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Julian H
February 28th, 2009, 06:16 PM
Hello All,
We have several early/mid 90's portable scientific instruments (spectrum analyzers) consisting of 6 EISA cards that we are still using with DOS 6.22 and WWG 3.11. These instruments reside in custom built portable systems using standard 486-66 motherboards. We need to upgrade the computers to newer systems that still will accept these 6 boards and run a WWG 3.11 program. The system needs to be portable, and could be either a lunch box system or an external EISA card case that interfaces with a modern notebook. The systems worked well at 66MHz with a 500mb Hdd, so we do not need speed or storage; the main thing is the 6 full size slots not including video or disk controllers. Where should I look for such new hardware?
Thanks, JH

Unknown_K
February 28th, 2009, 10:34 PM
If the speed, storage, and DOS + Windows combination are still OK why do you need to upgrade at all?

You do know the difference between EISA and ISA cards (I have seen people confuse the two)? A 486/66 EISA motherboard with 6 slots was never standard, which makes me think you are talking ISA.

If it is indeed ISA then you just need to find an industrial backplane and connect a PC on a card to it (lunchbox system you were referring to). Do a google search for "single board computers". Anything sold today is most likely PCI based, but you can probably find ISA cards and backplanes somewhere for legacy systems like what you have.

http://www.industrial-computer-source.com/s-series-single-board-computer/S5491-backplane.htm <== Something like that would hold the CPU card and 8 ISA cards plus allow you to use more common PCI cards for other thing, and fit inside an industrial case.

You will probably run into problems with software coded for DOS/Win 3.1 and modern (too fast) CPU systems. So get a card that is around a Pentium I/II if you can or just test it out.

As far as interfacing with a new notebook you can get a copy of pcanywhere or Timbukto to run on both systems and communicate over ethernet. The laptop would show the desktop of the slave machine allowing you to control it at a distance over a network/internet and allows password protection at the same time.

Julian H
March 1st, 2009, 05:07 AM
Thanks Unknown_K
I do not know the difference bewteen EISA and ISA so I presume you are correct. The system originally was designed for 386 computers which may prove the point. In fact the old mother board had 8 ISA slots, six for the instrument and the disk controller and graphics card used up the other two. We are looking for replacements because one power supply failed and the built-in screen and graphics system is flakey on another and a connector on the motherboard of another is bad. As to speed, I meant the instrument worked well but sometimes the graphics would not keep up with the instrument, so a little more computer speed would be nice. I agree we do not need the latest and greatest. I will investigate the suggestions you made.

Julian H.

Terry Yager
March 1st, 2009, 08:37 AM
If the graphics card/display is having trouble keeping up, a faster CPU is only going to make it worse. Perhaps you're already bumping up against timing issues after going from the '386 to a 486-based system. OTOH, an upgrade of the video board might solve the problem without replacing the whole system. As to the ones that are broken, some of our members are very good at board-level repairs, perhaps you could send the mainboard(s) out for repairs, and save your budget to cover the cost of having your software updated for the time when simple repairs are no longer possible, and you are forced to move to more modern hardware.

--T

patscc
March 1st, 2009, 09:46 AM
Before we all get carried away, if you can take some pics of the cards, or have a look at these links, so we can all agree on if it's EISA or ISA we're looking at.

Slots:
The black ones are ISA, the brown ones are EISA.
http://www.learnthat.com/certification/files/aplus/img/eisa_l.jpg

Cards:
Pictures of the same NIC, but for different busses.
If the OP would please take a look and post back with what the cards actually are.
http://www.networklab.co.uk/cmodem/nics.html

patscc

Julian H
March 1st, 2009, 10:34 AM
Hello All
I can confirm the cards are ISA. Board sockets are black and my card's connectors look like the ISA ones. This system was designed before the 486 computers were available, and had a few minor upgrades, and are still being sold today, but I suspect mainly to people who already have them. The new computers are standard lunch box models running a newer operating system, but I am not sure which brand it is or what os is used. The company wants more than they are worth to put the old boards in a new lunch box. My hopes are to get an industrial box without a screen and run the instrument from my laptop using VNC or something similar. I would not need to use the instrument computer for anything else. I may or may not have a bad instrument board that caused the power supply failure. I am still doing some troubleshooting.

Thanks for your help!
Julian H.

MikeS
March 1st, 2009, 10:43 AM
Did you really mean 'standard' 486-66 motherboards? If so, why not just replace them with the same thing and keep your non-standard enclosures?

Or, if you're going to use a laptop remotely, then any old curb-side 486 system should be adequate as long as it's got 6 available slots, no?

Any chance of a picture or two? What do your lunchboxes use for a display?

Unknown_K
March 1st, 2009, 10:55 AM
If it is not too much trouble could you take a few pictures of the hardware setup? It might just be easier to have the broken components replaced, you can still get AT power supplies and have broken connectors replaced.

Was this system custom programmed in C/C++ or was it just a labview setup?

patscc
March 1st, 2009, 10:59 AM
Julian H said...We are looking for replacements because one power supply failed and the built-in screen and graphics system is flakey on another and a connector on the motherboard of another is bad.

Where are you guys located ? If you take some pics of the dead power supply, I might have a replacement for it (reasonable cost replacement, not hundreds of dollars type replacement), or, failing that, fix the original PSU, since it's probably just a generic AT-style switcher.
What type of screen does it have, LCD panel ?
Depending on the connector on the motherboard, it might be a quite simple fix as well.

patscc

Julian H
March 1st, 2009, 04:30 PM
Hello All
Photos below of the instrument- an 8 channel sound and vibration spectrum analyzer. This uses an off the shelf motherboard and there were several types used from time to time. If you look closely, you can see that the CPU heat sink is machined to allow room for the board. These same ISA cards were used in 386 and 486 systems. The cards may be slightly larger than the standard specs for an ISA board. At some point, the manufacturer dropped the custom case design and a lunch box system was purchased to put the cards in. The program was a custom program in C I think. We have three of these systems- one operating with the LCD that occasionally goes nuts, the oldest one which uses a 386 motherboard and is really slow from a GUI perspective, and one we bought for parts- with the bad power supply and pad connector- this is the newest one with a color LCD and most modern ISA boards. We will be happy with two systems working well. It is reasonable to get one in good shape in the original box, but it would be nice to have a faster system on a new platform. We are located in Spartanburg, SC and these are used for vibration analysis and machinery troubleshooting.
Thanks for everyone's help.
JH

Unknown_K
March 1st, 2009, 04:58 PM
Looks like a standard AT power supply connector. Not sure why it shorted out at that spot(moisture maybe). You could try just soldering in a new connector (stripped from an old motherboard) and getting a new power supply and see if it runs (cheap). Getting a replacement motherboard is possible but the layouts are all different and you might have issues with clearence on the heatsink with the data cards. Quite a few people here are capable of refurbishing that setup for a fee if you want to ship it out and get it repaired.

Moving to a common Pentium class motherboard will be a problem because those usualy have only a few ISA slots and the rest are PCI. A PC on a card with a backplane will be expensive.

patscc
March 1st, 2009, 05:41 PM
The Genoa 486 board isn't anything special, just a basic VLB motherboard. Can you guys, since you've already go it out, measure the length & width of the board ?
The keepers will be the video cards you guys have in there for the LCD.

Does the board with the connector still work ? It looks like the +12 & -12 got shorted together, or shorted to ground. The +- 12 might not be critical for your system, though.
Before replacing the connector & applying power to a new one, I'd verify that nothing on the +-12 V power busses is shorted to anything else. By any chance, is the dead PSU & charred connector related ?

There are 486 boards out there where the 486 is in a different position, so you wouldn't have to worry about the heat sink.

Do you know what the 6 cards are ( or can you post pics) ? At least one is the long funky one( presumably this is the spectrum analyzer/acquisition board ), then you've got the LCD video card.
If the other cards are stock cards like hard drive controller, serial & parallel, then newer boards have that functionality embedded on the board, so fewer slots might not be a problem.

I think your boxes are all repairable/upgradable for reasonable money. If you guys want to do it yourselves, keep posting, if you want someone to do it, drop them a PM to see if they're interested. (Myself included, hint, hint...)
patscc

Terry Yager
March 2nd, 2009, 09:34 AM
I'm guessing that the one having trouble with the screen keeping up is the older, mono one. Those old LCD displays are notoriously slow, so a faster mainboard and/or video board will not help that, and may even make the problem worse. Are they used as portables, or stay pretty much in one spot? Is an external display a possibility?

--T

Fallo
March 2nd, 2009, 11:40 AM
Moving to a common Pentium class motherboard will be a problem because those usualy have only a few ISA slots and the rest are PCI.

My Pentium has six ISA slots and two PCI. It was only when you got into PIIs that PCI started to really take over.

Unknown_K
March 2nd, 2009, 12:38 PM
My Pentium has six ISA slots and two PCI. It was only when you got into PIIs that PCI started to really take over.


I never seen a PCI board without 3 or more PCI slots.

Fallo
March 2nd, 2009, 02:41 PM
I never seen a PCI board without 3 or more PCI slots.

It's a Dell Optiplex. Here's the board:

http://stason.org/TULARC/pc/motherboards/D/DELL-COMPUTER-CORPORATION-Pentium-OPTIPLEX-GXL-GXM.html

It may only have two PCI slots because it's a proprietary motherboard and they tend to be weird like that.

mikey99
March 2nd, 2009, 04:08 PM
The Genoa 486 board isn't anything special, just a basic VLB motherboard.


Is that a Genoa TurboExpress VLB ? I've actually been looking for
one of those and would be interested in getting a working one :-)

patscc
March 2nd, 2009, 04:16 PM
Fallo said...It may only have two PCI slots because it's a proprietary motherboard and they tend to be weird like that
Are you sure that's not the slot for the riser card that a lot of Dell's used to have ?
patscc

patscc
March 2nd, 2009, 04:18 PM
mikey99 said...Is that a Genoa TurboExpress VLB
Couldn't tell exactly from the pics, if the OP were to post a few close-up, soemone could probably tell.
patscc

Fallo
March 2nd, 2009, 04:55 PM
Are you sure that's not the slot for the riser card that a lot of Dell's used to have ?
patscc

It is a riser. The other slot is for a cache card.

Julian H
March 2nd, 2009, 05:23 PM
Hello All
I am doing some troubleshooting to make sure none of the instrument boards have a short. The instrument consists of 6 boards: A DSP processor board with a AT&T DSP16A chip for each pair of channels plus the memory for the instrument, 4 acquisition cards with two channels each, and a another board used for control and signal generation. All 6 cards are long as the one in the picture. The original custom box also needed a slot for the LCD video card and a disk drive controller (8 total) The systems are used in a portable mode, so a seperate monitor is a chore. I am not sure what roll the 486 plays- it is not involved in data acquisition or computing, but is involved with the display. When looking at data that requires displaying a lot of data points on eight channels, the instrument never misses a beat but the display will be updated very slowly. Motherboard is 8.625 inches by 10. One of the systems, which works the best, has a Genoa 486-66 VLG TurboExpress, but it is a couple of years older than the board in the photo.

patscc
March 2nd, 2009, 05:44 PM
Sounds like a standard Baby-AT.
So you're stuck with either 8 slots, or anything with 7-slots or more that has the HD & FDD controller built into the motherboard.
One more question, of the 6 instrument boards, the LCD controller, and the HD & FDD controller, how many are 8-bit boards & how many are 16-bit boards ? (The 16-bit boards have a longer edge connector & have a slit about 2/3 down.)
Not impossible to find. If you guys want, I'll pull some motherboards out & see if I have any that fit.
It sounds like all the 486 does is keep everything running, but all the heavy-duty analysis is done on the instrument cards, so a faster processor probably won't give you much advantage.
How much memory is in them, by the way ?
The flaky LCD panel/controller is probably replaceable, I'd have to take a look at it.
patscc

Terry Yager
March 2nd, 2009, 08:53 PM
How does the LCD jack into the vid board? Is it an internal connection, or a standard 15-pin VGA that uses a little cable to jack in to the VGA board's external connector?

--T

patscc
March 2nd, 2009, 09:14 PM
I'd guess a 16 or 18-pin two-row header & ribbon cable.
patscc

Terry Yager
March 2nd, 2009, 09:34 PM
I've run across quite a few generic lunchboxes that just used the cable-to-VGA jack method.

--T

Julian H
March 3rd, 2009, 03:41 AM
LCD connects via an internal ribbon connector; Video card also has a standard D connector for an external monitor that works simultaneously. LCD is mono orange/black, external is color. At some point, color LCD was an expensive option. Tonight, I plan to switch boards out of burned motherboard into operating unit and test. None of the power connectors seem to be shorted. The A to D input boards are 8 bit; the DSP and controller board are 16 bit. DSP has 8 meg of ram, 16 500K chips which stand vertically in straight pin sockets. The reason for wanting more speed is the graphics and storage time. The instrument does it's own thing in terms of acquiring and number crunching. I think it is independant of the 486 because of the critical timing requirements. There may be some control functions by the 486 since the majority of the controls are via the windows program.

patscc
March 3rd, 2009, 04:38 AM
Is the LCD actually a LCD, or a plasma display ? The orange/black makes me wonder.
Is the DSP discrete, or an actual chip, like a TMS32020 or something ?
Do you have documentation for the systems ? It might be possible to add more memory or a co-processor to the boards, or something along those lines.

While you guys are at it, I'd take one of the known good hard drives, and ghost everything over onto a new one, or image it to a cd or something, so that you have a copy of an existing installation in case the drives do go belly up.
patscc

Julian H
March 3rd, 2009, 06:18 PM
Patscc, you are correct about the screen- I think I remember it being a plasma. I think the early LCDs were too slow to show the fast moving signal traces. There are two chips for each board having two channels- A Xilinx XC3020-70 and a AT&T WE DSP16A. All the instrument boards in the burned mother board are good; I switched them into the 386 unit and they appear to work well. I am going to want the 486 board repaired. Anyone wanting to do some of this work, please send me a message including where you live. I am still investigating a post 486 solution, even a used one, but don't have any pricing yet. Thanks for everyone's input! JH

patscc
March 3rd, 2009, 06:44 PM
You're going to have a hard time finding a Pentium motherboard with 7 ISA slots.
However, another alternative would be to put in an Overdrive chip, or a upgrade processor of some sort. The Pentium-class motherboards would still use the same ISA bus to communicate with your boards, so using a Pentium board might not give you that much more(well, memory's faster) than than a upgrade chip.
patscc