Tag Archives: upgrade

Fight obsolescence!

There’s the saying that “The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot” and looking at my workhorse desktop computers, i.e. those I use for surfing the web, writing stuff and every other creative task, this is very true in my case.

Namely there’s a PC I’ve assembled back in 2011 and an ‘early 2008’ MacPro (= 3,1). And for both I’ve decided to use them to the bitter end… just to fight against the planned obsolescence which comes with ‘innovation’.

The dark side of the force

I assembled the PC back in 2011 while working at my ex-company from which I bought it a year later. I have to congratulate myself how wisely I picked the parts for it… even 8 years later, that box is still pretty capable: The Intel i7 2600k (still benchmarked to recent cpus) was very good choice and its 16GB were insane back then and are still appropriate today.
Looking good in a MacPro-a-like case, strongly steaming along on Windows 10 and Linux, it just had its first moment showing its age: An Nvidia GTX 680 could not be detected, no matter what. Even taking the brave step flashing the last UEFI BIOS could not help.

Cheese-Grinder on wheels… and a floppy.

The even darker side…

A new graphics card? Why that? Are you a gamer, Axel?
Well, as we all know, MacOS is free… but it’s tied to hardware which isn’t. And to make you upgrade your old hardware (read: make $$$), Apple has pretty short ‘support tail’. 
So that GTX 680 was meant for my beloved MacPro. A MacPro from 2008 and officially not supported since OS X 10.11.x (aka El Captain). This means no Sierra or any other recent desert-codenamed OS. Well, not if you’re not patching it 😉
While this was relatively easy with Sierra and High Sierra, Mojave is a different thing, requiring a Metal compatible GPU… which my 8800GT was not. Actually it was already slowing down the whole thing (e.g. no WebGL) and so it was about time to replace it.

The real thing – still one of the best cases ever made.

Here’s an important hint, just in case you haven’t read it elsewhere:
If you plan to upgrade to Mojave, do not use an AMD card! This is because the required AMD drivers use SSE4.2 instructions, the early 2008 MacPro Xeon CPUs do not have. So Nvidia it is… and the GTX 680 is the best choice in my humble opinion:

  • Fast – I mean really, really, really fast (~10x compared to the 8800GT)
  • Cuda – speeding up many creative applications
  • Cheap (~60€/$70)
  • Flashable (i.e. you’ll get an Apple boot-screen)

So I got myself a used ‘680 and thought “Hey, just plug it into the good ol’ PC, boot DOS, flash the beast and off it goes into the mighty Mac”… how wrong I was!

Try’n’error darkness

Plugged into my PC did not even output a signal to the display. Nothing but black… is it broken?
Plugged into the MacPro instantly tripped its safety breaker when powered on… can it really be broken?
Then I read that my PCs ‘legacy BIOS’ could be the reason why – so after 8 years I finally had a reason to enter UEFI-land. No difference. It’s probably because of the Z68 chipset which is just too old.

Back (in)to the MacPro. Maybe the power provided by the two motherboard PCIe connectors is too low? (The power-supply itself provides a whopping 900 Watts!)
So I connected the GTX’ two PCIe power-cables to an external power-supply and… ‘tadaaa’ the Mac greeted me with his boot chime, no boot-screen (yet) and finally the desktop. Woohoo! At least the card is fine.

And there was light!

So I had to ‘mod’ the Pro… there’s this so-called ‘Pixlas Mod‘ which is just a simple power-line bypass, directly splicing into the wires after leaving the power-supply. Having done that I was able to run my GTX in parallel with the 8800GT, using a DOS boot-CD (USB isn’t an option) I could flash the GTX and after a final card swapping my Mac Pro is ready for Mojave! Yay, another one or two more years for my workhorse…

And the moral of this post/rant/story?

Don’t give up your old hardware too quickly – put some love and a bit of money into it and fight the marketing-obsolescence!


Upgrading the NumberSmasher

After a long time, I had a look at my 3 NumberSmashers again. Looking closer, I spotted a difference.
One had a silkscreen print saying “V1.2” while the others were “V1.1”. So why not upgrading the NumberSmasher yourself?!

Step 1

The most obvious fix the V1.2 had was a 47ohm resistor fitted between one pin of the 40MHz oscillator and pin-1 of an IC called “A447-0050-10 “. That’s a “10 tap leading edge delay module” made by Bel Fuse Inc.. Pin 1 takes the input signal and each other pin  adds a delay of 5ns.
So I assume this fix was meant to reduce noise on the delay chip input to make its output cleaner.

Anyhoo, here’s the quick and easy howto. The below picture shows the section of a NumberCruncher V1.1. near the almighty i860. Next to it is the (now empty) socket for the 40MHz oscillator. Next to that you see the 10-pin delay chip which pin-1 already had been cut and slightly bent upwards.
We need a bit of pin-1s leg so when cutting it, be sure to cut it as close to the board as possible!


Now for the next step. Get a 47ohm resistor and shorten its wires to bridge the space between the bent leg of the delay chip and the output pin of the oscillator (see below picture).


To make things perfectly clean, remove the pin remains by flipping the NS860 over and pull the remains with your solder iron and tweezers.

Step 2

I thought this would be a simple fix, too. There are some retrofitted jumper-wires on the back of the NumberSmasher near the ISA connectors.

NS860_patchwiresI’ve color adjusted the photo to make the wires more visible. Colored arrows show start and end of each wire

But taking a look at the chips those jumper-wires are connected, it showed that the two PAL22V10  of the V1.1 board were replaced by two PALCE610H – which is a completely different beast, same number of pins, everything else varies:

max in max out macrocells Specials
PAL22V10 22 20 10
PALCE610H 20 16 16  D, T, J-K or S-R Flip_Flops, counters and large state machines possible

Additionally here’s a side-by-side of the pinouts. This immediately explains the two long jump-wires from pin-1 to pin-13 (red & blue arrows) which connect the two clock inputs.


Here’s the PALCE610 in place:

PALCE610It’s the one at the bottom in the middle (named U93) and one hidden beneath the link-interface board (U-88).

My assumption is, that the PALCE610 has a completely different programming and the jump-wires just support the changes made, i.e routing the outputs of pin3 to input pin2 (green) respectively pin4 to pin 2 (pink) .

Next up: I will get out my Über-Programmer and try reading it – but I have low hopes, as MicroWay normally set the protection fuse on all the GALs/PALs they used.


Wow, that was unexpected. Both PALCE610 hadn’t had the protection fuse set – at least on my retro-fitted V1.1 board. So lo-and-behold, here are the JEDEC files for you to program your own PALCEs!  And because I couldn’t resist, I’ve disassembled the JEDs and added the PALASM code in the archive, too 😀

That said… it’s completely unclear what had been changed from V1.1 to V1.2 (well, U93 being close to the ISA connector gives a hint) and under which circumstances an upgrade is necessary at all.
But if you own a 1.1 and it behaves strange, you should give it a try.


After the NumberSmasher, MicroWay presented the “QuadPuter”, an EISA-Bus based quad-i860 monster… which had a short lifespan and was, well, expensive as expected. 31000 German Marks was exactly what you would have payed for an Volkswagen Golf mkII GTI 16V back then… one of the hottest hot-hatches you could get.

I found this snippet in one of my (German) computer magazines (“MC”, 1993) – they mention the OS860 (for DOS) as well as the MAX860 multiuser-OS for UNIX, OS/2 and DOS: