS/2, Windows NT Pre-releases, Xenix, do not ship with NE2000 drivers, but they all support the Etherlink II card.”
    I am not surprised, as NE2000 came from Novell and 3Com was a LanMan OEM.

    • it would have been something far later like the ‘consultant’ type stuff.. but I was sure those were all 486/pentium based. I know the later stuff with Warp was setup in dualboot as the owner didn’t even know they had OS/2, and when I showed them they immediately demanded it be erased as it was no doubt a virus…

      I’m sure they’ve installed dozens of malware programs since then.

    • Yeah, I’ve been waiting for the qnx thing to finally conclude.

      It has no floating point support!!! The SDK is even in more rough shape. It’s crazy how RAW this build is, and no wonder it wasn’t for public showing

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