The VIA VT82C586B PCI, PC97 controller


With all this Commodore talk of late, you’d think I have no interest in any other vintage tech. I have namedropped my Pentium 1 tower a few times though, and as a Centronics parallel project (ah, so good), I’m restoring that machine as well to run an assortment of 16-bit OSs. She was my first computer, and restoring her to full working glory has also been a fun and rewarding journey.

The machine’s 1997 Rhino 12+ board is fascinating. It was released right on the tail-end of the AT standard, with most peripherals requiring ISA or PCI cards. It has a physical toggle switch for power and an AT keyboard port in lieu of PS/2, but it also has USB which is bizarre. I can’t imagine there are many boards with this specific combination, like finding an electric car dashboard that can deliver WAP via IR to a PDA.

For one evening exercise, I wanted to know if the Rhino 12+ board supported a few different things, and funnily enough the Data Sheet Archive had a copy of the technical guide for the VIA VT82C586B PCI controller. The pinout diagram is fascinating, and eye-opening after looking at Commodore 6510-compatible ICs from a decade earlier:

I also learned some surprising things:

  • The USB 1.0 headers on the board also supports HCI v1.1. I’m interested in learning the difference between the two versions; I know back in the day we didn’t really care which one a peripheral was.

  • It does support ACPI in addition to APM, which makes it the perfect consolidated nostalgia machine. APM is required for proper power management in Windows 3.x, and can be invoked with POWER.EXE in your AUTOEXEC. But ACPI means a newer BSD could also run on it.

  • It has distributed DMA, for supporting ISA DMA over the PCI bus! I’m not sure if that was a common on earler boards, or whether there were seperate controllers for ISA and PCI before inevitable consolidation.

My Commodore projects are taking priority right now, but I hope to write more about this beautiful old DOS/Windows 95/NT/BeOS/Red Hat/FreeBSD computer at some point. I’m coming to 8-bit computers after the fact; this machine was my first one :).

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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