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DOS MIDI system

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DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:31 pm

Thought I'd make a thread about this thing now that I finally have it. As I've stated in some other threads I've been looking for a suitable PC with a few ISA slots to run some old-school music sequencers. I decided to go with a single-board PC and ISA backplane for... reasons that made sense to me at the time. Well, after screwing around with trying to get all the components on their own, this pops up on Trademe. It was about 4x more expensive than a comparable beige desktop box would have been, but where's the fun in that?

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^^ I don't think I've ever seen an LS120 Superdisk drive in person before! This one is in a dubious state, although it does work well enough to recognize the floppy I put in as non-bootable. Anyone have media for me?
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^^ A few ISA slots? How about 11 ISA slots? And PCI too!
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Apparently I rescued this beasty from a call centre; it came with a generic PCI soundcard and some kind of 4-port telephony card installed. It sort-of boots to the (Win NT4!) startup menu but doesn't seem to want to follow through and load the OS itself. It also has some kind of earthing issue as it gave me a nasty shock after running it for a little while, so I have some dis- & re-assembly to do. VERY clean and tidy inside though.

As it was formerly in the business of robocalls, it will now have to restore its karmic balance by making pleasing electronic music in my studio rather than irritating electronic sales pitches. It's not exactly compact or portable like I'd wanted, but I have other 19" rack gear so fitting it in won't be too much of a stretch. (I do need a proper rack eventually though.)

Also, a buddy in Toronto just nabbed me three AWE64 cards for the princely sum of $10 each. 8) Until those show up something from my grab box will do the job.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by caluser2000 » Sat Jun 01, 2013 2:02 pm

Well done. Interesting looking system alright. You're certainly not going run out of expansion slots in a hurry.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Fri Jun 07, 2013 8:34 pm

Great to see the board back! Huge thanks, Terry!

I've been working on this thing in my spare time (not much of it.) Haven't gotten very far but here's what I've discovered so far. At the moment I'm having mass storage issues.

The hard disk is dying. Considering I bought this thing from a scrap recycler I'm not hugely surprised or disappointed. Sometimes it shows up in CMOS, but when you mount it it usually hangs after a few operations. I can see the ghost of an installed NT4 system but because of that no way to load it. Other times it won't show in the CMOS at all.

My CF-IDE adapter doesn't work. It's brand new and the CF card is fine in a USB reader, so no idea what the problem is. Nothing I do can get the CMOS to see it has a hard disk. Maybe it only works on more modern IDE interfaces (is this thing even UDMA66? I don't know!)

I Installed a CDRW drive I had lying around. For some reason it is impossible to boot from a CD at all. The BIOS detects it every time and gives me a boot from CD option, but when I try that it says "attempting to boot from ATAPI CD-ROM" and then gives me an error about not finding media. It doesn't even seem to try to read the disc. However...

My LS120 Superdisk drive works. :mrgreen: Apparently some ingrate left their disk in it the last time the system was powered off. Since the drive won't eject without power they just hacked off the faceplate and pried the door open to get it out, unseating the spring that holds it shut. Luckily they seem to have restricted their ham-fisted damage to cosmetic issues. I've gotten it more or less back together but the faceplate is loose due to a broken off mounting tab. It reads the few normal floppies I have just fine. Luckily I found a bunch out by the kerb on garbage-collection-day the other week. Some of them work.

Incidentally, writing floppies is a huge pain in the butt. I installed a (non-Super) floppy drive in my office desktop, but it runs a very modern Linux distro in which the floppy support has been broken and probably always will be. I can write disks by booting a liveCD of Damn Small Linux, but it doesn't support EXT4 and so can't read the system's hard drive, nor have I managed to get it on the network. So what I have to do is put whatever I want to go on the disk onto a USB stick from Mint, boot DSL, mount the stick, and copy it to the disk. Repeat.

Anyway I wrote a few boot disks that way to try things out. Luckily starting from the IDE Superdisk drive is also directly supported in the BIOS, and that works just fine! So far this is the only way I've managed to boot the thing. I got to a FreeDOS prompt and was able to run some floppy-sized programs with no issues.

So basically I can run this thing 1.44 MB at a time and it's a pain in the butt. Until I get another hard drive or get the CF reader or CD-ROM working I don't have many options for getting software onto the thing, which obviously limits how much I can do with it. However, in playing around I did discover...

My Soundblaster 2.0 works. :mrgreen: :mrgreen: So does the SB16 I got in the grab box. I haven't bothered to test any of the others yet.

BTW I had to hack one of the mounting screws off the connector end of my VGA cable to get it to fit properly rather than be all skewed like it is in the pic at the top. Considering the (a) CPU/video board, (b) system backplane, and (c) case were all made by the same company, I find this utterly baffling. You'd think someone would have tested it for fit...

Anyway that's it for now. More to come next week. Time to hunt down a 'period correct' (i.e. compatible size for FAT16/FAT32) HDD...
Last edited by xjas on Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by tezza » Fri Jun 07, 2013 8:49 pm

Good to read about you progress. Yes, I guess such a customised machine might have issues with hardware like the CF-IDE?

It's certainly a clean looking beast. Great pictures!
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by SpidersWeb » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:05 pm

I've had trouble with CF-IDE as well - it seems to be hit and miss - I gave up on mine.

Nice setup and I hope you find a drive easily. I've seen a few floating on trademe for a while (well 8Gb etc).
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Sat Jun 08, 2013 8:29 pm

Not a hard drive. I couldn't resist this on Trademe. $15, and local.

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A lot of vintage samplers and sequencers use these too. Works fine on a modern system, if you have a parallel port. (I had to run 'modprobe ppa' from a root shell to add support for it to my kernel but after that it was recognized instantly. Even automounts disks.)

In fact, it works so well I might try to get an IDE internal one for the DOS rig and keep this one for my laptop (already madly expanded via docking station), but for now I can swap it back and forth.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by caluser2000 » Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:49 am

Good score alright. They seem to have been a bit more popular than LS120s.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by SpidersWeb » Sun Jun 09, 2013 12:42 pm

Yeah they were a lot faster. I use them, they're really quite good, the 100Mb was good but the 250Mb models had issues.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by tezza » Sun Jun 09, 2013 8:22 pm

I use to use these at work also. Both 100 and 250MB ones. In fact, I think I still have one in a cupboard somewhere.
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Wed Jun 12, 2013 10:39 pm

Tried again with the CF/IDE board. No beans. I'm quite surprised at this as CF is by definition IDE, so the adapter only needs a simple pin translation and power. Mine has two CF slots and a jumper to select whether the top or bottom slot is master, so maybe they both need to be filled for it to work? Or maybe my CF card is bad somehow, It works fine in a card reader though.

Despite the industrial form factor this thing's not really custom hardware at all. The chipset on the SBC is i430TX - as close to a socket 7 reference design as you could get back in the day. The huge ISA/PCI backplane just acts like a riser card in a standard PC. It has onboard SCSI too, Adaptec chipset.

On that note, I do not need 21 SCSI drives. I do not need 21 SCSI drives. I do not need...
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Thu Jun 20, 2013 5:15 pm

This thread should probably be moved to the repair/resto forum as it's turned into a bit of a build thread. Anyway, on with the story...

I resisted the 21 SCSI drives. Tempting as that was. I nabbed a single 20GB IDE off Trademe for all of five bucks (along with a USB floppy for my laptop so I got cheap combined shipping.) Was a little apprehensive about having it sent up from Christchurch, but it was very well packed and padded so it seems to have been no problem.

The new HDD was recognized by the BIOS instantly and formated to one big partition just fine under FreeDOS' FAT32. No hassle at all. (Note to those watching from home: 20 GB is WAY too big for FAT16 & older BIOSes so don't expect these results with MS/PC/DR-DOS or others!) With a semi-modern drive running pure DOS from the command line it absolutely FLIES. After using it for a bit I'd say running the CF/IDE adapter for speed reasons would have been just pointless. It's amazing how quick this thing feels without the weight of a big bloaty OS.

Also, would you order from this shockingly ugly Tripod site that was last updated before the Y2K bug was even a thing? For whatever reasons I do these things, I did, sending them several of my hard earned dollars for a product that for all I knew could have been vapourware. But the guy replied to my emails quickly, and what do you know, these guys showed up at my office this morning:

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Turnaround time was about two weeks, shipped from the States. Colour me impressed.

(They are adapter cards that allow you to add extra memory to AWE64 cards as SIMMs. Without them you're stuck searching for the horribly-expensive-when-new-and-now-nonexistant Creative modules. I still haven't gotten my AWE64 cards from Toronto but when they get here, I'll be able to add crucial RAM easily.)
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by kevman3d » Thu Jun 27, 2013 8:24 pm

xjas wrote:Apparently I rescued this beasty from a call centre; it came with a generic PCI soundcard and some kind of 4-port telephony card installed. It sort-of boots to the (Win NT4!) startup menu but doesn't seem to want to follow through and load the OS itself. It also has some kind of earthing issue as it gave me a nasty shock after running it for a little while, so I have some dis- & re-assembly to do. VERY clean and tidy inside though.


Now that's a piece of nostalgia! I haven't seen those cases in years (like 15+ years that is). I used to build fax nodes for SmartFax in those cases - it was fairly common at Telecom. I recall there were some pretty large 20-slot boxes about with dual PSU's to power each half (though its been a long time) - though a lot were 15 (I think).

I liked those boxes - having single-board PC's was a cool concept, though with a full payload of cards, they used to heat up like crazy in the cabinet... I never knew how they lasted for so long running 24-7, given everything crammed in tightly meant bugger-all space for ventilation or cooling. Used to lift the lid up and feel the scorching heat pouring out - I guess the icey aircon at the exchange was enough to keep them running...

Thanks for showing those piccies. It almost bought a tear to my eye... Sniff... :lol:
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Re: DOS MIDI system

by xjas » Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:07 am

Update! Remember when I wrote this, back in the very first post in the thread:

xjas wrote:Also, a buddy in Toronto just nabbed me three AWE64 cards for the princely sum of $10 each. 8) Until those show up something from my grab box will do the job.


Yeah, look what showed up on my desk this morning:

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^^ with memory expansion adapters fitted... still need some 72-pin SIMMs!

(He only sent me two of the three cards incase the box got lost or destroyed in shipping... for a while that looked like it was the case! But no, 'luckily' it was just Canada Post being criminally incompetent.)

This box is still running an original SB 2.0 for crunchy 8-bit goodness; I'll be installing one of these beauties and the GUS PnP I got when I get home. :mrgreen: (I'll leave the SB 2.0 in for real-mode driverless OPL2 compatability if I can get all three to work together... should be possible!)
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