APPENDIX - What We Use - Last Updated 01-Jan-96

We often assemble our own PC-clones for 2 reasons:

We can't do this for laptops and these have typically been the most troublesome. We have a few desktop systems which were bought assembled and they mostly work OK.

Some items work on the current development system and are not included in the Plan 9 distribution.

The opinions and misinformation in here are all mine.


We like baby-AT format motherboards. Until recently we've used the AMI Enterprise IV:

All in all, a fine little board but no longer available. Most home PC systems still use these.

We have three brands of dual-processor P54 motherboards using the Neptune chipset, a single ASUS PCI/E-P54NP4, a number of Gigabyte GA-586ID's (although they were sold to us under another name) and a single Tyan Tempest S1462. There's little difference between them, all have 256Kb or 512Kb secondary cache and no on-board I/O. It comes down to what you intend to plug in:

               ASUS PCI/E-P54NP4   Gigabyte GA-586ID   Tyan Tempest S1462
SIMM sockets           6                   6                   8
EISA slots             4                   5                   5
PCI slots              4                   3                   4
PS/2 port              Y                   N                   N

The ASUS has a separate 3.3v power connector. If your power supply can't provide that, you lose a PCI slot to a voltage regulator card. The Gigabyte has more flexible PCI interrupts, allowing PCI multi-function cards such as the GA-107A multi-I/O card which doesn't require an [E]ISA-slot paddle-card (that in itself doesn't buy you much - if you have a PCI multi-I/O card in the shared PCI slot you can't really use the shared EISA slot for anything other than a paddle-card anyway).

The Tyan is advertised as having optional synchronous L2 cache. However, I've been unable to find a motherboard equipped with 512Kb of synchronous L2 cache, it's rumoured to be unstable. All our dual motherboards have 512Kb asynchronous L2 cache.

The ASUS has 2 90MHz processors and the Tyan 2 133MHz processors. A basic multiprocessor PC Brazil kernel has been done.

We have some Intel motherboards (Advanced/MN) with the Triton chipset which work fine. There are some weird things with the BIOS setup but it's probably just unfamiliarity.

The only other motherboard we've purchased directly is the Gigabyte GA-586ATE with a 133MHz processor. This is a very nice 3/4 baby-AT size motherboard:

        P54CT 75-200MHz
        4 PCI, 4 ISA slots
        265Kb pipline burst synchronous L2 cache
        Triton chipset
        on-board I/O + PS/2 mouse port

It's impossible to say what other hardware is in use, outside the Lab many people run on stock PC-clones such as Dell, Gateway, etc. The most recent purchases have been Micron Millenias which are just dandy; they came equipped with Teac 6X ATAPI CD-ROM drives and Diamond Stealth64 Graphics 2001 VGA cards (ARK2000pv chip, see below) and worked straight out the box.

We buy ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards from

        American NorthStar Computers
        19 E. Melbourne Avenue
        Melbourne, FL 32901
        Tel: (407) 728-1550
        Fax: (407) 777-1131
        Contact: Eblan Farris, or

They sell individual components and systems built to spec, we've bought both without complaint. The cases are especially nice, allowing access to all the drive bays without disturbing the motherboard or cards and also allowing the motherboard+cards to be removed as a unit.

VGA cards

Here's a list of what's in /lib/vgadb with VGA chip type:

                                  chip                     comments
STB PowerGraph X-24               S3 86C801                ISA
Orchid Fahrenheit 1280            S3 86C805                VLB
#9GXE Level-1[126]                S3 86C928                VLB
#9GXE64                           S3 Vision864             PCI, VLB and on motherboard
#9GXE64pro                        S3 Vision964             PCI
Diamond Stealth 64 DRAM           S3 Trio64                PCI
Diamond Stealth SE DRAM           S3 Trio32                VLB
Cardinal VGA765                   Tseng Labs ET4000        ISA
Hercules Dynamite Power           Tseng Labs ET4000/W32p   PCI
Hercules Dynamite Power           Tseng Labs ET4000/W32i   ISA
Hercules Stingray 64/Video        ARK2000pv                PCI
Diamond Stealth64 Graphics 2001   ARK2000pv                PCI
Diamond SpeedStar Pro             CL-GD542x                ISA and on motherboard
Orchid Kelvin 64                  CL-GD543x                PCI
Globalyst 250 (laptop)            C&T65540                 on motherboard
ATI ULtra Pro                     MACH32                   VLB
AT&T Globalyst 600                MACH64                   on motherboard

Support for the ATI MACH32 and MACH64 is minimal, only the dumb VGA mode is used restricting the maximum resolution to 1024x768x8.

Most of the Enterprise IV motherboards have a #9GXE Level-11 VLB, there are also 2 with Level-16's.

Subjectively, the Tseng Labs ET4000/W32p gives the best performance under Plan 9, its only drawbacks being the lack of a hardware cursor in 2x8bit mode and a maximum pixel-clock of 135MHz when used with a suitable RAMDAC. The Hercules Stingray 64/Video with the ARK2000pv chip looks good too and doesn't have restrictions on the use of the hardware cursor. The Diamond Stealth64 Graphics 2001 has the ARK2000pv as well and is, as far as Plan 9 is concerned, just as good. However, Hercules has the definite edge with drivers for other 'operating systems'.

There are a number of cards out there using the S3 Trio64 chip, they're cheap and perform well; the single-chip solution cuts out a lot of the guesswork in getting the card to work.


We use the IDEK 8617 and Viewsonic 17 17" monitors, and the Nokia 445X 21". We also have a couple of Nanao Flexscan 6500 21" greyscale monitors which have some fans; it's cheap (~$1200), not very deep and quite crisp at 1376x1024.

IDE/ATA drives

We've used Seagate 2.5" drives on most of the Enterprise IV systems, mainly because once the system is booted we just spin it down; we could do that with a SCSI drive but the Enterprise IV has an on-board IDE controller so we just use that. They are slow, however.

We have a number of Conner CFA850 850Mb EIDE drives hooked up to CMD604B controllers and they have worked nicely; sadly, they are not made any more (the CFS850 replacement is much slower), and switched to the IBM DPEA-31080, which is apparently discontinued now too. There is also a Micropolis 2117 1.7Gb drive. It would not coexist happily with the Conner, it always wanted to be master; the Conner worked fine as a slave.

There are a couple of WD AC31600 drives around. They like to spin down when the last sector is accessed but the driver has been fixed for that. Every WD drive sounds like a ball-bearing rattling around inside a tin can.

There's one Seagate ST31220A 1Gb drive which is very nice too.

SCSI Controllers

We use Buslogic controllers, PCI, EISA and ISA, and the Adaptec 1542 series. Those can all be handled in one driver (although that's not the one in the distribution). There is also an Ultrastor 14F ISA and a 34F VLB controller around which work fine; those controllers may not be easy to get anymore, although the 34F has been seen in firesales at $60.

SCSI Discs

We have a completely mixed bag, all the way from systems with a single 200Mb drive on an Adaptec 1542 to one with 4 9Gb Seagate Elite 9's on a Buslogic 747S EISA controller. Most of our drives come from Seagate although there are odd drives around from other manufacturers such as Maxstor and Conner. The Seagate ST31230N 1.05Gb SCSI-2 drive is fast.

The only incompatibility has been the dual-ported Seagate fast+wide+differential Elite 9 and a Buslogic 757D fast+wide+differential EISA controller. The single-ported version of the drive works fine; the dual-ported drive has no on-board termination and the conclusion was there is some incompatibility in the way the active termination is done.


We have mostly used the 2X Toshiba 3401 and now the 4X 3601B, although there is a NEC 74 and 3Xi around which work fine too. The Toshiba lets you read the digital audio over the bus. However, according to our audio-grabbing expert the best drive we have is a 4X Plextor 4-Plex; it can read the digital audio too and positions more accurately than the Toshiba.

We have an old Philips and a new Yamaha CD-ROM writer. The Yamaha hasn't given any trouble, the Philips is probably obsolete.


We've tried the Mitsumi, Panasonic and Matsushita drives which can be attached to a Sound Blaster audio card. They're slow.

On the ATAPI side, the only one we've bought directly is a 4X Toshiba 5302B which just works fine. Other drives which seem to work OK are the Mitsumi FX400 and the Teac 6x drive. One brand to avoid is Sanyo (comes with a Micron Powerstation), the drive we had wouldn't execute the drive diagnotics command properly.


Sound Blaster 16 or compatible ( not the SBPro).


You just can't get a decent mouse these days. Logitech makes OK 3-button mice, but their catalogue keeps changing. PS/2 or serial, it doesn't matter, we handle both.


You just can't get a decent keyboard these days. We use the Lexmark Quiet-Touch. It has 84 keys, an optional numeric keypad (which we've never bought) and either PS/2 (6-pin) or AT (5-pin) connector. The feel is a bit dull, but it measures 13"x6" which makes up for a lot.

Ethernet Adapters

The 3Com 3C509 is a fine card, it's fast, autoconfigures, the only resources it uses are 16 I/O ports and it's pretty cheap. The later 3C509B works too, although there is no support for the Plug-and-Play option as yet. Don't bother with the EISA version (3C579), performance is marginally better but it costs a lot more. The PCMCIA (3C589) and the PCI (3C590) also work. The 3C595 Fast Etherlink III PCI card works in 10BaseT mode, and has worked at 100BaseTX in a direct connection between two systems (we have no 100BaseT hubs). There is a driver which makes use of the busmastering capability of the PCI cards (3C59[05]) but it's still in development and has problems handling some errors. Note that early versions of these cards have a bug which prevents them from using the busmaster channel in 10BaseT mode; the bug is not expected to be fixed until early 1996.

Adapters based on the AMD 79C970 busmaster chip (e.g. the Racal-Interlan PCI-T2) seem to work fine.

Other cards we have are some of the SMC (WD) series of adapters, up to the Elite (andnow including the Elite Ultra), some NE2000 compatibles (including an NE4100 PCMCIA card) and one Eagle NE3210 EISA card. They all work but have nothing to recommend them over the 3C509.

We failed miserably to get the old 3Com 3C503 to work, the NIC kept resetting as soon as we put any load on it.


Modems are not something we use much and have no real opinions. Our Plan 9 FAX service uses a MultiTech MT1432 and an AT&T Dual Port Express. The AT&T Keep-In-Touch PCMCIA modem also works.


There's some support for PCMCIA controllers using the Intel 82365SL PCIC controller or compatibles (e.g. Cirrus Logic PD6710/PD6720). Both controllers in laptops and on ISA cards have been used.

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