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Thread: Noob Purchases IBM 5170

  1. #1
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    Default Noob Purchases IBM 5170

    Hi guys, Zoomer here who just purchased a vintage (IBM 5170) computer. First time posting here as well. Apologies as I'm sure this info is covered elsewhere but I can't seem to find it.

    Basically I'm wondering how to get this computer up and running. I haven't powered it on but I've opened it up and the motherboard looks very clean, as do the riser cards. I don't have an original monitor but I was hoping there was a cheap and reliable method of connecting a VGA monitor...

    I do have a keyboard for it.

    What, if anything, should I check preemptively to clean/replace so I don't damage the computer when it's turned on? I know old caps can go bad for instance, but I'm no electrical engineer.

    Is it possible to get networking (Ethernet) on this PC? I have a card with two RJ-11 outs and I'm guessing this is a modem card?

    Will I need floppy disks to initialize the computer and/or the expansion cards? I have two RAM expansion cards and two different graphics cards and the modem(?) card.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    Hi guys,
    Welcome to these forums.

    There is lots of IBM 5170 information at minuszerodegrees.net

    Based on the 5170 information at that website, to aid possible future discussion, what type (1,2, or 3) of motherboard do you have, and which BIOS is on the motherboard, and what is the make and model of the hard drive ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    I don't have an original monitor but I was hoping there was a cheap and reliable method of connecting a VGA monitor...
    For the IBM 5170, it should be simple as fitting an ISA type VGA card. That should get you a display. Then, if required (i.e. a 162 error is shown), you would verify that the video card type set in the motherboard's SETUP (a.k.a. CMOS SETUP) is at the EGA/special setting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    What, if anything, should I check preemptively to clean/replace so I don't damage the computer when it's turned on? I know old caps can go bad for instance, but I'm no electrical engineer.
    In the IBM 5170, the caps that have some known history of going bad are on the [IBM CGA card] and the first generation of the [IBM Fixed Disk and Diskette Drive Adapter]. The subject capacitors can sometimes go short-circuit, and if that has occurred on your card/s, the power supply will not turn on due to being overloaded (and will not damage the power supply or anything else).

    I suggest that you simply do a decent visual inspection of everything, and if nothing suspicious seen, re-seat the already fitted expansion cards in their slots (a few times, to help clean the contacts), then power on the computer. For all we know, your 5170 will display no errors then boot from the hard drive. If that doesn't happen, the consequent action will depend on the symptom.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    Is it possible to get networking (Ethernet) on this PC?
    I have not done it myself, but there are others here who will have.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    I have a card with two RJ-11 outs and I'm guessing this is a modem card?
    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    I have two RAM expansion cards and two different graphics cards and the modem(?) card.
    Provide some photos of the modem(?) card so that people here can try to identify it. Ideally, put them on an image hosting website, then provide links to the images.

    If you are unable to identify the RAM expansion cards, provide photos of those as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    Will I need floppy disks to initialize the computer and/or the expansion cards?
    Depending on the situation, the motherboard's SETUP (a.k.a. CMOS SETUP) may need to be configured or reconfigured. Per [here], there are various ways to perform that, including one where the motherboard's BASIC is used. Maybe GSETUP.EXE (or equivalent) is on the hard drive.

    As for RAM expansion cards, it depends on the card. Some of the sophisticated cards use vendor provided software for card configuration. To answer card related questions, we need to know exactly what you have.

    It is possible to connect a 3.5" 1.44M diskette drive to the 5170 and boot from a boot diskette. Whether that 3.5" diskette can be a 1.44M one, or has to be a 720K one, depends on the revision of BIOS.

    Lots of possibilities, but we need to know exactly what you have, and what you observe when you power on the 5170.

  3. #3

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    the 3com 3c509 series of ISA networking cards work great in all my retro PCs, 5162 XT 286 included (basically the same as your AT)

    we have a member here named mbrutman that makes a kickass TCP/IP comm suite for DOS too, all 286 compatible (and 8088 too for that matter)

  4. #4

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    pictures of the expansion cards you already have would help us get you sorted

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    I don't have an original monitor but I was hoping there was a cheap and reliable method of connecting a VGA monitor...
    A cheap ISA VGA card off ebay will get you going. Since you have a 16-bit ISA bus, you have a lot more choices, so that's good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    What, if anything, should I check preemptively to clean/replace so I don't damage the computer when it's turned on? I know old caps can go bad for instance, but I'm no electrical engineer.
    If everything looks good, I'd just plug it in and try to power it on. Be ready to flip it off again if something smokes. If nothing smokes, and you happen to have a multimeter, check the PSU voltages (it will probably need to be plugged into the mobo to provide enough of a load for the PSU to work). But if you don't have a multimeter, don't worry about it.

    (Re-edit: I stand corrected by maxtherabbit re: parking MFM drives. Nevermind about all that. ;P )

    Electrolytic caps fail open, so they generally don't break anything. The machine just may not work until you replace them, if they are bad, or may work but behave weirdly.

    I think some of the IBM expansion cards of that vintage used tantalum capacitors across power rails, which will fail closed and keep the PSU from starting up, but I have never heard of them actually breaking anything. They just have to be replaced.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    Is it possible to get networking (Ethernet) on this PC?
    Yeah. Again, since you have a 16 bit ISA bus, you have a lot more options. You'll have to provide what is called a "packet driver" specific to your network card to make the card work, though. Some programs may require a TSR TCP/IP driver, too. TCP/IP under DOS is kind of a mess to get working, and I am definitely not an expert on the subject, but here is a page that goes over it: https://www.brutman.com/Dos_Networking/

    I've had good success with the 3c509 network cards in ye olden days, although I do not currently own any. Beware of jumperless "ISAPNP" network cards, as they require configuration with ISAPNP software that will only run on a 386 or better, IIRC. You probably want an older card that actually has physical jumpers on it.

    While there are some DOS web browsers, they're behind the times vis-a-vis HTML specs, and I wouldn't think a 286 would run SSH very well. You can still use things like telnet, pop/imap, ftp, gopher, etc, though. I find NFS extremely useful for file transfer, although there are probably other things that are easier to get working if you don't have Unix machines that also need love. And the PC NFS driver takes a crapton of memory.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    I have a card with two RJ-11 outs and I'm guessing this is a modem card?
    Probably. It's basically junk, IMO. All the BBSes nowadays are on the internet with a TCP connection, so once you get your network card going you can just telnet to them.

    If you got adventurous, you might be able to cut some traces on it somewhere and reroute a TTL-level serial signal to a Raspberry Pi or something and make it into a wifi modem, but if you are going to get a network card anyway then.......

    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp_Donkey View Post
    Will I need floppy disks to initialize the computer and/or the expansion cards? I have two RAM expansion cards and two different graphics cards and the modem(?) card.
    I dunno. It's liable to have an old MFM hard drive in it, but who knows if it still works after all this time. If you can post some pics, we can better help you ascertain what you have and how to get it going. With a VGA card, a hard drive, and a soundblaster, a 286 will play a lot of middle-era DOS games pretty well. I recommend Dune, once you get the machine running.

    Welcome to here, btw. I think this is one of the best communities on the internet, and I hope that your time here will be as enjoyable as mine has been.
    Last edited by bladamson; June 29th, 2020 at 05:06 PM.
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  6. #6

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    There is absolutely no need to park any MFM drives simply to power the system off. Its purpose is to afford them some protection for when the system is moved or going to be otherwise exposed to physical shock risk

    3C5X9CFG runs just fine on 286. None of my 16-bit network cards have jumpers.

  7. #7

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    Welcome to the forums! an IBM 5170 is a great place to start into really "vintage" dos PCS for early CGA and EGA gaming. games from 1983-the early 90s are probably about right.

    "PERSONALLY" if you are just getting started i would be on the look out for a couple of things on fleabay or otherwise to make the most painless use. I've had good luck with sellers in eastern Europe.

    #1 cheap 16bit ISA VGA card, basically any will do.

    #2 ISA sound card, preferably one that has jumpers to configure the IRQ and DMA but thats not a requirement. Sound blaster 16, ESS audiodrive, SB pro 2, SB 2.0 are all great options.

    #3 I would personally recommend a cheap floppy / IDE controller card. the MFM controllers are cool in there own way, but the drives are slow and often unreliable in their old age. 16bit ISA IDE/floppy controllers that adhere to the AT standard were commonplace for 286/386 and early 486 systems are fairly common, and they are very convenient. I've used CF card adapters in my AT with a cheap SIS IDE/ floppy controller. I have also used "modern" IDE hard drives with Ontrack and it actually worked fairly well. (didn't have any CF cards handy)

    the other advantage of an IDE interface is an easy way to connect a CD-rom drive. Using a backpack CD rom drive is also fairly convenient. I have a couple of 700mb CD-r's loaded up with software, games & drivers. using a backpack CD rom drive i can painlessly transfer over this stuff to any machine with a parallel port pretty much. (I'm lazy and networking is more involved IMO)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
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    West Michigan USA
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    Thanks all for the very warm welcome!

    Hey sorry for the slow reply here. I appreciate all of your advice and help!

    ∘The motherboard is the type three 512K with the 16k crystal

    ∘The BIOS is the revision from 11/15/85

    ∘Here is a picture of the Modem(?) card: https://imgur.com/HOJe90h (agreed that it's probably useless).

    ∘Here is a picture of the RAM expansion card: https://imgur.com/YJ6B71p I think this is the IBM Enhanced Memory Expansion Adapter after looking on minus zero. I don't know if anyone would be able to identify the size of the modules? Pretty curious about that.

    ∘Here is a picture of the GPU: https://imgur.com/cHyc69f Professional Graphics Controller on the minus zero website. I also have the standard monochrome adapter.

    ∘The computer does have a hard drive. The sticker reads "299 1 011 4 20" and "1480149295" on the lower part.

    I think this is all the info but I apologize if I've left something out.

    I powered up the motherboard and the drive controller with only the floppy drive attached and the drive seemed to initialize but I'm not quite sure exactly what's going on since I still can't view an output. No smoke!

    I'm working on getting a VGA controller. Thanks for the advice on that!

    A soundcard sounds interesting as well. I'm gonna try to look into the ones you listed pinkdonut Are there any music decent creation programs for the AT?

    I might also be getting an IDE controller depending on how everything goes. Having a CD-R seems like it would be prudent if I'm unable to get networking set up.

    I'm cursorily familiar with telnet though and that seems like it could be fun to set up and mess around with.

    Sorry if I left anything out! I should have a monitor set up by this next weekend or so and I'll be able to relay any errors that I'm getting. Hoping that the original drive is still working!

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