More on the C&T Super386

Since last week’s post, more information about the Chips and Technologies C&T has come to light.

It now appears that at least some 38605DX processors were made. Whether there is any surviving working system is still an open question (since a special motherboard would be required as well). On the other hand, there is still is no evidence that any of the SX variants existed beyond samples.

There is more on the sort-of-SMM in the Super386, called SuperState V. The U.S. Patent 5,455,909 provides an overview of the feature. The caveat is that the patent’s existence does not necessarily imply a specific implementation. The F8680 PC/CHIP is better documented but its SuperState R (R for Real, V for Virtual?) is not necessarily the same as the Super386’s SuperState V.

Last but not least, thanks to a reader suggestion and a kind stranger, an unfinished manuscript of the Super386 Programmer’s Reference Manual has been located. While it is very incomplete, it sheds some light on the one mysterious undocumented Super386 instruction. Continue reading

Posted in 386, C&T, Documentation | 7 Comments

The Forgotten 386

The CPUs that fit into a 386 socket are well known: Intel’s original, AMD’s exact copy, and Cyrix/TI upgrades. There is also IBM’s 386SLC which is close to a 386 but can’t be plugged into a standard 386 socket. The photo below shows a selection of eight more or less common PGA-132 processors with Intel/AMD and Cyrix/TI cores:

386 Socket CPUs

The ninth is not like the others—a C&T Super386.

The Chips & Technologies Super386 or J38600DX is so obscure that it’s not mentioned in most lists of x86 processors and not detected by most software.  Yet the C&T 386 was the first commercially available clean-room clone of the 386, beating Cyrix to market by several months (AMD’s Am386 chips were exact copies and not clones). So what went wrong? Continue reading

Posted in 386, C&T, PC history | 10 Comments

More ISA VGA Benchmarks

After establishing that Trident VGA cards are indeed very slow, the natural follow-up question is: Are there cards even slower than that? But not some 8-bit VGA card from the 1980s (or a Realtek from the 1990s), and not some exotic CAD accelerator, but rather some mainstream 16-bit ISA graphics card.

Those who remember the latter days of ISA graphics cards may guess the “winner”: Early S3 graphics accelerators! Such as this one:

S3 Graphics Card #1

This specimen from mid-1992 was not a cheap card, but it was popular. It was a graphics accelerator with 1MB VRAM (not DRAM) and an 80 MHz DAC. The S3 86C911 chip kicked off a very successful line of graphics adapters. Continue reading

Posted in Cirrus Logic, IBM, S3, VGA | 4 Comments

About Those Trident VGAs…

An earlier post mentioned that the performance of Trident-based ISA VGA cards leaves much to be desired. A reader pointed out that such cards tend to have switchable 8-bit/16-bit bus width and performance might suffer if the card is incorrectly jumpered.

After examining two different Trident cards in detail, it is clear that yes, those jumpers exist… but the Trident-based cards are so bad that it doesn’t matter anyway.

Trident TVGA8900B

The first card was this:


It’s a 1991 ISA VGA card sold under the Octek brand, using a Trident TVGA8900B chip. It’s notable for sporting full 1MB video memory, not typical for a cheap 1991 card. Continue reading

Posted in Trident, VGA | 16 Comments

Fast Unaccelerated VGA?

For the purpose of comparing the relative real-world performance of various processors, it’s useful to run CPU and graphics-intensive benchmarks such as 3DBench or DOOM. To avoid benchmarking the graphics card instead, the VGA has to have enough headroom so that it doesn’t become the bottleneck. And because benchmarking 386 (i.e. ISA-only) systems is desired, it has to be a (16-bit) ISA VGA card.


On the other hand, accelerated graphics performance is uninteresting here; only standard VGA matters. So what’s a fast ISA VGA card? That’s a question which is not as easy to answer as it perhaps should be. Continue reading

Posted in 386, ATi, S3, VGA | 15 Comments

The Nearly Ultimate 386 Board

Spurred by the acquisition of a 386 ZIF socket adapter, I revived the semi-mysterious 386 board acquired over a year ago. To recap, the board is unusual in that it has CPU frequency configurable via jumpers, but I had trouble getting anything other than the soldered-on Am386DX-40 to run.

Experimenting with the PGA processor socket showed somewhat odd behavior: Plugging in another Am386DX-40, the board worked and both CPUs seemed to run. Lowering the frequency, it was even possible to have an Intel 386 CPU running in the PGA socket. But a Cyrix or TI processor would not work. The current theory is that as delivered, a CPU plugged into the PGA socket would be active, but the soldered-on processor ran as well. As long as the two were more or less identical, the system would work. Continue reading

Posted in 386, Hardware Hacks, PC hardware | 6 Comments

This Is How to Feed It

The question of how to feed an Intel SBT2 board has been answered thanks to a very kind blog reader. Interestingly, there are two different answers. The official one is this:

Delta RPS-350B

The Delta Electronics RPS-350 B power supply comes from a SC5000 chassis and is exactly what the SBT2 board calls for. It has the right 24-pin ATX-style power connector and the right 10-pin special I²C power connector, as well as the uncommon auxiliary connector. It’s a redundant power supply, meaning that the system should survive the failure of one of the two PSUs within the housing (notice the two handles on the back).

With the SSI switch panel (likewise from a SC5000), my SBT2 started up right away (well, almost, see below). Integrated graphics, 4GB RAM (this is a board from 2000!), 1GHz Xeon. Continue reading

Posted in Intel, PC hardware | 14 Comments

The Vanishing Dream

By sheer coincidence, three different yet similar wavetable daughterboards landed on my desk. They’re of different ages but all use Dream synthesizer chips. Together they provide an interesting window into the evolution of MIDI synthesizers.

Dream Evolution

The oldest daughterboard is from mid-1994 and was likely sold under the TerraTec WaveSystem brand. It uses the SAM9203 synthesizer chip. The middle-aged board is from late 1994 and uses the widespread SAM9233 synth chip. It was sold as Hizon DB333 and under other names. The newest of the bunch is significantly more modern—a Dreamblaster S1 from 2014 using a SAM2195 all-in-one chip. Continue reading

Posted in MIDI, Sound | 2 Comments

How To Feed This Board?

I have a minor problem and it looks like this:

SBT2 Power Connectors

Those are the power connectors on an Intel Server Board SBT2, produced circa 2000. I can’t find the right thing to plug into them.

The 24-pin connector should be more or less regular ATX, but it’s not enough to power up the board (nothing happens when I short the power switch pins). I don’t know if the 10-pin connector is required to be used as well, or if perhaps the auxiliary connector in between has to be. It’s also possible that the board is simply dead, although there is no obvious damage. Continue reading

Posted in Intel, PC hardware, Xeon | 18 Comments

386 ZIF Socket Adapter

After a long wait, I decided to bite the bullet and order a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket adapter suitable for 386 CPUs through Digi-Key. The manufacturer is Aries Electronics and the part number is 196-PRS14001-12, as established some time ago. The main motivation was plug-testing of a pile of 386 CPUs, which is not much fun with standard 386 LIF (Low Insertion Force) sockets.

To be precise, this is an adapter which plugs into a conventional LIF socket and provides a ZIF socket with a classic lever for a PGA chip.

386 ZIF Adapter

The one big downside of the product is price. The adapter cost me 65 Euro plus VAT, and the minimum order quantity was two units. That adds up quickly. In addition, the item isn’t stocked and it took well over a month to arrive.

The primary upside on the other hand is that the adapter really works, and it saves a lot of time, frustration, and bent pins. Testing twenty 386 CPUs is a matter of minutes and requires no tools, no force, and if anything, straightens the pins of the processors. Continue reading

Posted in 386, Hardware Hacks, PC hardware | 9 Comments