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Adventures in reviving an old 486

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I decided to go through old PCs in my basement and see if there's anything worth selling.   The first one I started with a 486 (actually a 5x86/133), which is the remnants of my first PC.    It was used by a relative for awhile, when I got it back I must've reformatted it with MS-DOS and installed a few drivers and that was it.   It didn't have much on it.   I wanted to install a few things on it to test it out and make sure everything still works.

 

First issue is it's AT-style, and I only have one AT keyboard, which I discovered it wasn't working very well.   Many of the keys weren't registering presses unless you pushed hard.  I tried popping off the keycaps and cleaning it, but that only made it worse.   Ordered a PS/2 <-> AT converter and waited until it arrived to proceed.

 

Next I found the CD-ROM drive wasn't working, the floppy kind of worked, but it reported most disks as bad.   I suddenly realized how hard it would be to get new files on this thing.    It is too old for USB.  It doesn't have an ethernet card.   My current PCs don't have serial ports, or floppies.  It has IDE ribbon cables, my modern system is SATA-only, etc.

 

It looked to me that the reason the CD-rom might not be working was that it had Goldstar CD drivers installed, but it was actually a Matsushita unit.   Both are ATAPI standard, so you'd think the driver would be interchangeable, but I guess not!

 

I looked in the basement to see if I could find the Goldstar CD-ROM unit the drivers were meant for.  No luck,  but found another floppy drive instead.  So I plugged that in and it was able to read disks the other floppy couldn't.    I installed CD-rom drivers from a different disk which didn't say what brand they were for..   luckily they worked!  And the CD-rom is now in business.

 

Fortunately, back in the day I had the foresight to backup all my floppies to CD-R.   I still have that CD-R, and it actually still works.  I put all the Windows 3.1 disks on that CD, so as I test, I installed Win 3.1 from it. 

 

For some reason, I thought Win 3.1 had a version of device manager that would detect display adapter and prompt for disk.   No such luck.  I pulled my (VLB) graphics card out, and to my surprise, it was a Cirrus Logic card.  I don't recall ever owning Cirrus Logic.   I don't even have driver disks for it.   I thought I had an S3.  (which I do have driver disks for).   I found the loose S3 card in the basement, and swapped them out.    Nothing but POST error beeps!   Reseat the card.. same.    Popped it out and put the CL back in.   It comes up, but now my I/O card is not working!   Looks like the VLB extender popped out a bit.  Reseated it, now the video was distorted!

 

Damn VESA local bus and it's long connectors!  

 

I got it all working again, but now I need to get Cirrus Logic drivers onto it somehow.   I decided to order one of those Gotek floppy emulators to hopefully give me a way to transfer files, especially seeing how real floppy drives and disks deteriorate over time.

 

I guess it's amazing how much PC tech has changed, and how modern systems and systems of that age have so little in common.

 

Posting because I thought maybe some other 90s PC geeks would relate to the pain :) 

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Will you ever be able to sell it for enough to compensate for all of the time spent working on it? 

 

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Other options:

 

If you have a 'Tweener era system with a real LPT port, get yourself a copy of Fastlynx, and a suitable cable.

Works like midnight commander.  Fully browseable tree from either side, fully bi-directional transfers, easy peasy.  Just a bit slow.

You can bootstrap getting FastLynx onto the target system with MODE and CTTY, which should already be part of a DOS deployment. (or if not, easily fit on a floppy.)

 

Also, SD->IDE adapters.  I have one installed as the system drive of my recently assembled Pentium system. (Pentium 133, 128mb RAM, VX chipset).  You can pull the card and manipulate it in a modern card reader.

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GoTek was definitely a game-changer for moving files over to my 486. That and just burning CD-roms full of stuff once I got the CD Rom drive going on the 486.

 

I've had mixed luck with Compact Flash to IDE adapters. Some CF cards work, others don't. Some computers just won't recognize any CF cards. Some hard drives don't like to be on the same computer as a CF. But when they work, that is the easiest way to move files over. I've had best luck with <1GB CF cards formatted using an old Olympus digital camera. Weirdest thing ever. Cards formatted as FAT16 on a modern machine can fail, but if I format them with the camera they work.

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7 minutes ago, jhd said:

 

Will you ever be able to sell it for enough to compensate for all of the time spent working on it? 

 

The Gravis soundcard it has seems to fetch a nice price on eBay, so maybe?

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No no, I mean straight up SDCard.  Not CF.

 

This is your typical "Sintechi" (ahem) card adapter. It does 2.5in style IDE, but a simple adapter makes it play nice.  It does not want to share the channel, so keep that in mind.

 

However, you can stick up to a 128gb SDCard in, and it will boot and run just like a CF offering.  The cards play nicer in modern card readers.

(it's even somewhat 'fast'. The one in my pentium box is able to do multiword DMA mode 2. However, it cannot do 48bit LBA, so nothing bigger than 128gb)

 

The only issue I had, was that I had to do an fdisk /mbr on the drive/card before it would boot.

 

I still strongly suggest the FastLynx option though, especially if you have lots of old retro dos systems to work with. 

Edited by wierd_w

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