Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Repairing and bootstrapping an IBM 5170 PC/AT, part 1

 I bought an IBM PC/AT 5170 a few years ago for a Hackerdojo project that didn't end up going anywhere.

So, I have a PC/AT with:

  • 8MHz 80286 (type 3 board)
  • 512K on board
  • 128K expansion board (with space for 512K extended RAM, 41256 RAM chip style)
  • ST4038 30MB MFM drive with some gunk on head or platter 3 (random head 3 read failures, sigh)
  • 1.2MB floppy drive
  • CGA card
  • Intel 8/16 ethernet card

Ok, so the bad disk was a pain in the ass. It's 2020, DOS on 1.2MB floppy disks isn't exactly the easiest thing to come across. But, it DOES occasionally boot.

But, first up - the BIOS battery replacement had leaked. Everywhere. So I replaced that, and had to type in a BASIC program into ROM BASIC to reprogram the BIOS NVRAM area with a default enough configuration to boot from floppy or hard disk.

Luckily someone had done that:

So, I got through that.

Then, I had to buy some double high density 5.25" discs. Ok, well, that took a bit, but they're still available as new old stock (noone's making floppy discs anymore, sigh.) I booted the hard disk and after enough attempts at it, it booted to the command prompt. At which point I promptly created a bootable system disc and copied as much of DOS 5.0 off of it as I could.

Then, since I am a child of the 80s and remember floppy discs, I promptly DISCCOPY'ed it to a second disc that I'm leaving as a backup.

And, for funsies, DOSSHELL.

Ok, so what's next?

I decided to buy an alternate BIOS - the Quadtel 286 image that's floating about - because quite frankly having to type in that BASIC program into ROM BASIC every time was a pain in the ass. So, in it went. Which was good, because...

Well, then it stopped working. It turns out that my clean-up of the battery leakage wasn't enough. The system booted with three short beeps and "0E" on the screen.

Now we get into deep, deep PC history.

Luckily, the Quadtel BIOS codes are available here:

.. but with the Intel BIOS, it didn't beep, it didn't do anything. Just a black screen.

What gives?

So, starting with PC/AT and clone machines, the BIOS would write status updates during boot to a fixed IO port. Then if you have a diagnostic card that monitors that IO port, you'd get updates on where the system go to during boot before it hit a problem. These are called POST (power on self test) codes.

Here's a write-up of it and some POST cards:

Luckily, the Quadtel BIOS just spat it out on the screen for me. Phew.

So! 0xE says the 8254 interval timer wasn't working. I looked on the board and ... voila! It definitely had a lot of rusty looking crap on it. U115, a 32 byte PROM used for some address line decoding also was unhappy.

Here's how it looked before I had cleaned it up - this is circa July:

I had cleaned all of this out and used some vinegar on a Q-tip to neutralise the leaked battery gunk, but I didn't get underneath the ICs.

So, out they both came. I cleaned up the board, repaired some track damage and whacked in sockets.

Then in went the chips - same issue. Then I was sad.

Then! Into the boxes of ICs I went - where I found an 8254-2 that was spare! I lifted it from a dead PC clone controller board a while ago. In IT went, and the PC/AT came alive again.

(At this point I'd like to note that I was super afraid that the motherboard was really dead, as repairing PC/AT motherboards is not something I really wanted to do. Well, it's done and it works.)

Rightio! So, the PC boots, CGA monitor and all, from floppy disc. Now comes the fun stuff - how do I bootstrap said PC/AT with software, given no software on physical media? Aha, that's in part 2.

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