Finished rebuilding my MS-DOS machine

I managed to score a TEKRAM P6B40-A4X 3 slot ISA mother-board last week, along with a CT-4500 ISA SoundBlaster AWE64 Value Edition at Capital Computer Centre, a second hand computer hardware market in Hong Kong.  I had also scored a cheap Windows 98 machine which I had hoped to use it’s case and peripherals as the basis for this ISA machine.  However that didn’t work out as the floppy drive was not only stuck in the case, but didn’t work.  And it’s CD-ROM drive didn’t work either.  I got the machine for $100 HKD so I really couldn’t complain too much, the memory, disk and P4 board were fine.  So I had to look for a case that had not only external 5 1/4″ bay, which isn’t too hard today, but it’s getting harder and harder as many systems don’t have any optical drives.  The hardest part was finding a case that had an expose 3 1/2″ bay.  After a lot of searching there was only ONE I could find, the DEEPCOOL DUKASE V3.

It was inexpensive enough, costing around $279 HKD, and thankfully had a PC-Speaker, and a bunch of screws.  Gutting out the Windows 98 machine, tossing it’s case, and I put everything in the deep cool case.

The case, installed

Naturally it didn’t work the first time.  I had to download the PDF manual, and do the jumpers over again.  After powering it up, I got the long beep followed by three short beeps.  Turns out my AGP Voodoo 3 wasn’t seated properly, so I re-seat the card and I’m able to DooM from my MS-DOS rig, but now it’s in a case, and not all in the open.

External media, so 1980’s!

The hinge is magnetic, and not too obvious at first.  But it does the job, and hides the ancient removable disks.

my horrible cabling

One thing of note, for a board this old, it required the old 40 pin IDE cables.  I found mine in a junk bin for $10 HKD each.  Not bad, but I literally only saw two.  I had a much easier time finding a NIB PS/2 Mouse & Keyboard.

close-up of the sound card

Like all terrible RGB builds, this case has a plastic window so you can gawk at the cards.  I don’t know who does this, but I guess it’s a thing.

I installed Windows 95, from floppies, and then downloaded the AWE Value drivers from vogons, and a Voodoo 3 driver from driverguide of all places… If you need it, beware of their ads that either want to install some spyware crap, or their insane games to get to the actual driver.  But I did get it to work.

40 pin IDE ribbon vs an 80 pin IDE ribbon cable.

The CPU is a Pentium III running at 450Mhz with 512MB of RAM.  It’s the at the edge of what Windows 95 can support without any modifications.  I may later on want a better sound card, I know I need to find the MIDI cable to hook up my Roland or Yamaha MIDI synthesizers up.  If you want to get into the retro PC thing with physical hardware (Don’t get me wrong, PCem is freaking amazing!), the longer you wait the harder it’s going to be to find things like 40 pin IDE cables.  Let alone ISA motherboards that are not hundreds of dollars.

I had originally 80 pin IDE cables out of the Windows 98 machine, however I never pulled them off to notice that the 80 pin standard are keyed.  This means that one of the pins are blocked off so you cannot put the ribbon in backwards.  This means that if I wanted to no clip pins off the motherboard, I would need to find original 40 pin IDE cables.  I got lucky again, another visit to Capital Computer Center, and I was in business.

16 thoughts on “Finished rebuilding my MS-DOS machine

  1. Wow. Before I looked at the pictures I was going to ask if building MS-DOS machines still makes sense, as PCem and X86Box are getting better and better… But what’s the hell. Together with deepcool it does look very cool and produces a surprising amount of envy. 🙂

    Yes, 512MiB of RAM is a limit, but is 450Mhz a limit too? I still have an 98SE machine with a Tualeron overclocked to 1300Mhz.

    On the other hand, it has just occurred to me that the machine has 640MiB RAM. Maybe 98SE does support more Mhz/MiB than 95? I definitely didn’t modify any system files.

    • 98 doesn’t have the same issues. The timing in the network stack and I think the kernel can’t handle a clock faster than 450 or so with the first release of Windows 95. There is a set of patches that you can side load during installation and you can definitely run it at 2+ GHz.

      As always when it comes to MS-DOS machines it’s all about the audio cards. PCI has no access to the low DMA and io ports, so it’s always a fight.

      • The original release of Windows 95 had a patch to resolve the timing issues with fast CPUs. You really should be running OSR2.1 (with USB supplement) on a PII, as its period correct and has less issues. It was always supported by 440BX boards and has AGP GART support.

      • I have an AWE32 Value PnP card in that machine and it’s a pain: 98SE can use it all right, but in MS-DOS it’s not visible until I run tests in diagnose.exe . And it doesn’t work in the silent mode (/s switch), only in the interactive. And for some reason only with the French version of the drivers.

        Btw, not sure about 95, but 98se is a very bad DOS: it takes too much RAM. In order to run Space Quest I VGA I had to boot from a MS-DOS 6.22 floppy, otherwise it complained that it has too little RAM to use AWE32.

        • I had a Plug & Play mis-adventure I was going to actually write up, but it turns out that when I set the BIOS to PNP aware OS, and basically handed the wheel to the proverbial PNP Jesus, it decided that my AMD PCNet card should have IRQ 5, and a whole host of other fun things that basically Windows could figure it out fine as it could just query the PnP bus, but not so for MS-DOS. I had to go and reserve IRQ 5 DMA 1 & 3 for the Sound Blaster AWE64, so that it would be in the normalized spots.

          Booting into DOS it does run some weird diag program, I never checked to see how much conventional RAM is left as I use it to run 32bit DOS Extended stuff….

          Actually I just checked, 607Kb conventional.

  2. Btw, concerning the prices. Few months ago I was looking for S3 and Cirrus cards (you probably read it in my blog). I also found Vogons and realized that there is a market for Retro-PCs. After observing Ebay for some time, I thing the retro price hype is a moving window: the 486DX machines are much more expensive than 386 and 286 ones, while the latter are much more rare. On the other hand the Pentium 4 and early Core2 Duo machines were sold at the price of a case.

    So I’m not sure that in 5-10 years the 40 pin IDE cables will still be that expensive. The price hype window is moving towards XP machines where you can use SATA.

    The same is about the graphics: I had to pay like 25 Eur for a S3 Vision 864 card, whereas the early Nvidia cards were at the price of 1 Eur. In a few years, as the current youth starts building their Retro-PCs, the prices may look the other way round.

    Btw, the Vision 864 doesn’t work in modern PCs I’ve got. Neither do S3-Trio64 prior to the V+ models. So the VGA pass through experiment for the PPC emulation has failed.

    • I didn’t think of it, but yeah there will be a tidal wave of Windows ME/Windows XP nostalgia arriving soon enough. Kids born in 2001 will be entering university soon enough, while millennials will be going thru that whole nostalgia thing I guess, and years from now someone will freak out that I basically junked a Windows 98 machine with a P4, for it’s RAM & hard disk….

      Too bad you didn’t have any luck with the PowerPC VGA thing, but as an outsider, I think it was a a lot more difficult to drive outsider VGA cards.. Which is a shame.

      • It has failed not because of qemu or PPC issues: I can pass through a S3-Trio64V+ all right and my firmware can use it on the emulated PPC machine. The problem will be: neither NetBSD nor AIX can use a V+ card.
        If there is some magic switch I missed which would allow the old (as in non V+) PCI VGA cards run on modern motherboards – I’ll get back to the experiments.
        So if you (or any of the readers) have got a modern motherboard (any with IOMMU would do) and an old PCI VGA card, please do me a favor: try it there and report if it has worked.

    • There were FAR more Pentium 4 and Core machines built compared to the older stuff (many Core2Duo systems are still in active use!). PC hardware hit widespread commoditization by 2001-02 so after that point there is a TON of hardware out there.

      286 machines really weren’t all that desirable as they couldn’t run much more than a 8088 XT class machine. 386s are overshadowed by the much faster 486s and they all ran the same protected mode software. The latter also had better I/O with commonly available local bus video and storage adapters.

      • There was far more users by then. Just as there was a time when the 386 was king, and there was a group of people who thought 10 and 12Mhz XT class machines were the end all be all. But two things happened, the 16Mhz 286, and we finally got software that took advantage of the 286. The biggest one being Windows 3.0 & 3.1

        Even Windows 386 Enhanced mode, still runs the 286 protected version of Windows complete with 64kb segments, and the usual nonsense. There also was OS/2 1.x and Xenix for the 286 as well. It wasn’t a completely useless processor.

        As more and more people use and dispose of machines, naturally there will be more ‘newer’ older machines. And yes, there will be more core2 machines than 8086/80286/80386/80486 class machines.

  3. I read “it required the old 40 pin IDE cables” as “40 *wire*” and was wondering why you couldn’t use 80 wire cables.

    I never really thought too much about 80-pin cables – I was curious as to how the motherboard could tell that they were plugged in, and why they had a benefit, but never bothered to investigate. My confusion inspired me to look and I found which answered my questions.

    It finally occurred to me that you just meant “old” in comparison to SATA, and you probably are using 80 wire cables, right? I imagined you had to go through a bin full of IDE cables, and they were mostly 80 wire, and you could only find two 40 wire cables ha ha!

    • All the 80pin cables I could find are keyed. And I didn’t want to cut any pins off the board. I didn’t even look when I first got it, as that Windows 98 machine I gutted had a parallel disk, so I didn’t even pay attention.

      I thought for sure I was going to have to mail order some 40pin cables, but I got lucky.

      • You don’t have to cut any pins. I’ve taken keyed cables and just firmly pressed them onto the un-keyed IDE headers (common on 486 era machines), that blocked out pin gets punched out pretty easily.

        • If I couldn’t find a vintage cable, I’d probably just take a drill and make a hole …. although I wonder how long it’ll take until finding parallel IDE cables is impossible…

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