Posts Tagged ‘Hardware

17
May
21

Motherboard: MSI MS-5156 Socket 7

It’s been a little while since my last post, partly because I’ve been quite busy, but also partly because I’ve been putting much of my energy into making youtube videos. I’ve been meaning to write something for the blog, but have been procrastinating because I’m having difficulty with the floppy drive repair I’m attempting.

I recently received a socket 7 machine, which was used as a data logger for physics experiments in a lab. It came in a chassis that was in poor shape so I’ve stripped the useful parts and taken some photos. Lets take a look, first at the motherboard.

It is an MSI MS-5156 socket 7 and appears to have been manufactured in 1997. It has an Intel 430TX PCIset chipset which from what I’ve read seemed to be fairly good for the most part with some disappointing but not deal breaking issues. My board has a Pentium @ 120Mhz and 16Mb of fast page RAM installed and also came with some cards I’ll show later.

Looking at the details of the chipset on Anandtech I found that it looks like a mid to lower range chipset. It does seem to support what were the latest and fastest Intel, AMD and Cyrix processors from the time. Although there are a number of technical issues where it is worse than it’s contemporaries, such as the range of FSB speeds, which doesn’t go as high as super socket 7 boards peaking at 75Mhz. Like the Elitegroup mainboard in a previous machine I looked at, it can not cache all the memory, with only 64Mb of a possible 256Mb being cachable. For most uses these wouldn’t have been serious problems at the time.

Some of it’s features are also forward looking supporting newer standards that were gaining traction at the time. It supports ATX power supplies which had some safety and design improvements and also supports SDRAM which is faster than the 72pin EDO and Fast Page RAM.

Like the motherboard, some components are not very high spec for the time this machine was originally built. The Pentium running @ 120Mhz is half the speed of the high end parts available at the time, and whilst 16Mb was still common in 1997 it was a bit small and slow being fast page RAM.

The video card on the other hand is a Diamond Multimedia Stealth 64, it has the S2 Trio64V+ chip that was very common on 2d graphic cards of the time. I’ve found the S3 based cards are usually quite good for anything that doesn’t use 3d acceleration (although they do pair nicely with a Voodoo 2). This particular example comes with expanded video memory (2Mb?), so it can display at higher resolutions.

The other board that was present is the analog data acquisition board, an Compuscope 220. It appears to be basically a 2 channel 25Mhz digital oscilloscope from what I can read on the web. It has 4 BNC connectors two of which are the input, I assume the others are either trigger inputs (or outputs) of some description. There is a sticker on it indicating that it was last calibrated in 1991, so it’s significantly older than the rest of the PC. Unfortunately without the software this is likely completely useless.

Looking back at the motherboard we see that the jumper settings for adjusting the FSB and multiplier are documented nicely on the silkscreen. There are additional tables listing settings for specific CPUs from each of the manufacturers if you don’t know the FSB and multiplier for your particular CPU. This leaves no room on the silkscreen for documenting the other jumpers, which leaves you reaching for the manual to hook up the front panel or adjust the memory voltage for instance. Look here for the manual, settings are also listed at stason.org.

This machine was clearly not meant to be fast, I suspect it was built simply to contain the data logger card and run the software that was likely in a much older machine before this one. Perhaps the older machine had died, and this was a solution to keep the equipment running. So in that sense it was probably more than fast enough for what it was used for.

26
Jan
21

Attempting to Fix a 3.5″ Floppy Drive and a New 5.25″ Drive

The start of the year is a time when I am usually visiting family, but is also a time for cleaning out old junk and rubbish at work. This year I did a little cleaning out whilst visiting family and found an old 3.25″ floppy drive from our original old PC. Upon returning to work we took the opportunity to do some serious cleaning before things get busy again, and in the process found a 5.25″ floppy drive basically unused and still wrapped in plastic. Two old gems having sat on a shelf for at least a couple of decades.

First up lets take a look at the 5.25″ drive, it is a FZ-506 made by Chinon in 1987 (I think). Whilst this is probably the first Chinon drive I’ve owned myself, these were fairly common drives back in their day. This example is basically pristine, it shows no yellowing, the lubrication seems in good shape, and it operates like brand new. It even still has the cardboard in the drive, for protecting the heads in transit. Quite a lucky find indeed.

The 3.25″ drive is a Panasonic (made for them by Matsushita) and is of an unusual design. This particular example was in our old Twinhead 386sx machine, it was one of the first upgrades my Dad bought for it. This drive saw many of our games, homework and home-made software from my teenage years, so it has a little sentimental value. It was very well used, so it’s no surprise that it’s not working.

When I hooked it up the drive seems to think it is working, but it failed to seek, and the spindle speed didn’t seem quite right. With many old drives (of any type) it’s often simply a case of mechanical components being seized and requiring lubrication. A little bit of light machine oil freed up the spindle motor and seemed to free up the head actuator.

Testing with Image disk revealed that the disk speed is now correct, and that it can read tracks on a disk, but it still isn’t able to seek properly. The actuator seems to not even be trying to move. This makes me suspect the control board, and looking at the connector I suspect it may be as simple as a dry solder joint.

Unfortunately I’ve run out of time this month, although I’ll be keeping it on my work bench because I think I have a good chance of repairing it. I should have some repair result next time.

20
Nov
20

New Microphone setup

It’s no secret that my old microphone was less than ideal. Basically it wasn’t sensitive enough, wasn’t easily adjustable, and sounded different every time I set myself up for recording.

It’s a cheap lapel mic, which explains much of the quality issues I experienced, it was however better than nothing and allowed me to get started making content. Fortunately I had salvaged an old condenser microphone from some equipment that was being retired.

It’s an AKG GN 30 ESP with a CK31 capsule, which isn’t a particularly modern piece of audio gear, but from what I’ve read online is actually fairly decent, and something that they still make. From what I’ve read online it seems these are commonly installed in Churches, various types of halls, and often teleconferencing systems. My particular example was new in 2006, and was part of an Accessgrid facility, I salvaged it when the audio system there was upgraded.

Of course being a condenser mic you can’t just connect it to any old thing and expect it to work. It requires an XLR cable and phantom power in order to operate. So to connect it to my PC I had to get an audio interface that would support it.

Step in the Swamp Industries SM11, a basic 3 channel Mixer with a builtin USB sound interface. It wasn’t too expensive either at just under $100 AUD. Add in an XLR cable and it was pretty much a case of plug and record, which was refreshingly easy.

The mixer has a few nifty features that I’ll be using, such as the ability to plug in head phones to monitor the audio being recorded, and being able to play audio through the USB sound card, so you can hear approximately what it will sound like over the PC sound output.

My audio set up is still quite new and I’m still working out all the kinks, I’ve found having a better mic can make doing good recordings more difficult as it picks up sounds that my old mic wouldn’t hear. Such as the sound of my old Sparcstation running in the background, or my air conditioner. But this is less of an audio problem and more an environmental one.

I’ve finished my first video using the new audio setup, have a listen bellow and let me know what you think.

27
Aug
20

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-BX2000

It has been quite a while since my last post, I can only apologise, time just skipped by so fast! Last month I did have a chance to go and visit my parents, it was quite lucky timing in a way, as there was less risk and concern surrounding the COVID situation at the time. I usually try to take some photos of old computer hardware whilst I’m there, and this visit was no exception. Today we’re taking a quick look at a slot 1 motherboard, the GA-BX2000 motherboard made by Gigabyte in 1999. Here’s a photo of the board.

The board supports Pentium III CPUs up to 550 Mhz, with my board having a 500Mhz P3 Katmai installed running with a 100Mhz FSB. Being an earlier P3 it may be a good candidate for some simple overclocking, which can be achieved by adjusting the dip switches on the board. Unfortunately the board doesn’t allow adjusting the CPU core voltage at all, limiting your overclocking options to using the stock voltage.

It has an Intel 440 BX chipset, which seems to have been fairly reasonable for the time. It supports a range of bus speeds from 66Mhz up to 133Mhz, which gives significant opportunity to overclock the bus depending on the CPU installed. I read that this may not improve speed very much with the Slot 1 CPUs due to how the L2 cache is structured, bumping up the CPU multiplier was found to have a bigger effect on performance, with a maximum of 6.5x there may not be much headroom for an increase. The board features an AGP 3.3v slot which I suspect is only 1x but could be 2x.

The onboard devices include the usual USB, Floppy, ATA and serial and parallel interfaces, but no integrated sound.The lack of onboard sound wasn’t a huge deal as decent sound cards were still quite easy to come by. Although by this point onboard sound was becoming much more common, it hadn’t yet become good enough to entirely replace the need for dedicated cards.

An interesting feature this board has is the Dual BIOS. Basically the board physically has two separate ROM chips each containing a copy of the system ROM. If the primary ROM is found to be not working properly it automatically switches to the secondary one. It is also supposed to provide end users with some protections from hardware failure, not that the flash ROM chips really failed all that often. One problem it could effectively combat is a failed firmware update, whether it be one that was interrupted, or simply an incorrect image. This would hopefully prevent your board from being bricked. Never having had a reason to need it, I don’t really know how effective a solution it was. This board features a jumper to disable the dual BIOS feature.

In many ways this wouldn’t have been a good buy when it was first made. Whilst it supports the early P3 CPUs, it does so only up to the 650Mhz mark which was quickly surpassed and later chips moved to a different socket. On the other hand it does have some limited capacity to overclock, so it would have been useful for boosting performance of Pentium II chips and the earliest Katmai Pentium III. There’s nothing obvious that would cause reliability issues in the long term, so as long as you were happy with the supported CPUs it would have been fine for general use.

For an enthusiast today it’s probably most useful for a Pentium II build, as there are better boards for building an Pentium 3 based system and the overclocking options are more meaningful for the slower chip. The silk screen on the board has all the switch configuration details handy for setting the bus speed and multiplier, the rest is a mostly jumper-less design, although I did see a jumper for a Voodoo card versus non-Voodoo cards, which is quite odd to say the least. The silk screen doesn’t label everything clearly, so looking up the manual may be required when installing or performing maintenance.

17
Jun
20

IBM ThinkPad 380ED

Today’s machine was made by IBM, one of the most influential companies in mainframes and early personal computers. This laptop was released in 1997, after the companies influence had waned, it’s a Thinkpad 380ED. The Thinkpad name would become synonymous with high quality and performance portable computing. Here’s a picture of my particular machine.

IBM Thinkpad laptop

It’s in fairly good condition, although I’m missing the power adapter, it was donated to me some time ago by a client when I worked in IT support. It has a Pentium MMX running at 166Mhz which wasn’t the fastest available at the time, but was in general quite a good chip. It was quite capable of playing late MS-DOS games such as Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, and could play earlier windows titles. However this machine wasn’t really suited to most games.

The main reason it’s not great for gaming is the screen. The resolution of 800×600 was good for the time, but the screen on my particular one has a pretty slow response time (it must be the FRSTN model) making it pretty much useless for anything that animates or scrolls. Static images look perfectly fine, but movement of any kinds quickly turns into a blur. There isn’t much in the way of scaling either, so most games won’t fill the entire screen depending on their chosen resolution. Strategy games like Civilization work fairly well, so I guess there’s that. Other wise an external screen makes action games playable, although that kind of defeats the portability of the machine.

The screen is driven by a graphic chip I’d never heard of before, a Neomagic MagicGraph 128V, with slightly more than 1Mb VRAM. I tried a few DOS games and it seems to be quite compatible back to CGA graphics. Although it seems the processor may be too fast for many of the older titles as some games do not start up, crashing with divide error messages. On the other end of the scale SVGA modes are supported and working where I was able to try it.

The internal speaker is driven by a Cirrus Logic audio controller (CS4236), again another device I’ve not had hands on experience with. It seems to be a sound blaster compatible as both digital and OPL sound work well without having to load a driver in native MS-DOS. Audio quality is good, OPL music sounds correct without any pops or noticeable errors and digital audio works similarly well. I also tried games with PC speaker noise, and they also worked quite well.

The other interfaces include the usual serial, parallel and PS/2 mouse connector. You can connect an external VGA screen, which is good if you have one handy. There are two PCMCIA slots for additional interfaces (such as a modem, lan, or wlan card). There is a slim 3.5″ floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive which are both handy, although I’ve not been able to read any CDs. I have a PCMCIA CD drive I may be able use in its place.

The technical specifications of the hardware are only half the picture when it comes to laptops and other portable devices. The durability of the chassis and hinges is a particularly important part of their design. Back in the day I saw numerous laptops with broken hinges and chassis simply because of poor design, often because the outer casing was made of plastic. This particular laptop came before the plastic fantastic chassis of many later machines, and it has a metallic chassis which has a very good build quality. IBM Thinkpads quickly got a reputation for being sturdy and reliable machines because of this, although this didn’t last after IBM sold off its laptop division.

I still have some work to do on this machine before I can really use it much, I need to figure out if I can get the CD drive working, get a new power adapter, and finish erasing the drive and installing a new OS. It’s already been handy in being able to test Bob’s Fury on it (for debugging purposes) and it will play DOS games quite well if I use an external screen. I’m thinking of replacing the internal drive with something like an SD card converter, as the hard drive is so small. The small form factor of a laptop makes it convenient to store and setup when I need it.

21
Mar
20

Building a Replacement Server 2.0

I built my current server about five years ago as a replacement for my Sparcstation 20 so it could be retired from the role and used in a more desktop role. Recently the machine I built suffered what I thought was a hardware failure and hasn’t been up in some time. This has brought forward plans I’ve had for quite a while to replace it with something more power efficient. I’ve been struggling for quite a while to find something that is relatively cheap, but also more power efficient than the 60-100W my old Celeron 2.4 Ghz uses.

One option I had been investigating for a while is the plethora of small form factor PCs that are generally available. I looked at various offerings from Intel, Gigabyte and others that are available and found that whilst they were indeed quite power efficient, they also tended to cost quite a bit for a bare bones system that would require buying additional components. For this reason I decided it would be better to go for another option.

I had looked among my collection of old hardware for an alternative, and couldn’t find anything that was suitable, so I was going to have to buy something new. With small form factor PCs ruled out due to cost I had to do some research. I ended up finding some videos from Phil’s Computer Lab where he used old thin client machines for various purposes such as retro gaming or in some cases being able to play fairly modern games. Checking out the specifications of the thin clients they appeared to be reasonably powerful, efficient, cheap, and you get a complete system that require minimal additional components. Sounds like a winner!

I ended up buying an HP T620 thinclient with the 1.5Ghz Quad core AMD GX-415GA chip. It came with 4 Gb of DDR3 memory and 16Gb flash in the form of an M.2 drive. Whilst not terribly impressive specs for a modern machine, it’s fairly good for 2013 technology and is certainly better than the old Celeron I currently have. The most exciting aspect of the thin client is its power efficiency. I had a fairly good idea that it would be significantly better than the old machine because the power brick is 65W, so the likely maximum energy draw has to be less than what the old machine draws at idle. Being a low power device it is passively cooled and is completely silent in operation.

So I got out my kill-a-watt style power meter to see how much energy I could expect this machine to consume, I was pleasantly surprised. With the default operating system (embedded windows 8) it used a whopping 2W after boot at idle. Being so low I was completely astonished! I wasn’t planning on using windows as the operating system, so knowing the idle power may be different I went about the software install. Like previous server installs I’m using NetBSD again, partly because it makes it easy for me to migrate, but also just because I like it.

I had some difficulties installing because of UEFI, but once I resolved that the install went smoothly. Hardware support turned our fairly well, with all the major devices except the wireless working. Given I’ll be using Ethernet that’s not much of an issue for me. After boot on a clean install the idle power consumption is around 7W, which is still quite impressive. I suspect the higher consumption is because of the open source radeon driver not having good power management, which I can’t do much about at the present time.

The only issue I had after installing the operating system was the distinct lack of storage, 16G is not really all that much and I know that I’ll need more. Luckily these thin clients can take upgraded storage, mine has a mSATA slot that some revisions of this unit don’t. So I went online and bought a 120G Kingston UV500 mSATA SSD. Had my unit not had that slot I could have upgraded the M.2 drive to something larger. There are also a number of USB ports that could be used for external storage.

I’ve now deployed the new machine and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m quite happy with the performance, which I’d say is in large part due to the SSD storage. I like that it’s passively cooled because that makes it completely silent. Lastly the extremely low power consumption makes it very cheap to run, and I managed to get mine (including the extra storage) for significantly less cost than you’d pay for most small form factor PCs.

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.

07
Aug
19

Teac USB Floppy drive FD 05PUB

Recently I bought a new Ryzen based PC, which has a distinct lack of legacy support and even lacks optical drives. This is hardly surprising as this is the logical conclusion of what has been an increasing trend of storing and transferring data with flash drives, on the “cloud” or other network enabled means.

It does however pose a problem for someone like myself who collects and uses a number of older machines of various vintages and architectures. Many older machines don’t have network support and don’t accept USB flash drives natively. So without the ability to use older mediums such as floppy or optical discs it can be quite difficult to transfer data to and from vintage hardware.

There are fortunately some options for adding some legacy support to modern machines, such as USB optical and floppy drives. There are also some options for adding modern device support to old machines such as a floppy emulator that accepts USB flash drives as input. For me, rather than getting numerous floppy emulators, I thought it would be better to add floppy support to my new modern machine.

So off to ebay I went and got a generic USB floppy drive for about $12 AUD. It turned out to be a Teac FD 05PUB (also known as UF000x). This model turns up everywhere as it has been made for a while and re-badged as IBM, HP and DELL drives all at some point or another. Looking around I found this was basically the only model of USB floppy drive currently available, which could be a problem as some people have had trouble getting these to work on windows 7 and 10 due to driver issues.

I was unluckly because my particular unit appeared to be faulty, not being able to read disks created by known good drives and not even being able to read data it has itself written. I suspect it had suffered some damage in shipping as the seller had not packaged it well, using a cardboard envelope with no padding for shipping. Although it could also be the build quality as the unit feels extremely cheap, which frankly it is. Either way I’ve returned my unit for refund (hence the reason there’s no photo of it).

It’s now several months later and I’ve finally decided on and received a new solution. This nifty little doo-daa is basically a USB to 40 pin floppy adapter. This allows me to use any standard 1.44Mb 3.5 inch floppy drive I have laying around as a USB device. This has the advantage that I can use known good drives that are in alignment and have clean heads, and if something mechanical fails I can simply swap the drive. Here’s a photo of it with a Sony 3.5 inch floppy drive, one of the younger drives in my collection.

The USB adapter and a Sony 3.5″ drive.

It does have some downsides, such as not having a case and requiring a power supply for the drive itself. This is hardly surprising as it’s really designed for adding internal floppy drives to modern machines that lack the legacy controller. It also supports only one type of drive, so you won’t be using any 5.25 inch floppies with this. Interestingly it is reported by the OS as being the same device as the first drive I bought, confirming to me that the first drive was indeed faulty as it uses the same device driver.

At least I now have a very basic solution for data transfer, although it’s not ideal. I’m yet to investigate using serial ports on my new PC, which luckily the motherboard has a header for. This is mainly for larger data transfers, with the initial software loaded on the target machine likely by floppy.

13
Jul
19

Epson EX 1000 Dot Matrix Printer

As is usual for this time of year I’ve come to my parents place for a visit. Some of our old computer hardware is still in storage here, some of which I’ve already documented. Today we’re going to take a quick look at our old printer, an Epson EX 1000.

We got this particular example with our first computer early in 1990, at the time I remember there being many dot matrix printers in service, but technologies such as inkjet and laser were emerging as better alternatives.

It was quite noisy when printing, and shook the computer desk which it sat on. We had the tractor feed option which allowed the use of continuous paper, which was handy when printing a large amount of text such as program code. It could print graphics, which we occasionally used, but with only the black and white ribbon the images weren’t of a high quality. I remember having a colour ribbon for ours, but never actually using it.

Looking inside we can see the print head, and the wire that is used to move it back and forth. Many other printers used rubber belts that would eventually perish, this arrangement lasts significantly longer and would continue to work even now. Although looking at the guide rails they would need polishing and lubricating before it could be used.

The printer has a small control panel to set the font and print quality manually. This could be controlled by software, I remember MS works would change these settings and allow for different fonts in the same document.

There is this curious slot with a connector which isn’t described in the manual. I assume it’s for additional buffer memory or perhaps for adding other type faces. There is an internal slot for connecting other types of interfaces such as IEEE-488, but on our printer this isn’t populated as we just used the standard parallel interface.

The tractor feed mechanism can be seen here, with some teeth that engaged with holes in the paper. Setting this up initially was a bit tricky, but saved constantly feeding in paper manually and gave you a wider printing area. You could feed in standard A4 sheets as well.

Dot matrix printers such as this one have many draw backs, such as being noisy and having lower quality print. However they stuck around partly because they were generally quite reliable and were very cheap on consumables. I remember a printer much like this one at my fathers old workplace hidden away under a sound proof hood continuously printing almost every day. This printer remained in service until we upgraded to a new PC and printer some seven years later.

 

17
Jun
19

My Old PC

Quite recently I bought myself a new Ryzen based PC as my main desktop rig. The machine it replaced is around 10 years old, whilst it’s definitely not vintage in any way it’s interesting to look back at the hardware. For some context I was working for a local IT company when I built this machine, and we were just starting to build the first i7 based machines. We were having issues with getting compatible RAM working with them, and we had to sink a significant amount of time getting the first ones to run well. This influenced my decision to go with an AMD based system at the time. Here’s a photo of the system.

It is built in an Antec Sonata Proto chassis as it came with a nice 500W power supply that we had experience with having reasonably good reliability. I removed the door as it was an annoyance when using the optical/floppy drives. I have two Pioneer DVD drives and a floppy drive which is unfortunately the wrong colour for my case. Lets take a look inside.

The CPU is an AMD Phenom II x4 955 which runs @ 3.2 Ghz. It’s not as fast as many of the early core i7 chips, but compared quite favourably in terms of performance per cost at the time. Surprisingly it actually continued to perform quite well for basically everything except newer games, it did manage to play World of Warships and Minecraft right up to its retirement. It’s installed in a Gigabyte MA490FX-UD5P which is a high durability design featuring solid capacitors, more copper and decent heat sinks for the VRM and chipset. These measures seem to have been effective given the longevity of this machine.

4Gb of Corsair 1333Mhz DDR3 memory was quite good when I first built this machine, but started to look a bit limiting later in its life. Upgrading this would have been a nice performance boost, but wasn’t really possible for me during it’s working life.

The GPU is an ATI Radeon 4850 HD made by Gigabyte. Again this was alright when everything was new, but it doesn’t perform well on newer software. I suspect it held the machine back the most when it came to running newer games, although it has proven to be quite reliable, something many other graphics cards can’t claim. Oddly the board seems to have drooped or bent during its life perhaps from the weight of the power cabling, that can’t be good for it, but it hasn’t failed.

Three 1TB hard disks make up the storage. The black WD1002FAEX stores the operating system and software installation as well as some of my data. Bulk data such as disk images and media are stored on the first of the two green WD10EADS drives, the second drive acts as a backup of the other two. Surprisingly I’ve never run out of space on these drives. The only reason to replace them is really the extremely high power-on hours count. In my chassis the drives are mounted using silicon vibration damping grommets.

Initially I had Windows XP installed on this machine, mostly as I wasn’t all that enamoured with Windows Vista and Windows 7 was a couple of months out. I used it in this software configuration for quite a long time, way past the end of XP’s life. As software like Firefox (and others) gradually dropped updates and support it became harder to use, so about half way through its life I installed Debian Linux on it. I was able to get most games and software I needed to work running. I retained the old win XP install (dual boot) so I could use anything that didn’t work, although in practice that was very infrequent.

This old PC certainly lived longer than most desktops, and I’m kinda sad to retire it despite my newer machine performing better in every measurable way. With a memory and graphic card update it would still make quite a usable machine today, but with my newer system I enjoy energy savings and higher performance that made the upgrade very worth while.




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