Basic Am386 Build

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade Worklogs' started by iMic, Jan 27, 2018.

  1. iMic

    iMic Member

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    I decided it was time to stop collecting parts and actually turn them into a workable machine. Finding a complete AT case locally wasn't easy, but I eventually managed to find a basic AT case in reasonable condition. No Turbo button or display, but I don't mind.


    System

    Motherboard: ECS / Winbond WH386SX Motherboard
    Processor: AMD Am386SX 33MHz
    Memory: 16MB (4x 4MB SIMMs)

    Cards / Expansion

    Video: Trident TVGA8900C ISA-16 Video Card
    Sound: Creative Sound Blaster (Vibra) 16XV Sound Card (w/ Dedicated YMF262 "OPL3")
    Network: SMC EtherCard PLUS ELITE16T (8013WC)

    Storage

    Hard Disk: Western Digital Caviar 2700 (730.8MB) HDD (Limited in BIOS, 504MB)
    Floppy #1: Mitsumi 1.44MB 3.5" Floppy Drive (Model TBD)
    Floppy #2: Teac FD-55GFR 1.2MB 5.25" Floppy Drive
    CDROM: Sony CDU4811 IDE CD-ROM

    Power & Case

    Power Supply: Seasonic SS-200G 200W AT Power Supply
    Case: Generic, ComputerNet "CN" Branded


    (Specifications updated 4th Nov. 2018.)


    The computer is currently running MS-DOS 5.00a.

    It would be nice to swap some components out soon. A <500MB drive would be preferable for this board and BIOS, if I could source one. I considered replacing the Vibra 16XV with a Sound Blaster 16, but the Vibra's dedicated hardware YMF262 "OPL3" chip makes it the card of choice for this build.

    The ultimate aim is to use this machine for FM synthesis music composition and playback, and also run some classic DOS games on the native hardware.


    [​IMG]

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    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
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  2. JidaiGeki

    JidaiGeki Member

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    Nice one iMic, very clean and the 386SX-33 should be able to run Win 3.x and games such as Wing Commander quite well. How well does Office 4.3 go on that system? I ask because I think the Office system started to get a bit bloated around v4.3, certainly my 386SX-20 wasn't too keen on it!

    Also, that 5.25" drive is probably designed for the IBM 5170 AT, going by the front fascia design. That could explain some of the issues with it.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    The machine is surprisingly quick running Windows 3.1 and Office 4.3, although it is somewhat bottlenecked by disk speed. Nothing unusual for older drives, and it's still fairly responsive, so no issues there.

    The drive mounts inside the case fine, but like most of the 5.25" drives I've purchased, someone has previously screwed them in with the wrong size screws and stripped the threads out. I've had 4 drives like this so far, and since they're in workable condition, I'm actually considering drilling them out, tapping them and fitting some M3 inserts.

    I found some extra motherboards since assembling this machine:

    Socket 3 w/ AMD 486DX-100, VESA Local Bus - Brand Not Yet Known (+ VLB Cirrus Logic Video & Controller Cards)
    Socket 3 w/ AMD 486DX-100, ISA & PCI - DataExpert
    Socket 7 w/ Cyrix 6x86MX PR200, ISA & PCI - Octek, Rhino 15
    Socket 7 w/ Cyrix 6x86MX PR266, ISA & PCI - Brand Not Yet Known (Acer-Label Chipset)

    I had considered moving this to a 486 build since that VLB 486DX-100 board combination would run like a dream, but the 386 board is working well enough for now and it fits rather well. Maybe I'll need to find another case to build one 486 machine and then sell off the boards and CPUs I don't need.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
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  4. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    Did some more work on the 386.

    Swapped in a Creative Quad Speed CDROM and a Teac FD-55GFR Floppy. The Teac drive still needs threaded inserts to fix it properly, but I'll work on that another time. I also removed the Creative Vibra 16XV and installed a Vibra 16S with dedicated OPL3 chip.

    The cable routing was a challenge. The IDE cable went into place without any dramas, and even routed incredibly cleanly. Some good fortune there. The floppy cable was a little more difficult, because no matter how I cabled it in, the 3.5" drive connector always ended up being the wrong way around. Had to make some light folds in the cable to arrange it properly, but in the end, everything connected up just fine.

    Powered the machine on and all drives are present and accounted for, although I still need to load the CDROM device drivers.

    The wires broke off the piezo PC speaker, but I can solder those back on. I also need to see about connecting the front power LED, because apparently two pins on the key lock header double as the power LED on this particular motherboard.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. BuuBox

    BuuBox Member

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    That is some really nice cable management on a AT system.

    Cool build. Really like the Creative CD-ROM.

    Can see why the 386SX was popular at the time for home systems.
     
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  6. Phido

    Phido Member

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    That is neat!
     
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  7. Flamin Joe

    Flamin Joe Member

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    Creative CD-ROM's/DVD-ROM's are mandatory for that era in my opinion. :p I think I was a bit of a Creative fan boi back in the 90's, but they just look so at home in AT cases. :D

    Looks like a Winbond to me.

    *ba dum tish*

    Sorry bad retro joke. :lol:
     
  8. Phido

    Phido Member

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    I should post a pic of my 386/486DLC build in my 386 thread.

    While everything is in, it is horrid. ATX case and psu with a baby at mobo and adapters does not make a a pretty internals.
     
  9. TaXy DriVar

    TaXy DriVar Member

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    Seeing the tickertape "A Drive" triggered a memory and a feeling of the good old days. Only my generation would understand; that sound and watching the lights of dual drives when executing "xcopy a: b: /E". Knowing your friends games were now also your games. Unless of course you didnt have enough floppy's ... and you had to delete an old game to make room for another.
     
  10. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I can somewhat relate, but I was a 3.5" 1.44MB era child. The excitement was still there all the same though.

    What's interesting is that drive isn't even the A: drive in this machine. I just never had the heart to remove that sticker. I have another Teac FD-55GFR that's almost identical, but with a green LED instead. Having the two side-by-side would be a nice setup. If I could somehow run 3 or 4 Floppy drives in the same machine (and have them work for something useful, and in the relevant software), I'd likely have foregone the CD-ROM entirely and turned this machine into a master of magnetic media.

    The Creative CD-ROM is neat, but the drives are starting to look out of place the more I add to them. Possibly because of how yellowed the front panel is. So something tells me an upcoming project will be to restore the case itself, or at least the front panel and cover as the frame itself isn't bad. I'm not familiar with the Retrobrite solution first hand, but it seems applicable here so I'll have to look into it.

    Finally... I need something to run on it. Windows 3.11 and DOS 6.22 is neat, and running Microsoft Office 4.3 Professional is nice as well since that's what my first computer had installed, but I want something else too. SimCity 2000 on 386? Epic Pinball? I'll keep thinking about it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018
  11. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I finished building a CDROM with the needed software to run the machine, then discovered that the Creative CDROM drive doesn't work. I found the correct drivers from Panasonic, and the drive is detected and polls correctly on the IDE bus, but it fails with an "Abort, Retry, Fail" when attempting to read data from the disc.

    Thankfully I came across a similar era Sony drive in excellent condition at the local Saturday market months ago, and with that installed, it works fine. MS-DOS 5.00a installed with Windows 3.11, and other than some issues with the video drivers at higher resolutions (at 1024 x 768, the LCD goes out of its supported frequency range - probably due to the card itself) and the sound drivers under Windows 3.11 (SB Pro support works, but the SB16 MIDI stuff doesn't), the machine was off and running.

    Slowly. I underestimated how slow a 386SX-33 would be. You know your computer is low end when SimTown is only achieving one frame every 3 seconds.

    But MS-DOS and its applications run great. Although I haven't been able to test it yet, I'm hoping some of my favourite DOS games like Detroit, Street Rod and Epic Pinball run alright on it (although Epic Pinball may push it a bit hard, we'll see).

    It would be nice if the machine ran a bit faster, but it's a 386. I'm not expecting the world from it, just appreciating it for what it is. I'd love to use it for FM synth music and maybe even connecting to BBSes, plus everything I wanted my IBM XT to do, but needed more power than the XT could deliver.

    I installed a hardware modem as well, simply because I had one sitting around and an empty ISA slot. It would be really nice to make that do something - anything - even just to recreate those classic dialing and handshake sounds. They're just as much a part of the old computer experience as anything, but most seem to overlook it, and even on communities like VCFed the answer is usually to just ditch the modem and use a null modem cable. But that isn't accurate to the era. Punching in numbers and hearing those sounds is important, if you ask me.

    It looks like it can be accomplished with a line simulator. I assume once the connection is established, it's just like firing data across a serial connection.

     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
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  12. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Wow such mixed emotions when I hear those handshaking sounds - dial up modems were awesome and awful at the same time.

    Great thread this, making want to fire up my 386 and have a tinker.
     
  13. Phido

    Phido Member

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    Yes, I also underestimated how slow a 386 was. I am happy with my 386/486DLC hybrid. But for a lot of very old DOS games a 386 will still be quite fast. Just run 286 software and games on it. Street rod, blues brothers, Testdrive I and II should probably be ok. Sim city would be ok too.

    Most new asdl and wifi routers have VOIP ports for normal old home phones. I would imagine you could plug a normal modem into one. Then dial the other VOIP phone.
    Massively useless. Converting a digital to analog, then digital then tcp ip packets, then reversing the whole process. I imagine with compression you won't get high connection speeds,maybe even slower than 9600. There would be significant lag too I imagine.
    Would still be hilarious though.
     
  14. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I've almost completed this machine. It's working at least, and the hardware is configured, but I'm running into some challenges with the software. Nothing major, just running out of conventional memory.

    Which makes sense, considering I have CDROM, Audio and Network Packet drivers loaded. I'm experimenting with LOADHIGH/LH and DEVICEHIGH where applicable, but I have some reading to do there still. Epic Pinball runs well, even on the 386SX-33, but needs more conventional memory to start. Games like Impressions Detroit on the other hand run perfectly fine as-is. (Pictured below.)

    I installed MS-DOS 5.00 as well, but am considering switching to MS-DOS 6.22. The computer was running Windows For Workgroups 3.11, but MS-DOS seems to be where it's most at home performance wise.

    The machine runs an FTP server when required for transferring files to or from a newer machine, and uses the same wireless bridge as the IBM XT to connect it to my home network.

    The ISA Modem has been removed. No issues, but I wanted to clean up the inside of the case. I may reinstall it at a later date if I want to experiment with dial-up connections.

    And the PC Speaker now works again, having re-soldered the leads back onto the piezo where they'd broken off.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
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  15. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    Nice work!

    DOS 6.22 has a few more bells and whistles that I sometimes miss from 5.00 and earlier. In your case, you can run MEMMAKER.exe and get a reasonably good config that will free up some conventional memory.

    Also, try some different drivers - the default CD-ROM and mouse drivers that come with DOS can be rather large, you can try CTMOUSE and SHSUCDEX (as a replacement for MSCDEX.exe) from FreeDOS which should be a bit smaller than the Microsoft versions. You can also try VIDE-CDD.sys as a replacement for the CD-ROM device driver, it is usually compatible with most drives.

    Otherwise post your config.sys and autoexec.bat here and we can help out.
     
  16. adz

    adz Member

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    LOADHIGH and DEVICEHIGH are your friend :thumbup:
     
  17. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I'm undecided between MS-DOS 5.00a and 6.22. Although both are similar in capabilities, MS-DOS 5.00a was released in 1991, the same year the motherboard, CPU and various other components were manufactured, and the computer historian in me wants to make it as accurate a recreation of that technology era as possible. (If that makes any sense.) That said, MS-DOS 6.22 is currently installed for testing.

    Here's AUTOEXEC.BAT as it currently stands -

    Code:
    C:\DOS\SMARTDRV.EXE /X
    
    @ECHO OFF
    PROMPT $p$g
    PATH C:\DOS;C:\NETWORK
    SET TEMP=C:\DOS
    SET MTCPCFG=C:\NETWORK\CONFIG\TCP.CFG
    SET SOUND=C:\SOUND\SB16
    SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 T6
    SET MIDI=SYNTH:1 MAP:E
    
    C:\SOUND\SB16\DIAGNOSE /S
    C:\SOUND\SB16\MIXERSET /P /Q
    
    LH C:\DOS\MSCDEX.EXE /D:MSCD001 /L:D
    
    LH C:\NETWORK\DRIVER\PKT8000.COM 0x60
    LH C:\NETWORK\DHCP.EXE

    CONFIG.SYS -

    Code:
    DEVICE=C:\DOS\SETVER.EXE
    DEVICE=C:\DOS\HIMEM.SYS
    DOS=HIGH
    FILES=40
    
    DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\OAKCDROM.SYS /D:MSCD001
    LASTDRIVE=F

    And a breakdown of the current memory usage statistics (MEM /C) -

    Code:
    Modules using memory below 1 MB:
    
      Name           Total       =   Conventional   +   Upper Memory
      --------  ----------------   ----------------   ----------------
      MSDOS       14,973   (15K)     14,973   (15K)          0    (0K)
      SETVER         480    (0K)        480    (0K)          0    (0K)
      HIMEM        1,168    (1K)      1,168    (1K)          0    (0K)
      OAKCDROM    36,064   (35K)     36,064   (35K)          0    (0K)
      COMMAND      2,928    (3K)      2,928    (3K)          0    (0K)
      SMARTDRV    29,024   (28K)     29,024   (28K)          0    (0K)
      MSCDEX      27,952   (27K)     27,952   (27K)          0    (0K)
      PKT8000     11,776   (12K)     11,776   (12K)          0    (0K)
      Free       530,832  (518K)    530,832  (518K)          0    (0K)
    
    Memory Summary:
    
      Type of Memory       Total   =    Used    +    Free
      ----------------  ----------   ----------   ----------
      Conventional         655,360      124,528      530,832
      Upper                      0            0            0
      Reserved                   0            0            0
      Extended (XMS)    15,597,568    2,162,688   13,434,880
      ----------------  ----------   ----------   ----------
      Total memory      16,252,928    2,287,216   13,965,712
    
      Total under 1 MB     655,360      124,528      530,832
    
      Largest executable program size        530,624   (518K)
      Largest free upper memory block              0     (0K)
      MS-DOS is resident in the high memory area.

    These need some serious improvement. I'm certain there are LH/LOADHIGHs and DEVICEHIGHs where they aren't needed, but also missing where they would be beneficial.

    The computer is averaging around 518KB of free conventional memory. Certain applications and games (like Epic Pinball) require 560KB.

    OAKCDROM appears to be the largest consumer, followed by SMARTDRV (is it even needed on this machine?), MSCDEX and PKT8000 (Packet Driver for ISA NIC) respectively. No MOUSE driver is loaded yet, but one will be needed.

    I considered making the network services optional by prompting at startup somehow ("Load Network Services? Y/N") but it doesn't appear that it'll make a dramatic improvement - although any improvement is welcome, I suppose. I'd also need to research how to do this should I choose to pursue this option.

    Another consideration is the /E switch for MSCDEX, "Tells MSCDEX.exe to use expanded memory", which may help.

    Honestly, I'm not completely sure what I'm doing yet. I know some things need to be reduced, removed or shuffled out of the conventional memory to free space where it's needed (and the system has 16MB installed otherwise), but still haven't a clue how to do it, or what's safe to shuffle around.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
  18. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    LH/LOADHIGH/DEVICEHIGH doesn't make any difference, without EMM386.EXE loaded. You can see this from your MEM /C result, no upper memory is in use.
    Add this to your config.sys after HIMEM.SYS:
    DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\EMM386.EXE NOEMS

    I'd suggest reading the help screen for EMM386.EXE - some games need EMS memory which EMM386.EXE can provide, other games (like Ultima 7 and Zone 66) won't run with it loaded at all - which makes it difficult to load your drivers and still have enough conventional memory left to run the game.

    You don't need SETVER so get rid of it. Also, change your DOS=HIGH line to DOS=HIGH,UMB

    OAKCDROM is huge, use an alternative like VIDE-CDD.SYS as I mentioned above.

    You also don't really need SMARTDRV, but you may find it helps some games load quicker. If you do keep it, you can LH it to save on conventional memory.

    I suggest adding BUFFERS=9,256 to your CONFIG.SYS as some games need this setting increased from default.

    Finally, I would also suggest putting your DHCP and network packet driver in a batch file and only loading them if you need them.


    If you feel adventurous, There are some advanced tricks you can try at http://www.mdgx.com/mem6.htm
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
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  19. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    Great suggestions.

    Already downloaded VIDE-CDD.SYS a moment ago, will substitute that in for tomorrow's round of testing.

    Making the network services optional shouldn't be a problem. Simplifies the boot process as well - less text to scroll through. It even looks as though it's possible to prompt for this on startup, via additions to AUTOEXEC to invoke CHOICE in MS-DOS 6+, or ASK (from TifaWARE) for earlier versions.

    I recall there was some issue loading the NIC packet driver with EMM386 enabled, but I can't remember what it was. I'll tackle that issue when and if I come to it again.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
  20. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Oooh DOS memory management, fun! Great tips from DK - I try and use SMARTDRV where I can because it really makes a difference for some games; Ultima 7 comes to mind (and of course it's one of the harder games to get your memory config right for).

    Ditching OAKCDROM is a must and where's your mouse driver? ctmouse has a tiny footprint but has proved to be incompatible for me at times. Logitech has a good driver that 'masks' itself somehow, making it V small.
     

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