I have one definite project that I want to complete this year, building a multi-boot bridge machine. This is more of an enabler than a full on retro project and will likely prove far from taxing, hopefully taking only a few hours.
Once achieved however it will allow me to seriously de-clutter my workspace and this in turn will hopefully allow me to get on with some other retro goodness without the continual hindrance of being surrounded in junk.
Due to the ubiquitous nature of MS-DOS and the various subsequent flavours of Windows most of the retro computers in my collection rely on connecting to Wintel machines to facilitate file transfers. Some of the software provided is very specific about which version of DOS/Windows it will play ball with. I therefore have a collection of machines running early versions of DOS through to Windows XP. My aim is to narrow this down to one machine.
Helpfully Microsoft still provide minimum specifications for Windows For Workgroups and XP.
Windows For Workgroups:-
- 80286 microprocessor or better for version 3.1
- 80386sx microprocessor or better for version 3.11
- 2048 kilobytes (K) total memory for version 3.1
- 3 megabytes (MB) total memory for version 3.1 (2 MB with no network installed)
- 3 megabytes (MB) total memory for version 3.11 (4 MB is recommended)
- 6.2 MB of hard drive space (14.5 MB recommended)
- Pentium 233-megahertz (MHz) processor or faster (300 MHz is recommended)
- At least 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM (128 MB is recommended)
- At least 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available space on the hard disk
- CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive
- Keyboard and a Microsoft Mouse or some other compatible pointing device
- Video adapter and monitor with Super VGA (800 x 600)or higher resolution
I delved in to my collection of motherboards and cases and decided to pair an Abit BH6 motherboard with a 300 MHz Pentium 2 ripped from a dead Dell Dimension. The BH6 has a good combination of ISA and PCI slots, USB, standard serial and parallel ports. It’s had an interesting few years, some of them spent hanging on the wall as decoration (regularly vacuumed in a non sympathetic manner) and the last 2 or 3 in a pile of other MBs in a damp, non heated shed. I was therefore a little sceptical as to whether it would still work.
I also found an Nvidia TNT 2 graphics card, two 128MB sticks of PC100 RAM, a 3.5″ FDD and a CD-ROM drive. I assembled all of the components into a suitable case and was somewhat surprised when greeted by a successful POST.
I decided in advance that the easiest way to boot into various OS’s would be to use Compact Flash cards. I have a number of them lying around in various sizes from 32MB up to 16GB and have had great success with them in the past.
I had therefore ordered an IDE to CF adapter with a back plate fitting so that the card could be swapped out easily. In retrospect a 5.25 Bay model would have been even more convenient so I may yet get one of those.
Once fitted and hooked up with a suitable cable I set about installing Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95 and 98 onto separate cards. The installations went pretty smoothly, I put DOS 6.22 and WFW on a 32 MB card, Windows 95 on a 1 GB card and 98SE on a 4 GB card. One other useful aspect of this method is that the cards can be easily removed and inserted into a card reader on another machine allowing easy transfer of files.
Having discovered some old floppy disks whilst rooting around for components for this machine it wasn’t long before it was called in to action. I installed a 5.25″ FDD into a spare bay and inserted the Windows 95 CF card. Once booted into Windows 95 I set about attempting to recover some old files as detailed here.
The build has therefore been successful, I’ll also do an XP installation and then I’ll be able to simply swap cards and boot into whichever OS I need. I shall also add an internal CF adapter with a 4 GB CF card onto which I will install all of the retro software that I need so that it’s always available to each OS.
The machine is reasonably quiet as the Pentium is passively cooled although the graphics card has a small fan, I may therefore root around for a fan-less model.
A sound card would be nice but not essential and I may see if I can hook up the two Voodoo 2 3D cards that I used to run in SLI mode.
As has been the case with other participants my Retrochallenge has been somewhat blown off course by outside events. Still I had some initial fun tinkering with the Samsung PenMaster. Although it didn’t provide much of a challenge it was interesting to look back at the false start tablet computing had with pen based computing.
I then moved on to the IBM 5140 which is a machine I really enjoyed using. Its slightly absurd design with its expansion ‘slices’ leading to an ever-increasing footprint is tempered by its overall solidity and great keyboard. I would very much like to obtain an original monitor and I noticed today someone is selling new in the box printer units for it.
Arriving too late in the day for me to get my teeth into it was an Anderson Jacobson ADC 212 acoustic coupler. I had hoped to use it to connect to either mine or Urbancamo’s new BBS but time has run out. Getting the coupler working may form the basis of my next challenge.
I’m now looking forward to catching up on the other participant’s entries, some of which are clearly very impressive.
I’ve managed to free up 7-8 MB of space on the PenMaster’s internal HDD without breaking anything. This has allowed me to successfully install Internet Explorer 3.02. Well I say successfully, although the package has installed, I was under the impression that it contained a TCP/IP stack and dialer software but this doesn’t appear to be the case. I had a look around and found Trumpet Winsock which I remember using with the Amiga 1200 when I first connected to the Internet back in I believe 1991. Funnily enough, the ISP I was using then, Demon Internet, are still hosting the file on their FTP server here.
I shall attempt to install this and see where it leads. If I’m honest I’m not feeling the retro lurve for the Samsung, whether it’s because it’s not quite old enough or possibly because it hasn’t actually provided much of a challenge in terms of getting it working I’m not sure, most likely a combination of both.
I may therefore change direction and look at something else from my growing pile of gear. I have a non-working IBM 5140 convertible which I may try to resurrect, it’s quite a unique machine on a number of levels so it would certainly be interesting to have it working.
Also it’s looking as though I’m going to have less free time this month than I’d hoped so fingers crossed I can get something else done.
I’ve downloaded a few different software packages that I want to try and run on the PenMaster, however its 60 MB HDD seems strangely full. I’m not sure what a typical Windows 3.1 installation requires but given there’s little else on the HDD I’m surprised how little space there is left. For instance I attempted to install Internet Explorer 3.02 but it ran out of disk space. Anyway the upshot of this is that I’m going to try to clear some disk space, but before I possibly wreck what I should imagine is one of a very few working installations of Windows for Pen Computing I thought it wise to back up the HDD.
I used the ‘Copy Machine’ software that was installed as part of the Zip Tools suite and copied the entire contents of the HDD onto a single Zip Disk. The process took about 45 minutes and I then copied the copy via USB Zip onto my Mac Pro in roughly 20 seconds where I also burnt the files on to a CD. Now I’ve got the entire contents copied on to the Mac I can browse them quickly and easily find out what the installation consists of. I’m tempted to open up the Samsung and look at the possibility of swapping the HDD out for a CompactFlash card although if I meet too much resistance in the process I shall probably back off for fear of damaging the unit.
I’ve decided to take advantage of the few days of holiday I have left to get well and truly stuck into this year’s Winter Warmup as once back at work progress will no doubt slow considerably. My first task has been to find a way to transfer software onto the PenMaster, there are a number of ports on the device but nothing I can easily use. The FDD port is of a design I’ve not encountered before. Initially I thought an old Fujitsu FDD I had might fit, however although the connector looks the same it is on a much smaller scale. It then occurred to me I could use the parallel port Zip Drive that I’d recently connected to my Atari Portfolio. I’d still need drivers of course but if I could find them I thought I would at least be able to add them to my BBS (Nostromo) and then dial in and download them onto the Samsung.
I searched for a while before finding some drivers for Windows 3.1 on Epson’s site here. I have to say I really like Epson as a company and the way it continues to support its old products. I downloaded them onto the Windows XP box that hosts Nostromo and added them to the file section. When I got home I dialled in with the PenMaster using Terminal and the built in modem and managed to connect. However the internal modem refused to connect at anything greater than 1200 baud which may be its limit but seems a bit poor. I made several attempts to download the Zip software but it kept failing.
So out came the trusty US Robotics Sportster which once connected to the solitary COM port on the PenMaster successfully connected at 19200 Baud and downloaded the Zip software in relatively quick fashion. I had to modify the config.sys slightly, changing the ‘Lastdrive=’ entry to free up a drive letter for the Zip drive. After digging through my Zip Disks I was able to find the original Zip Tools disk which allowed me to complete a full install of the Zip drivers and software.
Combined with my USB Zip drive I now have a pretty quick and painless way of downloading software on to one of my Mac’s, putting it onto Zip Disk and then loading it via the parallel port Zip onto the Samsung, first major hurdle hurdled.
I’ve also been trying to get acquainted with the pen input of the PenMaster, learning the gestures for space, return, delete etc. It’s not bad, I can imagine with some practice you could probably get proficient at entering stuff fairly quickly. Just to show how lacking in proficiency I currently am I thought I’d challenge myself to log on again to Nostromo and send a Tweet using just the stylus. I recorded the process and include the video below for those who are very patient. I have however also attached a keyboard and even managed to dig out serial mouse which still works which should offer more rapid progress. I rather like the fact that the Tweet was not perfect, speaks volumes for handwriting recognition.
I’ve been messing around with some terminal stuff today. I have almost no experience of terminal software so it’s not coming naturally to me. What I had hoped to achieve was to use the PX-16 with its clearer screen as a dumb terminal for the PX-8.
I don’t yet have a serial cable that fits the PX-16 so I’ve been experimenting with the PX-8 hooked up via RS232 to my Windows 95 box. By luck one of the PX-8′s I have came with a pre-configured copy of Kermit. I downloaded Kermit for Windows 95 and set about trying to get them to talk to each other. After a bit of fiddling I managed to get the PX-8 acting as a sort of dumb terminal for the other box.
What I really want is to do this the other way around but due to my ignorance of the subject I don’t know if that’s even possible, whether you can control a CP/M box via DOS or if you need two CP/M based machines. In my mind the terminal is just acting as screen and keyboard for the other machine but it doesn’t seem to be working that way. Still early days and some reading required.
This is just a quick video of me changing directory and listing the directory of the Windows 95 machine on the PX-8.
OK, I know it looks a bit like a cash register, especially when it’s sitting on the disk unit but I like it! I’ve removed all of the internals today and given the cases a good clean inside and out. I’ve secured the FDD and HDD in the working disk unit and made an attempt to get the FDD working.
The FDD is an Epson SMD-400. Like the HDD it has a non-standard connection, with power being supplied via the interface cable as opposed to the usual separate cable. Unlike the HDD it doesn’t work and I’ve been unable to make it read or write to any disks. I’ve had it apart and fiddled a bit with the spin speed and head alignment but no joy. Oddly a cable to nowhere has been soldered to the board, I have no idea what it would have been connected to but hope it’s not something painfully obvious like the head.
The unit does spin up and the head moves around but it fails on every disk I’ve tried. It would of course be nice to slot another drive in there, I’ve got plenty of them but of course they all require a separate power cable.
With no serial cable and no FDD I’m rather limited on what I can do with the machine as I’m unable to get any files on to it. In desperation I opened up my Windows 95 box and trailed the cable from its floppy into the PX-16 disk unit so the Windows 95 box could power it. However with it connected to the floppy interface on the PX-16 the Epson won’t start up.
I gave up and turned my attention to the installed modem. It has an RJ connector that I’ve not seen on a UK modem before. Usually they’re RJll’s with 4 connections. This looks more like an RJ45 and it has 8 connections, although it’s a UK specified machine and the modem is made by a UK company.
I started up Term and sent some modem commands to COM 2 and got the usual OK’s back. I tried to kludge a cable together but was unable to get a dial tone. So a slightly more frustrating day today although I did have fun playing with XTGold which was on the disk I’d salvaged from the Equity, it seems like quite an impressive file manager.
Things are progressing quickly with the PX-16. Having got the main unit working my attention was today turned to the two disk units that came with the Epson. Designed to hold either one or two FDD’s or an FDD and an HDD the units sit under and clip onto the main machine. The two units are then connected via a cable at the back.
The first unit I tried seemed dead, no amount of fiddling would coax it into life. The second unit however powered up first time, although the FDD in it won’t currently read or write to any disks. The dead unit had a daughter card and from it a cable with a 26 pin connector which I assumed was for the HDD, although I’d not seen that sort of connector before.
I enquired over at the Vintage Computer Forums as to whether anyone recognised this connector. Mike S & Chuck G pointed me in the direction of the JVC JD-3824 drive, Chuck remembering it from a Gridlite he used to own. I did a search for JVC JD-3824 and had a doh! moment when my own blog came up. This is the drive in my Epson Equity. I was considering, somewhat reluctantly, taking the Equity apart and trying the HDD in the PX-16.
Then I remembered I had another Equity, seriously beaten up and not working, tucked away somewhere. I dug it out, took it apart and low and behold there was a JVC JD-3824 drive in it and on the drive that familiar 26 pin connector and cable, I love moments like that!
I quickly removed the drive, cleaned it up and put it in the PX-16 drive unit into which I’d also installed the daughter card from the dead unit. I turned it on and… nothing. Then I noticed a jumper by the mainboard connector to the daughter card. On checking the unit from which I’d removed the daughter card I realised the jumper was in the alternative position.
I swapped the jumper, turned the unit on and the HDD whirred into life. Not only that but it actually booted to the drive’s original installation of MS-DOS. I was astonished to say the least, it’s noisy and clunky but I love it.
The PX-16 is highly configurable, in fact it’s so highly configurable that it makes my head hurt. There’s a bank of DIP switches in the unit to set depending on which configuration you require. This includes two boot modes, one of which behaves like a regular PC but also denies access to the system’s ROM’s. I’m still trying to fully understand the other mode.
I’d like to try and get the FDD working next and I want to build an RS232 cable at some point. The system also came with some additional RAM which I can’t seem to access in the PC boot mode although it’s available in the standard mode so I need to look at that.
There’s also a Modem in the unit which I’d like to try and I need to do some swapping around to get all the working components into the cleanest cases and secure the various drives properly.
On first turning the machine on it would simply beep and display some odd glitches on the screen. After referring to the manual and simply resetting the DIP switches on the unit to correspond with the display that was attached it booted up.
The unit is currently booting from ROM, it can also be set to boot from floppy but I’ve yet to get the disk unit working, there’s also a 26 pin connector in the disk unit which I assume is some sort of proprietary HDD connection.
I’m having a fair amount of difficulty tracking down much information on the PX-16. From what I can tell it was mainly used in Europe and often by field service engineers. Its modular design allows you to swap out the keyboard and screen for alternative versions and like the PX-4 it has a removable cartridge on the right of the machine which can house various peripherals.
It’s looking as though this Retrochallenge is going to end up considerably less focused than the last. Not helped by a late start due to a family holiday I’ve now been thrown a googly by the arrival of a new machine.
For some time I’ve lusted after an Epson PX-16 and with one recently listed on Ebay it was an opportunity not to be missed. Listed as non-working but including some additional bits such as a spare screen and disk unit I felt confident I’d be able to resurrect it so I put in a bid. Somewhat amusingly for me, not so much the seller I got it for 99 pence.
It’s in good condition cosmetically and I’ve put it on charge hopeful that I’ll be able to get it working tomorrow. Information on the PX-16 is pretty scarce, as usual for old Epson stuff the best resource is Fred Kraan’s excellent site.
I shall try and find out some more information and take some better pictures in due course. For now I know this machine runs MS-DOS 3.2 from ROM and has an 8088 compatible V20 processor. In the picture above the PX-16 is sitting on top of the optional disk unit which can house two floppy drives or a floppy drive and hard disk.