Please Be Patient! Old Computer at Work.

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This topic contains 26 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  missing_kskd 7 months, 3 weeks ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 27 total)
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  • #40694

    Alfredo_T
    Participant

    The Christmas thread had some references to vintage computer hardware. I don’t think that we have had a thread dedicated to old computer hardware on this forum in a while, if ever.

    I mentioned the Color Computer, but I had forgotten that this unit only had a serial printer interface. The creators of the mall robotics exhibit that I described probably found it easier to build logic to decode the address bus than they did to interface to the serial port. This was 1985, and the control logic for the robots was likely hand built entirely from 4000 series CMOS ICs.

    I have had fun over the years with building Linux systems and optimizing the kernels. I maintain the Internet sloth known as http://www.386server.info/ If nothing else, please look at the cute bunny pictures. 🙂

    I am now about to embark on installing Windows 8.1 on a Pentium 4. Doing this requires some work-arounds that I have been researching but haven’t yet tried because this particular Pentium 4 processor does not have the no-execute bit feature that Windows 8 and later require. My true motivations for wanting to install Windows is that I bought this copy of the software at a silent auction, and my employer allows me to use Office 360. Otherwise, I would be happy to just install Linux on the machine.

    #40697

    Andrew
    Participant

    Well, I’ve finally gotten rid of all my older Pentium 4 towers, even though I did a tiny bit of work on the first one (Willamette). I still have my old Pentium Pro tower (Pentium Pro was a short-lived very first version of the P6 microarchitecture that is basically still in use in today’s Intel CPUs as the Core microarchitecture. Pentium 4 was an unwise deviation to the doomed NetBurst architecture which was eventually killed off.)

    Pentium Pro was the forerunner of the Pentium II and Pentium IIIs that were so successful in the 1990s for Intel during the initial internet boom. I worked quite a lot on this project, which is the only reason I keep this ancient tower around. It had Windows 95 on it. Probably still boots from the original 2GB hard drive.

    I also have my old Toshiba laptop circa 1995 – I think it had a i486SX in it, don’t remember anymore. It came with the “larger” 170MB hard drive. Had serial and parallel ports bot no USB – hadn’t been invented yet.

    I also still have some old Apple II computers – an Apple IIgs and a very short-lived Apple IIc+ (not the more successful Apple IIc). Floppy-only, no hard drives.

    Also have my original Commodore 64 and Vic-20 computers from high school. As a college project, I briefly upgraded the 64’s 6510 CPU to a 16 bit CPU, but the breadboard I built was total crap and I could never make it work for very long. But it did POST a few times.

    I don’t recall ever using one of the Tandy Color Computers. But I learned to program on my buddy’s TRS-80 Model III (black and white) one summer in junior high. His father, then a programmer himself, wisely bought his kid, my friend, one of these to learn on, and I got to learn on it too. We wrote BASIC programs only. It’s Z80 CPU machine language was too complicated for me, but when I bought my Vic-20, I found its 6502 much simpler to write machine code for.

    #40700

    lastday
    Participant

    I had a TRS-80 Model 1, and later a Model III. The floppy storage systems were notoriously unreliable. I wrote a floppy diagnostic program for them called The Floppy Doctor, in Z-80 assembly language. I loved the Z-80. Floppy Doctor is still the go-to diagnostic tool for collectors of those old systems.

    I also had a Tandy Color Computer. The only thing I remember from it is the game Dino Wars.

    #40703

    Andrew
    Participant

    Wow – floppy disk on a TRS-80! Fancy! We had to use cassette tape for storage – and THAT was unreliable! When I eventually bought my Vic-20 and its custom cassette tape drive, it was slower than the TRS-80 to load/save programs, but it was far more reliable.

    #40704

    Andrew
    Participant

    Alfredo, I’m visiting family back east, and my mom’s friend has asked me to look at her old PC that won’t boot anymore. “Don’t laugh when you see it – it’s REALLY old!” she warned me. She wasn’t kidding! It’s a Packard Bell tower with a 150MHZ Pentium – an “original” Pentium! Probably has the unfixed FDIV bug in it. The 1.5 GB hard drive is apparently toast. I don’t have a floppy to boot anymore, and there are no USB ports; I don’t think CD boot was supported yet in this era. I will try to extract the IDE hard drive out of it, but I’m dubious anything can still be recovered from it.

    (She doesn’t have internet at home – has used it for 20+ years just for bookkeeping. Her last backup is from 2006.)

    I can try to box it up and take it home on the plane with me if you want it, LOL! Just needs a hard drive.

    #40706

    Alfredo_T
    Participant

    Sadly, I will have to pass on the old computer. When I was with the Libertarian Party, about a decade ago, I inherited most of the computers from their office. These things are like rabbits in my home! 😉

    #40708

    radiogeek
    Participant

    Out of software necessity at work (delightful DOS accounting software that simply keeps going on and doesn’t need any tech support) I maintain a fleet of old Win98SE machines for an internal network that are usually P4 motherboards. (Don’t worry, we have a security method to keep them safe from the internet, it’s called an air gap).

    These days I can’t find used boxes old enough even at Free Geek. So I keep old ATX power supplies and fans on hand, no problem. But what has me in a tight spot is that small hard drives (IDE new) are nearly impossible to find anymore.

    I’ve just found that folks make 40 pin IDE adapters to compact flash cards that are bootable. I’ve finished putting a 4gb CF card in place of an old hard drive and one workstation has a new lease on life, and is faster now. The old HD is still in the case as an emergency spare.

    I’m finding it’s easier to use Norton Ghost or sometimes Partition Magic to make a bootable hd copies than delete what I don’t want on the new system than to try to do OS installs from scratch. I either buy used motherboards of the same model I still have a driver disk for or go with old Dell as drivers and info is always available.

    I do happen to have floppy drives both 5-1/4 and 3-1/2 as well as very old slow CD drives stashed away just in case.

    #40709

    nosignalallnoise
    Participant

    40-pin IDE adapters to compact flash cards that are bootable. I’ve finished putting a 4gb CF card in place of an old hard drive and one workstation has a new lease on life

    Yeah, I’ve done that for years. Adapters and cartridges are cheap on Amazon. I’ve brought several old (we’re talking late 386- and 486-era) laptops back from the dead that way. Remember that the Compact Flash interface is really just a smaller form of PCMCIA which itself is a miniaturised version of IDE/ATA thus adapters can be made relatively simply by running its interface directly out to the larger IDE/ATA connector.

    The biggest problem with that method is the swapfile (if your OS uses one; DOS doesn’t AFAIK) will wear out the Flash memory core fast as the OS constantly is rewriting it.

    #40710

    Alfredo_T
    Participant

    I recently visited Free Geek looking for PC2100 memory, and I was told that they no longer have anything that old. When I walked in the place, I immediately had the feeling that their focus is now on turnkey systems with Linux installed, chiefly laptops. There are still the parts bins that one can rummage through, but the selection doesn’t seem to be what I recall it being 10 years ago, or so.

    #40713

    radiogeek
    Participant

    The biggest problem with that method is the swapfile (if your OS uses one; DOS doesn’t AFAIK) will wear out the Flash memory core fast as the OS constantly is rewriting it.

    Hmm. Good to know. The Dos is running inside of Windows98 so there are things being written back and forth. I’m guessing compact flash doesn’t have the sophisticated wear leveling technology of modern SSD.

    There are also adapters I’ve seen that take modern Sata SSD and adapt it to hook up to an IDE cable for machines that are pre Sata. I haven’t verified if they are bootable in that configuration, perhaps I should be looking into that technology as well.

    #40717

    Andrew
    Participant

    Alfredo, tell me what sizes of RAM you need. I have a lot of old RAM I need to part with anyway – some of it is most surely DDR (“DDR1”) desktop RAM. I’m sure you’d want the largest sizes possible. I’m out of town for a few days but will check to see what I actually have when I get home.

    #40718

    Andrew
    Participant

    radiogeek: “These days I can’t find used boxes old enough even at Free Geek. So I keep old ATX power supplies and fans on hand, no problem. But what has me in a tight spot is that small hard drives (IDE new) are nearly impossible to find anymore.”

    What is really the point of trying to keep hardware that old around? Will virtual machines just not work? Running DOS/Windows 3.1/Windows 95 etc. on modern hardware in a virtual machine would probably let it run a whole lot faster – and use a lot less power.

    My friend here with the Packard Bell tower had Windows 95 on it, though the hard drive is borked. (Was able to image the entire 1.5GB hard drive and am now running various file recovery programs on the image – but the partition table is borked too. No luck so far.) She has been using an ancient version of Quicken on it for years. (Decades?) If I can recover her files, I am considering installing Windows 95 in a VM on her new laptop and just re-installing the old Quicken there instead of having her buy the latest Quicken. She’ll be used to the original version, and it does everything she needs. But she can still have a modern laptop with Windows 10 for everything else.

    #40724

    Alfredo_T
    Participant

    I bought some 512 MB RAM for about $8, including shipping about two weeks ago, so I don’t need any now. Thanks for the offer, though.

    Wearing out of solid state hard disks brought a question to my mind–what happens when solid state disks are used with Linux? Linux kernels typically use a dedicated partition on the disk, rather than a page file, as virtual memory.

    #40727

    nosignalallnoise
    Participant

    Hmm. Good to know. The Dos is running inside of Windows98 so there are things being written back and forth.

    There are settings in your MSDOS.SYS file that can be configured so the machine boots directly into DOS, bypassing Winblows entirely. (It can still be started manually with “win” at the command line. Shades of Packard Bell days!) I’d have to look it up since I have done it on a couple of my machines and report back, but it absolutely is possible. I think the option is “BootGUI=1” which you’d change to 0 then reboot.

    Feel free to fire up EDIT.COM and save a blank (0-byte) file to your root as LOGO.SYS if you don’t want to see the Win98 logo every time you boot. You don’t have to, but it makes it more obvious you’re running DOS.

    DOS 7.1 can in fact be separated from Win98 and run as a standalone operating system. (Again, I’ve done it.) Basically you’d move your /windows/command subdirectory to drive root then rename it “dos” or whatever, then remap any commands in AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to the new directory. Also reference the new directory in your PATH= variable (e.g. SET PATH=C:\;C:\DOS;). Moving /windows/himem.sys, emm386.exe and any boot drivers in /windows to the DOS directory wouldn’t hurt. Grab the latest version of Free DOS and add the contents of its “bin” directory in if you want.

    I’m guessing compact flash doesn’t have the sophisticated wear leveling technology of modern SSD.

    I think some if not most Sandisk CFs made within the past maybe 10 years or so have it. It’s still not a good idea to use a swapfile on Flash disks because even with wear levelling, there are still large amounts of write cycles being done which puts unnecessary stress on the core. Same reason why it’s usually not recommended to run defrag on a Flash drive.

    Wearing out of solid state hard disks brought a question to my mind–what happens when solid state disks are used with Linux? Linux kernels typically use a dedicated partition on the disk, rather than a page file, as virtual memory

    I would guess probably the same thing. The difference is Linux can be set up not to use a swap partition at all if you don’t want it to. On machines with more than 1GB of RAM it really isn’t necessary. (from experience) I mean, I’ve used Mandrake and later Debian without a swap partition for years on 2GB+ RAM and it’s worked perfectly fine. There are also security problems that come with having a pagefile or swap partition that are just as easily avoided by not having one.

    #40733

    radiogeek
    Participant

    All this reminds me of the somewhat good old days, when you managed the computers instead of them managing you!

    I’m doing fine and need the Win98 environment for other in house tasks and LAN and printing control. The workstation environment is stable once I get it all working no problems. I run a utility called VDos on a Win7 laptop for travel with very good results, but it doesn’t print well. Other virtual machines have not been a good experience for me so I simply build the workstations that I know will work.

    I don’t know if I’ll get into trouble with the CF as hard drive, guess we’ll find out soon enough. If an oops happens, we go back to hard drives.

    If I’ve got a good motherboard, all I do is replace case and power supply fans every few years, and replace hard drives. I’m just trying to remove one more failure point with the CF drives, it will either work or not long term. So far I’m having mixed results.

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