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Reviving A Relic from the Dawn of 32-bit Microprocessor Era - Part 1: The Salvage
 

Daniel Adi Nugroho dot Net

...because a man can’t just sit around

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Reviving A Relic from the Dawn of 32-bit Microprocessor Era - Part 1: The Salvage

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I found myself staring at my first PC, a dusty yellowish box that served me well when I was a teenager, helped me a lot on my school projects. I planned to revive this relic, and bring it to Jakarta, and make a good use of it. I quickly pulled it from its resting place for many years, and cleaned it from the dust. A house lizard jumped out when I opened the casing, as well as numerous insects that lived between the electronic boards.

Within a few minutes, I have completely disassembled it (except for its internal power supply unit), detached its main board, video card, a legacy I/O controller card, one 5.25 inch floppy drive, and one 3.5 inch floppy drive. It's a computer from the era when 32-bit processors starts to dominate the world. It has an AMD Am386DX-40 CPU running at 40 MHz clock speed, it has many banks of SDRAM chips, totaling 8 MB. The VGA card has 512 KB of RAM. The CPU is permanently soldered right on the board, instead of sitting on a socket. Since there is no cooling mechanism surrounding it, I can easily read the text printed on its chip. It says “Microsoft Windows Compatible”, below an old Windows logo imprinted on the face of the chip.

Am368DX-40 CPU embedded on the mainboard


It must have been an impressive machine when it was first purchased in March 1994. I can recall my awe when I first operated it sometime in 1997, my auntie bought it used for me. It was really a treat to the eyes of a person who has never used any GUI-based systems before. I still remember the thrill of clicking those little icons on Windows 3.1 with a funny thing called mouse....


After several minutes of frantic brushing and cleaning of the boards, I quickly re-assembled them, connected the essential cables, wondering if I could make this relic alive again. With low expectation, I attached the power supply to wall outlet, pushed in its power switch, and see what happens. And to my surprise, it starts booting up at the first attempt! I was so relieved to see some colorful text messages displayed on screen, which displays the hardware firmware versions and its trademark. I was able to run its BIOS setup, but it doesn't go any further because it has no operating system to boot.

 

BIOS Setup screen for AMIBIOS 1993

What will be the use of this relic? Well, I'm going to set it up as a fully functional computer at home... I will need to get a new I/O controller, since the current I/O controller card seems to be damaged, and unable to detect any floppy/hard drives. I will also need to purchase the smallest capacity hard drive that I can get, and either an ISA USB card or ISA network adapter. Since it has no USB ports, I will need to get converters that allows USB mouse and keyboard to get plugged into its legacy rounded connectors. The most expensive part will be getting a monitor....

Once I can get those needed hardware, I will also need to choose and install an operating system for it. It's a bit tricky since this computer is quite old and its hardware hopelessly outdated. Ubuntu, even the lightweight version, will not run on it. There are a bunch of minimalist Linux distros out there, but I won't expect a usable GUI with them. The most reasonable option is getting DOS and Windows 3.x installed. I know for sure that Windows 3.x will run nicely there.

I will leave Yogyakarta on Monday morning, February 1. I will pack the computer so that it can survive rough baggage handling during my flight back to Jakarta. It's a good start. I will write the next part once I get the chance to fix all the hardware.


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Last Updated on Friday, 16 April 2010 13:48
 

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