Was Novell’s NE2000 Really That Bad?

If you used almost any form of networked PC in the late 1980s or the 1990s, the chances are that you will at some point have encountered the Novell NE2000 network card. This 16-bit ISA card became a de facto standard for 16-bit network cards, such that very few “NE2000” cards were the real thing. A host of clones filled the market, some of which followed the spec of the original rather loosely. It’s something [Michal Necasek] examines as he takes the reader through the history of the NE2000 and why it gained something of a bad reputation. An interesting read for ’90s PC veterans who battled with dodgy Windows 3.1 network drivers.

The Novell line of network cards were not a primary product of the network server OS company but an attempt to spur the uptake of networked computers in an age when few machines were supplied from the factory with a network card installed. They were largely an implementation of the reference design for the National Semiconductor DP3890 Ethernet interface chipset, and for simplicity of interfacing and drivers they used an I/O mapped interface rather than DMA. The problem with the NE2000 wasn’t the card itself which would work with any NE2000 driver, but the host of “NE2000 compatible” cards that appeared over the decade as that magic phrase became a key selling point at the bottom end of the market. Sure they might contain a DP3890 or its clones, but even minor differences in behaviour would cause them not to work with all drivers, and thus they gained a bad name. The piece reveals the original card as one that might have been slow and outdated towards the end of its reign as a standard card, but maybe one not deserving of the ire directed at it.

If ancient networking kit is your thing, we’ve got some far more obscure stuff to show you.

A Network Card For The Trash-80

Around these parts, [Peter] is well-known for abusing the TRS-80 to do things it should never do. You can read Wikipedia on the TRS-80, you can look at Google Images, and you can browse the web. As with any retrocomputer, there are limitations for what you can do. To browse Wikipedia, [Peter] had to set up an AWS instance which translated everything and used serial to IP converters. It can be done, but it’s hard.

Now, after seeing a few interesting projects built around the ESP32, [Peter] built a network card for the TRS-80. It’s called the trsnic, and it’s a working network card for almost all the TRS-80s out there, with the eventual goal of supporting the TRS-80 Model I / II / III / 4 / 12 / 16 / 16B and 6000.

The idea for the trsnic comes from [Arno Puder]’s RetroStoreCard, a device that plugs into the TRS-80 Model III and connects it to a ‘personal cloud’ of sorts that hosts and runs applications without the need for cassettes or floppys. It does this with an ESP32 wired up to the I/O bus in the Model III, and it’s all completely Open Source.

[Peter] took this idea and ran with it. Thanks to the power found in the ESP32, real encrypted Internet communication can happen, and that means HTTPS and TLS.

Right now, documentation for the trsnic is limited, but the project does exist and building it is as easy as stuffing some headers and DIP sockets in a PCB and soldering them on. There’s a bit of work to do on the ESP32 code, but if you’re looking for a network card for your Trash-80, this is the one that works now.