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PC "Tweeners"

Chuck(G)

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Joined
Jan 11, 2007
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39,077
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
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.
 

glitch

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Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
4,981
Location
Central VA
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.
 

Stone

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Nov 3, 2009
Messages
12,814
Location
South Jersey, USA
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 5¼" 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.
 

vwestlife

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Joined
May 2, 2008
Messages
5,129
Location
central NJ
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 5¼" drives. Most machines from the Pentium 4 era and newer only support a single floppy drive, and often only support a 3½" 1.44 MB drive.
 

SomeGuy

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Jan 2, 2013
Messages
4,157
Location
Marietta, GA
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.
 

Chuck(G)

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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.
 

SpidersWeb

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Feb 16, 2012
Messages
2,697
Location
New Zealand
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.
 

krebizfan

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May 23, 2009
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Connecticut
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.
 

krebizfan

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May 23, 2009
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Location
Connecticut
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.
 

SomeGuy

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Jan 2, 2013
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Marietta, GA
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.
 

Klyball

Experienced Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2014
Messages
94
Location
Surrey, BC
i am using a picmg setup

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

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
 

SpidersWeb

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New Zealand
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.
 

gepooljr

Experienced Member
Joined
Dec 8, 2012
Messages
153
Location
Las Vegas NV
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.
 

billdeg

Technician
Joined
Nov 18, 2003
Messages
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Location
Landenberg, PA USA
I have posted this elsewhere, but my tweener is a Pentium III, generic system. I have added an 8" and 5 1/4" disk to the system. It hsd USB and CD too. I have a USB extension cable coming off the motherboard so I am attach USB devices to it without flipping around to the back. I run DOS 6 and Win 2000, dual boot. I've installed a Catweasel drive controller and I also use the motherboard's drive controller depending on the circumstances. Nice, simple, works.

I have others, but this definitely my go-to system for making disks, transferring files, etc.

I very much encourage everyone new to the hobby to build something like this a real time saver.
 

Unknown_K

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Joined
Sep 11, 2003
Messages
8,527
Location
Ohio/USA
Anything with built in serial and parallel ports tends to work (some people love old Pentium 2/3 laptops for this reason). I use an old Thinkpad R52 for programming newer EPROMs via the USB port. Thinkpad A20 to A31 laptops are also nice since they have a built in floppy drive along with CDROM/DVD drive so archiving floppies is easy and portable. Older laptops are also nice since you can get PCMCIA adapters for almost anything (SCSI, firewire, flash disks, LS-120 drives, etc).

As far as PC's go I have everything from the first IBM PC to multi core multi GPU machines and everything in between.
 

clh333

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Feb 22, 2015
Messages
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Location
Cleveland, OH, USA
It supports USB in DOS so I can access USB flash drives while running DOS.

Okay, you got my attention. How do you run USB from DOS, and which version of DOS?

I have a similar rig (ASUS combination ISA and PCI, was once an HP Pavilion) and have heard it was possible but never found a way to drive USB devices from DOS. The box is currently running Novell DOS 7 but that can be scrapped any time. I also have MS-DOS 5, 6.22, Win 3.1, Win95, Wiin98 and XP as possible candidates.

Thanks for your reply.

-CH-

P.S. the BIOS on this board only supports one drive and so far hasn't liked any of the 5.25s I've tried to pair with it. 360, 1.2, nada.
 

Stone

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Messages
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South Jersey, USA
Okay, you got my attention. How do you run USB from DOS, and which version of DOS?
Most later versions, I suspect. I'm using DOS 7.x but I don't think you'd have a problem with 5.x or 6.x.

http://www.techspot.com/community/to...der-dos.25953/

http://www.pcxt-micro.com/dos-usb.html

It's great -- I use it for flash drives on my tweener. I can't use my USB HDD though because it's NTFS but any FAT32 device is good to go with these two USB drivers. Yup! That's all it takes -- two drivers. And I'm able to load one of them high so my tweener is happy. :smile:
 
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