ALR Proveisa

In early 1990s ALR was a corporation specialized in high-end PCs for different needs. They quickly adopted new trends and produced computers with them quickly so ALR machines were frequently chosen as workstations or servers. This machine is a 486 server from early 1990s (probably ca. 1993), having a 486DX2 processor and 32MB of RAM. It is based on EISA architecture - partially backward-compatible with ISA, using multi-level slots to increase bus bandwidth and having a special configuration subsystem. In mainboard, there is a multi-I/O controller, floppy and hard disk controller as well as WD VGA adapter.
ALR manufactured high-end PCs until early Pentium II era (1997) when they were bought by Gateway. Gateway gave a brief support for ALR PCs on their FTP, however they quickly shut it down.
This computer is a unit from transitional period between ProVEISA and PowerPro line, so it has ProvEISA casing and mainboard being something between ProVEISA (still using Phoenix 4.0 EISA BIOS code) and PowerPro (there is PowerPro label and it takes PowerPro cache board). The sticker on mainboard says it's "POWERPO II".


Manufacturer ALR

Origin USA
Year of unit 1993
Year of introduction 1993?
Class AT
CPU Intel 486DX2
Speed 66MHz
RAM 52MB
(12x4MB, 4x1MB), SIMM30
ROM Phoenix BIOS
Graphics on-board WD
(up to 1024x768x256)
Sound PC Speaker
System expansion bus EISA
Floppy/removable media drives 1x 1.44MB 3.5" floppy disk drive
1x Tandberg QIC SCSI streamer
1x CD-ROM drive (IDE)
 
 
Hard disk: 1x IDE: Seagate ST3660A (500MB, C/H/S: 1057/16/63)
1x SCSI Fujitsu M2694ESA (1GB)

Peripherals in collection:
 - Mouse

Other boards:

 

Specialix SI-HOST EISA board (RS232 ports)
Adaptec AHA1740/42 SCSI controller
Genius GE2000 network board
Non-standard expansions: 256kB of cache on daughterboard
Operating system(s): WIndows NT 4.0

My unit has been used in a company as multi-terminal server for database applications. It first was used with probably 300MB IDE drive, later expanded to 500MB and finally 1GB SCSI. The tape drive (streamer, Tandberg SLR QIC) was probably there all time.


Contents: Starting, usage Configuration

Starting

There are many versions of BIOSes for this computer. In my unit, there was a 1.00.25 version which had lots of bugs in Setup and was unable to boot from floppy if SCSI board with floppy controller turned off was present. This strange bug was present if and only if user password was not set, and setting it failed after power-off. The only way to make it work was to upgrade BIOS to version 1.00.33 Fortunately, the mainboard has a Flash-ROM so it's needed only to use PROGBIOS.EXE or burn another chip in programmer.
If BIOS still complains about floppy drive, there is a workaround: Set first floppy drive as disabled in BIOS, then set second one as 3.5", then use option to swap floppy drives from BIOS, it's in the same entry in which you control access to floppy disk on 3rd Setup page (version 1.00.33). I have no idea why it works.

Resetting BIOS settings
The jumper is near BIOS ROM chip. Toggle away from RTC, turn on, hear the buzz from PC speaker, turn off, replace jumper.

Two CPUs in one CPU daughterboard
It will NOT work until the mainboard has a "SMP" designation. The daughterboard for 33MHz CPU indeed has 2 CPU sockets, yet it doesn't work this way. The second socket is if you put an SX CPU and want to go with external math coprocessor.

Memory.
If you really want to use RAM expansion board from PowerPRO instead of cache, the good thing is that in most cases you physically can. The bad thing is that the computer will work like 386SX or worse and it won't let you run Windows NT. Even if the cache is bad it's faster. Memory daughterboard slows the machine down and is not recommended.
There are 4 banks, 4 SIMMs each. You should fill the memory with the same timing (60 or 70ns) but in some cases it may not make difference. The first bank is closer to the edge. Fill starting from the smallest bank going to the first bank. I have successfully inserted 52MB of RAM (4x1M+4x4M+4x4M+4x4M) which allows for a good operation of Windows NT 4.

Cooling
This machine has two fans. One pulls air through power supply, second one is in front and cools CPU. Because you have less than one centimeter between CPU and cache board, it heats up as hell there. Running 66MHz CPU without heatsink is strongly discouraged. This fan has a thermal probe which should never be hanged in direct air flow as this will make the fan go off and CPU overheat. Just stick this probe somewhere near CPU, between boards or outwards, closer to casing. This is a 5V CPU!


Memory alignment and mainboard.

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Configuration

EISA?
The main idea of EISA boards was to reduce number of jumpers on expansion card. It was done by booting the system to DOS, startig EISA configuration utility, configuring the EISA controller and boards for all settings and then re-starting PC to apply changes. Before boot-up, BIOS configured boards to pop in specific memory places defined in configuration. The information about boards was stored in a small flash memory chip or, more frequently, a DS1387 battery-backed RTC with RAM. If your EISA machine loses EISA configuration after being powered off, battery of RTC may be depleted, remake it as DS1287, the same pins have to be exposed, only more other pins are out than in :).
If you have an EISA board, you also need a CFG file (and its includes) for it and configuration floppy for mainboard. Then you have to put configuration files for expansion board on configuration floppy for mainboard and boot it, it should detect EISA boards and use CFG files. Review configuration and set it properly as for most e.g. SCSI controllers set-up of BIOS is done by EISA configuration tool. Eventually check does it need any jumper modification, there should be a meu for it and save changes.

If NT fails to install...
If there is 32MB of RAM or more, this machine can run Windows NT 4.0 pretty well. Don't expect multimedia, but it is quite stable as for 486. The problem here is with CD-ROM. For some unknown reason, at least in my unit with BIOS 1.00.33 (with 1.00.25 it has problems booting floppy at all), CD-ROM fails to detect if NT kernel is booted from floppy. Then NT installation will end with "Inaccessible boot device" BSOD.
The method to fix it involves using IDE disk as boot drive or generally having a few hundred spare MBs of boot FAT partition (e.g. on SCSI drive). MS-DOS 6.22 with CD-ROM drivers should be placed there. Do not use newer DOS from Windows 9x as you may get "LOCKing" error which halts computer. Boot computer from this partition and head to CD-ROM, then I386 directory and begin installation by:

winnt /b

The installer will copy a whole i386 installation from CD-ROM to this partition on disk and make disk bootable with NT loader. Then it will restart computer and begin installation from there. You won't need CD-ROM anymore. Unfortunately you can't re-format the bootable partition to NTFS, it must be all times FAT.
If NT starts from hard disk, CD-ROM will work.

Help file - distributed as driver, contains basic information about PROVEISA line
EISA configuration - contains both raw drivers and bootable disk images for my configuration (Specialix+AHA-1740).
BIOSes - contains 025, 033 and 034 BIOSes for PROVEISA.
AHA1740/42A - if Adaptec/Microsemi support stops - they usually don't abandon older devices.

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