Aaaand, I let another year go by without posting. I suck.
Next on the bench – an old 386 computer. I’ve been in the mood to poke at one of these for a bit; last time I had one was squarely in the 90’s and I was running linux on it (probably slackware, maybe redhat).
It boots successfully into BIOS, and has a great front panel character display. I’m going to disassemble it to get part #s off all the components.
Motherboard: EV-1806 Rev G
Turns out this is a 286 motherboard, and what makes this a 386 is the Everex InSTEP daughtercard.
The daughtercard plugs into the the 80286 & 80287 sockets. It has a 80386SX-16 soldered on, and a PLCC socket for an 80387 (which is annoying, since most I’m finding on eBay are PGA).
There is a 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ drive, a Teac FD-55GFR and FD-235HF respectively. A cursory search seems to indicate that the 3 1/2″ drive is High Density, so I’m going to make a plain old 1.44Mb DOS bootdisk.
The Drive Controller is An Everex EV-346M. It supports (2) floppy drives from 360kB to 1.44MB, and 2 MFM hard drives. It says only ST506/ST412, but I’m wondering if that’s really the case. I’ve got a pair of ST 225 drives that I might want to try out. Worst case, I’ve got a few other controllers. I was surprised to find an MFM controller; I thought IDE drives were commonplace by the mid 90s.
The Video Card is an Everex E3EEV-628. Not really sure there’s anything to say about it?
I made a DOS 6.22 boot disk, but the way it’s set up, the 5 1/4″ was the A drive. Just flipping the cables so the 3 1/2″ didn’t work -the disk light came on, but still got the classic ‘non system disk or disk error’.
So lets look into the dip switch settings on the 3 1/2″ Ah – there’s a DS0 & DS1, and DS1 was jumpered, so lets switch to DS0. No apparent change. I really need to brush up on floppy drive wiring, but I’m going to beat on this blind for a bit more. I don’t actually know if this drive is any good, or if I’ve even made a bootable disk.
Yeah, so I’m an idiot – I tried just copying the files over onto a floppy disk (I’m on a mac), but in doing so, you have no way of stipulating what ends up where; the BIOS starts executing from sector 0.
It was able to make a bootable disk in a Win10 VM, and it got me to an A: prompt, but a DIR failed. I’m not entirely surprised. It turns out making an old school DOS boot disk is a pain in the ass in 2022. I found bootable images at Winworldpc, and am using a trial of WinImage to write the image to a floppy. I was able to boot into the DOS 5.0 setup disk, but it wanted me to set up to a hard-drive. I also couldn’t exit out of setup and resume it, or even run a DIR command. I need to find a good bootable, single floppy OS.
There’s something funky going on – I grabbed a 6.22 boot image from here, but I’m still not able to get a proper boot – it tries to load a CD rom drive and fails, and after that it tells me it can’t load COMMAND.COM.
I also tried an earlier version that looks like it’s a single 720k disk. I was able to write it using DD directly in MacOS. Mac even recognizes it as a 720k disk, and sees it’s contents, but it won’t boot.
Fuckit, let’s try linux? Trying Fdlinux.
I’m not super crazy about seeing
dd: /dev/disk3: end of device
2881+0 records in
2880+1 records out
Seems the latest version expects you to do some tricks to format a slightly larger drive, but the previous version seems to fit on a standard disk.
I finally at least got a meaningful error from LILO (remember LILO?!):
Error 0x80. this is a disk timeout, suggesting an issue with either the drive or the media. So it’s time to try either another drive, or a damn gotek, I guess.
I appreciate floppies from a nostalgic perspective, but I’m remembering just how much they suuuucked.
Yeah, the floppy drive was bad. Goteks (with flash floppy) are great for permanent install, but I’ve got a Lothartek HxC SD that’s great for troubleshooting. I got this with an Atari ST a few years back, and it’s an old model; the only thing to watch out for is that the SD card has to be formatted FAT16. This is easily accomplished on Mac OS with:
sudo newfs_msdos -F 16 /dev/disk3
I was able to boot into DOS, and hooked up a Seagate ST-225 20MB MFM drive. Fdisk was unable to add a partition, however a low level format using Speedstor seemed to do the trick. It’s a great utility, and honestly I need to refresh my memory on what a low level format is.
I was excited to find that I’ve got a working MFM drive, but decided to save it for a machine that might really need it. I had in my stash, a no-name IDE & Floppy drive controller, so I decided to see if I could get that to work with a CF card. Because the BIOS is so decrepit, I wasn’t able to get it to work. Enter XTIDE – an alternative BIOS that supports more modern drives. I was able to burn the 8k AT version onto an EPROM, and install it into a no-frills network card. Through a combination of dumb luck and wizardry, it actually freakin’ worked: After the built-in BIOS runs, XTIDE runs and lets the machine see the CF card. DOS was able to format it and install on to it. And since it’s just a FAT16 formatted volume, I can yank the CF card and put it in a reader to do bulk copies of software.
I replaced the bad 3 1/2″ drive with a Gotek running FlashFloppy. There’s a bunch of different flavors of “goteks” out there, and they have different methods of flashing the software. For this one, I needed an USB A to A cable, and had to run some utility in Windows. Works fine now.
I installed a 387 Math Coprocessor. Linux now gets a little further into booting, but still hung. I’ll play around with this some more some day.
I got tired of having to go through setup every time, so I cobbled together a CR3032 battery mount for it.
Can I find drivers for it? It’s a Racal InterLan, and thanks to this page, I was able to figure out how to use an EPROM with it. It claims it to be an NI5210 card, and I found what looks to be drivers that match on Archive.org, but I haven’t figured out how to install them.
A soundblaster AWE64 Value is what I’ve got – it’s not the best card for this setup, but it works OK. Installation went fine, you just need to install the S64Basic Driver, and make sure that you’ve already expanded the CTCMBSS folder, which contains the plug-n-play drivers that the installer will ask for.