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Thread: What should I look for in an Ethernet card for an XT-class computer?

  1. #1
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    Default What should I look for in an Ethernet card for an XT-class computer?

    Recently I've sort of had the yen to try putting an Ethernet card in my old Tandy, but I'm realizing I don't quite know where to start. (I do have some experience with DOS networking, but it's very rusty and almost entirely limited to 386+ class machines.)

    I've gone to eBay looking for compact 8-bit ISA cards, logic being if has an 8-bit bus it should be compatible, but it turns out those are apparently very rare animals. (It has to be a compact card because it'll need to fit in a Tandy 1000 EX with an ISA adapter. I'd also much prefer it have a 10baseT RJ-45 jack, I got rid of my last thinnet hardware fifteen-plus years ago.) Therefore it looks like what I need to find is a 16 bit card that's backwards compatible with 8-bit slots, and also has a packet driver that's compatible with XT-class processors; I do have a V-20 upgrade, if that makes a difference. Does anyone have any recommendations? In compact-ish cards I've seen the following for semi-reasonable prices:

    • Various "NE2000" clones
    • 3c509 "Etherlink III" (many variations)
    • Realtek 8019AS
    • Intel Etherlink 16
    • Various Artsoft and AT/Lantec cards


    (Mostly what I remember using with WfW-era software was 3c509s and AT/Lantics.)

    A substantial majority of the cards are "jumperless" ones, and I don't know how that's going to fly in an XT. I remember back in the day some cards needed "plug and play" drivers while others used black magic setup programs to configure themselves that weren't standard ISA PnP, and I've never used either kind of card in an XT. Is any particular brand/chipset a better bet than others? (Or, conversely, are any of them just straight up no-gos?) Anyone have a good specific recommendation for a small XT-compatible Ethernet card?

    I apologize if this question's been answered a million times and I've just been really bad at finding those threads. I've been trying to research some of the ins-and-outs of packet drivers for DOS, but I have yet to find a good rundown of what the best options are for the edge case of 8-bit only ISA slots and pre-286 CPUs.

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    There are a lot of 8-bit short ISA cards out there, you just have to know what to search for! NE1000s are popular, as are WD/SMC 8003 cards. The NE1000 (and compatible third party cards) are a favorite of mine, though the SMC/WD cards have better performance. Here's one for around $25 shipped:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/182782730653

    Do note that with most smaller 8-bit ISA Ethernet cards, you'll be limited to 10base2 and AUI, so you'll need a transceiver if you need to go to 10baseT. The transceivers are common and still pretty cheap.

    If you decide to go with a 16-bit card that works in 8-bit slots, the 3Com 3C503 EtherLink II is a common choice, as is the Intel EtherExpress 8/16. Various SMC/WD 16-bit cards, and many Racal chipset cards will also work in 8-bit mode. NE2000s are a mixed bag, the oldschool Novell/Anthem/Eagle cards that use jumper configuration almost always support 8-bit mode, but it's not guaranteed on the multitude of NE2000-compatible jumperless/softconfig cards.

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    Why not an etherlink II or etherlink II TP?

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    Quote Originally Posted by VERAULT View Post
    Why not an etherlink II or etherlink II TP?
    Just edited to add 16-bit options The EtherLink II TP is a fairly long 8-bit ISA board, and OP said he needs a short one for the Tandy. Otherwise, yes, it's a good option if you want 8-bit ISA and 10baseT

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    My Artisoft AE-2T is 16-bit but runs fine as an NE1000 in an XT. All jumpered.

  6. #6

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    I think you'll have a lot more options if you consider using an AUI to 10base-T adapter. Most of the 8-bit cards I see only have AUI and BNC ports.

    Another option might be to use the EX's built-in parallel port and a PLIP packet driver to a Linux box of some sort, then bridged to the ethernet interface. A 1st gen rPi would probably be the cheapest and smallest, but I don't know if the GPIO parallel port drivers for the Pi will work with PLIP.
    Last edited by bladamson; October 18th, 2019 at 07:23 PM.
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    If you're going to use the parallel port there's the direct DOS parallel to DOS parallel option. No network cards are necessary for a full client - server network.
    PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step

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    Quote Originally Posted by glitch View Post
    Do note that with most smaller 8-bit ISA Ethernet cards, you'll be limited to 10base2 and AUI, so you'll need a transceiver if you need to go to 10baseT. The transceivers are common and still pretty cheap.
    Ugh. The eBay going price for an AUI dongle seems to be in the $25+ shipped ballpark just by itself. When I think of how many of these I saw go in the trash...

    If you decide to go with a 16-bit card that works in 8-bit slots, the 3Com 3C503 EtherLink II is a common choice, as is the Intel EtherExpress 8/16.
    Poking around it looks like the EtherExpress might be worth a shot? It's soft config but it looks like its setup can specifically can force operation in an 8-bit slot. The Vogons source does say it needs a third-party packet driver because the Intel one is 286+ only. (This one is standing out because it seems to be cheap/common and has an RJ-45 socket.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by bladamson View Post
    Another option might be to use the EX's built-in parallel port and a PLIP packet driver to a Linux box of some sort, then bridged to the ethernet interface. A 1st gen rPi would probably be the cheapest and smallest, but I don't know if the GPIO parallel port drivers for the Pi will work with PLIP.
    I do actually have a Pentium M laptop with a hardware parallel port, does PLIP perform significantly better than serial PPP? I've tried using EPPPD over a 16550 serial port and the software overhead seems to just be a little too much.

    The EX does have those brain-dead Tandy parallel ports, but I think it is possible to set a secret jumper to at least get normal 4-bit nibble mode out of it. I do probably have the parts I need to make the cable.

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    Nibble mode should be faster than the serial port. I remember it as being 150 kbps but some quick checking suggests 500 kbps is possible. I haven't tried it on a Tandy so there may be other wrinkles.

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