Troubleshooting an Intel 386

For some strange reason, I am working on getting an Intel 80386 PC up and running.

The specs are:

Processing Power: Intel 386DX @ 33 MHz
5.25″ Floppy Drive
3.5″ Floppy Drive
ISA Card Interface
OS: DOS 5 + Windows 3.1 (according to the labels on the side of the case)

I don’t have that much experience  with something as old as this since my first major experience with a Personal Computer was a Pentium1  system with an CD-ROM drive but I wanted the hands-on time with it.

The “Desktop” form  is really cramped and makes me appreciate the Tower cases even more. The flat ribbon data cables are familiar but but it is still the flat 40 wire type.  We have access to the SATA interface  for speed.  The last time I ever saw a 5.25″ floppy drive was way back in Middle School (computer lab).  The computer has a Video card installed in one of the ISA slots. I’m far more familiar with  PCI, AGP and PCI-Express but the Video card did work and outputted to the 14″ CRT just fine. The keyboard worked just fine but it was super loud every time you hit a key.  The Mouse connected via the older serial port.  The Power Supply was rated at 300 Watts!?  Energy efficiency has come a long way.  As for case buttons, you have the standard Power and Reset but it also has the “Turbo” button.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

So hook it all up and turn it on.  It goes through a Power On Self Test (POST)  much like today’s current systems do. The key combination to get into BIOS was Ctrl+Shift+Esc.  It worked fine but I prefer the single key press method.  BIOS was a single screen menu, using arrow keys to navigate and make changes.  To save changes it required an F10 to save and F5 to confirm the save.  I rebooted the system and this is where the troubleshooting began.

The Hard Drive wouldn’t boot, the floppy drives were stuck in  the on position.  I checked the power and data cables, even going so far as to change the data cable on the Hard Drive since it uses an IDE/PATA connection.  It still wouldn’t run.  The Power, CPU, RAM and keyboard were all working.  I decided to connect the Hard Drive to my current PC and it it was read by Windows just fine.  The Folders on the drive were DOS and Windows.  This allowed me to figure out that the drive was accessible and that the drive had data on it.  I reinstalled back into the 386 and still nothing.

After several tests I came to the conclusion that the Hard Drive and Floppy drive controllers/interface connectors are gone.  I made sure the cables were installed correctly and seated.

So it was interesting trial and error  but I just could not fix it.  I gave my upgrade recommendation to the user.  Makes me wonder what kind of games could you play on such a old machine.  There must be a way to run older DOS games on newer machines.  I guess I’ll have to look into that.



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