Vintage 486 PC Teardown and Comparo vs. Modern PC

I was recently gifted a truly rare gem. A near perfect condition Compaq Presario 4/33 desktop computer from the early 90s. The word gifted might not be appropriate, as the computer was on its way to the garbage, and I quickly offered to take it and make good use of it.

As I stared at the computer my mind filled with all kinds of wonderful geeky project ideas. After some initial deliberation I chose one and prepared to get underway with the modding. When I picked the computer up and looked at it closer, I started to feel some hesitation. There really was not any sentimental value to me, but I still felt an odd sense of restraint when it came to digging in.

I decided to just take the computer apart and have a peek under the hood. I was pretty curious as to what lay underneath. I’ve taken apart a lot of computers since I first started tinkering, but this one was a little before my time. Naturally I was quite curious. That’s when it hit me, if I was this curious and excited about what was inside, then I was sure there were others like me that had not seen the insides of an older computer.

Pretty much every new computer, gadget, phone, etc. over the last 5 years has been disassembled by numerous different websites and dissected to the nth detail. When I searched online for computers of the 90’s teardowns I came up with very little, so I decided to do a detailed teardown myself.

In the process of taking the computer apart I saw some things with which I was not familiar. I decided to do some research to educate myself on these new/old pieces of tech. It was odd to consider, while I researched the parts on the internet, that at the time the machine was built the internet was only in its infancy.

Any geek out there can quickly identify most of the modern components that go along with computer technology of today. PCI-express slots, USB headers, SATA ports, etc. But none of these technologies existed back then. PCI slots were not even standard yet, serial ports were the preferred external data link and hard drives still used giant ribbon cables and early IDE interfaces.

Some of the first things I noticed when I pulled back the case cover were standard issue pieces. Motherboard, power supply, hard drive. The modem looked slightly different then what I had remembered and it was connected to some sort of add-on card which attached to a single slot on the motherboard.

The processor was an Intel 486DX running at 33mhz. The board looked to have about 20MB of RAM via two sticks plugged into 2 of the 4 slots available plus 4 DIP pieces mounted directly to the board. As I pulled the hard drive I was a little shocked when I read the capacity was 120MB. I did a double take. MBs? Wow, shows how programmed I’ve become to expect GBs on hard drives. Thinking of a 120MB hard drive was a time warp for sure. My phone has 512MB RAM, illustrating that it’s definitely a different tech world now.

The more I dug into my new best pal the more interested I became in the system architecture and the processor technology of the era. The RAM type was something I was not familiar with, and I was quite confused still about the NIC (Network Interface Card) plugged into the add on board. Here is what I found after further research:

Processor

Intel 486DX running @ 33mhz (1 core)
-27 MIPS (Millions of instructions per second)
-1.2 Million Transistors at 1 um (micrometers)
-8KB Level 1 Cache
This chip offered a 50x performance increase over the original 8088 Intel chip

To put this in perspective in today’s world-

Intel Core i7 i980EE @ 3.3ghz (6 core)
-147,600 MIPS (Millions of instructions per second)
-1.17 Billion Transistors at 32nm (nanometers)
-256 KB L2 cache
-12 MB L3 cache
Performance factor improvement is hard to quantify (Guess?- 5500X over 486DX)

An easier measurement for comparison sake would be SuperPI (Super PI is a computer program that calculates pi to a specified number of digits after the decimal point – up to a maximum of 32 million digits) The time it takes for the processor to complete this calculation is a somewhat if obscure measure of how “fast” the processor is.

Intel 486DX @ 33mhzSuperPI- 2 hours 11 minutes and 18 seconds (7,878 Seconds)
Intel i7 980EE @ 4160 MHZ SuperPI- 9.9 Seconds

The Core I7 chip from 2010 calculated the answer about 797 times faster than the 486Dx from 1993.

I knew this would be a landslide victory going in, but its still interesting to see the numbers behind how much “faster” the modern CPU is as compared to the old.

Hard Drive

Next up I wanted to look a little deeper into the hard drive. I was still coming off of my sticker shock when I read the label and saw 120MBs. I wanted to get at more details of the drive performance next.

The drive in the computer is a Quantum Prodrive ELS. Not really sure what happened to Quantum but it’s definitely not a name I’m familiar with when it comes to modern consumer hard drives.

Quantum Prodrive ELS 120
Size- 120MB
RPM- 3600
Cache- 8KB
Read Max- 4.0MBs
Read Access Time- 8.2ms
Watts peak power consumption- 3.0

Now for the numbers of the modern mechanical and SSD drives

Western Digital Velociraptor VR200M
Size-600GB
RPM- 10,000
Cache- 32MB
Read Max- 131MBs
Read Access Time- 7.0ms
Watts peak power consumption- 6.4

Crucial RealSSD C300
Size- 64GB
RPM- NA
Cache- NA
Read Max- 312MBs
Read Access Time- .050ms
Watts peak power consumption- 1.64

Again by just looking at the numbers, its a landslide victory. But that was to be expected. The mechanical limits of the hard drives seem to result in a fairly similar read access time. I was somewhat surprised by this. Also the power consumption is really not all that much better.

From a throughput standpoint the numbers are pretty insane. The VelociRaptor drive is around 32 times faster. The Crucial SSD is around 78 times faster than the Quantum drive.

Most modern hard drive benchmarking is directed towards IOPS (Input/Output operations per second). Unfortunately that kind of data is hard to find for the old drive.

Memory

As expected the amount of memory in the system was paltry in comparison to today’s memory standards. The two SIMM modules have a total of what looks to be 20MB, with one stick having eight single 1MB chips and the other stick having twelve 1MB chips. Most systems today utilize 6GB to 8GB of ram as a standard and a lot of high-end systems utilize 12GB to 16GB. I believe there may also be 4MB of RAM in the form of 1MB DIP modules soldered onto the motherboard. Deciphering those part numbers was a bit harder, as I had trouble finding any information at all.

Computers in today’s world commonly have 400 times as much memory as this Compaq machine did. I wanted to look at little further at the type of memory. Memory today is commonly DDR3 SDRAM. This stands for Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. That’s a mouthful.

The memory used in this system is SIMM FPM (Fast Page Mode) This type of memory is DRAM which uses an asynchronous interface. This is opposite of how modern day SDRAM works with its synchronous interface which waits for a clock signal before responding to control inputs. This is what makes it synchronized, since it’s synchronized with the computer bus system. SRAM has a more complex state of operation than DRAM which enables higher speeds.

DDR3 in modern day systems uses less voltage than the SIMM DRAM used in this system. DRR3 uses 1.5 volts as opposed to the 3.3 volts the SIMM DRAM uses.

From a performance aspect the changes are numerous; more bits, more lanes, frequency increases, etc. A modern day high speed DDR3 module has a peak transfer rate of 17,000+ MB/s. Compared to the SIMM FPM in this system which has a 176MB/s peak transfer rate. Again the difference is stunning. Modern day DDR3 has roughly 97 times the bandwidth of the older SIMM Async DRAM FPM.

Max Bandwidth
SIMM DRAM FPM = 176MB/s
DDR3= 17,000MB/s

Add-on Card

I finally got back around to looking at that add-on card that was plugged into the motherboard. I remembered back to the days of PCI slots and AGP slots for graphics cards but this slot was different. After some digging I found that the add-on board offered 3 additional ISA slots for expansion.

The ISA interface was common up until the mid 90’s until it was phased out for PCI slots. The main advantage of course in the PCI interface was bandwidth. There have been a lot of changes since then though. Here is a breakdown of the speeds of some of the notable interfaces that have come into existence since then.

Interface Max Bandwidth
ISA = 8MB/s (This system)
PCI = 133 MB/s
AGP = 2GB/s
PCI Express 1.0 = 8GB/s
PCI Express 2.0 = 16GB/s
PCI Express 3.0 = 32GB/s

There have been numerous interface types over the last 15 years, with each subsequent revision bumping up the bandwidth. The current PCI Express 3.0 interface offers roughly 4000 times more bandwidth then the ISA. Wow! I would say that means you’re not going to be playing any Assassin’s Creed or Halo on this system.

I was totally expecting to see the old Compaq get blown away in comparison to a new modern system. I was not let down at all in that respect. When you start looking at the hard numbers though and see the astounding factor by which the old specs get blown out of the water it’s still kind of a shock. While 15 years feels like a short period of time it’s quite obvious that its more like light years when it comes to computer technology.

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  • Chris_1978

    Apparently I’ve been running along with PC’s a bit longer then you are. I’ve started with a 80186 (or NEC V20 to be precise) at a wopping 9.54MHz! and 8bit ISA bus. That was a top of the line system way back in 1987.

    The memory-banks you found on the motherboard are probably memory for the onboard video (Tjeng Labs), and could have been 4MB max, allowing to run a windows desktop at 1024×768, 24 bit color depth. Seeing that they are directly next to the video-processor, and quite far away from the system’s memory banks.

    Quantum was a quite well known hard drive manufacturer back then, but around 2000 they stopped producing hard drives and sold the technology to Maxtor, so that’s why you don’t know the brand name. And a small fun fact, 120MB was a lot back then! Most systems ran with less than 100MB of internal storage. If you wanted to play a game, you needed the cd-rom for data playback, because the system didn’t have enough space to hold all the data.
    Speaking of cd-rom’s, this system is lacking a player, but if it was fitted with one, it would have been a double speed, quad speed or a really fast six speed player (compare that tot the 48x speed players now if you played a regular 650MB cdrom in a DVD or bluray player, which is physical the highest speed possible to spin a polycarbonate disc). And speaking of which, what about storage on these discs? A CD-rom holds about 650MB (and with some tricks up to 800MB), a DVD gets to about 8.4 GB and a bluray 128GB(!!!), which is more than 200 times the capacity of the back then enormous capacity of a CD-rom.

    Computers have evolved a lot over the past 15 years, but just look at your cell phone, and see how they even change faster…

  • admin

    Agreed, I started tinkering around with PC’s in the mid 90′s. Before that I was playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Well technically I’m still playing with TMNT)

    Thanks! I figured someone would have a better idea on the memory modules.

    I remember playing Duke Nukem and Descent with CD’s. Good times.

    I forgot all about CD speeds! Good memory. I remember having a Mitsu..something CD player that was 12 speed and thinking how blazing fast that was back then. The more I look at the history of optical storage the more I wonder where it’s going to go next. I’ve seen the little tech blips released on terabyte optical storage but thats still years off it would seem.

    I’m quite quite excited for the years to come. Soon I’ll be able to carry terabytes of storage and have a Hexacore CPU device all in the palm of my hand. (Hopefully I won’t have to charge it every 15 minutes)

    Thanks for the input!

  • http://www.fieldcomponents.com/ LMR

    I just wanted to take a minute to tell you that you have a great site! Keep up the good work.

  • http://mwoodgate.wordpress.com Hopalong0_3

    Nice post, thanks for taking time to research the old tech. I have the exact same unit in the loft (attic?) I may fire it up soon now, complete with 13″ 800×600 16 colour monitor!

  • admin

    Thanks! It was a fun journey getting to research some of the older tech and learn along the way. Getting to compare it to a modern system and see the performance improvements made over the years was very interesting.

    Wow, I forgot about the older 16 color monitors. That’s a flashback for sure. Should be fun firing that thing up and relieving the glory days. :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/spacemonkeyx SpaceMonkeyX

    I couldn’t tell you how many of these I repaired over the course of 5 years when I was a freelance computer consultant back in 1995. By the time I got my hands on them – in 1998 from a local U.S. Army CERL warehouse where they were literally giving them away to local schools – I was gutting them to put together Frankenstein computers that could run AutoCAD 11 (by then 10 years old). I used to have a foam-padded carrying case filled with 486 processors and old RAM sticks, making me look like a rogue organ transplant surgeon.

    I miss those days…

  • admin

    Hearing that kind of makes me want to get a foam-padded carrying case and fill it with processors and RAM. Would be pretty cool to show off to my friends. Well my really geeky friends that is…. The semi-mainstream ones would wonder why the hell I’m carrying a briefcase.

  • Judd Porter

    I just found your page today, and I love this article!  

    One thing I would like to add is the software of that day, compared to what we have now.  Back then, that machine probably ran DOS 6.22, and Windows for Workgroups 3.11.  In those times, seeing a NIC wasn’t all that common, and it was probably a 10MB card.  If this was used in a corporate environment, it very well may have had Novell Netware taking care of the networking.  The stuff run close to as well on that hardware as the current software runs what we have today, although things were MUCH more basic back then!

    Around the time this system was becoming low-end was when I got into computers with my first being a Pentium 75 with 8 MB RAM, a 2 MB ram video card by ATI, 730 MB hard drive, and a CD ROM.  I started working at a computer store part time, and I worked on MANY 486/33 systems, and some of the competitors stuff like Cyrix, and AMD.  I remember a customer that had a HP inkjet printer with something like 32 or 64 MB of ram.  Almost unheard of back then, and very expensive!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you!

    Thanks for the software information as well. It’s pretty cool to see the differences then and now. I’m sure 20 years down the road I’m going to be struggling to explain to younger people what a mouse and keyboard did. haha 

  • tjohio

    I was recently gifted an all-in-one of this vintage.

    I believe the “add in” card was called a backplane.

    Some other memories of those days are:

    - having to modify your config.sys and autoexec.bat files to find the right sequence of loading your programs to fit in the small amout of memory.

    - qemm and stacker memory manager programs

    - having to set irq and dma jumpers on each add-in card and making sure that none of them conflicted with the other

    - In addtion that processor in the computer in the original article, the “i 486 DX at 33 mhz” there was an i486 SX that had the math coprocessor disabled and ran at 25mhz.  I had a Packard Bell at that time.

  • Anonymous

    That things awesome. A true gem!

    Thanks for adding more information. Seems as though a lot of us have great memories of those days and all the little “quirks” that used to go along with vintage computing. :)

  • boxes and boxes

    I recently bought one of these on eBay. From the photographs in the listing, it was clear to me that it had the enhanced 486 motherboard installed – one that recognized up to 100MB of RAM. The one I bought in 1992 only recognized 32MB of RAM . . . only 32MB, as if that wasn’t huge in those days.

  • George

    Light years measure distance, not time

  • Luke Tucker

    Great to see one of these again.

    My very first PC was a similar spec to this. It was a 486DX-33 with 4MB RAM, 30MB HDD and a 1.44KB 3.5″ FD. The monitor was 14″ but I can’t remember the maximum resolution. No network card, no modem, no cd drive, no sound card (PC speaker only) and no 3D graphics. It ran MS-DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1.

    My parents bought one for me at the end of 1993 for my A-Level computer science course. At that time this cost around £1100 (uk) including a 24-pin dot matrix. It was considered pretty high spec for a home PC back then.Games wise I remember that it could run Doom 1 and 2, Elite 2, Frontier – First Encounters and Monkey Island 1 and 2. Although it took quite a lot of tinkering with loading drivers into  high-memory to get some of these to run. 

    Good work on sharing this.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing like a trip down memory lane to recall the the hardware of the past. Thanks for the kudos. :)

  • Macdeath26

    I had one of this little buger at the time, but mine was the 66mhz model (perhaps later or upgraded).

    It was my 3rd PC, my first being a 12mhz colour EGA 286AT with a 80meg HDD,  5″1/4HD floppy & 3″1/2HD floppy and 640Ko RAM… This was actually a good PC for 1990.

    Could run sweet games like Populous, Monkey Island, Might and Magic3 or LowBlow.

    My second being a 16mhz colour VGA 286AT (few memory of this one) (no brands for those).

    Back to this one.

    Those Compaq were really sweet machines at the time, from what I remember you had some audio plug which enabled to record through a mic, despite having no proper Sound Card (beeper was the norm to many gamer on PC theses days) while most PC at the time had only a very basic buzzer with no Audio-in nor Audio-out connectors and nothing else on board (had to get a SoundBlaster card or something like this).

    Awesome games on these were Dune1 and Dune2, Wing Commander series (1&2+datadiscs), Doom, Warcraft1, Might and Magic World of Xeen (4&5), Ultima underworld 1&2, syndicate.

    Still a great machine to play good old MS-DOS games, as you can see.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the added information! 

  • Geoff the Fish

    The card is called a riser card.  Its only purpose is to flip the ISA connectors sideways so they could squeeze the system into a low profile case.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riser_card

    The machine has a nonstandard layout.  The mobo format at the time was AT, the precursor to ATX.  This system does not have an AT mobo, which makes it dififcult to swap it for any other mobo.  (maybe only Compaq made them this shape, I dunno)

    Your Tseng ET4000 gpu is decently fast for the period.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the added info! Appreciate it!

  • Johnny C

    And a very long distance at that! Todays tech is lightyears ahead of where we were when that Compaq was released.

  • Techasaurus

    Marvel as you will at this old style integrated motherboard, but this was actually quite advanced for its day having video and I/O integrated onto the motherboard.  I ran OS/2 Warp Connect for an OS on mine for a while and with only 16 MB of RAM and a 345 MB hard drive, I was able to run an 8-line computer bulletin board, a network, Lotus Smart Suite, a DOS game, and any number of utilities concurrently and still enjoy a snappy response.  That’s what happens when the entire OS and applications can remain RAM-resident, which is completely unlike Windows 7 or MS Office.

    When I upgraded my personal system to an AMD 486dx4-120, I converted this system into a Linux Slackware server providing firewall services, terminal services, and internet gateway services to all users on my local network plus dial-up connections via an 8 modem bank (28.8k baud ).  And it ran dependably without a hitch or notable strain.  

    Yes, hardware specs are several orders of magnitude higher-performing these days, but, unfortunately, software bloat has more than kept pace so that my quad-core i7 running browser and Office has a slower task shift than my old Prolinea 486 on OS/2 Warp Connect.  And the boot time, and especially the application loading time for Microsoft Office versus Lotus Smart Suite is very much in the favor of the older technology.  And that is why I am refurbishing another of these old Prolinea boxen, and loading OS2 Warp 4 and Smart Suite on it right this weekend.  It’s because all that software bloat has significantly eroded the quality of the use experience to the point that it’s a joy to run an old slim box again, even if its processor runs hundreds of times slower.

  • totalgeek

    Very good points you make. Cool hardware, glad to hear that you’re keeping it going. 

    Thanks for the added information, appreciate it. :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.wyman.35 Jeff Wyman

    It’s actually a bit fun to see someone else discovering a PC from this era from the first time. For me, I really cut my teeth learning how to work on PC hardware during this time – 1993 or so. At the time, it was still pretty common to run into 286s, and older XTs and XT clones.

    Things really took off when my parents let slip the fact that their son knew how to “fix” computers, and even at ten years old I was making $20 a pop for simple fixes. That’s when it got fun!

    The sad fact is though, that PC hardware these days just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. It used to be a challenge to get separate pieces of hardware working together sometimes – managing IRQs, DMA, ports and memory space on jumpers, or later on, software configuration programs. Trying to get Windows/DOS drivers to work right. It was a pain in the ass to consumers, but I had a lot of fun with it, and found it eventually became a breeze to do.

    I miss the challenge of overclocking some of the early 486 and Pentiums, trying to squeeze every last bit out of the PC. Back then, overclocking your 486 DX2/50 to 60 or 66MHz was enough to give you a huge boost in whatever game or application you were using.

    My first computer with a VESA Local Bus video card blew me away with its gaming performance. This was the small window in which there was really no PCI bus on the average PC, but there was something faster than the ISA bus, which was the primary limitation in the PC’s video multimedia capability. Look up VLB bus if you get a chance – the cards were all literally about 15″ long, no matter how many chips were on the board. What a ridiculous stop-gap feature. I even had an early Pentium 66 that had VLB slots, and no PCI bus.

    Later on, these old 486s still proved to be a lot of fun, as mentioned by a previous commenter, many of them proved to be excellent bases for Linux and BSD utility systems. I had my first home network at my parents’ house set up with an older 486 DX2/66, with a network card and a modem, and an installation of FreeBSD. I had the modem set up to automatically reconnect when the connection was dropped. The machine shared the modem with the other three PCs in the house. It may have been slow, but it was “always on,” and nobody had to fight over a single PC being connected to the internet. Our local dial-up ISP was an early adopter of the unlimited service model, so this didn’t cost any extra to do. My friends were at awe with the only house in town that had a network and shared internet connection. We would play online games together and chat online at the same time in different rooms of the house – pretty big thing to do in 1996-97. Now, just about everybody does this.

    Yep, it was a lot of fun back then.

    Glad to see you enjoyed having a bit of a look back in time!

  • totalgeek

    Thanks for all the added information and sharing your experiences! Very interesting stuff!

    I have a Toshiba Libretto 100 with a Pentium 166 MMX that I’m so looking forward to overclocking! Hope to push it from 166–>200 or maybe even higher. Right now it runs Damn Small Linux from a flash drive and it would love the little bit of a bump in speed from overclocking.

    Thanks again for all the information. :)

  • Christopher Satterfield

    Googling this model this was the top page, and I have the exact same one myself I got from an ewaste pile. Mine was stock 33 MHz 486 DX, 4 MB ram, 525 MB hard drive, 1.44 MB 3.5″ floppy and 5.25″ 1.2 MB floppy, although I’ve upgraded mine quite a bit. Mine now sits beside me here as an IRC machineold DOS game machine as I’ve dropped a 66 MHz 486 DX2 in (direct dropin upgrade for the 33 MHz models), 8 MB ram (note: will NOT work with EDO ram), Sound Blaster 32, Intel Pro/10 Network Adapter and a 512 MB 40X Lexar Compact Flash card for a hard drive.

    Looking at your pictures it has a non original power supply, factory one says Compaq, model number 141023-001, Model number PA-4151-4C and outputs a whopping 146W.

    Looking at your pictures, your power supply is a different one than mine has, mine’s a Compaq PA-4151-4C, P/N 141023-001 146W, while yours is a different Compaq branded one, however your system is just a tad older than mine, the date inside the top of the case is when it was manufactured, yours being 6-28-93 while mine is 7-19-93.

    The battery on yours also appears to be the regular 4.5V brick, if you ever feel like making yours live again that battery can be replaced with a CR2032 battery with the leads from the (dead) 4.5V brick taped onto it in correct polarity, mine runs great that way and it’ll last longer :P.

  • OzzFan

    I just came across this while looking up specs for one of my 486s in my personal museum. Very interesting (funny in a “oh my, are these things really that old” sort of way because then that makes me really old!) article.

    The motherboard inside the Compaq is what is known as the NLX formfactor (sort of an early incarnation of ATX). The industry wanted to build cheaper and smaller computers, so the best way was to include as much as a person could want onto the motherboard while giving them only three expansion slots instead of the standard 7 on a regular AT or ATX motherboard.

    Quantum was bought out by Maxtor who was in turn bought out by Seagate. If you never heard of Quantum, you probably never heard of Conner Peripherals (another hard drive manufacturer from “way back when”) either! ;-)

    As for the memory, unfortunately it is not as easy as counting the chips and assuming a capacity. You would have to determine the capacity of the individual chips and find out how they are logically (not necessarily physically) addressed on the SIMM stick. So saying that, did you come to the conclusion it had 20MB of RAM just by counting the number of chips or did you boot the thing up first and it reported 20MB of RAM? If it reported 20MB of RAM, that would be an odd and difficult number to arrive at given that RAM capacities are always given in powers of 2 (1MB, 2MB, 4MB, 8MB, 16MB, 32MB, 64MB, etc). I suppose you could have 2x 8MB and 2x 2MB SIMMs to arrive at 20MB or some other combination thereof. I’d hazard a guess that the system has more or less than 20MB.

    As for the other RAM chips soldered onto the motherboard, those are the onboard DRAM chips for the integrated video given the close proximity to the video chip. Some motherboards, though did come with system RAM soldered onto the motherboard. For example, I have a Packard Bell PB400+ that had 2MB soldered onto the motherboard and 4 30-pin SIMMS (all 4 had to be populated to match the 486′s 32bit memory address bus since each 30pin SIMM was only 8bit wide). The largest capacity SIMM that works in the Packard Bell is 4MB, so 4×4+2=18MB of RAM on that machine. Fun stuff, huh? :-D

    Lastly, that riser card that you saw the NIC plugged into was just a way to align the slots in a different way so as to provide a more compact machine. My Packard Bell also has a riser card, but it allows for up to 5 ISA devices to be plugged in instead of 3 like your Compaq.

    You can learn a lot by getting into old computers. I personally think it helps understand how far we’ve come if you understand the history.

  • OzzFan

    Techasaurus wrote:

    “Marvel as you will at this old style integrated motherboard, but this was actually quite advanced for its day having video and I/O integrated onto the motherboard. I ran OS/2 Warp Connect for an OS on mine for a while and with only 16 MB of RAM and a 345 MB hard drive, I was able to run an 8-line computer bulletin board, a network, Lotus Smart Suite, a DOS game, and any number of utilities concurrently and still enjoy a snappy response. That’s what happens when the entire OS and applications can remain RAM-resident, which is completely unlike Windows 7 or MS Office.”

    Then we must have two different memories of the past. I ran OS/2 Warp v3 on my 486 with 18MB of RAM and an 850MB Maxtor IDE hard drive and the thing was slower than molasses in January! As has always been true, it depends on the requirements of what you want to do to keep everything “RAM-resident”. I don’t know how much RAM you have on your Windows 7 machine, but with 12GB of RAM on mine (with Office 2012), I don’t have anything touching the Windows swapfile. Everything IS RAM-resident. The same would be true for any other system, new or old given enough RAM. I have an old Pentium 166MHz w/MMX and 512MB of RAM running Windows 95 OSR2.5 where apps don’t even think about touching the swapfile.

    Techasaurus wrote:

    “Yes, hardware specs are several orders of magnitude higher-performing these days, but, unfortunately, software bloat has more than kept pace so that my quad-core i7 running browser and Office has a slower task shift than my old Prolinea 486 on OS/2 Warp Connect. And the boot time, and especially the application loading time for Microsoft Office versus Lotus Smart Suite is very much in the favor of the older technology. And that is why I am refurbishing another of these old Prolinea boxen, and loading OS2 Warp 4 and Smart Suite on it right this weekend. It’s because all that software bloat has significantly eroded the quality of the use experience to the point that it’s a joy to run an old slim box again, even if its processor runs hundreds of times slower.”

    Again, that would depend on what you experienced your computing habbits on. Where do we define bloat? It could be said that DOS only needs MSDOS.SYS, IO.SYS and COMMAND.COM to load and all else is bloat. Most of that “bloat” serves a purpose; though I could see it being called bloat if you don’t use it, but that doesn’t mean no one uses it.

    I’ll admit that when I’m playing with one of my old DOS or Windows 95 machines, the applications “feel” snappier, but the OSes are rather outdated and cannot offer the robust support of newer OSes – which is by design as computers and technology advance. Maybe you need those technologies, and maybe you don’t. Certainly the computing industry has always been progressing toward making our lives easier, and all that it entails (smarter software, more advanced hardware, parallel computing, realistic graphics, etc). It could be argued that the OS should be able to provide some of the more subtle things taken for granted today but not found in early OSes, such as a hard drive checker (forget CHKDSK), hard drive defragmenter, RAM tester, etc. Back in the day, you had to buy separate utilities for each feature costing hundreds of dollars on top of your brand new $4000 computer (Pentium 100MHz w/32MB of RAM for example). These days, those “bloated” OSes have all of that built-in along with more advanced and resilient file systems that can handle premature system shutdowns gracefully.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing on my personal museum pieces, but let’s not forget that we have advanced with good reason! :-D

  • totalgeek

    Thanks so much for the added information! I’ve been enjoying reading through the added info and history that people have come and offered. It’s an excellent way to get a fuller picture of just how far we’ve come in terms of computing.

    In regards to the memory I honestly don’t recall how I came to that conclusion at the time. haha. It’s been so long now I can’t remember (this was supposed to be a joke about memory, or my lack thereof. ;)

    When I had taken the system apart and did the write-up I was going through piece by piece and trying to research them all. This meant hours of sifting through pages of information online and trying to decipher if the components I had were the same I was reading about. But you’re 100% right, it wasn’t as simple as necessarily counting chips, there were many possible variations and it was a bit dizzying trying to figure out what exactly I was looking at. I think I ended up going with what I thought I had and then figured some more knowledgable folks with more first hand experience might chime in and correct me. :)

    I still have plans to do some kind of project with the Compaq. I’m a bit torn as I don’t want to alter it in anyway, but at the same time the tinkerer in me wants to start modding away so it can breath new life once again! :)

  • Ryan

    I know this is a really old topic, but I recently picked up four of these exact systems. I was searching for details on them and found your page about it. I just want to comment about the memory you have in yours.

    Both SIMMs are populated with eight 1Mbx4 (512KB) chips for a capacity of 4MB each (8MB total). The 12-chip one is a parity module (36-bit), with the four chips soldered to the back containing the parity data (not used by this system). You didn’t have a picture of chips on the back, but they should be either 1Mbx1 (128KB) or 1Mbx4 (512KB) like the front side with just one data pin connected.

    The eight chips above the video chip are 256Kb x 4 (128KB each for 2MB total) SRAMs for the video framebuffer.

    The four chips to the right of the video chip (marked P75FCT245TS0) are just bus transceivers to reduce signal loading on the chipset.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.wyman.35 Jeff Wyman

    No problem.

    The thing I really miss the most though, was pre-internet shareware. There was a lot of awesome software ordered through the official Shareware catalog. Lots and lots of great games, utilities, and real usable office software developed by individuals or very small groups.

    I spent a lot of afternoons and weekends riding my bike to the local computer shop to pick up as many shareware game disks as I could with my meager allowance.

    When I got a modem a could dial into a BBS (Software Creations!!), that’s when I started to easily max out my ~40MB hard drive :)

    And this all started when I broke my first PC on purpose – I had a Leading Edge XT clone (model M) with CGA graphics and a 1MB EMS board that my parents bought from a local print shop for $100. I broke something on it and had no idea how to fix it, so I started throwing the (mechanical) power switch on and off really fast – after doing that, it wouldn’t even do BIOS POST.

    What did I do with it? I opened the third story bedroom window, and threw it out into the driveway to see if it would break. The PC cases in those days were so tough, that nothing even happened. It barely dented the case, which is how I got away with telling my parents that “it just broke,” and a couple weeks later we got our first 486. I was a bit of a crooked kid :)

  • Josh

    That might be an upgraded CPU. The 486 dx had a math math coprocessor. The sx 33 was the standard entry level with the coprocessor disabled. This computer would have played duke nuked 3d admirably