If you’re too young to remember playing the original Pokémon, you’re probably too young to remember the first generation of ATX tower PC cases and motherboards. For a walk through personal computer history, watch the latest video on PCWorld’s YouTube channel. Gordon has found a state-of-the-art AMD K6-2 system in an InWin A500 case, and he’s giving a history lesson to all of us who can’t remember what computers looked like back then.
There are many differences between the original ATX machines and modern desktop computers. Everything works on a socket that could take AMD, Intel and Cyrix CPUs that didn’t even need a dedicated power rail. The CD-ROM drive had dedicated analog audio lines running on the motherboard. The system uses a single 256-megabyte SDRAM module (and that was roomy enough for the day). Although there is no hard drive in this dinosaur, if there was, it would be connected to huge parallel ATA ribbon cables. Just be sure to disconnect them before using the convenient sliding motherboard tray.
Want to overclock the 350 megahertz single-core processor? Don’t dig into the BIOS for voltage settings. These are controlled via dedicated jumper pins and blockers on the motherboard itself. These are physical connections, manual open and close circuits that controlled CPU voltage, with a table of supported voltages and outputs printed directly on the PCB!
But it’s in the extension area of the board that things get really interesting. The base model of this PC was quite limited, so it had five, count them, five expansion cards, on three different types of connections. A somewhat underpowered SIS 6326 video card was plugged into the accelerated graphics port, which allowed some PCs to share video memory between the graphics card and the main system. No retention clips needed – these cards were light enough not to need them.
The PCI slots (not “Express”) house a 100 megabit Ethernet card and a dial-up modem built into an internal card, so you plugged the phone line directly into the computer. Two other cards are plugged into very old ISA slots, which were compatible with computers released as early as 1981. The cards are a somewhat standard SoundBlaster sound card (note the game controller connection!) and a SCSI expansion port or “scuzzy” for ZIP drives and other devices.
The motherboard’s main I/O panel includes separate PS/2 inputs for mouse and keyboard (forgive Adam for thinking “Playstation 2”, he was a Mac guy), two serial ports to 9-pin (compatible with some hardware dating back to the 1960s!) and an LPT-1 printer port. But it’s not just old technology: this PC was advanced enough to have two USB 1.0 ports, running at a blazing speed of 1.5 megabits per second.
What does Gordon plan to do with this museum piece? You’ll have to watch the video to find out. (It’s just before the 30-minute mark, if you’re impatient.) But let’s just say, you won’t want to miss how he uses it for the next video in this series. To be sure, subscribe to the PCWorld YouTube channel!