Oct 14, 2021
4 mins read
Finally another retro computer! In this occasion is an HP Vectra VL5/166, manufactured in 1996. I tried to trace back how I obtained this one but to not luck, so probably was donated to me by a costumer.
As can be seem in the picture, the case is dirty but not so bad in general. Aside yellowing in a couple of sections what tells you how different type of plastics are present in this case. The entire outer case is plastic, covered in the inside with a giant RF shield that also reinforce a bit the structure. Luckily all is in good shape and the interior of the outer case is almost perfect.
Regarding the motherboard and components, to my surprise was in very good condition! Aside of a bit of dust settled in the motherboard, looks like a rather quick clean up! Even the back panel is rather clean.
So since I remember that I powered on when I got it originally 8+ years ago before putting it in storage but not what happened aside not blowing up, I decided to go ahead with the smoke test… now excuse me for the sloppy video that ended in a weird angle, but the sound was the most dramatic and important part, put your headphones and listen to that hard drive!
That was the sound of a hard drive successfully resurrecting itself after years of inactivity! This machine is running a Windows 98 SE installation that even has the installation folder in there, how kind! The computer started but with no sound, that was not a surprise since the BIOS was warning of some problems with a PCI card at the start, again sorry for the bad picture where the message error is only a whit line, my cellphone camera was unable to pick it up correctly.
As a side note, I notice that the CD-ROM drive was reading something a found this!
Also to my surprise, looks like the drive is reading correctly and even the door is working rather well. It’s not the originally drive since this Samsung units were manufactured and sell from 2002 onwards. I don´t have a way to know if there was no drive originally or the old one died.
So, back with the sound, I went to check the card and the first thing I confirmed, that was already suspecting after seeing the black PCB of the card after first opening it, is that the card was an update and not originally came with the computer, if there were any. We can read in the label 08/03/05… depending of how you read that is March 8 of 2005 or August 3 of 2005, but the year is certain.
After taking the picture and studying in detail I noticed something, marked in the picture. The card was not exactly well seated in the slot, even if the screws and the card itself were solid as a rock in their positions. Sometimes you can go too far when screwing something and have too much tension, what can cause the same problem that having them loose. In any case the card could have move from the tension or from somebody throwing the computer around.
I went ahead and decided to quickly fix that. Luckily the PSU is very easy to move, leaving aside that is a non-standard form factor that means that if someday I have problems with it, I will have to repair it since putting a generic replacement is not an option.
Tried a couple of times in the same slot with no luck, so I moved the card to the second one and voila!, BIOS posting without errors!
The card was detected correctly! Will revisit the first slot later to see what the deal is, hopefully is still working and it’s not damaged. Strangely Windows decided to ask me again for the drivers, and since was unable to find them in the hard drive went to download them from the internet and in that moment I found the next problem with this Vectra…
Yep, there is something inside the drive. It was not doing any weird sounds, so that plastic piece is not touching anything, but obviously you can´t put a disk. So not risking damaging more the drive, since its marching with the colors of the rest of the bay covers, I just connected one of the know good ones that I have around. With that done and after installing for the first time a driver with a floppy in a very, very long time, we have sound!
To close this first part, we are going to take a quick look to something I found while checking the files of the hard disk: TestCPU!
I didn´t know this little piece of historic freeware software, but looks like is going be quite handy to quick identify processors and some comparative testing between retro computers. It even have a small “museum” of old processors, here you can see a few captures of the Vectra 166 and my Pentium III 750.
In the next part I will perform a bit of cleaning up, to see how much work the case is going to need, some interior clean up and fixing the original floppy drive that I hope is still functional, see you next time!