Building a Windows 95 PC

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by iMic, Oct 19, 2017.

  1. gdjacobs

    gdjacobs Member

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    Hopefully it's not a CS4235!
     
  2. Phido

    Phido Member

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    Be tempted to keep it and find a working case front for it. IBM stuff is getting collectable, particularly if you have screen/keyb/mouse etc.
     
  3. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Even those have a place in my heart!

    But yes it's a nice machine, might be worth playing the long game and waiting for a case to appear.
     
  4. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Does Midori work on Win95?
    https://www.midori-browser.org/
     
  5. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I'm looking around for a replacement, but not finding anything. It'll be a matter of playing the waiting game and hoping something comes up.

    (Who would have thought that finding parts assembling an IBM XT could be done in a year, but finding parts for a Pentium MMX era machine would be a several year process?)

    Someone suggested looking into manufacturing a replacement panel. I may actually look into it. The machine is one part away from being a complete system, and I've seen more complex 3D printed structures made before, although some features like the textured panel would likely be removed.

    [​IMG]

    How the machine looks without it...

    [​IMG]


    EDIT: The onboard graphics is an ATI 3D RAGE II.

    Also the Crystal sound chip is a CS4237B.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2019
  6. adz

    adz Member

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  7. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    I removed the door tracks and stuck them together with an ABS adhesive. It worked, but it cracked in some other places. It's turned extremely brittle. The outer cover, with the front handle, has cracked around a screw boss as well.

    I'm not all that interested in keeping it at this stage, but I won't throw it out - someone will surely want a functional P166 MMX that doesn't care what it looks like, provided it works.

    I suspect the older Aptiva 350-style bezel would be directly compatible as well, and possibly a stronger construction since it doesn't need the complex door mechanism:

    [​IMG]

    But I don't suppose one of those will come up around here any time soon either.
     
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  8. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    Sold the Aptiva. Couldn't repair the front cover economically.

    Next round of experimenting - IBM ThinkPad 370C and 755C. These machines look awesome, and are in decent condition too.

    But - they won't run Windows 95. Because IBM screwed the BIOS. Something about an incomplete Video BIOS implementation. No matter what driver is loaded under Windows 95 for the Western Digital video controller, it's never able to run higher than 16 colours.

    The Sound has a similar issue - it uses a Crystal chip, but with non-standard device IDs and some other BS that requires a custom IBM driver for Windows 3.x, that technically does work under 9x, but without support for MIDI and some other common functions.

    IBM released a BIOS update for this machine to improve compatibility under Windows 95, but it won't flash without a fully charged battery - yep, it checks for one - and absolutely nobody manufactures replacements anymore. I partially disassembled one battery, but the casing is so fragile it would be extremely difficult to repack one without breaking it. Not to mention the high cost of the 10+ NiMH cells needed to rebuild it. Community driven patches were made to bypass the check on later model ThinkPads that had the same limitation and with newer versions of the flash utility, but nothing for the 370C / 755C.

    Also, according to sources online, apparently the latest revision BIOS (v1.43) adds a startup check for an IBM-approved hard disk, so installing the latest BIOS update disables the use of third party drives and CompactFlash adapters. Once the stock drive dies, the machine dies with it.


    There's one possible solution to the problem - with a nominal voltage of 9.6v required to drive the machine, it's possible I could add an 8x AA battery holder and toss in 8 Fujitsu 1.2v Ni-MH rechargeable cells, to see if that satisfies the battery check. Then flash BIOS v1.42, which should be new enough to support Windows 95 (support was added in v1.40) while still being old enough to support any hard disk.

    It wouldn't completely resolve the sound limitations, but it may lift the restriction on the video hardware and colour palette a little, and make the machine usable.

    But if there's any kind of intelligent battery circuitry in there (and face it, there probably is) that can't otherwise be transferred across from one of the dead packs, then it's all over. Another two machines get crossed off the list in the never-ending quest for a computer that can successfully run Windows 95. (Should still be able to make a machine that runs Windows 3.1 like a champ though.)

    At least one tip has become apparent from all this - when it comes to Windows 95 compatible notebooks, stick with Toshiba or Compaq. At least their hardware is reasonably standard.


    But ending on a brighter note, I may have a lead on some standard AT desktop components that I know will work, provided I can get ahold of them.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
    shredder likes this.
  9. OP
    OP
    iMic

    iMic Member

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    A PSA for anyone else out there:

    It appears that Toshiba notebooks are becoming harder to find in decent condition with age, and not just due to general wear and tear.

    I've purchased 4 of them so far, and all have cracked hinges or severe cracks around the outer casing. I assumed these were damaged, either over time or in transit, since most were dirty, had scuffs, etc. But yesterday I picked up a Tecra 700CT in immaculate condition, with bag, accessories and cables. From the outside it looked perfect.

    I inspected inside the machine (and to remove the CMOS battery, which was leaking), and found the hinges broken in the same places - where the hinges screw into the brass inserts in the plastic top cover.

    I've concluded that the cases are cracking without any kind of impact. The stresses of the brass insert (which is a press-fit) pressing on the incredibly thin (1mm) plastic, along with movement of the screen as it opens and closes, is enough to shatter the shell. This applies to most grey-case 486/Pentium era Toshiba notebooks, from experience this includes the Satellite and Tecra, and possibly the Portege and Libretto (although my Libretto seems to have held up so far).

    I see these machines on eBay from time to time for several hundred dollars - being retro equipment and all - but I suspect that anyone paying these steep prices for a clean, good condition one would be disappointed given that this can happen to just about any machine, no matter how well it's been treated - or how well it was packed for shipping, for that matter.


    Anyhow...

    I wanted to rescue this machine. It has two cosmetic cracks that both sealed reasonably well with some shockproof glue, but the structural crack around the brass plastic insert the hinge secures to was harder to tackle.

    But a technique I learned around fifteen minutes prior ended up being the perfect solution - Baking (Bi-Carb) Soda and Super Glue.

    I stuck the remaining pieces back around the insert. Then, I covered them in bicarb soda, pressing the powder into the gaps and cracks between the pieces. Then, a few drops of shockproof super glue over the top to set it in place. Within seconds it dried rock hard, and after leaving it for 15-20 minutes, I sanded off some of the excess and cleaned up around it.

    That seems to have done it. The hinge moves fine, and shows no signs of weakening.

    Next, out came the CMOS and memory backup batteries. Both were starting to leak, leaving some corrosion that needed to be cleaned up. Neither are needed for the machine to operate, and setting the date and time on startup is hardly an inconvenience.

    Reassembling the machine was a pain. A couple of screws were positioned in such a way that required inserting the screwdriver into the head on an angle to clear hinges and brackets. That means the screwdriver skipped a few times; I'm aiming for "as good as possible" here, and damaged screws aren't welcome. Thankfully neither rounded out.

    Super glue and I don't mix. Before I take the cap off, I set down some cloth, some plastic sheets, and a tarp across the floor. (Perhaps not that last one.) Somehow, it still ends up on my hands, my shirt, the walls, ceiling...

    ...and the lid of the computer. Because apparently some had transferred through the cloth onto the sponge I set down to avoid scratching and marking the lid. Because glue stains are much better than a few scratches, right? But even that thankfully came off with some JIF cream and Super Cheap Auto house brand glass cleaner, without so much as a trace it ever happened, so no harm done.

    And as is customary around here, and I prepared to mark the completion of a difficult job with a "one finger salute", I realised that once all was said and done - the machine had gone back together, which is more than can be said for some other machines I've worked on. A little battle scarred and patched up, but assembled and working.

    [​IMG]

    Pentium 120MHz, 16MB RAM, 4GB HDD. Active Matrix 800x600 TFT LCD. Currently awaiting an install of Windows 95.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
    shredder likes this.
  10. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Sweet little lappy! Had one like that for naval ops myself s long time ago. I remember having red alert on it.
     
  11. UnexpectedError

    UnexpectedError Member

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    Your whole post reminded me of the build experience itself which back then, without internet and computer literate friends was really a struggle in itself lol
     
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  12. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    I remember those rubbish pcima modem carts, and the rubbish fidily dongels that would come with them. The laptop itself was quite robust as was the floppy drive that came with it. (Mine came with win95 that you had to make a backup off on about 15 floppies) which I back then used on quite a few different systems lol.
     

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