Ancient Technology

My father handed me a crate the other day as part of a cleanup, to see if I wanted anything he’d found.

I didn’t think the bits would be as old as they were, and thought it’d be great to share what they were. I’ve used a PS4 controller for reference as I couldn’t find a banana.

First up is a very long ISA card, from an XT PC. This was purely an IDE controller – giving you the ability to add on a floppy drive or hard drive to your PC. The board itself actually says the year of manufacture – 1985.

1985 XT PC ISA Controller Card

There’s two cables, each allowing 2 devices. This goes back to the primary and secondary days of drives, where you needed to set the jumpers correctly on the back for them to be detected properly. I measured it, and it’s 35cm long!

Next up is a 3 button serial mouse. On the back is a switch to toggle between 2 and 3 buttons, which was to work around incompatibilities between the two configurations, as mentioned on the Wikiepedia article. Of course this is an old ball mouse… and someone opened up a Microsoft Serial Mouse if you want to see the ball and wheel components.

3 button Serial PC Mouse

This one’s a bit harder to date – it’s probably XT PC era too with the 3 button switch, and long before the PS/2 mouse came out in the late 1980’s.

Here we have some hard drives. They’re 3.5″ but much chunkier than the ones of today, about double the thickness. I believe they’re both 20MB – yes megabyes! At the time of this, 360KB 5 1/4 floppy disks were the norm – About the equivalent of 55 floppies could be stored on a 20MB HDD.

20MB IDE HDDs, XT PC era (198X)

The data connector on this fits the cables on the ISA card from earlier. I remember in my childhood having a 40MB HDD bought for $600AU in the early 1990s. Back in 1990 accordign to this US copy of InfoWorld, these 20MB HDDs would have cost US$699 as an addon when buying a PC.

Last up was something I was much less familiar with – a 5 1/4 inch HDD. I found a page selling the same model if you want to buy one for yourself. I couldn’t tell from looking at the unit, but based on all the links it seems to have a capacity of 42MB.

Mitsubishi 5 1/4″ HDD back (Centre)

Mitsubishi 5 1/4″ HDD front (Centre)

There is a date on this one, 1989. Because many computers had slots for 5 1/4 inch floppy drives, it made sense to have hard drives at the same size. They fell out of fashion , and the 3 1/2 inch size became the new standard, matching the 3 1/2 inch floppy disks and drives of the time. Again this one has the same connectors as the other hard drives I have. Also, those molex power connectors survived a very long time in the PC world!

Also on the back of this drive, notice the amount of switches you need to set correctly – 14 in total. I’d be surprised if anyone misses troubleshooting an incorrectly set HDD with that many combinations of options, and slow startup times.

That’s the lot – always fun to go back over the old technology and see what was normal.

2 thoughts on “Ancient Technology

  1. Yes!.

    I saved up my pocket money to buy (I think) a 40Meg hard drive from ACS Computers (on Goodwood Rd) for around $500. At the time my Dad wasn’t sure if that was a good thing to spend my money on.

    The drive wasn’t the best – it suffered from what was apparently known as “stiction” – meaning that most times, you had to physically whack the hard drive to make it start spinning when you turned on the PC (also an XT model).

    I also upgraded our 8088 CPU to a NEC V20 ( to get about 5% improvement (wow!).

    Ah, those were the days :-)

    1. Haha yes hitting things in those days seemed to be somewhat effective! I had a few different XT Compatible PCs, and remember going through the CGA > EGA > VGA transitions. Had a trusty 286 for many years after that…

      I remember there were also some disk based games that you had to boot from, so to play you’d reboot the whole PC with the floppy disk in and wait to load. Maybe Gremlins 2? Can’t remember all the details :)

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