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Thread: Compaq DeskPro 286 resurrection

  1. #1

    Default Compaq DeskPro 286 resurrection

    First off, I'm not a fan of the 80286; not a particularly compelling CPU architecture to me. However, I bought this Deskpro 286 many years ago as a non-functional machine to use for parts for my other DeskPros. I tried to revive it some time ago - a shorted cap on the power rail kept the power supply crowbarring. Snipped the cap and the power supply didn't crowbar, but something smoked, so I put it back on the shelf. Until yesterday. I pulled out out, found another cap shorted on the powere rail and snipped it, too. This time the damn thing booted.

    What to do with a DeskPro 286? It's not as retro cool as the DeskPro 8086 or groundbreaking like the DeskPro 386, so I first needed to learn more about the DeskPro 286 features.

    It turns out the computer I have is actually a version 2 of the DeskPro 286 that came out in 1987, a 12 MHz system rather than the 8 MHz of version 1. It was horribly expensive at over 7 grand for a fully loaded 2.1 MB (all on the motherboard) and 40 MB hard drive. This one even had a 70 MB drive, but try as I might, it failed to work. I could see where it had been opened up in the past. It sounded like grinding bearing death. Mind you, this computer was built after the DeskPro 386 was released and is much slower, but only a little cheaper. Other 286 machines on the market during this time were almost as fast (the AST was actually faster) and all were much less expensive. So who was buying this thing?

    I decided to set it up as an uber-DOS machine with Windows 3.0 to show off the extended memory of the 286. Without running OS/2 or Xenix, it isn't clear the best way to take advantage of this memory. But it needed a hard drive. It has a multi-function card with ATA interface, but the old, hard-coded drive types wouldn't match anything I had in the pile of misfit drives. Attached to my XT-IDE in one of my DeskPro 8086s is a 20 GB drive (8 GB useable) that I decided to re-purpose to the DeskPro 286. I didn't want to use the XT-IDE interface card as the AT controller card is faster. However, I found the drive overlay manager programs choked on the large drive size. Since I was putting a network card in the machine, I went with the Universal BIOS programmed onto an EEPROM installed on the network card to provide the large disk support and matching the capabilities of the XT-IDE. Hard drive I/O is very fast with this setup.

    There is more tweaking to do to maximize free conventional memory, but it's working nicely right now. I now have the clean sweep of the original DeskPro form factor: DeskPro 8086, Deskpro 286/12 and DeskPro 386/25. Obligatory glamour shot:
    IMG_1530.jpeg

    IMG_1529.jpeg

  2. #2
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    Very very cool. I'm actually a little jealous really.

    What kind of software are you going to try and run in Windows 3.0? It would be interesting to see exactly what the machine is capable of.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndyM1981 View Post
    Very very cool. I'm actually a little jealous really.

    What kind of software are you going to try and run in Windows 3.0? It would be interesting to see exactly what the machine is capable of.
    In keeping with the times, Solitaire of course! Since this hard drive came off my DeskPro 8086 (with V30 upgrade), I had already installed Windows 3.0 and the Ami word processor. This was the first WYSIWYG word processor for Windows and as such was pretty minimal. I used it on Windows/386 BITD for my status reports (running on a Compaq 386/16). I fired that up, and it ran okay but nothing to get excited about. Since my DeskPro 8086 was already running in AT territory, it wasn't a huge leap in processing powering going to the 286 - even at 12 MHz. The DeskPro 286 really shines with hard drive I/O performance and available memory over the 8086 and its 8 bit ISA bus. Many of the interesting programs for Windows 3.x required a 286 or better, so I'll revisit the list now that I have the CPU and memory to run them. I'm not expecting much, though. I think Solitaire and maybe MineSweeper will tax the machine sufficiently.

  4. #4

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    Nice! If you have the room for it, you may want to track down a version of Geoworks 1.x or 2.x and give it a try.

  5. #5

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    Good idea! I have 8 GB to fill up. I'll grab OpenGEM too.

  6. #6
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    I've been playing with Windows/286 on my Packard Bell AT clone and have found that to be very interesting from a historical perspective. I installed the first versions of Word and Excel on it and have been impressed with just how full-featured they are for such an early release and just how capable the system actually is.

    Might be worth a try just to fiddle around with. I think you'll actually end up being impressed.

  7. #7

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    I used Windows/386 and Excel extensively for it's charting and graphing capabilities. IIRC, it took some time for Word to come out for Windows. We were stuck with the awful DOS Word for some time which is why I jumped at the Ami word processor when it came out. So Windows/286 would be a nice trip down memory lane. Fun to compare all the early GUI environments running on DOS on a typical machine of the time.

    This is the first time I've actually laid hands on an operating 286 machine since ~1986. Like you said, an interesting historical datapoint. Reminds me why I thought the PC was a dead-end. 1970's architecture taken to an absurd level. And then the 80386 appeared.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by resman View Post
    And then the 80386 appeared.
    I think it's hard to understate just how important the 386 was. Much of what we take for granted today traces right back there. Intel's finest moment IMHO.

  9. #9

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    Man, I LOVE the look of the original Compaq deskpro line... i SOOOOOO wish I could scoop one from Computer Reset. being in texas it seemed they had pallets and pallets of the. I'd love to have an original Deskpro XT with the deskpro monochrome CRT and matching keyboard. idk man something about the design just speaks to me.

    and besides the ones at Computer reset and a few 286 machines on ebay for big $$$$ I've never been able to find one for sale

    more on topic, I have an 8mhz turbo XT clone with VGA and it seems to run windows 3.0 fairly well for just messing around with stuff. have to admit that i butchered my windows 3.0 720k install disks to include the 8088vga driver (normal one requires 186 instructions) because what else am i gonna run windows 3.0 on than an XT? :P

    I wish there was some way to get sound working on windows 3.0 on an XT class machine. as the XT turbo i have running 3.0 has a SB 2.0 with CMS chips and it be kinda fun to mess with that in windows. I wonder if windows 3.0 could make use of a Lo-Tech 2mb LIM memory card? hmmmm

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by pinkdonut666 View Post
    I wonder if windows 3.0 could make use of a Lo-Tech 2mb LIM memory card? hmmmm
    Windows 3.0 can use LIM/EMS in Real Mode, which is what you're stuck with on an XT so, sure, it should work.
    My Retro-computing YouTube Channel (updates... eventually?): Paleozoic PCs

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