Teaching your router to fight off Nazis, the Strogg and the most ruthless bloodthirsty warriors in the galaxy...

WANg

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Jun 10, 2018
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Or...what to do with obsolete hardware for fun.

So one of those things that every IT guy seem to have...is a shelf full of obsolete hardware that you really can't do much on, and it gives you pause to toss it out.

Take, for instance, this iSiS Imagestream TransPort router...which is an OEM version of the Portwell NAD-2050-3.

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It's an oldschool gigabit router that was used as the DTE for, say, a T1/T3 line for an office. Think of it as like a Cisco 3800 series, but instead of running on some gimpy MIPS/PowerPC SoC with a proprietary OS, it’s x86 and Linux based. Someone at my last gig decided that it's no longer needed, and they gave it to me as a gift about 4 years ago. I kinda forgot about it (left it in a box of old network gear that I was supposed to review/toss out one day). During the COVID insanity I got bored and decided to look inside. The IsIs firmware residing on an IDE40 DOM module (based on Kernel 2.4) hasn't seen much updates, and poking around the hardware using a serial console and a DamnedSmallLinux image mounted on an SD card (which went through an IDE44 to SD adapter) showed me that the CPU is a Via Samuel 2 based C3/550MHz (Via ESP5000), there is a slot for a single 200 pin DDR laptop SODIMM module, and 3 Realtek RTL8139 NIC ports, normal for these applications. Looking through Portwell's product catalog the line mentions models with USB ports and VGA output. According to the manual the machine is a Via Epia clone (KM133/VT82686C based) with a Trident CyberBlade i1, an oldschool DirectX 6 GPU embedded within the Northbridge, and the motherboard has the necessary breakout for VGA in a 2.54mm pitch, 2x5 pinout. There is also a dual USB breakout using a similar pinout. Fortunately I have USB breakout cables.

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What would happen if you build a VGA cable off the breakout, install a Yamaha YMF724/744 PCI sound card and then install Windows 98 Second edition onto an SD card?

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Well, you'll need to disable 2 of the onboard NICs in Win98 since they are eating into the IRQ pool. However, once that's done and you load up the driver sets, it works almost entirely like an oldschool Retro PC. The challege here is that oldschool DOS games would require an ISA SoundBlaster card with DMA channels, and ISA DMA channels don't really exist in the PCI era unless there are ways to carry the DMA request from the ISA bus over to the PCI side where the more modern sound cards reside (which requires distributed DMA support on the device Southbridge or something called a PC/PCI interface). This also imply that your soundcard would need to have oldschool SB hardware capabilities - and that's handled in varying degrees of success in most retro hardware.

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Well, Wolfenstein is relatively easy since it doesn't use the DOS4GW extender, but it was still nice to hear the guards scream "ACHTUNG".

Next up, time to take on the Strogg. Bring up Windows 98 and start Quake 2...

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Overall, the Cyberblade i1 embedded GPU gets a passing grade in Quake 2 - around 25 fps in most game scenarios.
So, what about something more...challenging? Let's bring on the cabal of the most vicious, savage warriors in the universe, fighting in front of the multitude of fans sponsored by the Liandri Corporation.
Unreal Tournament! (UT'99).

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Yeah, that really does say 5 fps but it was running at 800x600. Even with a Voodoo 2 you would need more CPU firepower for UT'99, like at least an AMD Duron or a Coppermine P3. You know what would help? a 3dfx Voodoo card. But since this board does not have integrated audio, that would not do. But I do have oldschool hardware that can use it...Stay tuned.

So yes, you can have a good time teaching old routers new tricks. This one certainly did well against the Strogg.

Hey @fohdeesha, figure you can use a laugh...you were talking about running Doom on one of those 10/40GbE switches...
 
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Patrick

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Dec 21, 2010
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When I saw the title I was thinking "uh oh".

Very cool project
 
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WANg

Well-Known Member
Jun 10, 2018
787
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When I saw the title I was thinking "uh oh".

Very cool project
Heh - and no one spotted the additional hilarity that the machine was resold and serviced by a company named "Isis"? As in, "working with the forces of Isis, fight off nazis, Stroggos and the inter-galactic badasses of the Liandri Corporation?"
 
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fohdeesha

Kaini Industries
Nov 20, 2016
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Very nice! Still upset Arista didn't break out vga anywhere in their switches, those AMDs have pretty good integrated GPUs! Don't they understand we have video games to play?