(Wow, you really are a masochist!)
My home system used to have:
  • Tape drives
  • Networking
  • Video
  • Power
  • Misc

    Before that, it had:

    Before that, my home system used to be based on an Intel Pentium Amateur CPU, 133 MHz installed on an Intel Endeavor motherboard.

    Officially known as the "Advanced/EV", the Endeavor is based on the Intel Triton chip set, and has the following features:

    While the audio and video subsystems are both theoretically optional, the only configuration I've been able to find includes the audio but not the video. (Some Dell machines use an Endeavor with video but no audio.)

    I bought my Endeavor motherboard and 100 MHz Pentium Amateur from Hi-Tech USA in Sunnyvale. The 100 MHz part has since been replaced by a 133 MHz Pentium Amateur.

    Technical information on Intel motherboards is available from Intel's OEM Motherboards web page.

    The Endeavor BIOS upgrade files are available for FTP at ftp://ftp.intel.com/pub/bios/". The appropriate files for the Endeavor are the ones that end in "cb0.exe". As of June 24, 1996, the most recent version is 10005cb0.exe.

    The Endeavor BIOS does not contain the Symbios SDMS BIOS, which is necessary to boot from Symbios 53C810 based cards. I had hoped that I could burn it into the Flash myself, since there is a 48K byte area that is "reserved". Unfortunately it appears that Intel has chosen to encrypt the BIOS images files somehow. Rather than wasting more time fighting it, I bought a 53C825 based card which has the SDMS BIOS. I wanted to have two SCSI host adapters anyhow, so I could put the DAT, CDR, and scanner on a separate bus from the disks and CD-ROMs.

    Magenta Systems has compiled a useful comparison of Intel motherboards (look toward the bottom of the page; I don't know why it shares a page with UK telephone tariffs)

    Spider Tarantula 64 PCI video card

    The Spider Tarantula 64 PCI video card (not to be confused with the Spider 64) uses the S3 Vision964 chipset and two or four megabytes of VRAM.

    Naturally the Tarantula comes with DOS, Windows, and CAD drivers, which I have little use for. Fortunately for me, version 3.1 of XFree86 (a freely available version of the X Window System) supports the Vision964.

    I've found the performance of the Tarantula to be excellent, but I haven't run benchmarks, and I don't have any of the other hot cards (like the ATI Graphics Pro Turbo) to compare against.

    The Tarantula uses an ICD programmable clock synthesizer chip, which I found to be very helpful with my old Sony monitor

    Sony GDM-2036 monitor

    The Sony GDM-2036 is an older model 20-inch Trinitron monitor. It was replaced with the 2038, which was very similar but supports higher scan rates, and more recently with the 20SE, which supports 1600*1200 resolution.

    The 2036 supports 30 to 71 kHz horizontal sync rates and 50 to 120 Hz vertical sync rates. Unfortunately the 71 kHz limit means that most standard video driver software can't support 1280*1024 with a vertical scan rate higer than 60 Hz.

    XFree86 allows (nay, requires) the user to completely specify the gory details of the monitor timing. While many people consider this to be a pain in the posterior, I found it to be very useful. I was able to compute paramters that provide 1280*1024 resolution at 67Hz refresh rate, which is right at the specified limits of my monitor's capabilities.

    I find that 1280*1024 resolution results in annoying moire patterns when used with dithered gray bitmaps, so I've set my desktop pattern to a solid gray.

    Plextor 12PleX CD-ROM

    Plextor seems to be the last CD-ROM drive manufacturer that rates the drive based on the sustained tranfer rate for the entire disc, rather than the peak rate that only occurs at the very end of the disc. The overall throughput of the 12PleX is faster than many of the so-called 16x drives.

    Plextor offers the 12PleX in both caddy and tray load models. As should be expected, the rated reliablity of the caddy load model is substantially higher

    Plextor has now introduced a new model, the 12/20Plex, which uses partial CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) to achieve sustained rates from 12x at the inside to 20x at the outside of the disc. However, it appears that it is only available in a tray load model :-(

    Update: Plextor has announced the UltraPlex 32x drive, which is available in both caddy and tray load models.

    Toshiba XM-3701B CD-ROM

    This was probably the last Toshiba CD-ROM drive I'll ever buy. I was disappoined in the performance, and I'm rather annoyed that Toshiba has abandoned caddies in all their new drives. I suppose most consumers didn't understand how to use caddies properly, or were just too cheap to do it. The intent was that each CD-ROM should be put in its own caddy, thus minimizing the handling of the disc and the risk of damage. When I spend $25 to $300 for a CD-ROM, I think that $3 for a caddy is a good investment.

    The tray loading mechanism of the 3701 has a cheap, flimsy feel to it, but I haven't had any actual problems with it.

    Update: after about a year of light use the tray loading mechanism of my 3701 broke. However, I was able to disassemble the drive and fix it myself.

    Toshiba XM-3401B CD-ROM

    The Toshiba 3401 was the highest performance double-speed CD-ROM drive, with a 330 Kbytes/s transfer rate and 200 mS average access time. At the time of its introduction it was the fastest CD-ROM drive of any kind. It was also one of the first drives to support access to audio data over the SCSI bus (which isn't the same as playing audio out the headphone jack; almost all drives do that).

    People keep asking me if I can email them drivers for Toshiba CD-ROMs. I can't do it, for two reasons:

    1. SCSI CD-ROM drives don't need any special drivers. You just need the appropriate drivers for your SCSI host adapater. And I don't have those.
    2. If I did have drivers, they would most likely be copyrighted, and thus I couldn't email them out.

    Nakamichi MBR-7 CD-ROM changer

    The Nakamichi MBR-7 double-speed changer is also sold by Mountain Network Solutions Inc. as the CD7, and by Turtle Beach and other vendors. It can be found for as little as $129, probably due to the introduction of the new quad-speed model.

    Even more ancient

    Before that, my home system used to be based on an Intel DX4-100 CPU installed in an ASUS PCI/I-486SP3G PCI motherboard.

    SP3G Features:

    Warning: don't get the older PCI/I-486SP3 motherboard. Make sure you get the "G". The SP3 uses an older, buggy version of the Saturn chipset, and it uses the SMC combo I/O chip which has some serial port problems.

    Also don't get the PVI-486SP3, which is a combined VESA and PCI motherboard using the SiS chipset, which has poor PCI performance.

    Asus has a web server and an FTP server, but they are both in Taiwan so access is slow from the US.

    Iomega ZIP drive

    The Iomega ZIP drive is a 100 Megabyte removable media drive. It is currently only available as an external drive, but is offered with either SCSI or parallel port interfaces. Naturally I use the SCSI version.

    There is a ZIP FAQ available on Steve's Iomega Page. Byron A. Jeff has written a Linux Iomega ZIP Drive Mini-HOWTO.

    Grant R. Guenther has written a Linux driver for the parallel interface ZIP drive, which is currently in beta test. The source code is available via FTP.

    Yamaha CDR-100 quad-speed CD Recorder

    The Yamaha CDR-100 is one of the fastest and most reliable CD recorders available. They used to be advertised for around $2500, but on February 1, 1996, Yamaha lowered the price of this unit dramatically. I had been planning to buy an HP SureStore 4020i (described below), but now the Yamaha only costs about 25-30% more. I was able to purchase one locally for $1277.

    There is one big difference, though. The Yamaha typically is supplied as a bare drive (without any software or manual). Bundles are available from VARs at a higher cost.

    I didn't need the software since I plan to use it with the free cdwrite program for Linux.

    I haven't yet tracked down an OEM manual on the drive. If anyone has the title, part number, and/or an appropriate phone or email contact inside Yamaha, please let me know.

    Hewlett-Packard SureStore 4020i CD Recorder

    Also known by its part number, C4324A, this is a double speed CD recorder and quad speed player. Although it has fairly slow seek times, it is a great value at its street price of $950 to $1050.

    I borrowed one of these from a friend for a few weeks, and liked it very much. I was on the verge of buying my own when Yamaha dropped the bottom out of quad speed recorder prices (as described above).

    The 4020i comes with software for Windows 3.1 to record CD-ROM and CD Audio discs. HP has made pre-release drivers for Windows 95 available through their CD-Writer Technical Support page.

    I personally prefer to use Linux. With a few hours of hacking I was able to figure out why cdwrite 1.5 didn't work with the 4020i and come up with a patch. cdwrite version 2.0 contains the fix as well as many other enhancements.

    HP has provided a Developer Toolkit which documents the SCSI command set of the drive. This was invaluable in getting cdwrite working.

    Needham PB-10 EPROM programmer

    The PB-10 from Needham's Electronics is a great inexpensive EPROM programmer for ISA-bus machines. It costs less than $140 and programs all the common 8-bit wide EPROMs. With adapters it can handle some 16-bit wide EPROMs and some microcontrollers.

    The PB-10's software (EMP) is fairly nice and supports user-defined macros which can be invoked when EMP is started. This allows me to put dependency lines in my makefiles (under MS-DOS) to automatically program and verify parts when I reassemble or recompile my code. Unfortunately the PB-10 doesn't have any Linux support, and I suspect that the programming pulse timing is done in software so Linux probably wouldn't be able to handle it well anyhow. But at that price, who cares?

    [Update, 30-Nov-2000] I no longer use DOS or Windows, so I can't use the PB-10 any more. Now I use a Data I/O Unisite programmer, which is a large external box. They're very expensive, but they program *anything*. I wouldn't normally be able to justify such a large expenditure, but I got a very good deal on a used one.

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    Last updated February 24, 2002

    Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002 Eric Smith


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