More Peripherals

Remember this post from a while ago? Several new peripherals have turned up, but what are they? This time, the manufacturer names vanished together with the model numbers, but it shouldn’t be too hard.

Five unknown peripherals

Do you know these peripherals?

PS: Apologies for the poor photo quality.

Posted in MIDI, Sound | 7 Comments

Shiniest x86 Chip

While there have been many shiny new chips in the metaphorical sense, x86 (and x87) chips have never been known to be literally shiny. The typical packaging is ceramic or some form of brushed metal, and neither of these surfaces is shiny. But there was one x86 (or rather x87) chip which was actually very shiny, with a gold sheen to it:

33 MHz C&T J38700DX (1992)

It’s a Chips & Technologies SuperMathDX chip aka J38700DX, a 387-compatible math coprocessor. It’s a relative of the similarly obscure C&T Super386 CPU (which is not shiny at all). Continue reading

Posted in 386, C&T, PC hardware | 6 Comments

Finally Free

For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of buying the full official MIDI specification, but never went through with it. Not so much because of the cost ($100 for the core spec) but because of the hassle. Only fax or snail mail? Really? Not to mention that ordering from outside of the US seemed unreasonably complicated. The MIDI association site kept hinting that electronic versions of the documents would be available soon, but that message had been there for at least a year.

So I randomly went to the midi.org site today to check if anything changed and and lo and behold, it looks completely different! And what’s more… it no longer offers the printed MIDI specs for sale. Instead, there are PDFs for download (free registration required). That’s a heck of a lot better than $100 worth of dead tree matter.

So now I have a couple hundred pages to read. Thanks, guys!

Posted in Documentation, MIDI | 6 Comments

Gravis Ultras

While researching 1990s sound cards with wavetable synths, I came across an interesting resource called Rich Heimlich’s Patch Set Overview, namely issue #5 from July 1995.

When I tried to unearth older issues of same, I stumbled upon a curious PDF file. It looks like an Ensoniq Soundscape manual, but it’s in fact mostly filled with hundreds of posts from comp.sys.ibm.pc.soundcard.advocacy, capturing a major flame war in response to the innocently named Patch Set Overview. The flame war was basically Rich Heimlich vs. the united forces of Gravis Ultrasound fandom.

Gravis UltraSound (late 1992)

With the distance of 20+ years, it’s fascinating to read. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mr. Heimlich was right and the GUS fans were wrong, and often extremely rude about it (although Mr. Heimlich certainly did not hold back). Continue reading

Posted in Creative Labs, Internet, PC history, Sound | Leave a comment

Getting Organized, Finally

After years of looking for a good storage solution for 386 chips, I accidentally stumbled upon it:

A slightly repurposed CPU tray

This is a relatively modern CPU tray, designed for—I believe—Socket G processors, It turns out that old ceramic PGA 386s fit in the tray rather well. Continue reading

Posted in 386, PC hardware | 10 Comments

Tahiti + Rio = Monterey

The talk is, of course, about Turtle Beach sound cards. I finally got hold of a 1994 Turtle Beach Rio daughterboard which came mounted on an ISA sound card. On closer inspection the card turned out to be a Turtle Beach Tahiti, the second generation of Turtle Beach’s famous MultSound line of semi-professional cards. And while the Tahiti ($259) and Rio ($139) were available separately, they were also sold as a combo called Monterey ($349).

Tahiti + Rio = Monterey

The first MultiSound (retroactively renamed to MultiSound Classic) was a 1991 design combining high-quality 18-bit converters, a Motorola 56001 DSP, and an E-mu Proteus 1/XR synthesizer. It is worth mentioning that the Proteus 1/XR was a very close relative of the original Wave Blaster and appears to be some variant of the E-mu SoundEngine.

In 1993, E-mu was acquired by Creative Technology, and the SoundEngine was no longer available to OEMs. In an unrelated development, Turtle Beach was bought by ICS, and ICS marketed the WaveFront synthesizer chipset.

With the Proteus 1/XR no longer available, Turtle Beach was forced to redesign the MultiSound for a 1994 release. The new board, MultiSound Tahiti, had minimal differences from the original, except it had no onboard synth at all and instead there was a 26-pin Wave Blaster connector. That connector ideally carried Turtle Beach’s own Rio, a General MIDI daughterboard based on the ICS WaveFront with a 4 MB ROM. More about the Rio later. Continue reading

Posted in MIDI, Sound, Wave Blaster | 15 Comments

Mystery NetBurst

Some time ago, a mysterious CPU showed up at the OS/2 Museum:

Intel CPU, S-spec SL7HY

Intel CPU, S-spec SL7HY

It is a Socket 775 CPU with a Pentium 4 label and the following markings: 3.73 GHZ/1M/1066/A4. In other words, 3.73 GHz clock speed, 1 MB L2 cache, 1066 MHz FSB, and A4 power/TDP requirements (should be mere 84W TDP according to Scott Mueller). The S-spec of the CPU is SL7HY. The processor was manufactured in week 22 of 2004, long before the fall of the evil heat-dissipating NetBurst empire.

Okay, so this is one of the faster-clocked Pentium 4 CPUs, perhaps with an “extreme” FSB speed, but what’s so unusual about it? Continue reading

Posted in Intel, Pentium 4 | 20 Comments

Alt Insanity

Several times, a question came up how to synthesize keyboard input to a remote system given a text string. The remote system is typically but not necessarily a VM. That sounds like something which should be trivial, yet it is anything but.

The basic problem is that keyboards send scan codes which reflect the position of the key on the keyboard, not the character which a key press generates. The compounding problem is that there is a nearly infinite number of key to character mappings, also known as keyboard layouts.

And even for the most basic alphanumeric input, the keyboard layouts are crucial, because entering something as simple as ‘abc123’ requires a different sequence of keystrokes on US, German, and French keyboards.

If the sending system runs a Windows OS, the problem scope can be greatly reduced through several APIs: OemKeyScan, VkKeyScan, VkKeyScanEx, MapVirtualKey, and MapVirtualKeyEx. These all translate characters or virtual key codes into scan codes, either using the current keyboard layout or given a specific keyboard layout. Sounds great, right? Not so fast… Continue reading

Posted in Virtualization, Windows | 13 Comments

Capacitors, Ugh

So I’m looking at an ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe board that stopped working some time ago and I had no time to figure out why. The board is from early 2008, not exactly vintage hardware, or at least not just yet. It gave up the ghost approximately in 2013.

I was about to fire up the board when I noticed that about half of the capacitors look like they’re trying to poop out the rubber seal at the bottom. It’s not terribly obvious at first glance and I also can’t find any traces of leaked electrolyte, but those capacitors look very sick.

The interesting thing is that the caps near the CPU, which I would think (perhaps naively) get stressed the most, look just fine. And I’m reminded of another board, an Intel DG965RY, which still works but has 3 or 4 rather unhealthy looking capacitors far away from the CPU. Continue reading

Posted in PC hardware | 10 Comments

Fun with AGP

Several months ago, I retook possession of a PC which I had built back in 2003 (I think—it’s been a while). It is based on an Intel D865PERL (Rock Lake) board and a Northwood 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with hyper-threading (HT). I newly upgraded the machine to 4 GB DDR400 RAM, something I didn’t want to invest in back in 2003 but is affordable now.

Unfortunately the system had serious trouble with graphics. The machine was equipped with an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (R300), a card I got as a freebie at an ATI event in San Francisco back in 2002 or so. The card served me very well for years (until it was replaced by a Radeon 1950 XT in a completely new system), but now it just tended to lock up a lot. Closer inspection revealed that at least one of the RAM chips on the card is almost certainly loose, which is not that easy for me to fix (BGA chips).

Radeon HD 3850, one of the fastest AGP cards.

Radeon HD 3850, one of the fastest AGP cards.

The Intel 865 chipset is more or less the pinnacle of Intel’s AGP support, with AGP 8x capability. The next chipset, the Intel 915, was already based on PCI Express. On the other hand, the Radeon 9700 Pro is old enough that it works even in older AGP 2x systems.

As an intermediate solution, I stuffed a fan-less Radeon HD 3450 into the system. That took care of the stability, but I wasn’t very happy with performance. I didn’t do direct benchmarks but the card seemed slower than the old Radeon 9700 Pro. Part of the problem was that years ago, I used an analog CRT and ran games in 1024×768 resolution. Now the system has a 1600×1200 IPS LCD hooked up, and that more than doubles the number of pixels the GPU needs to push.

The Problem

My test case was Half-Life 2. It’s a 2004 game (yes, that old!) and the 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 is a perfectly adequate CPU for it. But the HD 3450 graphics card was not. The game ran okay with reduced settings, but turning on the flashlight or encountering smoke brought the frame rate down to almost nothing.

Replacing the graphics card with something faster should take care of the slowdowns. But what to replace it with, that’s the question. Continue reading

Posted in AGP, Pentium 4 | 24 Comments