Digital Archaeology: IBM 300GL

in #retrocomputing8 months ago (edited)

The IBM Personal Computer 300GL is a model designation that actually covered a pretty wide variety of different models. Machines were built with the 300GL designation with CPUs ranging from Pentium MMX to Pentium IIIs and everything in between. This particular one came with a 300 MHz Celeron (Mendocino). The Mendocino Celerons were essentially Pentium IIs with a small, on die cache. The cache was less than the Pentium IIIs of the time (128K vs. 256K) but it ran at full clock speed instead of half speed. The Celerons were also missing the new SSE instructions that Pentium IIIs had but they were highly overclockable.

I believe that the 300GL iterations that came with Celeron processors were among the latest released even though they weren't the most capable. The Celeron iterations were designed as an inexpensive way to buy into the IBM ecosystem. They were crippled with a 66 MHz bus though whereas the vast majority of computers with the BX chipset could also support a 100 MHz bus. This limits the upgrade possibilities significantly. HWiNFO32 and CPU-Z identify the mainboard as having a 440BX/ZX chipset. In any case, this seems to have been an intentional design decision by IBM presumably to keep people from inexpensively upgrading and forcing them to buy a whole new machine instead. While IBMs were typically not the fastest around and not very upgradeable, they did tend to be well built, quiet and reliable. This one is still running strong after all.

Celeron 300A "Mendocino" Slot 1 Processor (back)

No hard drive was included when I got my 300GL. I thought about putting in a compact flash card as I had a couple of compact flash/IDE converters. However, there is only one IDE connector to connect the hard drive and the optical drive in a master slave configuration so the adapter wouldn't work unless I was willing to give up the optical drive. Instead, I found a 60 GB hard drive lying around that would work. So step one was to install the hard drive. In addition to installing a hard drive, I also decided to upgrade the RAM. I replaced the single 64 GB module with two 128 MB 133 MHz SDRAM modules for a total of 256 MB. In theory, this is the maximum amount of RAM supported but I haven't tested that theory. It's possible that up to 512 MB would work but I wouldn't bet on it.

Before CPU and RAM upgrade

The next decision was which OS to install. I could install some iteration of Linux but my favorite ones won't run well in 256 MB. I decided to keep things a little more retro and installed Windows 98 SE instead. The install went well for the most part but I had trouble getting the network card working. I found a CD image online to download that was supposedly drivers and other software for the 300GL but the network "drivers" didn't work. Instead, trying to do the setup from that CD prompted me to insert the Windows 98 CD where it couldn't find them. I ultimately found a couple of other downloads that are supposedly drivers for this card that might work but I had already lost my patience and decided to install Windows XP instead.

After CPU and RAM upgrade

Windows XP was really a big leap over Windows 98. That's both good and bad. Good in the sense that most drivers for most machines of this era are included, multitasking is better, it's more stable, etc. Bad in the sense that older DOS games and software don't always work with it. Anyway, the install went perfectly, including drivers for the network card which Windows XP identifies as an IBM Netfinity 10/100 Ethernet Adapter. I downloaded k-meleon as a browser which works pretty reliably if slowly. But then what do you expect with 300 MHz and 256 MB of RAM? Windows XP itself though is pretty snappy even on such low spec hardware.

Celeron 300A "Mendocino" Slot 1 Processor (front)

The next step in the upgrade process is installing a 533 MHz Celeron processor. This motherboard takes a Slot 1 processor and the fastest Slot 1 processor on a 66 MHz bus is a 433 MHz Celeron. However, with a Socket 370/Slot 1 converter (slotket) faster CPUs can be used. The fastest 66 MHz bus Socket 370 processor that can be used is the 533 MHz Celeron.

Ad for the IBM 300GL

The 533 MHz Celeron is also available as a Coppermine model, the main advantage of which is that it supports SSE instructions. It also runs a little cooler. However, I wasn't sure it would work with this converter so I stuck with the older Mendocino model. Incidentally, there ended up being two jumpers on the adapter I got but I have no idea what either one of them do.

Technical Specs (1)

The heatsink and clip on the existing processor seems to be a custom job as it wouldn't fit on the adapter I had. There weren't the right number of holes in the right places. However, the adapter I have can accept a standard socket 370 heatsink clip and I had one lying around. Unfortunately, the heatsink and fan combined were too big as the memory would be in the way. I took the fan off since some research showed that the Celeron 533 could be run with a passive heatsink in at least some cases. There was a case fan right next to it blowing air over it and it was a fairly large, copper heatsink. The machine booted up right away though it complained about the BIOS not having the right code for it. Even though I updated to the "latest and greatest" BIOS before attempting the upgrade. Pressing cancel allowed booting into Windows XP normally and the new processor seemed to work exactly as expected.

Technical Specs (2)

I'm running BOINC and the [email protected] project on it as a sort of stress test. That particular project has relatively low memory requirements and seems to work well on this old PC...if slowly. On the 300 MHz processor it took approximately 6 days and 7 hours to complete one task. However, after running for an hour or so with the 533 MHz upgrade the machine froze. I assume due to overheating though there is no temperature sensor to verify that). I added the cpu fan into the case. It sits a few inches away from the cpu heatsink at an angle and blows air onto the memory and heatsink. That seems to be doing the trick though I wish I had a better way to secure it. I'll have to hunt down a lower profile socket 370 heatsink and fan at some point.

Here are the links for the HWINFO output before and after the CPU and memory upgrade.

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Gosh I remember the day I first got to use a 100mhz PC and I was so excited. It was like science fiction come to life. I'd been following the progress via work computers because at the time I had a 12mhz 286! First we had a bunch of 386, 486, 33mhz, then gradually faster and faster until that milestone.

Amazing to think how far we have come today!

From the first 100 MHz processor to the first 1 GHz processor was almost exactly 6 years. I jumped from 1 MHz (Commodore 64) to 66 MHz to 333 MHz to 900 MHz (I for get if that's exactly right...It was a Duron). After that it was probably something close to 2 GHz (Athlon XP).

I remember a couple of years after I got my 486 DX2 66 lusting after the Pentium 133/150/166...the MHz sure increased fast back then.

I have similar memories with a 133 MHz Pentium 1 PC with MS-DOS 6.22, with Windows 3.11, and with a lot of video games. It was one of the best parts of my childhood. This was not ours, but this was one of the first PCs that I used. I learned to type on it.

I still remember looking for the keys on the keyboard, and now (since many years) I type blindly on keyboards. I also used a 66 MHz PC in that time with Windows 95 and with some video games. Our first PC that we owned was a 400 MHz Pentium II PC with Windows ME (Millenium Edition). We received a lot of video games on CD-ROMs, and we also copied a few games on floppies from the previously mentioned 133 MHz Pentium 1 PC.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

Have a nice day. All the best. Greetings and much love from Hungary.

If I remember correctly this was one of the best selling computers of all time as IBM sold it to all the big box retailers to use for their Registers (P.O.S)

Nice job getting it back up and running.

I always thought IBM sold models that were designed specifically for P.O.S...probably to charge 10x more. But it wouldn't surprise me. This single model seemed to span 3 CPU generations so it was definitely around a while.

This makes me feel less self-conscious about my antique white Mac laptop! Thick as a Bible, screen doesn't work, a few keys missing, but it still hooks up to the big screen TV if a Mac-OS is needed! Ha! :)

I've been fascinated with computers since I first played with my neighbors Commodore 64 in the mid 1980s. Old computers are kind of a hobby for me now. They are (relatively) cheap to buy and upgrade and I can usually sell again and recoup most or all of what I spent if not make a few extra bucks.

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Yay! 🤗
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