My collection of vintage PC cards

Vincent Bernat

Recently, I have been gathering some old hardware at my parents’ house, notably PC extension cards, as they don’t take much room and can be converted to a nice display item. Unfortunately, I was not very concerned about keeping stuff around. Compared to all the hardware I have acquired over the years, only a few pieces remain.

Tseng Labs ET4000AX (1989)#

This SVGA graphics card was installed into a PC powered by a 386SX CPU running at 16 MHz. This was a good card at the time as it was pretty fast. It didn’t feature 2D acceleration, unlike the later ET4000/W32. This version only features 512 KB of RAM. It can display 1024×768 images with 16 colors or 800×600 with 256 colors. It was also compatible with CGA, EGA, VGA, MDA, and Hercules modes. No contemporary games were using the SVGA modes but the higher resolutions were useful with Windows 3. This card was manufactured directly by Tseng Labs.

Tseng Labs ET4000AX ISA card on top of the "Planète Aventure" box
Tseng Labs ET4000 AX ISA card

AdLib clone (1992)#

My first sound card was an AdLib. My parents bought it in Canada during the summer holidays in 1992. It uses a Yamaha OPL2 chip to produce sound via FM synthesis. The first game I have tried is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I think I gave this AdLib to a friend once I upgraded my PC with a Sound Blaster Pro 2. Recently, I needed one for a side project, but they are rare and expensive on eBay. Someone mentioned a cheap clone on Vogons, so I bought it. It was sold by Sun Moon Star in 1992 and shipped with a CD-ROM of Doom shareware.

AdLib clone on top of "Alone in the Dark" box
AdLib clone ISA card by Sun Moon Star

On this topic, take a look at “OPL2LPT: an AdLib sound card for the parallel port” and “OPL2 Audio Board: an AdLib sound card for Arduino.” The first article includes a more exact copy of an AdLib clone.

Sound Blaster Pro 2 (1992)#

Later, I switched the AdLib sound card with a Sound Blaster Pro 2. It features an OPL3 chip and was also able to output digital samples. At the time, this was a welcome addition, but not as important as the FM synthesis introduced earlier by the AdLib.

Sound Blaster Pro 2 on top of "Day of the Tentacle" box
Sound Blaster Pro 2 ISA card

Promise EIDE 2300 Plus (1995)#

I bought this card mostly for the serial port. I was using a 486DX2 running at 66 MHz with a Creatix LC 288 FC external modem. The serial port was driven by an 8250 UART with no buffer. Thanks to Terminate, I was able to connect to BBSes with DOS, but this was not possible with Windows 3 or OS/2. I needed one of these fancy new cards with a 16550 UART, featuring a 16-byte buffer. At the time, this was quite difficult to find in France. During a holiday trip, I convinced my parent to make a short detour from Los Angeles to San Diego to buy this Promise EIDE 2300 Plus controller card at a shop I located through an advertisement in a local magazine!

The card also features an EIDE controller with multi-word DMA mode 2 support. In contrast with the older PIO modes, the CPU didn’t have to copy data from disk to memory.

Promise EIDE 2300 Plus next to an OS/2 Warp CD
Promise EIDE 2300 Plus VLB card

3dfx Voodoo2 Magic 3D II (1998)#

The 3dfx Voodoo2 was one of the first add-in graphics cards implementing hardware acceleration of 3D graphics. I bought it from a friend along with his Pentium II box in 1999. It was a big evolutionary step in PC gaming, as games became more beautiful and fluid. A traditional video controller was still required for 2D. A pass-through VGA cable daisy-chained the video controller to the Voodoo, which was itself connected to the monitor.

3dfx Voodoo 2 Magic 3D II on top of "Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II" box
3dfx Voodoo2 Magic 3D II PCI card

3Com 3C905C-TX-M “Tornado” (1999)#

In the early 2000s, in college, the Internet connection on the campus was provided by a student association through a 100 Mbps Ethernet cable. If you wanted to reach the maximum speed, the 3Com 3C905C-TX-M PCI network adapter, nicknamed “Tornado,” was the card you needed. We would buy it second-hand by the dozen and sell them to other students for around 30 €.

3COM 3C905C-TX-M on top of "Red Alert" box
3Com 3C905C-TX-M PCI card