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Phido's 486 Build log + History + experiments

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade Worklogs' started by Phido, Nov 23, 2019.

  1. Phido

    Phido Member

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    For those unaware, I have a 386 build log https://forums.overclockers.com.au/threads/386-buildlog.1234684/.

    The 386 had a special place for me, it was the first PC I built myself, my previous first computer I purchased myself was a Wang 286 (build new around 1988, purchased by me around 1990), which by the early 1992 I had well and truely out grown the 286 and was looking for more. As I recall I built it around 1992-3. With the budget of 13 year old, mowing lawns, cleaning offices. With such a limited budget, it was slow, even for the time period. But I coded, I used 3dStudio, Pov ray, played 2d scrollers, BBS'ed. The most modern thing it had was a 420Mb hard disk which was 2nd from the top at the time and seemed limiteless.

    My re-creation which started as a pretty average 386 Fullsized AT, but was put into a modern black Awyn mATX case, 32Mb parity ram (previously told impossible on a Chips and Tech chipset), ISA video accelerator, 486DLC 50Mhz with a 50Mhz bus and 196Kb of L2 cache (also impossible), a range of Mathcoprocessors, 32 Gb SD card storage, AWE32 sound, Wifi ethernet, external USB power ports and gotek with a 5 1/4 floppy, with a 12 Mhz ISA bus. It will run Win95 and play jazz jack rabbit II, and go all the way down to a slow 386. It was a very modern "386".

    This 486 is something different. I was able to purchase the same case the my original 386 DX 25 was put into.

    [​IMG]

    Now this case isn't timeless, they particularly appeared around the early 90's and disapeared quite quickly. Nothing particularly special about the case, generic whitebox. But the time period puts it bang on around 1992-3. The current specs of this machine pretty much represented the top of 1992-3.

    486 VL bus motherboard
    486 DX2 66 Overdrive
    8Mb ram
    520Mb IDE hard disk
    VL bus combination VGA/IO card.
    Combination 51/4 and 3 1/2, Something I've always found interesting
    ISA cat 5 network card.

    Apparently its having issues booting. But the case and the insides are absolutely immaculate. I've never seen anything retro in this condition. It must have been vacuumed sealed.

    In my possession, I have:
    486 Socket 3 board with PCI - Supports 30 pin and 72 pin ram
    An evergreen AMD powered 133Mhz 586 processor.
    Being a PCI board you can basically plug a whole bunch of cheap adapters into this.
     
  2. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Wow, I've never seen one of those combo drives before.. I thought it might have been CDROM/floppy.. lol.. nice one. :)
     
  3. Flamin Joe

    Flamin Joe Member

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    Combo floppies are the best. :thumbup: I've got a Teac FD-505 which has the drives in a reversed order to the one above and the coolest thing about these dual drives is the 5.25" disk mechanism. You get so use to 5.25" drives having the good old turn the handle design to pop the disk out but this feels space aged in design where the disk simply pops out from pressing the button. :)

    It's also quite amazing to look at how far the 5.25" drives came with this unit from being double height 5.25" drives such as the Tandon TM-100-2A's found in the original IBM PC, to single height 5.25" drives in later PC's down to these which take up just half the height of one 5.25" bay.
     
  4. OP
    OP
    Phido

    Phido Member

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    I've never had a combo floppy. It is an incredibly neat solution. It appears to be working. I love it. It could do with a retrobright, its probably off something older, like a 386, I have a compaq 386 with a single 5.25 with a simular mechanism.

    So I powered this guy on. And she boots. Well, she boots and then complains there is no OS. It looks like it isn't looking for a MBR on the HD or if it is the HD is dead. But otherwise she is in good shape. I am amazed how clean this computer is. Its immaculate. There is no dust anywhere. It is a lovely case, in perfect condition, it looks more NOS than 2nd hand. I unfortunately brutally butchered my case. At somepoint I wanted it black, and had tried and failed to spray paint it correctly. Also I had issue fitting some cards so I had attacked the card slots with tin snips and made a mess. No that case was gone long before it was thrown out, but this one is mint. However, the turbo button doesn't seem to flick between speeds, which seems more like a configuration issue. This case has a nice soft AT power on/off, with a button more ATX sized and the big circuit breaker ones on most AT cases. The turbo and reset and power are all the same size.

    Now to choose between the Motherboards:

    • I have a NOS 486 3 PCI/4 ISA with a UMC 8881F chipset, PM486PU-S5, 11/1995.. Its quite a sweet board. The only thing its missing is the ability to generate 3.4V for DX4 CPU's. Its come fitted and configured with a AMD 486 DX40. 32Mb of FP Parity ram. It has embedded ide and floppy and coms. 256kb 15ns cache. Apparently these support up to 66mhz bus.
    • The existing VLB board. Which is a GA-486VF Rev 8A. http://www.motherboards.org/files/manuals/47/486vs8a.pdf. 3 VLB, 30 pin ram, it however is full socket 3 which supports all 486 cpu's and can adjust voltage. This one supports up to 50Mhz bus, but not sure how likely it is with VLB. Its currently fitted with a DX2/66 and 8mb of ram.
    which then flows onto
    • The VLB setup has a combination Video/IO card with IDE and coms ports, so replacing the video also means replacing the IO. I don't really want to start investing in VLB cards.
    • PCI is much easier I have variety of PCI graphics cards, a 8mb ATI Rage and a 8Mb PCI Savage4, and everything is integrated into the motherboard for IDE/Coms.

    I kinda liked the Idea of PCI 486 because well, PCI parts are cheap and common. You could put in a 3dfx card, a usb card, various vga cards. VLB is limiting and the ISA stuff is really limited to older parts except soundcards.
    I'm thinking I will test out both boards..

    I never had a 486. I had a 386Dx25 with mathcopro 4mb of sipp ram, which was slow, and I waited until basically mid 1996 and jumped into a Cyrix 166+ (which was really a fast 486 in a Pentium board). It wasn't a bad jump, one of my friends jumped into a Pentium 60 that was a frustrating machine. I never upgraded that box with a new CPU either. I jumped out of that into a slot 1 Celeron A with a healthy overclock.

    So while everyone was playing Doom and wolf3d all those other cool games, I really missed the boat. My 386 was purchase probably 1993, so a low end 486 setup would have been a viable option, but I didn't have the cash as a kid, and I was jumping up from a 8Mhz 286 with 640kb and EGA. (All of my PC were self funded with lawn mowing and office cleaning doctor surgeries.) So VGA and 386 sounded wonderful. But windows 3.11 was unimpressive on it, and 95 ran, but was impossibly slow, things like web browsing was impossible (particularly with my 2400 baud modem). Even with my red hot 132PGA setup, with a 50Mhz 386 or even 486DLC, it is slow. Back when I had the 386, I ran a copy of 3dStudio, which I thought was incredibly novel at the time. I did my year 10 "build a bridge" project using it, and created a 3D model with raytraced renderings including wood texturemaps which we printed out on a color mac inject printer. But the renderings at even low 320x200 would take ages, hours.

    I had seen 486's, they were fast. Probably twice as fast at the same clock in many tasks. The FPU was dramatically faster, maybe by a factor of 4. The DX2's and the DX4 were mind blowingly fast. Doom was very playable on a 66, and silky smooth on a dx4. Windows flew on each platform, and I remember web browsing on a 486 at a computer fair (it had 24mb of ram which helped a lot).

    So I often wondered what if I had gotten a 486. It was an incredible platform. Lobbing in at 486 at 20Mhz, it then quickly went to 25, 33, then 50mhz. Then we had the AMD/Cyrix/UMC 40Mhz variations, then the clocked doubled DX2/50, dx2/66 and the dx2/80, then the clock tripled DX4/100 and 120Mhz, then the clock quadrupled AMD133Mhz and 160Mhz, the Cyrix 586's and of course the Pentium Over Drive up to 83mhz. But compare that first 486DX25Mhz to the last AMD5x86-160.. That a total of 8 times the performance of the introductory CPU, in the final form. Every year (or 2) or so, you could pickup a CPU, drop it in and get basically double the performance. Keep your ram, keep your mainboard most likely (many 486's were designed to be drop in upgrades), your HD, all your accessories. The final forms, really were faster than those old 60 and 66Mhz Pentiums, 75 Mhz Pentiums and most rivaled 90Mhz Pentiums in integer performance. More importantly older mainboards had some value, because you could thrown in a 133mhz amd into nearly any of them and it would be a reasonable low end box.

    This setup will likely be paired with:
    CD drive
    100Mbps network (although I do have a PCI 802.11b adapter somewhere...)
    32 or 64Gb SD card on IDE adapter

    I am also interested in this running some BBS software.
     
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  5. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    I love a 486 so am watching all of this with interest :thumbup:

    My personal opinion is that 486 = VLB, but that's probably just nostalgia because it's what I was lucky enough to get my hands on. Anything other than the most modern VLB boards are a pain to configure and like you mentioned there're a lot more options RE VGA, etc with PCI, but I feel like anything beyond a VLB system @ 66MHz is just a wannabe Pentium :p. I had a PCI based 586 133 later and it wasn't nearly as memorable as the SX33 or DX266 that came before it.

    There are some awesome VLB VGA options but I assume they're getting hard to find now - I haven't looked for years.

    Any, if you're having fun then you're doing it right regardless of the BUS. Looking forward to hearing which way you go.

    edit: fixing typos - I used to write so well, but post kids my brain doesn't have the same ability to concentrate or thinky think
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2019
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  6. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    I can relate to missing out on a generation or two of hardware back in day. We had made the jump from an (admittedly quite pimped) XT clone to a P200. So my builds now are partly nostalgia, and partly about being able to experience things I didn't know about back in the day, or just couldn't afford.
     
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  7. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    My buddy had a creative blaster VLB card.. that thing hauled... at least back then it did, when i had a lowly crappy 386 33mhz thingy-me-bob. (buit id did play EOB on that puppy and that was epic)
     
  8. OP
    OP
    Phido

    Phido Member

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    I totally get people having specific views on a 486.
    • Early 486's with ISA or EISA buses. ISA buses really slow up a 486 box.
    • Mid 486's with VLbus - a bus purely for the 486.
    • PCI 486 were very late in the game and were really overflows of pentium tech. This bus just happened to live a long life and has lots of ongoing support for quirky cards etc. So can be useful for comparing 486 and more modern stuff. Also obviously better for dealing with high bus speeds than VL bus.
    I've been re-reading a lot of reviews on the early 486 systems and processors. I can see why people preferred the proven cheap 386 platform. The reviews of 486SX20's were pretty disappointing, getting soundly pounded in ALU by the average 386DX33 let alone the 386DX40, and with no FPU, and the 486DX being quite a high priced item until the clones came, why people still bought 386's long after the 486 was on the market.

    Which is why cyrix was able to push performance of the 386 platform with the 486DLC and other variants which had an on chip cache. It even got clocked doubled and clock tripled variations as well. But while quicker than the regular 386, they didn't really make it a full 486, and the FPU performance was miles off. Still probably better than a 486sx20. But I didn't get either the 486DLC or SX2 or a real 486, I just skipped it.

    I really want to do a bit of comparison with my 386 and the 486 as well and nut out performance differences between them. Oddly my 386 is in a new modern case and my 486 is in early 90's beige.
     
  9. Flamin Joe

    Flamin Joe Member

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    Me too we went from an XT clone to a 486. It's not just the hardware you miss but the software as well. So many games my poor old XT couldn't play I missed out on and then when I got the 486 there was only so many you could catch up as new games got released.
     
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  10. OP
    OP
    Phido

    Phido Member

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    My 386 (in a Aywun mATX case) and 486 Next to each other..

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    That black 386 is too cool. Hope it's paired with a black IBM CRT & keyboard!
     
  12. OP
    OP
    Phido

    Phido Member

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    I have a black CRT (Misubishi), I should actually setup a full 386 in black.. I do have some black PS2 ones I use.. I did use a nice chunky (and heavy) black wyse one which ironically is now on my Wyse thinclient that the kids use. I had to vinyl dye a beige mouse to get a black RS232 mouse, but it came out pretty good so I am happy.

    I remember reading I think it was a Your computer or Byte from the 1980's and they did actually make black computers, they just couldn't be sold in Germany or most of europe.https://www.kotaku.co.uk/2019/09/26/why-were-old-pcs-beige

    So they reviewed this fairly average 386, the all black look really stood out from beige. Which is why I tried to do to my original version of this beige case, spray paint it black with spray can paint. I failed badly. The paint didn't stick, I held it at both too close and too far, so it had runs and little paint balls all over it, and I ran out of paint half way through. As an unfinished project it got tossed after cluttering up the garage for years.

    Which is why the UK and the US did have an assortment of black computers. But it is particular rare and unusual to see an all black 286 or 386. I knew the mATX cases broadly followed the format of the old AT mini towers, so I made it fit.

    But now i have that exact case I purchase in the early 90's (and no desire to change it from beige!), and the sort of realistic dream components to put into it. I can put together a beige retro computer.

    So I guess like many retro projects, many personal motivations all rolled into one.

    * Compare Socket 132 (386) to Socket 2/3 (486)
    * Compare PCI/VLB/ISA/ISA overclocked!
    * Compare many CPU types (486DX, 486DX2, Am5x86 133 and 160Mhz against 486DLC/486sxl2 386dx etc)
    * Look at how useful it is as GP computer, in the time period.
    * More in-depth look at execution pipelines between the 386/486 variations, including FPU.
     
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  13. OP
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    Phido

    Phido Member

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    So I am still waiting for my AT-PS2 converter to arrive. I have apparently lost my existing one.. I am blaming the kids. I have ordered two more.

    So I had a play around with the HD to see if I could get it to boot. no amount of Jumper swapping was able to get it to boot, I think the CMOS settings were wiped. I think the hard disk is operational. If it is, i intend to keep it and run a SD card in an ide converter, as well.

    This made me check the board battery. Its a small barrel of death. It does however look in good condition. But I will need to fix this.

    The video card i/o (all IDE and com ports come off this one card) is a um85c418f. UMC weren't known for VGA cards, and this one in particular is not special. It does not appear to boast any windows acceleration, I am hoping it does blting, it is a 1mb card and supports VGA and SVGA modes. There are some Win 3.1 drivers that sort of work with win95, apparently. However being a simple card with 1MB of memory on a VLBus I expect it to be quite fast. Having only a single VLB device should also mean there is a high chance of it working in 40Mhz modes. I'm not really interested at this point in going down the VLB video card and VLB EIDE card route. As mentioned I have a PCI board and stacks of PCI cards and PCI cards are cheap.

    It looks like it was put together by someone with care, it has some cable management on the case wiring, but the HD was put in place with mismatched screws.

    I've added a soundcard and it has an intel network card which will come in handy.
     
  14. OP
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    Phido

    Phido Member

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    So anyway a keyboard converter turned up in in 20 mins a lot happened.

    • So the 540Mb HD is in fact in perfect working condition. I think I will keep this in the machine, it seems reasonably quick and quiet, its an old seagate.
    • It appears it had a sound card, a AWE32 from the driver files. So at somepoint this was someones pride and joy. This explains the missing slot cover at the back.
    • It appears it went into storage around 1998, except for a quick period in 2010 when someone tried to setup an easy to use boot menu. Which is when they probably borked the boot setup on the drive. While it seems to only have win3.11 installed, some win95 file names are present, they probably swapped the hd over to a newer machine, copied the files and stuck it back in with mis-maching screws. Then into storage or in a corner of a room.
    • It appears most of its use was between 1994 and 1996. I think it was possibly setup as a 486DX33. Some of the game settings seem to be well below what a 66dx2 would run. Doom was setup in low res mode for example, Doom of course is very playable at high detail 320x200 on a DX2/66. 486dx2 66Mhz are perfect for doom boxes. Doom 2 can want a bit more power, but this is really where they are the happiest. Anything more demanding and they tend to struggle.
    • It has the shareware version of duke3d on it, which is plays, although the dx2 is pushing to play this smooth at 320x200.
    • Its a little time capsule of a 486 machine up to 1996 with a few minor exceptions. The HD still has over 230Mb free. It has office installed. It was probably only used for 1-2 years semi-regularly. In a clean environment, and then stored in a box, because it is absolutely clean, and not been cleaned, as in mint clean.
    • It has a bunch of even older games, that hint that someone was upgrading from something like a 286/xt (like Test Drive 1). However there isn't that many games. Certainly my 386 would be chockabock back in 1995 with games, so it doesn't appear games were a key focus. It probably sat in a Den or study and while saw limited use, was soon put into storage for something more Pentium level / Win 95 type of performance.
    I'll have to throw up some benches, back up the data and format the HD. I will then probably throw in the Kingston 133Mhz and see how she does. I am curious about the graphics card in windows, although it appears to be quite good in dos.
     
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  15. OP
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    Phido

    Phido Member

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    OK been playing around with this machine trying to get a new 32GB SD card running as storage. Not wanting to gut my 386 for the gotek I've tried to do it with floppies and putting the SD card into a win10 laptop, and it has been a major pain in the butt. Particularly because of disks bigger than 500Mb. This bios doesn't know what to do,,

    But some experiments.

    The Am586x133 upgrade. Wow so easy. Just take out the old cpu and insert the new. No bios or jumpers changed, and bang 133Mhz. So easy. So much faster. Doom goes from annoyingly ok to silky smooth, IMO a DX2/66 is a bit slow to play Doom really well. A 133Mhz 486 does it wonderfully. Duke3d goes from chugging, to very playable, not ideal, and certainly not at SVGA resolutions, that is strictly going to be a fast Pentium (200+mhz) or Pentium II or Pentium III type of setup..

    Given how easy it was, I decided to over clock to 160Mhz with the 40Mhz bus. Moving one jumper and booted completely stable at 160Mhz. 200Mhz was no go, but that isn't suprising. I didn't change any bios settings. Which really makes me re-evaluate the Am5x86 upgrade. Its a great deal. You aren't just getting a something slightly faster than a DX4/100, your getting something a whole DX2/66 faster. Certainly a better deal than the Pentium 60/66 (un overclockable ) and 75Mhz (unless you over clocked that to a 90 or 100Mhz - I don't recall how many people were overclocking those, they never seemed popular).

    With a bit of bios tweaking it gets 13.6 FPS in Quake, 46.5 in Doom, 87.5 in 3dbench 1c, 18.7 in PC playbench 320x200. It would be a good setup for a DOS machine. Able to take on most 320x200 games in dos.

    I wrote my own FPU bench, and its comfortably 5-6 times faster than my 386/486DLC.

    Win95 OSR2 seems to live quite happily on the fast 486. Needs more ram though. 16Mb or 32 Mb would help a lot, as you could setup a large cache for disk/IO.

    The Video/IO card too seems to be a pain in the arse. No win95 drivers, only 3.1 which can be hacked into 95. These are terrible, and I don't think the card has any video acceleration at all. 1Mb. It seems fast in DOS though, so it has that going for it.

    I think I will put the PCI board in. I can pair it up with a decent PCI card, ISA sound, fast disk access.
     
  16. dacow

    dacow Member

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    Have you thought about using Dynamic Disk Overlay software? Bunch available on Vogons: http://www.vogonsdrivers.com/index.php?catid=19

    I ended up using Ontrack for my 4GB CF on my 486DX4/100 to get around this.

    My memory is a tad hazy but I recall it being a thing in the later 486 years, with Maxtor drives bundling Ontrack with their drives.
     
  17. OP
    OP
    Phido

    Phido Member

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    I tried to create a seagate Dynamic disk overlay, the same way I did on my 386 which has one 32GB fat32 partition on a 32GB SD card. However, the software doesn't work with floppy drives in win10. The disk image is 1.6MB and none of the image tools seem to want to write that to a disk on my USB floppy.

    It all became a major pain in butt. With the Gotek it was tedious, but easy. However, I really don't want to pull apart that machine to get the gotek and install it into this one. I did swap the SD card from my 386 into the 486 and the disk overlay worked perfectly.

    I thought I could just create 1 500Mb partition for boot and then partition the rest later, apparently you can't do that either. DOS/win95 won't let you do it, and if you do it in win10 it just won't boot.

    So I just created a single 500Mb partion and wasted the other 31.5GB on the SD card for now. At somepoint I will fix this, but I just got tired of playing around with it and having the machine in pieces as I kept copying files onto the SD card and swapping everything around..

    Given I am just playing around with the VLBus setup for now.

    I am keen to put in a PCI 486 board.
    This will allow:
    • USB ports !
    • Decent Video (I have a 8Mb S3 Savage4 I want to try in PCI - Otherwise some 4mb S3 Virge GX should be good to go) - I am curious as this card pairs well with lower end CPU's generally and might be and interesting combo.
    • A Voodoo 2 card for experiments (to play with before putting it into a pentium III box).
    • A fast IDE card.
    • Also more memory, I have 16Mb sitting in it now. but has 72 pin slots easy for big memory.
     
  18. OP
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    Phido

    Phido Member

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    Well I tried putting the PCI board in.
    It doesn't boot with the Savage4, apparently the UMC chipset is pretty picky with VGA PCI cards.

    But I put an old ET4000 into the ISA slot and the mobo and CPU works. However, even though the board came with a Am486 40mhz it was configured as a 33 mhz cpu. Now I have to pull the board out and check everything and find the jumper configuration for this no name board. I am also looking at getting a USB pci card and a PCI IDE card.

    But then again I have a slot1 AT motherboard that would probably work with the Savage4 and Voodoo2. And I won't have to use disk overlay software.
     
  19. dacow

    dacow Member

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    You know it's no fun to take the easy way out. You only get satisfaction when you cut your hand on the case and rip your hair out because nothing works ;)
     
  20. Kafoopsy

    Kafoopsy Member

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    The 486 era was quite an interesting time in computing history. I had a 486DX4-100 (Intel Overdrive) for a year or two back in 1998/9. I skipped the Pentium era entirely and upgraded to a Celeron 333 (just missed the 300A, most of which overclock easily to 450). For chip collectors, the 486 era has just about the greatest variety of different chus from several manufacturers.

    As far as I know, AMD never actually made any 5x86 cpus at 150Mhz and 160Mhz. Rumours of them abound and there are even a handful of photos, but they are widely believed to be fake (remarked) cpus. Its interesting to hear that your 133 overclocks easily to 160.

    My last experiment in the 486 era was a competition on who could run Windows XP on the slowest computer. XP requires a Pentium so the slowest you can do is a Pentium Overdrive for 486. If you remove the fan from the chip, it automatically drops the multiplier to 1x. I managed to get XP booting on a Pentium Overdrive running at 16Mhz. Can't remember how much ram I used, might have been 64MB. To get 16Mhz bus speed required trying out various undocumented jumper settings. The competition was won by someone who got the same setup as me running at 8Mhz. My motherboard couldn't do 8Mhz no matter how I tried.
     

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