Throughout the history of personal computers, there are some unique form factors. The 3com Audrey was sold as a computing appliance, meant to sit on a kitchen counter, to display recipes or something. For some reason, Macs were cubes once, and it actually wasn’t a bad machine. At one point, you were supposed to put a monitor on top of your computer.
A few years ago, [glitch] read about an interesting system from the early 80s. The SIIG S286 was designed by the same people that made SCSI cards and external hard drives, and it shows: this is a complete 286-based system stuffed into what was probably an external enclosure for a 5 1/4 drive at some point. After finding one of these bad boys on an auction site a few months ago, he finally got it working. It’s weird, but it can get on a network, and you can read Hackaday with it.
The entire computer is stuffed into a case that’s about 5″ wide, 4″ tall, and 10″ long. There’s a motherboard with built-in VGA, ‘game port’, and a printer port. There’s a riser card for real 16-bit ISA cards, two serial ports, and a connector for a hard disk and floppy drive. Basically, it’s an entire 286 system wrapped up in a tiny box.
After acquiring this machine, [glitch] took it apart and found the usual damage. The CMOS battery leaked, but not too bad. This was replaced with a hermetically sealed lithium thionyl chloride battery. These are non-rechargable, but a quick swipe of the soldering iron disable the motherboard’s charging circuitry. The hard drive was replaced with a 128 MB Flash module, and an Ethernet card was installed.
With that, [glitch] has a complete system that can connect to the Internet. Of course, getting on the Internet with a 286 is a challenge, but we have a Hackaday Retro Edition for just the occasion. The browser is Arache, with the mTCP package. That’s about as low as you can go in Intel-land, and excellent proof that the computer will work for another 35 years or so.
21 thoughts on “There’s A Computer In This Hard Drive”
“Arachne” browser, as in a spider, for the web. Also played with it ~1998 on my 386 like the author. Remembering that made me feel even older.
No HDMI. Pass. Just kidding good going!
A clarification, Arachne and mTCP are two separate projects. The packet driver for the Ethernet card is separate from both of them.
And to clarify a little more, mTCP is a set of TCP/IP programs than run on any x86 DOS machine, including the earliest IBM PC 5150s and PCjrs. Programs include a DHCP client, FTP client & server, Telnet client, an IRC client, Netcat, an HTTP file fetcher, an HTTP server, PING, SNTP, etc. http://www.brutman.com/mTCP/
Arachne is/was a fairly slick browser, from what I remember of it. I believe there was a bootable floppy version of it which was fairly painless, as far as DOS web browsing went.
For anyone interested: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachne_(web_browser)
If you can find a Chaintech (or was it Chaintek or Chaintec?) Booksize PC 80286, that would be a nifty little unit. Literally the dimensions of a medium sized paperback book. Had nono/hercules/color EGA video. RAM was 30 pin SIPP. Years ago I picked up a couple at an auction, with one keyboard. The power bricks had been cut off so I had to rig up a power supply.
Unfortunately the manufacturer was one of those annoying ones that destroys all documentation on a product the instant it goes EOL, then denies they ever made it. So it was stuck in mono video and I couldn’t find the jumper settings to switch it to EGA.
Then there’s this insane gentleman who installed Linux on a hard drive. Not the normal route, no. ON the hard drive. It runs from within the disk controller. 8-|
I’ came hoping someone stuffed an sbc, and a 2.5″ hdd inside a 3.5″ hdd case that emulates a standard hard drive while injecting malware in real time.
One nitpick: how can the case be “an external enclosure for a 5 1/4 drive at some point” if it’s only 5 inches wide? A 5 1/4″ form factor drive is actually 5.75 inches wide.
So what it actually is, then, is a small PC.
Could he not have just stuck a diode, maybe one with a low voltage drop, in with the battery? Saves having to hack at a 30 year old computer to destroy the charging circuit, and perhaps destroying some of of whatever little authentic provenance this thing had.
“Destroy” is an awfully harsh word for swiping off a 470 ohm surface mount resistor :P I suppose someone could replace it if they wanted to go back to a battery that supports trickle charging.
I’m 100% against replacing NiCd barrel batteries with modern NiCd or NiMH barrel batteries, though. I do board level rework as part of my day-job and fix enough *old* battery damage without people putting in new potential leakers. It doesn’t help that about the only place you can get a modern barrel battery is from no-name Chinese battery houses. I’ve seen at least one new replacement leak within a year on a customer’s PLC board.
Also should’ve said…
A clip-on upgrade from a 286 to a 486. There were all sorts of these in the mid-1990s. Then you could upgrade your 486 to something Pentium-esque, although often just a 486 at 133MHz.
It was also the time of ridiculous, ludicrous RAM prices. So companies sold adaptor PCBs where you could put 2 or 4 SIMMs into it (usually 30-pins) to make one big SIMM. So 4 x 1MB SIMMs would perform like 1 x 4MB SIMM, and only take up one memory slot. It was a bit silly and over the top, never mind being bulky, but apparently they worked (slow 80ns RAM speed probably helped), and were worthwhile financially for people to buy. I think you could even buy symmetrical versions, left and right, depending on which way you wanted the SIMMs to overhang, so as not to block each other.
There were multi-level versions to avoid interference, too — I actually have some of these, I use them for testing 30 pin SIMMs en masse. Load them up and let memtest86+ have at it. Those adapters are often good sources for new 30 pin SIMM sockets, if you don’t happen to have any ruined motherboards in the parts bin from which to steal.
Any way the retro edition can be kept up to date? Some automated wordpress-to-webpage script could do it. Just need php that reads the wordpress database, and output plain-ass old fashioned html.
In a similar vein, I lusted after an Ampro Little Board – the screw holes (slots I guess) were spaced to mount on top of a disk drive. http://oldcomputers.net/ampro-little-board.html
I FINALLY got one of the Z80 LittleBoards last year! Very cool machines, but they’ve gotten stupid expensive. There’s Sergey’s Zeta SBC, which is a similar idea but bolts to a 3.5″ floppy drive:
I don’t know if RetroBrew Computers (which is what became of the N8VEM stuff) still has boards for it, they didn’t come up in a quick Google search.
Forgot to post a link to the Imgur album for my Ampro LittleBoard:
It’s the “Series 100,” which was Ampro’s packaged system with a power supply and dual floppies in a nice little box. Mine is a later revision that has SCSI, though I haven’t hooked anything up to it yet. Mine was in very poor shape when I got it.
Hmm.. This makes me think.
There should be a Hack a Day Gopher server!
Or.. is there already?
I have the same system. Odd his had onboard VGA as mine has a 9-pin CGA output. I need the pinout for the power supply as mine is missing!
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