Archive for April, 2016

20
Apr
16

Motherboard: MS-6153VA

Today I’m looking at a Socket 370 board that would have been made roughly in 1999-2000. It was an interesting period as much of the early legacy technology such as the ISA bus was fading out, marking the beginning of the end for complete backwards compatibility. It is also close to the end of configuring major component with jumpers, replaced with auto-detection and software control. Although this particular board still has a few jumpers.

It’s a MS-6153VA made by MSI, a manufacturer known for making  boards with gaming and over-clocking in mind. It seems they were one of the first to offer over-clocking as a feature quite early in the history of PCs. Surprisingly it was a 286 mainboard, a time when overclocking meant replacing the crystal oscillator. They still cater to the over clocking market with a series of boards dedicated to it.

Here’s an overview of my board.

IMG_2490

It’s remarkable because there are actually two boards with the same model number that differ significantly. This board has a VIA chip-set and is marked MS-6153, but if you search for that online you turn up a board that looks almost identical but has an Intel chip-set instead. The model number used in online references is MS-6153VA for the VIA chip-set. This must have caused some confusion at the time.

IMG_2492Here’s something different, 4 LEDs to indicate the current status of the system. If there was a problem they could use these instead (or in addition to) the standard BIOS beep codes. It wasn’t something you’d find commonly, but was extremely useful if you were lucky enough to have a visual indication. Some manufacturers took it further, using two 7 segment displays instead.

IMG_2493Like a previous Socket 7 board, this has a thermister mounted in the middle of the CPU socket. They’ve used a different package, a small flex with the component built in. I’m guessing they did this in an attempt to get a better reading closer to the CPU.

The chip-set is a VIA Apollo Pro 133A, which would have been quite decent for the time. Around the main chips are some of the reference silk-screen, which are quite handy, but are unfortunately quite distant from the jumpers they are a reference for! This may have been necessary due to the layout of the board, and I’m sure the manual would tell you where to find them, but it is annoying as it seems to effect every single silk-screen reference.

Speaking of the manual, I was able to find a download on the MSI website, however it was in the form of a EXE file! Since I’m using my Mac book I wasn’t able to easily open it, bad form MSI.

IMG_2497Next to the floppy connector is a connector that seldom got use in desktop machines. It’s an infrared header! Wireless technology had yet to really evolve into what it is today, and a cheap and simple technology commonly used was infrared, still used today in TV remote controls. It wasn’t commonly used mostly because IR (as it’s commonly called) relies on direct line of sight, and can easily be interrupted. These IR devices were usually treated as a serial port, so software like hyperterm was usable with them. In use they usually proved to be slower and less reliable than just using a cable.

From a technicians view-point it’s also fairly decent, it supported Intel and Cyrix chips up to 800Mhz which was decent for the time. It could also support the large 256Mb SDRAM sticks running at 133Mhz, allowing for a maximum of 768MB of RAM. There are also some rudimentary overclocking features on the board. The main annoyance is with the silk screen reference being so distant from the jumpers, and not having very descriptive names. Still, you could set this up without the manual.

Feature wise this board would have satisfied most end users, although audio and ethernet isn’t integrated. At that point in time integration hadn’t become the norm for those. Luckily there are plenty of PCI and ISA slots so it wouldn’t have been much of an issue. With the right CPU, RAM and GPU it probably would have even made a decent gaming rig for the time.

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07
Apr
16

Charlie the Duck for DOS

Having spent lots of time with the kids lately I thought I’d look at a MS-DOS game suitable for them to play when I have them in my computer room. After some looking around on the Classic DOS Games site I found two games by Wiering Software that looked like good options, these were Charlie the Duck and its sequel.

This weekend I started by just playing the first one which was made in 1996 originally, but has been updated as recently as 2004. This is a little unusual as DOS games were not really being developed much after Windows 95 came out. It’s a relatively simple platform game with design elements very similar to the Mario games.

charlie_001The graphics are VGA as was normal for DOS games. The artwork for the backgrounds and sprites is quite good, it has a colourful cartoon-like style whilst making good use of the available colour depth. The graphic engine is supposed to run on old machines, an 80286 as a minimum, but it seems that it wouldn’t run smoothly on such hardware. Luckily the game has the option to turn off parallax scrolling or the background entirely.

The sound support is fairly basic, supporting anything with the yamaha chip that was also on the Ad Lib card. It does support PC speaker, but either I couldn’t get the game to use it over OPL sound, or it sounds exactly the same in dosbox. There is no music, just some simple sound effects which are fine for what they are.

Game-play wise it shares much in common with early Mario games on the NES, many enemies are analogous. There are some subtle differences, with some unique enemies such as bees and frogs. The level design in particular is quite different, water which is often used as a hazzard is not harmful (as charlie can swim) and sometimes is used as a secret path/door.

I found Charlie to be a bit easier than Mario, probably partly because I didn’t play any Mario as a kid. Also I suspect Charlie the Duck is aimed at smaller children. With this in mind I gave my son and daughter a go at playing the game to see how they would go. They had trouble with the controls, not because they are bad, but because they are used to playing games with touch screens on mobile devices. They’ll need to learn how to use buttons to control a character before they can play.

I played all of the shareware world and found that for the most part it shouldn’t be too difficult for kids to enjoy. Perhaps with the exception of the boss fight, which is a large fish jumping in the air. In order to beat the boss you have to jump very precisely on top of its eyes, but not too close to the spines on its back.

I think Charlie the Duck is suitable for most young gamers in much the same way console games like the Mario series are. It’s not as difficult, but retains enough challenge to keep someone interested.  If you have kids who are interested in playing games on a computer (as opposed to other devices) this is one you might want to try out with them. I’ve read that the sequel is probably also worth a go, but I’ll save that for another day. Wiering software still sells the registered version for $7.50 (USD?) from their website.

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