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PC "Tweeners"

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    PC "Tweeners"

    I couldn't find a thread on the subject of what old PCs make good "tweener" systems. Since older systems can be had for little more than junk prices, this might be of some help.

    I'll kick it off with a test of the HP Vectra VL600.

    Produced around 2001, this has a FIC KC-19+ motherboard.
    Usual 2 serial + parallel + usb for the time.
    Requires an AGP for display (I think HP furnished a low-end Matrox board).
    Chipset is Intel 820, which means RIMM/RDRAM for memory. Fortunately, that stuff is cheap nowadays (I paid $10 for 1GB of 800MHz RIMM).
    Slot 1 P3 CPU with 133MHz system bus. I installed a Socket 370 1.4GHz Tualatin P3 with a Powerleap Slocket I had.
    2 floppy controller, capable of FM and MFM, and supports 128 byte MFM (surprise!).
    Sound is Crystal CS4622.
    ...and 2 ISA slots, 4 PCI slots

    BIOS updates and manuals are available from the FIC ftp site

    Overall, a pretty snappy setup; I loaded mine up with Win98SE, WinXP and Xubuntu 14.04 and a Linksys PCI wireless card.

    I use old industrial PICMG systems. Right now I have:

    1x 20-some slot PICMG rackmount chassis
    * P4 single board computer, 1 GB RAM, 1.8 GHz IIRC
    * ungodly number of ISA slots
    * onboard Ethernet
    * onboard USB
    * onboard AGP graphics
    * internal 3.5" floppy and CD-RW

    1x 4-slot ISA only chassis, my portable test rig
    * 1 GHz P3 single board computer, 512 MB RAM
    * PC/104+ SATA mezzanine controller, attaches directly to CPU board
    * Adaptec AHA-1522A for floppy + SCSI
    * EPROM burner card lives in this one
    * onboard Ethernet
    * onboard AGP graphics
    * internal 3.5" floppy

    1x 6-slot PICMG chassis, this one lives on the workbench
    * 600 MHz P3 single board computer, 768 MB RAM
    * 2 ISA + 2 PCI + 2 combo PICMG slots
    * usually has a PCI Adaptec card
    * FireWire/USB 2.0 PCI combo card
    * onboard Ethernet
    * onboard PCI graphics

    All three dual boot Slackware Linux and MS-DOS. In addition to the usual cards installed, I can also pull the CPU board and replace it with "other stuff" -- for instance, I have a 486 CPU board I often use when dealing with old MFM or ESDI drives. I think PICMG is the optimal way to go for a utility PC, since you can always upgrade the internals, and the bigger boxes provide a *ton* of ISA slots.
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      My tweener runs DOS 3.3, DOS 6.22, WIN98SE DOS (for FAT32 with a DOS command prompt on a 2 GB DOM), WIN ME, WIN XP and anything else I care to have it run. These all run on a machine with a 233 MHz CPU on a board with four PCI and three ISA slots as well as SIMM and DIMM slots. It has two mobile hard drive racks in two of the 5" bays so it's simple to switch drives (and OSes) in an instant. It supports USB in DOS so I can access USB flash drives while running DOS. It has both floppy drives, is on my network and hosts a dot matrix printer for the rest of the network via its parallel port. In DOS mode it's configured with two 32 MB RAM Drives which make for excellent DOS software testing stations.
      PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step


        I have a Compaq Deskpro SB with a Pentium III that is new enough to run Windows XP, but old enough to have support for dual floppy drives, including 5" drives. Most machines from the Pentium 4 era and newer only support a single floppy drive, and often only support a 3" 1.44 MB drive.


          Well, in my opinion, an ideal tweener would:

          -Have any Pentium, K6, or Athlon era CPU
          -Have a generic AT or ATX case
          -Have BIOS support for *two* real, internal floppy drives.
          -Have Ethernet Networking (easy to add)
          -Have Windows 95 OSR2 or 98SE as the primary OS for easy DOS access (ME/2000/XP are more difficult)
          -Have USB ports for flash drives.
          -Have at least one ISA slot and plenty of additional slots (AGP/PCI)
          -Ideally the FDC should support FM encoding, but that is rather uncommon and hard to tell just by looking.
          -The motherboard should use a coin cell CMOS battery instead of a Dallas or Odin integrated clock/battery chip.

          Funny thing, my "regular" computer, a KT7A with Mobile Athlon XP meets most of those specs. But the 1.2mb 5.25" and MFM-only FDC are a bit limiting. So I wind up using my old generic AT style desktop 286 as a "tweener", since that has FM support, a proper 360k drive, and also runs my Transcopy card.

          A while back I also got 5ABBA (ALI M1542/1543 chipset) a AMD K6-500 AT form motherboard and a AHA-1542CP to use for workbench testing. I did a double take after testing the AHA-1542CP when I noticed the motherboards on board FDC also passed all TESTFDC tests. That would potentially make a damn good "tweener" board.


            I'll add that I do have a stack of "tweeners" and had been using a Supermicro server board with 2GB and a couple of 1GHz SL4BS P3s. The interesting thing is that the Supermicro board is noticeably slower in XP than the single-processor FIC board. But the real deal-breaker was that the Supermicro FDC didn't do FM. It's all mounted in a rack, along with a 9 track tape drive, so basically, I sit down in front of it, pull out the keyboard drawer and settle down to work. For floppies, I had to pull out a separate system with an added Compaticard FDC.

            Now that's finally handled. I'm working on a 5.25" drive bay replacement with two DC-37F connectors on it, so I can connect to either the onboard FDC or the Catweasel from the front of the system with any of my external drives.

            The Win98SE partition boots to a command prompt, loads DOSLFN and HXDOS. I've never found any reason to run any older DOS versions on this setup.


              I have so many machines these days I keep just using "whatever" but the machine I built as a tweener is:

              I used a Gateway 2000 case with 4x5.25" bays, motherboard is full size ATX but can't remember the model - pretty sure it's a Gigabyte branded model though.
              - Pentium 166 MMX
              - Diamond 3D Monster VooDoo 2 (might as well play some games with it!)
              - 2 x IDE drives (I think 6GB and 2GB?)
              - 5.25" 1.2MB Panasonic (good enough to write a quick 360 on a blank disk, as well as 720KB "DSQD" for the AT&T)
              - 3.5" 1.44MB
              - Syquest 200C (reads 44MB, 88MB and 200MB cartridges) SCSI
              - Iomega Zip 100 SCSI
              - PCI SCSI card
              - Generic CDROM
              - Dual Boot (using a great program called GAG) MS DOS 6.22 and Windows 98
              - On the network, so I can drop files on it easily

              I added a PCI USB card but it kept causing system instability, and being on the network negated the requirement so I gave up.

              These days it tends to be primarily used to write custom 5.25" disks when I need something quick or for archiving floppy media with ImageDisk or similar. If I'm actually loading an older machine with software or need a terminal (UNIX etc) I actually grab a laptop from the pile, dump what I need via the network, then take it wherever and hook up the serial port.

              For writing 360KB floppies I plan to keep for a long time, I actually use one of the XT's because they're networked up now.
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                I have multiple Gateway Pentium-IIs setup to handle tweener style duties. Pair of floppies, USB card, cd writer, FX5200 video card (because it was cheap 10 years ago); the major difference is which removable cartridge drives are installed.


                  I never heard the term "Tweener" and I don't seem to understand what it means.


                    Originally posted by dosbox View Post
                    I never heard the term "Tweener" and I don't seem to understand what it means.
                    Easy enough--a system that adapts new-style content to old-style equipment. For example, writing 9 track tapes from Internet-published .TAP files to boot your IBM S/360 setup.


                      Originally posted by dosbox View Post
                      I never heard the term "Tweener" and I don't seem to understand what it means.
                      "Tweeners" are systems setup to aid in transferring data from a truly vintage system and a very recently manufactured system. A minimal tweener would have a real floppy controller and a range of old ports but also network or USB ports.


                        Originally posted by dosbox View Post
                        I never heard the term "Tweener" and I don't seem to understand what it means.
                        It is short for "an in between system" that lets one easily communicate between "modern" lobotomized hardware and various vintage systems. This is often required because the rectangular black pieces of Chinese sludge people call computers these days lack important features such as floppy drives, serial ports, etc and often can not be reasonably upgraded or expanded to include them.


                          i am using a picmg setup

                          core 2 duo e7600
                          4 gig ram
                          6 isa
                          6 pci
                          4 serial
                          2 parrellel
                          360k or 1.2m 5.25
                          720k or 1.44m 3.5

                          dos,win 95, win 98,xp and win 7
                          gpib to run hpdrive emulation
                          all-03 universal programmer

                          just can't get a mfm controller card to catch so i have a 486/586 SBC in a seperate set up

                          covers pretty much everything i need to do


                            Oh yeah, for MFM/FDD duties - 386SX/25 in a very poor condition flip-lid style XT case, XT-IDE ROM (AT Version) and boots off a 20GB Seagate. It's nasty, but such a champion.
                            8 bit MFM controllers work side-by side with the IDE, only have to pull the IDE stuff if working with 16 bit gear.
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                              My "Tweener" is a Intel CA810E with a P3-850. DVD drive, Dual Floppy Drive running Win98SE. I've tested it with NetBSD and with Fedora Core 5. Runs very nicely with all the services to transfer data/media. I'm planning to put in an IDE to CF adapter once I finished unpacking from a recent move to Oregon.