If you’re too young to remember playing the original Pokemon, you’re definitely too young to remember the first generation of ATX tower PC cases and motherboards. For a walk through personal computer history, check out the latest video on the PCWorld YouTube channel. Gordon’s tracked down a cutting-edge AMD K6-2 system in an InWin A500 case, and he’s giving a history lesson to all of us who don’t remember how computers looked back then.
There are a lot of differences between the original ATX machines and modern desktops. The whole thing is running off of 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 to the motherboard. The system uses a single 256-megabyte SDRAM module (and that was pretty roomy for the day). While there’s no hard drive in this dinosaur, if there were, it would be connected with massive parallel ATA ribbon cables. Just make sure to disconnect them before you use the handy slide-out motherboard tray.
Want to overclock the single-core, 350 megahertz CPU? Don’t dig around in the BIOS for voltage settings. Those are controlled via dedicated jumper pins and blockers on the motherboard itself. These are physical connections, manually opening and closing circuits that controlled the voltage for the CPU, with a chart of supported voltages and outputs printed directly on the circuit board!
But the expansion area of the board is where things get really interesting. This PC’s base model was pretty limited, so it came with five, count ’em, five expansion cards, across 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 main system. No retention clip necessary — these cards were light enough they didn’t need ’em.
PCI slots (no “Express”) house a 100-megabit Ethernet card and a dial-up modem built into an internal card, so you plugged the phone line right into the computer. Two more cards are plugged into positively ancient ISA slots, which were compatible with computers released as far back as 1981. The cards are a somewhat standard SoundBlaster sound card (note the game controller connection!) and a SCSI or “scuzzy” expansion port for ZIP drives and other devices.
The motherboard’s main I/O panel includes separate PS/2 inputs for the mouse and keyboard (forgive Adam for thinking “Playstation 2,” he was a Mac guy), two 9-pin serial ports (compatible with some hardware dating way back to the 1960s!), and an LPT-1 printer port. But it’s not all ancient tech: this PC was advanced enough that it featured two USB 1.0 ports, running at a blazing 1.5 megabits per second.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.