thinking of the "ultimate" retro x86 PCs - what bits to seek/keep ?

Swift Griggs swiftgriggs at
Thu Jun 2 12:21:09 CDT 2016

Here's what I'm currently looking at (all 486's, but I'd consider 386s and
original Pentiums, too):

* Compaq Prolinea systems
* Canon ObjectStation
* NEC Powermate
* HP Vectra
* IBM Aptiva or PS/1

Not considering:

* Beige Packard Bell with Microsoft Sound System and a 1M graphics card. 

I'm doing my Spring cleaning. I have way too much crap, and the particular 
type of crap that's lowest on my list of "things to keep" is PeeCee crap. 
I simply have too much and a lot of it are the parts I used to make PCs 
bearable at the time (like combo serial/LPT cards). I'm not all that happy 
that PeeCees even exist, yet I have over 20 of them last I checked. I 
think I'm going to rid myself of the vast majority of gear that Greg 
Douglas of Reputable system used to haze me for keeping, calling it 
"PeeCee crap", and that was 16 years ago.

I was asking myself, why do I have all these junky plastic laptops from 
the early 2k era? They are mostly soulless trash (except maybe my Sony 
Picturebook - yes the cute one with the Transmeta Crusoe). Wouldn't I 
rather purge a gaggle of laptops and a few old crappy PCs and instead have 
a single "special" (but much slower) 486-era box ? Yes, I would. I'm 
actually pulling stuff out and playing with it more. Warehousing crap is 
becoming less and less an attractive pastime.

So, I'm thinking I'll consolidate as much of the fun hardware from the 
1990's as I can in one box. That will make me feel better about ditching 
the considerable horde of junk I'm looking at.  To that end, I have a few 
bits I believe are considerably more desirable compared to others and I 
want to get as many as I can in one box. Chime in if you have suggestions.  
So, here we go, in no real order:

* I want to stick with desktop or tower units only, no laptops, I'll 
  probably have to add some PCI cards to get to "ultimate" status :-)

* I'd use it with one of these OSs: *BSD, Linux, Solaris x86, OpenStep, 
  BSDi, Unixware, Minix, MS-DOS, DR-DOS, FreeDOS, or OS/2. Thus the more 
  compatible stuff is worth considering. Windows compatibility isn't 
  something I care about ('cept maybe for comic relief, which I can get 
  much more easily from politics these days).

* Anyone know of a box with a built-in (integrated) Gravis Ultrasound? 
  That'd save me a slot. However, there isn't much to compete with that 
  card from the 90's. The SB16 was ubiquitous and worked well enough, but 
  I didn't feel it could compete with a GUS. The SB16 wasn't the 
  "ultimate" for sure.

* Hmm, Symbios, LSI, or Adaptec on the SCSI controller.... OR! Maybe 
  someone knows of a cool PC that had a built-in SCSI controller. I don't 
  think I could abide PATA/IDE disks and for-sure no MFM/RLL drives (the 
  horror). The nice stuff in the 90's was always SCSI, IIRC. I remember 
  some NEC PCs that were pretty attractive and came with integrated SCSI.

* I hate machines that used custom RAM. I guess it wouldn't be a deal 
  breaker if it was already maxxed. 

* I'd certainly prefer PS/2 keyboard ports.

* Slimline or other nice case designs are very much something I'll look 
  for, but I need at least one PCI slot, methinks. Unless I could get a 
  GUS and SCSI controller both integrated (man, wouldn't that be 
  something!). Anything different or spacey is preferable to a beige box, 
  even if it's just white or black.

* Hmm, what was the ultimate PC framebuffer from the 1990s? I guess it 
  depends on if you care about 3D or think it was too crappy in the 1990s 
  to consider. I'm mostly in the latter camp. So, I'm more inclined to go 
  for maximum 2D performance and maximum OS compatibility. Number Nine? 
  Orchid? I guess I need to find some 2D performance benchmarks from 1999 
  or something similar. Matrox might work out. The MGA Millennium II comes 
  to mind. I liked 3DFX, too, but I'm worried they were too 3D centric, 
  plus they were ignored by the commercial Unix players. More video memory 
  is great so it can run higher res where possible.  

* I'll use a 3Com 3c905, but I remember there being even better stuff. I'm 
  just not sure which one is going to work best for all my OSs. Maybe the 
  3C509 is a better choice, but it's 10mbit and ISA, IIRC. I just remember 
  that card works in more OSs than anything I've ever seen. Realtek is 
  out. I won't use those PoSs ("fool me once" and all that). I'm also not 
  a fan of Broadcom (again they burned me too often).

* NTSC Video capability would be nice, but I'll probably just add it in 
  the form of an old Happauge PCI WinTV. I need to find out what OpenSTEP 
  and others supported. This is just a "nice to have" for me. I really 
  liked things like the MacTV (all-in-one with NTSC tuner) back in the

* Since I'm mostly looking at 486's, I'm mainly targeting the 486/66. I 
  have nothing against Cyrix or exotic x86 processors from the era.


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