It’s fairly common knowledge that Compaq made the first 386-based computer, but what about the 486? What was the first 486 computer? When did the first 486 computer come out? And why have you never heard of it?
The first 486 computer was the Apricot VX FT, a line of servers announced in June 1989, with general availability later that year. They were expensive and they were only marketed as servers, so that’s why they aren’t as well known as the Compaq Deskpro 386.
I dusted off my 486 the other weekend because I had some 90s nostalgia. And just like the 90s, I immediately ran into some trouble. The VGA connector didn’t fit on the 15-inch 4:3 LCD monitor I wanted to use. If your VGA connector doesn’t fit, you probably have the same problem I had.
VGA connectors used to leave out pin 9 as a key pin, to keep you from plugging the wrong kind of cable into the connector and damaging the connector. Modern VGA cables use pin 9, so if your cable doesn’t fit, check to see if the port has 14 pins or 15. A 14-pin VGA cable is almost a must-have if you travel and give presentations a lot, or are into retro computers.
The difference between an original IBM PC and a PC/XT seems subtle today. The XT wasn’t a huge upgrade over the PC, but the improvements were enough to be significant. The changes IBM made greatly extended the lifespan of the XT, and that’s one reason XTs are so much more common than PCs today. Let’s take a look at the IBM PC vs XT.
The PC/XT had the same CPU running at the same speed and couldn’t take any additional memory over the PC. But the XT was more expandable, and in the late 1980s, that was everything.
CPUs didn’t have brand names, besides the manufacturer, until the 1990s. They had part numbers and clock speeds. Frequently we shortened the part numbers. The 486’s full part number was 80486. The courts wouldn’t let Intel trademark a number, so the 486 was the last CPU of its kind, raising the question: What came after 486?
The follow-up for the 486 was the Pentium, at least in Intel’s case. But several companies made 486 CPUs, and several of those released their own follow-ups to the 486, including AMD and Cyrix.
Loading a CD-ROM device driver in DOS is a bit of a lost art and it wasn’t that easy to find information on it in the 90s either. If you want to use a CD-ROM drive in MS-DOS, here’s how to load and configure the driver.
Using a CD-ROM drive in MS-DOS requires loading a driver in config.sys as well as loading MSCDEX.EXE in autoexec.bat. If you match the /D switch on both, the drive will work, but there are tricks to getting optimal performance and memory usage.
Back in the old days, we had to worry about BIOS hard drive limits. I couldn’t put a 40 GB hard drive in my 486 because it couldn’t recognize a drive of that size. Granted, I didn’t want to do that in the 90s, but now that we’re starting to dust off those old systems and put modern storage solutions in them, sometimes we have to think about those limits again.
Generally speaking, older systems tend to be limited to hard drive sizes of 528 MB, 2.1 GB, 4.2 GB, 8.4 GB, 33.8 GB, or 137 GB. Sometimes you can configure the system to ignore the extra size, or you can use another workaround.
There was a time when the Sound Blaster, and its manufacturer, Creative Labs, were household names. Today the product is a bit marginalized, even though it’s historically very significant. What does a Sound Blaster do, and should you care?
A Sound Blaster provides audio capability for a PC, usually slightly better than what comes built into modern PCs. Before sound came standard, Sound Blaster was the most popular and best supported type of sound card.
Working IDE hard drives are getting harder to find. Compact Flash cards, the easiest modern substitute, aren’t all that easy to find anymore either. That got me looking at SD to IDE adapters, which convert cheap, readily available SD cards to a legacy IDE interface. This is convenient, but how’s the performance?
It turns out there are three limiting factors in SD to IDE performance: Card speed, adapter speed, and IDE bus speed. But since seek times on SD cards is lower, you can still see a performance improvement over a mechanical drive even if the transfer rates are disappointing. This is especially true of legacy systems that don’t have pre-emptive multitasking.
If you have a mystery ISA network card with no recognizable brand name on it, chances are it’s an NE2000 clone of some sort. These cards were common in their day, but difficult to get working if you don’t have the original disks and manual. Here are some tips for using an NE2000 network card in DOS without them.
And these tips are helpful for using other cards in DOS as well, especially what you can do with the card once you have it up and running.