13
Jan
20

Cyrix 6×86 Generic PC with ECS P5VX-Be Mainboard

During the recent holiday season I took the kids to visit my parents out on the farm. During my time there I had some time to drag out some old computer hardware from storage. The PC  I dragged out today was bought as an upgrade and replacement for our then aging 386. I don’t remember exactly when we got this machine, but judging by the date codes on some of the hardware it has to be sometime in 1998. It is a socket 7 based system with a Cyrix 6×86 PR 166Mhz with 16Mb of RAM assembled by a local system integrator. So it was certainly a fairly budget machine for the time, however it felt like a huge upgrade coming from what we had. It has been stripped for parts, but the fundamental components remain, here’s a photo of the chassis and another of the remaining components

Taking a look inside we see most of the PC is still there, the main things missing are the optical drives, floppy drive and some cabling. Whilst it’s not complete the majority of the components are in working order.

Taking a closer look at the lower front of the mainboard we can see that there is one of those annoying dallas clock chips that can go flat and leave a PC unable to remember its configuration. The CPU and its heatsink are also mounted here, the Cyrix chips are interesting beasts, whilst they were budget parts in many senses they achieved good results depending on the workload. Typically workloads making heavy use of the FPU were better suited to either Intel or AMD parts, but other loads that make heavy use of the main integer core could run faster on these Cyrix parts. Our experience with this particular sample was that it could do all the same jobs and play similar games, but sometimes your performance would be worse or better depending on what you were doing.

My Dad used this machine for the farms business accounting, and for that it did a fairly good job. Being a teenager during this machines work life I used to play quite a few games on it. DOS games worked very well in general, games like doom basically ran perfectly, and even the first Quake did ok as long as you didn’t crank up the settings. Windows 95 gaming depended on the game, partly due to the limited amount of RAM the machine had, which I think limited what we could play more than the CPU. 3d games in general didn’t work so well, partly due to the lack of a 3d accelerator and RAM.

The graphic card was fairly basic being just an Octek S3 Trio64V. It is quite compatible with DOS games and works ok with 2d applications, but it doesn’t do any 3d acceleration at all. 3d games we played had to use software rendering, some of which didn’t perform well while others were quite playable. These cards were quite common due to their low cost.

The Quantum Fireball Hard disk was about 1.6G in size from memory, its death is  what ultimately forced this machine into retirement. From what I’ve read online this was a relatively fast drive in it’s day, which makes it an odd choice for this otherwise fairly budget system. I seem to have had bad luck with Quantum drives as they seem to die more often than others I’ve owned. It was quite dirty before I wiped the dust off, although I think the dirt you find out on the farm is generally less hazardous than dust in the city.

The motherboard is a P5VX-Be made by Elitegroup (also known as Elite or ECS). It wasn’t a particularly high end board for the time, but it was perfectly serviceable for most tasks. There are two issues with this chipset that could be a problem. Firstly the chipset only caches the first 64Mb of RAM out of a 128Mb maximum which could drastically slow down windows if you had more than 64Mb. Also the maximum FSB that it supports is 66Mhz, which meant it couldn’t support some of the faster AMD and Cyrix parts that were available.

These two issues aren’t as bad as they sound, remember that most systems of the day had 16Mb or 32Mb of RAM with only very high end systems using 64Mb. Also looking around at FSB speeds of socket 7 CPUs there aren’t that many that require higher than 66Mhz speed. So it would have been a very unusual (and expensive) build that couldn’t really use this board. For a retro enthusiast today it could be a problem, but for us at the time it was perfectly adequate.

Other features of the board are the usual integrated peripherals such as floppy and hard disk controllers, serial and parallel ports. Also integrated is a Crystal SRS (CS4327B) sound card, a sound blaster compatible device that supported DOS games as well as having a decent windows driver. We were still playing quite a few DOS games at the time, so this was quite a bonus and worked exceptionally well. Especially considering our previous machine only had the PC speaker for sound.

Working with this board isn’t too bad, as the jumpers are mostly labeled in a way that is visible while the board is installed. It doesn’t seem to be too hard to work on, although I’d suggest having the manual so you know what configurations are valid and to double check your jumper settings.

Whilst this machine is anything but high end it gave us a pretty good service life and was capable of doing most tasks that we gave it. Even if it was sometimes not particularly fast it was a very big improvement over the 386 and 486 machines we had previously There were limitations in what games we could play, but that really only became very limiting once 3d acceleration became mandatory for gaming.


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