Basement Finds

The other day I attacked an old and long forgotten 286 PC stashed away in the basement. The PC is dead because the power supply blew years ago and the motherboard has a non-standard power connector.

But the case was packed with goodies like this one:

ATI VGA Wonder-16

ATI VGA Wonder-16

An ATI VGA Wonder graphics card from early 1989 (most chips made in 1988). This was one of the very early SuperVGA adapters with 512 KB video memory and support for 800×600 and 1024×768 resolutions.

The card is obviously rather old and supports EGA monitors in addition to VGA. It can also be configured to emulate EGA/CGA/MDA hardware. Note the lack of jumpers—everything is software selectable with the configuration stored in EEPROM.

The 286 also had this installed:

DFI MegaLITH with 8 MB

DFI MegaLITH with 8 MB

That’s an AT-bus memory card (extended/EMS), a DFI MegaLITH PLUS-S. The card has whopping 8 MB installed in convenient 30-pin SIMMs, enough to make any AT purr. It’s relatively new, built in 1991.

The memory board is quite long and may easily not fit into some boards, but it’s easy to configure, even without a manual. The card takes 256KB or 1MB SIMMs, naturally in pairs. There’s even an image of the driver disk floating around—necessary for EMS, but for extended memory there’s no extra software required.

Needless to say, 8 MB is a lot for such a card. Many memory boards only support 2 or 4 MB and use DIP memory chips. The DFI MegaLITH on the other hand is an excellent way to park a few surplus 1 MB SIMMs.

What I left in the case was the 100-something MB ESDI hard disk and the corresponding WD-7000 controller. While technically highly interesting (ESDI was never all that common), a heavy 5¼” hard disk is somehow not quite as convenient as a CF card.

On the other hand I pulled the Epson SD-800 drive (manufactured in 1993) from the case. That’s a rather unusual combo 5¼”/3½” floppy drive which only occupies one 5¼” bay. It has the neat property that depending on where it’s attached to the floppy cable, either the 5¼” or the 3½” unit acts as the A: drive.

The 3½” drive looks like a fairly standard laptop drive. The 5¼” part is a slim drive, about 1″ tall. Both have eject buttons—standard for a 3½” unit but highly unusual arrangement for a 5¼” floppy drive.

Good times.

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10 Responses to Basement Finds

  1. Raúl Gutiérrez says:

    Do the DB-9 and DB-15 connectors mean that the video card supports EGA and VGA monitors? That’s what I supposed (I have 2 VGAs with both connectors) but some months ago I learned that 1st VGA monitors had DB-9 connectors, and somebody told me these cards have 2 connectors to support “new” (DB-15) and old (DB-9) VGA monitors, but not EGA monitors.

    In fact, there are DB-9/DB-15 compact adapters which just map pins on both sides, without any electronic part inside. Like this: https://www.elliottelectronicsupply.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/265×265/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/0/0/0038975700922_Def_27.jpg

  2. Richard Wells says:

    VGA Wonder runs with lots of monitors: MDA, CGA, EGA, VGA, or 8514. Depending on model of card, it may be able to automatically detect which monitor is attached.

    It also has one ability that made it very popular at the time; VGA Wonder will automatically switch into 8-bit mode if placed in an 8-bit slot. All in all, one of the better cards for someone into older IBM PC related computing.

  3. Richard Cranium says:

    > … VGA Wonder will automatically switch into 8-bit mode if placed in an 8-bit slot.

    OK, I’ve seen statements like this about a few cards over the years. I have to ask: what’s the “paradigm” for installing cards this way?

    Obviously, all these cards have 16-bit ISA edge connectors. Do these cards simply “hang out” when placed in 8-bit slots? Or are 16-bit motherboard slots, that are electrically 8-bit, common?

    If not, is there some sort of protector – or even just some gaffer tape – that can/must be wrapped around the short part of the edge connector?

    What about motherboards that have components in the way, behind their 8-bit ISA slot(s)?

    Apologies if I sound like an idiot. 🙂

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    I believe the VGA Wonder supports EGA and even mono monitors. Aha… I have the manual for a newer VGA Wonder XL24 (though not the card) which is basically an improved model. The manual clearly states that there’s a 15-pin analog and a 9-pin digital connector, and that the digital connector supports TTL (MDA/Hercules), RGB (CGA), and EGA monitors, all automatically detected. There is a mention of a “Multisync Digital” monitor with a note that using multisync monitors in digital mode is not recommended.

    The first VGA monitors did not have 9-pin connectors. IBM’s VGA hardware always used DB-15 connectors. I have an IBM 8512 monitor and two Model 80 PS/2 machines, all first generation PS/2 hardware. All use standard VGA connectors.

    It is entirely possible that other vendors had higher resolution EGA monitors with different connectors, or some weirdo 9-pin analog connector. But no, the first (i.e. IBM) VGA hardware definitely did not use 9-pin connectors.

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  6. Chris M. says:

    “Multisync Digital” almost certainly refers to the NEC Multisync and Multisync II monitors (among others). Those models could accept both TTL and analog RGB video so were compatible with MDA/CGA/EGA/VGA out of the box. The monitor came with a DB-9 plug with a DB-9 to HDI-15 VGA adapter, the monitor handled all the mode switching automatically. ATI preferred that one used the VGA connection in that case.

    If you find one of those “true multisync” monitors, its worth picking one up just for bench use. They also support 15.75khz analog RGB machines like Amigas, Atari ST, and the Apple IIgs with a simple adapter.

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    Yes, that’s what I thought the manual implied. Basically with the NEC Multisync and the VGA Wonder, there was absolutely no point in using the TTL connection because it needlessly limited the card/monitor capabilities. I’ll have to keep in mind that those beasties were so flexible.

  8. Yuhong Bao says:

    @Richard Cranium: On PC/AT or later machines with 16-bit ISA slots, you would normally use the 16-bit slots not the 8-bit slots.

  9. Raúl Gutiérrez says:

    In this page you can find the pinout of the VGA DB-9 connector, but it does not mention who made monitors with that connector. http://www.zytrax.com/tech/pc/monitors.htm It has nothing to do with the EGA connector pin assignment. The question is what’s the source, because there are no references.

    About 16-bit cards working on 8-bit slots, I have tried many OAKs and Tridents and most (if not all) work. Some have a jumper for slot type selection, but it works in both positions for both kind of slots.

  10. Chris M. says:

    The 9-pin VGA pin-out matches the pin-out for VGA mode on the NEC Multisync monitors. It originates from IBM’s Professional Graphics Controller which used a DB-9 port and analog RGB output. The difference is pin 5 is assigned V-sync. (PGC uses composite sync on pin 4).

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